Book of a Thousand Characters by a Thousand People
A book of a thousand Chinese characters, each written by a different person as a prayer for the health, longevity, and well-being of a newborn baby.
“Cheonin-cheonjamun” is a book produced as a result of the efforts of the grandfather or the father of a newborn baby who ask a thousand acquaintances in person to ask each of them to write a single letter from “Cheonjamun.” The book embodies the grandfather’s and father’s wishes for the wisdom of the one thousand people who wrote the characters to help the newborn baby grow into a wise soul. Most often a “Cheonin-cheonjamun” book is placed on the table set for the baby’s first birthday party. From the past, it has been believed that by doing so the wisdom of one thousand calligraphers would be passed onto the baby. In particular, the grandfather and father sought out people who had passed the state examination (gwageo) to ask for their contributions in making such a book. For this reason, “Cheonin-cheonjamun” is also called a book of a thousand characters born of begging.
“Cheonin-cheonjamun” is also called “Maninmun” (Kor. 만인문, Chin. 萬人文, a book written by a great number of people) as many people contributed to it, or “Baeksumun” (Kor. 백수문, Chin. 白首文), which means a book made as prayer for a newborn baby to learn the writing system and live till the hair goes gray.
As anyone who participated in the work was asked to leave their name on the leftmost side of the character they wrote, the principle of a single letter per person was strictly observed. Each calligrapher wrote a single character along with its meaning and left his name and signed his name (or stamped a seal). Seals came in variety of shapes. In addition, when visiting these calligraphers to ask them to write a character from “Cheonjamun, ” fish or liquor were presented as gifts.
The making of a “Cheonin-cheonjamun” book is a folk custom that embodies parents’ whole-hearted love for their child, which led them to call on as many as a thousand acquaintances to obtain a thousand hand-written Chinese characters, wishing for their child to have a promising future. This folk custom also conveys the warm hearts of those who wrote each character to celebrate the birth of a newborn baby and prayed for the baby’s wellbeing.