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Hanji Culture and Industry Center opens to promote Korean traditional paper

Colorful sample sheets of hanji are currently on display at the Hanji Culture and Industry Center in Seoul, May 20. Various kinds of hanji are categorized by production region, use and type. Korea Times photo by Choi Won-suk
Colorful sample sheets of hanji are currently on display at the Hanji Culture and Industry Center in Seoul, May 20. Various kinds of hanji are categorized by production region, use and type. Korea Times photo by Choi Won-suk

HCIC aims to save struggling hanji industry

By Kwak Yeon-soo

The Hanji Culture and Industry Center (HCIC) has opened in Seoul on May 20 in a bid to promote hanji and revitalize the slumping industry of traditional Korean paper.

With over 1,000 years of history, hanji is made from the bark of paper mulberry trees and comes in different types depending on the ratio of ingredients, techniques used in screening the fiber and thickness of the paper.

Due to its strength and durability, the bark of paper mulberry was not only used for making paper but also for making shelter and items of clothing.

During the Joseon Kingdom, hanji was considered fine quality paper and was exported to China where it was sold at high prices.

In the wake of modernization and the introduction of mass produced pulp paper, however, hanji fell out of favor. As a result, there are only 19 traditional hanji workshops remaining nationwide.

"Hanji has a long history. Despite its excellence, the hanji industry is shrinking as a number of hanji workshops were pushed out of business following economic trouble," Vice Culture Minister Oh Young-woo said at an event celebrating the opening of the HCIC. "Through this center, we hope to promote hanji not only in Korea but across the globe."

An artwork made with hanji is on display at the Hanji Culture and Industry Center. Korea Times photo by Choi Won-suk
An artwork made with hanji is on display at the Hanji Culture and Industry Center. Korea Times photo by Choi Won-suk

The Korea Craft and Design Foundation, which runs the HCIC, plans to host regular workshops and seminars to offer a wide range of exchanges among those involved in the industry, including hanji producers, designers, craftsmen and local governments.

"We will form a network to boost the traditional hanji market," KCDF President Kim Tae-hoon said. "The center aims to function as a cultural platform where Korean traditional paper can ride the hallyu wave and increase its presence overseas."

On the first floor, visitors can discover various kinds of hanji displayed by production region, use and type. Some 400 different handcrafted local hanji products from 18 traditional hanji workshops are currently on display. The center offers samples from the 14 sunji (plain hanji) workshops and four colored hanji workshops, and visitors are allowed to examine and compare the distinct textures of hanji made in different parts of the country.

The production technique does not vary that much, but water and climate, such as wind, humidity and temperature, lead to differences in the texture of the paper made in each region.

"Although we don't sell hanji at the center, we provide visitors with detailed information on the weight, size, production and price of hanji, as well as relevant sales outlets," HCIC official said. "That is to support purposes ranging from conservation of cultural properties to printing handicrafts and interior applications."

Handicrafts made with hanji are on display at the Hanji Culture and Industry Center where visitors can discover new uses or art forms of Korean traditional paper. Korea Times photo by Choi Won-suk
Handicrafts made with hanji are on display at the Hanji Culture and Industry Center where visitors can discover new uses or art forms of Korean traditional paper. Korea Times photo by Choi Won-suk

On one side of the room, handicrafts made with hanji are on display where visitors can discover new uses or art forms of Korean traditional paper.

On the basement floor, there is a space where both specialists and the general public can hold forums, workshops and seminars on hanji. There is also a small lab where visitors can study modern applications of hanji.

Hanji makers from different regions gathered at the hanji center on the opening date to discuss the current state and future prospects of the hanji industry.

Kim Bo-kyung, CEO of Fides International, pointed out that hanji is a latecomer compared with paper from Japan and Southeast Asian countries. Fides International is a company that exports handmade hanji products to the U.S. and European markets.

"Hanji is of high quality, but due to lack of promotion, it has failed to appeal to global buyers. We need to aggressively participate in international craft trade fairs and exhibitions in order to familiarize potential customers with hanji," she said.

According to Kim, the Library of Congress in the U.S. started using hanji to preserve its cultural assets in 2003. Leading restorers of Italy and France have also praised hanji for how suited it is for use in restoring cultural assets.

Kim added that it can also be used for restoration projects in Korea. "One way to protect and preserve hanji is to increase its usage in restoring our own cultural properties such as palaces and temples," she said.

Meanwhile, hanji makers expressed concerns about the shortage of apprentices and the lack of interest of the younger generation.

"Hanji makers are growing old, and many of them have no one to pass on their skills to. Over the last 25 years, the number of workshops fell from more than 100 to around 20," Jang Seong-woo, CEO of Jangjibang hanji workshop located in Gapyeong, Gyeonggi Province. "I expect that within the next 10 years, less than 10 hanji workshops will survive."

A hanji archive where visitors can get access to detailed information about different types of hanji and the raw materials used for its production is situated in the basement of the Hanji Culture and Industry Center. Courtesy of HCIC
A hanji archive where visitors can get access to detailed information about different types of hanji and the raw materials used for its production is situated in the basement of the Hanji Culture and Industry Center. Courtesy of HCIC

Vice Culture Minister Oh expressed regret that the hanji industry had been neglected for so long.

"The culture ministry and KCDF will review how to increase hanji usage when producing governmental documents and booklets, such as visitors' log books and award certificates," Oh said. "We'll also work on increasing supplies to overseas diplomatic offices and Korean-language education institutes."

The HCIC is located at 31-9 Bukchon-ro, Jongno-gu in Seoul. The center runs from Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. For more information, visit www.hanji1000.kr.



