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Park Byeong-seon: Jikji Discoverer and Researcher

Park Byeong-seon (朴炳善, b. March 25, 1923, d. November 22, 2011) was a Korean historian. She revealed that Jikjisimcheyojeol (直指心體要節) was the oldest known book printed using movable metal type that is in existence today. She discovered Jikjisimcheyojeol in Paris, France and was the strongest advocate of having it listed as a UNESCO Memory of the World in 2001.

Park was born in Seoul in 1923 as the youngest of three daughters. She graduated from the Seoul National University College of Education with a degree in History Education and became the first Korean woman to study abroad in France in 1955. She decided to continue her education in France at the age of 33 because of her undergraduate professor’s request that she search for the Oegyujanggak Uigwe (the Royal Books) which had been plundered by the French military during the French campaign against Korea in 1866.

It was speculated that the Oegyujanggak Uigwe were in France at the time but there was no means to determine whether this was true. As such, Park had to visit various libraries and old bookshops all over France. During her research, she found a book that was printed using classical Chinese characters. This book turned out to be Jikjisimcheyojeol, the first book to be printed using movable metal type in the world.

However, France did not acknowledge the value of Jikjisimcheyojeol and told Park to stay quiet about her discovery. Park was hurt by this response and so began her historical investigation alone to reveal Jikjisimcheyojeol’s value. Her efforts finally bore fruit. At the Comprehensive Exhibition of the History of Books in Paris in 1972, she submitted Jikjisimcheyojeol, announcing to the world that it was the world’s oldest known book printed using movable metal type, published 73 years before the Gutenberg Bible (Wikipedia).