Lasting Beauty and Uniqueness of Hanji

by Bohyung Kim

Hanji refers to Korean traditional handmade paper. ‘Han’ means Korea and ‘Ji’, paper. This term was coined in the early 20th century after Yang(western) Ji(paper) was introduced in Korea to distinguish traditional handmade papers from machine made western papers. In the course of 1,300 years of papermaking history, Korean papermakers refined Hanji with an original vision and handmade paper was an indispensable material of daily life, until lifestyle became widely westernized in Korea. Hanji was used not only for calligraphy, painting, and books, but also for doors, walls, windows, furniture, umbrellas, lanterns, boxes, baskets, fans, shoes, and clothes. Koreans used paper even in flooring, as part of Ondol, heated floor.

Hanji is beautiful to look at and touch, but its true value lies in what is not readily recognizable on the surface. Main material for Hanji is simple: Dak (paper mulberry), Hwang Chok Kyu (natural formation aid), and clean water. There are no fillers or additives. Compared to paper mulberry found in warmer regions of Asia, Korean Dak is known for its long, flexible, and strong fiber. Hanji is naturally PH neutral and has incomparable longevity. Excellent example of Hanji’s longevity is Mugujeonggwang Daedaranigyeong (Pure Light Dharani Sutra, circa 751 C.E., National Treasure 126), which was discovered inside a pagoda of Bulguksa Temple in Gyeongju, Korea in 1966. Believed to be the oldest woodblock print in the world, this scroll, printed on Dak, was intact except for small areas of moth damage on the backside at the time of discovery.

Korea’s paper formation technique is distinct. Often referred to as Webal, this unique technique allows the fibers to accumulate in crisscross formation without a dominant grain direction. Each Yin Yang Ji is composed of two sub-layers, yin and yang, dried as one, which attributes to its name. Yin Yang Ji is strong, dimensionally stable and does not tear easily in either direction. It maintains even expansion and contraction rates in both directions and does not change final dimensions after drying, which could be particularly useful for certain conservation treatments and printmaking. Even the lightest Yin Yang Ji is much stronger than other papers with same thickness. Another characteristic that distinguishes Yin Yang Ji is the chain lines. Chain lines in Korean Bal (screen) do not run the entire length of the screen, but end in the middle and shift alignment for the other half. This prevents chain lines from overlapping and weakening that area of the paper. Fiber formation in multiple direction, yin and yang layers in one sheet, and alternating chain lines are all special attributes of Yin Yang Ji.

Webal formation

Webal formation

Some Hanji are treated with an extra finishing process called Dochim, during which the sheets are pounded repeatedly to make a compact and smooth surface. Dochim results in added strength and subtle sheen. It is an extra step for the highest quality Hanji which requires an amazing amount of care, physical effort, and most importantly, intuition.

Before (top) and after (bottom) Dochim process
Before (top) and after (bottom) Dochim process

Hanji Paper available at HPI

***Hiromi Paper was established over 20 years ago to keep the traditional Japanese handmade paper technique alive and accessible around the world. In continuing to do so, we have decided to also introduce traditional Korean handmade paper, so look for more Hanji additions in the future!

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One thought on “Lasting Beauty and Uniqueness of Hanji”

  1. Can you supply me with a sample book of different colors of Hanji paper, to use as a resource for my new book Calligraphy All Over the World [my 14th book about calligraphy]. I plan to recommend it for brush calligraphy. Any suggestions?

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