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.

Doors and windows are covered with paper in traditional Korean house called “Hanok”
Traditional Korean door.

Hanji is waterproofed with bean oil and polished.

On furniture, paper was widely used to protect the interior parts of chests.

Paper covering the inside door of a chest.
Paper covering the inside of a chest.
Paper covering the inside of a chest.

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.

Cut paper on wood, iron fittings. Gyeonggi province, Korea.

Mid 19th century.
H. 82cm, W. 88cm, D. 48cm. Collection “ANTIKASIA
The entire surface of this chest was covered with stained paper (brown color). Fine cut paper in black color was then applied to mimic the metalwork of a “Sung Sun I” piece. On the left photo, the “Namdaemun” pattern of northern pieces is clearly visible.
Bandaji made of pine wood and covered with colored paper.
H. 37,3 cm, W. 52,5 cm, D. 26,1 cm. Pan Asia collection.
Reference: Korean wooden Furniture (Park Young-gyu, Samsung Publishing House, 1982)
Bandaji made of pine wood and covered with painted paper.
Iron fittings.
H. 41,7cm, W. 52,5 cm, D. 26 cm. Pan Asia collection.
Reference: Korean wooden furniture (Park Young-gyu, Samsung Publishing House, 1982)
Bedside chest covered with paper.
Colored paper, lacquer finish, pine wood, wire, tin fittings
H. 60cm, W. 76cm, D. 32,4cm.
DATE circa 1900. Collection of the Albert Weisman Art Museum Collection, Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA.
Two-level stacked chest covered with paper.
Colored paper on pine wood, iron fittings
H. 86,4cm, W. 52cm, D. 26cm. DATE after 1910.

Collection The Albert Weisman Museum of Art, Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA.
Two-level stacked chest covered with paper.
Oiled paper, pine, iron fittings
H. 85cm, W. 70cm, D. 37cm. DATE circa 1900.

Collection The Albert Weisman Museum of Art, Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA.
Four level bookchest.
Traditional paper was glue to the wooden frame. Few of those chests remained in original condition as the paper was very fragile. This chests were mainly used to store papers and documents.
Sample of a wooden frame on which sheets of paper were applied to cover the chest like the photo on the left.
Three level book chest. H. 175,5cm W. 105cm, D. 45cm. Collection: Gurye-gun Unjoru Relics Exhibition Hall.
Photos left and above: Wardrobe chests with lattice doors and framed paper.
Large three level book chest. Pine wood, painted paper.
Early 20th century.
Collection National Folk Museum of Korea.
Nong covered with paper. H. 113cm, W. 82cm, D. 35cm.
Collection: Gimhae Folk Museum, Korea.
Morijang covered with paper, Gangwon Do province.
H. 83cm, W. 81,5cm, D. 42,5cm.
Collection: National Folk Museum, Seoul, Korea.
Two level Bookchest covered with paper.
Collection: National Folk Museum, Seoul, Korea.

Beside furniture traditional Korean paper was widely used for the confection of smaller boxes used to store various accessories.

Paper covered box, clear lacquer finish, and yellow brass fittings.
H. 21cm, W. 47 cm, D. 24cm
Late 19th Century.
Gyeonggi province, Korea.
Collection “ANTIKASIA
Wedding box. Colored paper on wood, iron fittings. Flower and “Taegeukmun” (太極文) motifs.
H. 22 cm, W. 66 cm, D. 32 cm. Pan Asia Collection.

After covering the wooden box with a first layer of paper, arabesque patterns were cut with colored paper.
Wedding box. Colored paper on wood, iron fittings.
Stationery chest.
Paper over wood, brass fittings
H. 44,4cm, W. 73,6cm, D. 39,3cm. DATE 1800s.

Collection The Weisman Museum of Art, Minnesota, USA,

Wedding box covered with paper. This fine box would have been presented as a wedding gift from the groom to the traditional Korean bride. The emblems on the front are stylized Chinese characters for long life, and the Buddhist swastika on the lid-an ancient motif of both India and China-is a symbol of good luck and many happy returns.