Colorful sample sheets of hanji are currently on display at the Hanji Culture and Industry Center in Seoul, May 20. Various kinds of hanji are categorized by production region, use and type. Korea Times photo by Choi Won-suk
Colorful sample sheets of hanji are currently on display at the Hanji Culture and Industry Center in Seoul, May 20. Various kinds of hanji are categorized by production region, use and type. Korea Times photo by Choi Won-suk

HCIC aims to save struggling hanji industry

By Kwak Yeon-soo

The Hanji Culture and Industry Center (HCIC) has opened in Seoul on May 20 in a bid to promote hanji and revitalize the slumping industry of traditional Korean paper.

With over 1,000 years of history, hanji is made from the bark of paper mulberry trees and comes in different types depending on the ratio of ingredients, techniques used in screening the fiber and thickness of the paper.

Due to its strength and durability, the bark of paper mulberry was not only used for making paper but also for making shelter and items of clothing.

During the Joseon Kingdom, hanji was considered fine quality paper and was exported to China where it was sold at high prices.

In the wake of modernization and the introduction of mass produced pulp paper, however, hanji fell out of favor. As a result, there are only 19 traditional hanji workshops remaining nationwide.

"Hanji has a long history. Despite its excellence, the hanji industry is shrinking as a number of hanji workshops were pushed out of business following economic trouble," Vice Culture Minister Oh Young-woo said at an event celebrating the opening of the HCIC. "Through this center, we hope to promote hanji not only in Korea but across the globe."

An artwork made with hanji is on display at the Hanji Culture and Industry Center. Korea Times photo by Choi Won-suk
An artwork made with hanji is on display at the Hanji Culture and Industry Center. Korea Times photo by Choi Won-suk

The Korea Craft and Design Foundation, which runs the HCIC, plans to host regular workshops and seminars to offer a wide range of exchanges among those involved in the industry, including hanji producers, designers, craftsmen and local governments.

"We will form a network to boost the traditional hanji market," KCDF President Kim Tae-hoon said. "The center aims to function as a cultural platform where Korean traditional paper can ride the hallyu wave and increase its presence overseas."

On the first floor, visitors can discover various kinds of hanji displayed by production region, use and type. Some 400 different handcrafted local hanji products from 18 traditional hanji workshops are currently on display. The center offers samples from the 14 sunji (plain hanji) workshops and four colored hanji workshops, and visitors are allowed to examine and compare the distinct textures of hanji made in different parts of the country.

The production technique does not vary that much, but water and climate, such as wind, humidity and temperature, lead to differences in the texture of the paper made in each region.

"Although we don't sell hanji at the center, we provide visitors with detailed information on the weight, size, production and price of hanji, as well as relevant sales outlets," HCIC official said. "That is to support purposes ranging from conservation of cultural properties to printing handicrafts and interior applications."

Handicrafts made with hanji are on display at the Hanji Culture and Industry Center where visitors can discover new uses or art forms of Korean traditional paper. Korea Times photo by Choi Won-suk
Handicrafts made with hanji are on display at the Hanji Culture and Industry Center where visitors can discover new uses or art forms of Korean traditional paper. Korea Times photo by Choi Won-suk

On one side of the room, handicrafts made with hanji are on display where visitors can discover new uses or art forms of Korean traditional paper.

On the basement floor, there is a space where both specialists and the general public can hold forums, workshops and seminars on hanji. There is also a small lab where visitors can study modern applications of hanji.

Hanji makers from different regions gathered at the hanji center on the opening date to discuss the current state and future prospects of the hanji industry.

Kim Bo-kyung, CEO of Fides International, pointed out that hanji is a latecomer compared with paper from Japan and Southeast Asian countries. Fides International is a company that exports handmade hanji products to the U.S. and European markets.

"Hanji is of high quality, but due to lack of promotion, it has failed to appeal to global buyers. We need to aggressively participate in international craft trade fairs and exhibitions in order to familiarize potential customers with hanji," she said.

According to Kim, the Library of Congress in the U.S. started using hanji to preserve its cultural assets in 2003. Leading restorers of Italy and France have also praised hanji for how suited it is for use in restoring cultural assets.

Kim added that it can also be used for restoration projects in Korea. "One way to protect and preserve hanji is to increase its usage in restoring our own cultural properties such as palaces and temples," she said.

Meanwhile, hanji makers expressed concerns about the shortage of apprentices and the lack of interest of the younger generation.

"Hanji makers are growing old, and many of them have no one to pass on their skills to. Over the last 25 years, the number of workshops fell from more than 100 to around 20," Jang Seong-woo, CEO of Jangjibang hanji workshop located in Gapyeong, Gyeonggi Province. "I expect that within the next 10 years, less than 10 hanji workshops will survive."

A hanji archive where visitors can get access to detailed information about different types of hanji and the raw materials used for its production is situated in the basement of the Hanji Culture and Industry Center. Courtesy of HCIC
A hanji archive where visitors can get access to detailed information about different types of hanji and the raw materials used for its production is situated in the basement of the Hanji Culture and Industry Center. Courtesy of HCIC

Vice Culture Minister Oh expressed regret that the hanji industry had been neglected for so long.

"The culture ministry and KCDF will review how to increase hanji usage when producing governmental documents and booklets, such as visitors' log books and award certificates," Oh said. "We'll also work on increasing supplies to overseas diplomatic offices and Korean-language education institutes."

The HCIC is located at 31-9 Bukchon-ro, Jongno-gu in Seoul. The center runs from Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. For more information, visit www.hanji1000.kr.



Kwak Yeon-soo yeons.kwak@koreatimes.co.kr

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