Hanji (Korean: 한지/韓紙) is the traditional handmade paper from Korea. It is made from the inner bark of the mulberry tree. , native to Korea, which helps suspend the individual fibers in water.
Despite being paper, Hanji is extremely tough, waterproof, and versatile. Because of its durability and availability, this paper is also used to cover floors, walls, ceilings, windows, doors, and furniture in traditional Korean houses.
Hanji is waterproofed with bean oil and polished.
On furniture, paper was widely used to protect the interior parts of chests.
During the Joseon Dynasty, some cabinets were constructed with wooden frames covered with paper. Ordinary wood, such as pine, was typically used for the frame, as the wood’s texture was not visible from the outside.
The quality of mulberry paper, made by boiling mulberry tree fibers and stretching them, was excellent. In the case of paper cabinets, layers of used paper were pasted together, covered with a white sheet, and then finished with the application of vegetable oil.
These types of paper cabinets were primarily used by ordinary citizens who could not afford expensive furniture. Due to the relatively low durability of paper cabinets, worn-out or broken ones were often repaired for continued use. These chests and boxes were used for storing clothes, books, and other small items, often stacked on top of one another. Paper chests were mainly used by women for storing clothes, and colored papers were often applied for decoration.
Today, original pieces in their original condition are scarce on the market because they were less durable against wear and tear and proved challenging to maintain.
This unique furniture-making technique is specific to Korea and is not commonly found in China or Japan.
Beside furniture traditional Korean paper was widely used for the confection of smaller boxes used to store various accessories.
OTHER KOREAN ITEMS MADE OUT OF TRADITIONAL PAPER
Hanjijang (Korean Paper Making/한지장 韓紙匠)
Hanjijang refers to a craftsman skilled in the art of making traditional paper, hanji, from the bark of mulberry (Broussonetia kazinoki) trees and mulberry paste. Making hanji requires great skill and extensive experience. The process involves collecting mulberry bark, steaming, boiling, drying, peeling, boiling again, beating, mixing, straining, and drying. It is said that 99 processes are required to produce this paper, which is why the final process is also called baekji, meaning “one hundred paper.” During the Goryeo Dynasty, Korean hanji was so renowned that the Chinese referred to the best-quality paper as Goryeoji, literally meaning “Goryeo Paper.” Sun Mu, from the Song Dynasty of China, praised Goryeo paper in his book “Jilin leishi” (Things on Korea), describing it as white, glossy, and lovely.
In the Joseon Dynasty, starting from the time of King Taejong, the state began to oversee paper production by establishing the office called Jojiseo (Paper Manufactory). However, in modern times, changes in architectural styles and housing environments, as well as the import of paper, have led to the virtual disappearance of traditional hanji. Today, due to high production costs, hanji is made using pulp imported from Southeast Asia rather than mulberry bark. To preserve the art of hanji and pass it on to the next generation, the Cultural Heritage Administration has designated hanji making as an Important Intangible Cultural Heritage.