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Hanji is a form of traditional paper made of mulberry bark, which has enjoyed wide use throughout Korea for many centuries. After China, where the art of paper-making first appeared, many old Korean records show that the country was one of the early places to enjoy wide usage of paper.

Korea's oldest form of paper, maji, was made of hemp that had undergone a process of being soaked in water first, followed by shredding, pulping, steaming, cleaning, and drying, according to the records of the Three Kingdoms' Period (57 B.C. – 668 A.D.). Another record holds that the monk Damjing of the Goguryeo Kingdom (37 B.C. - 668 A.D.), one of the three kingdoms on the Korean Peninsula, introduced the paper-making technique to Japan in 610 A.D.

The record of using mulberry bark -- the main ingredient of Hanji -- to create paper appears in the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392). With the wide cultivation of mulberry trees, paper production grew even more vibrant, leading to the export of quality paper to China by the 11th century.

A year-old branch of a mulberry tree is the main material for making Hanji. Branches are gathered every fall, shredded, boiled in lye to create dakpul, (mulberry starch). The washing, bleaching, and pulverizing process then takes place. The fibers are then strained or dehydrated. After drying, the newborn paper is ready. Known as a paper that breathes, Hanji made from mulberry bark is extremely tough and durable, and is known to be the longest-lasting acid-free paper in the world.

Hanji in many differentHanji (photo courtesy of Jeonju Hanji Museum).

The usage of Hanji is not limited to writing alone. It was once used for making a variety of household goods, kitchenware, and other things like kites. One of the techniques of paper craft, called the jido method, is a technique of pasting many sheets of paper together to make sturdy, multilayered furniture such as wardrobes and trunks. The second method known as the jiho method resembles paper clay, made from scraps of paper soaked in water, crushed, and mixed with glue, which is then shaped into kitchen bowls with lids. The jiseung method is a technique of making paper cords, weaving them to make baskets, mesh bags, jars, and trays. Other colorful decorations include artificial flowers and temple lanterns that are then dyed and oiled for durability.

The best example of Hanji usage can be found in making windows of traditional sliding doors known as changhoji in traditional Korean houses. Windows made of Hanji let fresh air in and impure air out through its pores. The sunlight that passes through the Hanji window turns into cozy and calming light, helping to maintain the appropriate temperature and humidity in the room.

By the early Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910), Hanji was even made into a kind of armor known as jigap. The armor was waterproof, helped retain temperature during winter, and above all was sturdy enough to protect against arrows, spears, and swords.

2012 Hanji Project New York not only showcased crafts, but also brought together diverse Hanji-inspired creations from a contemporary art exhibition to a fashion show (photo courtesy of the Hanji Development Institute).Hanji metamorphoses: 2012 Hanji Project New York showcased crafts bringing together diverse Hanji-inspired creations from a contemporary art exhibition to a fashion show (photo courtesy of the Hanji Development Institute).

Hanji continues to be widely used, serving as wrapping paper and made into decorative items such as dolls and handbags. These days, designers have been inspired to make clothing such as dresses, underwear, jeans, and socks out of Hanji, by mixing it with other ingredients. Also, due to its antibiotic properties, it is also in wide usage as sterile paper, bandages, diapers, artificial skin, and more.

The two major festivals that promote Hanji in Korea are annually are the Jeonju Cultural Hanji Festival in May and the Wonju Hanji Festival in September with exhibitions, fashion shows, activities, and occasionally special displays abroad.

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