Wood, paper, and iron with an oil finish, 8 1/4 x 17 1/2 x 8 1/2 in. (20.96 x 44.45 x 21.59 cm), Gift of Frank S. Bayley III, 92.157 Collection of the Seattle Museum of Art, USA.
Paper covered octagonal table H. 16,7cm, Diameter: 38cm. Collection: National Museum of Korea.
Document box covered with paper.
Paper-covered Box with Cloud Designs in Mother-of-pearl Inlay. Joseon Dynasty 19th century.
Triple document box. Paper on wood and bamboo. Set of 3 boxes. Decorated with the “Taegeukmun” (太極文) motif on each side. the Taegeuk pattern is often used as decorative pattern on such boxes. It is based on the belief that the shape of the Taegeuk itself has the power to expel evil spirits
H. 6.5 cm, W. 16 cm, D. 16 cm – H. 7 cm, W. 16 cm, D. 16 cm – H. 5 cm, W. 12,5 cm, D. 12,5 cm. Pan Asia Collection.
For these boxes, several layers of paper were glued together. A technique similar to papier mache .
Reference: Paper craft culture 
(Lim Young-ju, Sang-ho Lee, Daewonsa, 1999), Life and culture of Joseon women (Seoul Museum of History, 2002)
Paper box used to store sewing tools.
H. 20,5 cm, Lid diameter: 35 cm,
Bottom diameter. 19.2 cm.
Chuncheon National Museum collection.
To reinforce the structure, perilla oil was also applied to the surface.
Paper box with “Taegeukmun” (太極文) motif.
H. 5cm. W. 19,7cm, D. 15 cm.
Reference: Paper craft culture 
(Lim Young-ju, Sang-ho Lee, Daewonsa, 1999), Life and culture of Joseon women (Seoul Museum of History, 2002)
Triple paper covered box. H. 11cm, W. 43,5cm, D. 25cm. / H. 10cm, W. 40cm, D. 22cm / H. 8 cm, W. 37cm, D. 18cm.
Pan Asia collection. These boxes were used to store letters and documents. A wooden frame was first built and used as a base to attach several layers of paper inside and out, or simply apply multiple layers of paper to make a thick box. Oil was then applied to the surface. 
In addition, the surface was decorated with colored pieces of paper.
Hat box “Gatjib” . Paper, wood. Late Joseon dynasty.
H. 18cm, Diameter 36cm. Pan Asia collection.
References: Korean costumes Jooseon Seok, Jinjae Bo,1978.

In this “Gatjip” or hat box the base (the part on which the hat is placed) and the cover are not separated, and it is usually made by making a skeleton in a cylindrical shape with the lower part and a conical shape on the upper part. Paper is then applied and oiled.
Wooden document box covered with paper. H. 7,2cm, W. 33,4cm, D. 23,3cm. Collection National Museum of Korea.


Paper Korean fan
Fan (buchaetaegeukseon). Early 20th century. Japanese occupation. Made of wood, bamboo and paper.
Size Stem length: 16cm, Width: 22,5cm,
Total length: 33,5cm. Pan Asia collection.
After attaching paper to the fan, the upper part was painted red only on the 1/4 part. Colored paper with the “Taegeuk” pattern was cut in the center. The periphery was framed with black paper and greased. The handle was fixed with two metal nails, and painted black.
Recently made Korean chest covered with paper.
Contemporary low table covered with traditional paper
The three-story hanjijang.
H. 120cm, L. 65cm, D. 40cm.
Oak wood, paulownia wood, hanji paper, iron fittings.
Carpenter: Hong Hoon-Pyo.
The three-story hanjijang of Somokjang Hong Hoon-pyo continues this tradition of the Joseon Dynasty.
This chest is dated 20th century. Its doors are covered with paper. H. 164cm, W. 82cm, D. 37cm.
Collection: Sookmyung University, Seoul, Korea.
Wooden boxes covered with paper.
Paper over wood, wrought iron fittings, natural lacquer
H. 36,8cm, W. 62cm, D. 30,5cm., DATE circa 1900
Collection: The Weisman Art Museum, Minnesota, USA
Nong covered with paper. H. 95cm, W. 72cm, D. 34cm. Collection: Heojun Museum, Seoul.


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.

Following illustrations: Paper making process.

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