Printing written texts from woodblocks was invented in China in the 7th century. From China the technique spread very quickly to Korea. According to a number of ancient texts, printing from moveable metal type was invented in the 11th century, and again, Korea was involved at a very early date. Western moveable-type printing developed much later. Printing has a number of advantages over writing out a text by hand – it is much cheaper and every copy can be guaranteed to be identical. However, where Chinese text is concerned, advantages in using moveable metal type, as opposed to woodblocks, are more marginal and most books written in Chinese continued to be printed from woodblocks down to the early 12th century.
Many of the earliest printed books were copies of Buddhist sutras or Buddhist prayertexts, printed cheaply and distributed to the poor as a way of amassing merit. While some earlier metal type printings were mentioned in the old Korean books, the oldest book printed from moveable metal type still surviving today is one volume of a twovolume text of basic Buddhist teachings printed at the Cheongju Heungdeok-sa Temple in Korea in July 1377 known as the "Jikji".
The title, "Jikji" ("Pointing out the Direct Way") has the meaning of attaining an enlightened state by direct appeal to the mind. The book was printed some 70 years earlier than the "42-Line Bible" printed in Germany by Gutenberg. Jikji was printed cheaply (with many printing flaws) as it was intended to be distributed widely to people who would not have been able to afford anything more sophisticated. Printing from moveable metal type was a technical development crucial to modern communication. "Jikji", the earliest surviving book, is of correspondingly major world interest as a cultural relic of the greatest importance. It was inscribed on the International Memory of the World Register in 2001.