Have you seen a full gold sap in Mt. Goong-bok?
The hue is clear, beautiful, and shining.
Extracting peeled varnish tree
Measuring more than an arm’s span around,
Only a bowl of lacquer or so
Sap from the tree.
Lacquered on the black box
The dark-red color faded out.
The mysterious color excels mellow a reddish yellow color!
- Excerpted from the poem Hwang-Chil by Dasan Jeong Yack-yong
As you may guess from the above poem, Hwang-Chil is traditional Korean natural lacquering. Although Hwang-Chil has a one thousand year-old history, why isn’t it well known compared to other types of lacquering?
Below is the profile of Jeong Byeong-seok, a researcher of Hwang-Chil.
Position: Director of Jeong Byeong-seok Hwang-Chil Laboratory as well as Principal of Sang-mu High School in Gwangju
A Study of Character and Use of Gold Tree (Hwang-Chil tree)
A Study of Geographical Distributions of Gold Tree and Element of the Sap
A Study of Hwang-Chil’s Practical Use
For A Study of Character and Use of Gold Tree he won a presidential prize. Also, he has obtained four patents and has applied for two more from the Korea Industrial Property Office.
Hwang-Chil in the History Records
Most Chinese historians wrote about Hwang-Chil as a mysterious lacquering which was used only on the southwestern coast of the Korean Peninsula a long time ago. According to the history of the Jin Dynasty of China, the famous emperor Jin-Shi-Hwang-je believed that it was an herb which endowed a person with eternal youth and immortality and it was imported from Haedongguk (old name of Korea). Of all the articles Jang Bo-go traded in the period of the Silla Dynasty Hwang-Chil had the highest quality. Also, Korean history books such as Samguksagi and Haedongyeoksa asserted that it was a high quality lacquer our ancestors had developed for everyday use. For these reasons, it was exploited by top-class officials. They wanted to possess it as it was a scarce and luxurious resource.
Hwang-Chil vs. Lacquering
It is believed that Hwang-Chil was inherited from the Baekje Dynasty. The truth is that one of the ancient tribes on the Korean Peninsula had developed the Hwang-Chil technique for about one thousand their own unique lacquer even though people thought that the only natural lacquer was that used in lacquering. Then, what are the similarities and differences between Hwang-Chil and “common-place” lacquering? Hwang-Chil and lacquering are similar in that they are both natural lacquers. The sap extracted from the Gold-tree is used as material for lacquer. It can be compared with artificial lacquer, varnish or lacquer. Though they are different in their ingredients, they can both be used for medicinal purposes. Then, what is different about them?
The fundamental difference is this: Lacquer used for “common” lacquering is extracted from the lacquer tree, while Hwang-Chil is taken from the Gold-tree. Lacquer sap has a special element called urushiol which can cause an allergy on average in one out of every ten people, but Hwang-Chil sap doesn’t have this property. So Hwang-Chil causes no harm to most people. For this reason, only Hwang-Chil has been approved by the Korean Drug & Food Administration.
The sap’s hue is considered the next most different thing. Lacquering sap is dark brown inclining toward black when it is extracted, and then, as time goes by, its color becomes fainter. On the contrary, Hwang-Chil is tinted with light yellow on being extracted and then becomes yellow, turning to dark brown after it is oxidized. As Hwang-Chil lacquer is yellow, so are Hwang-Chil crafted products. Therefore Hwang-Chil works are golden and luxurious. As Byeong-seok asserted, “Hwang-Chil is the only natural and transparent lacquer.”
Making of Hwang-Chil Lacquering
Hwang-Chil sap spouting out of scratches in the Gold-tree is what we call the “second metabolite.” That means that the metabolism of the tree once the tree bark is wounded secretes sap to protect and cover the wounded part so as to prevent bacterial infection. Let’s explore how this sap becomes Hwang-Chil lacquer?
We know that the Hwang-Chil sap is ivory white when the sap is first extracted, and then it becomes yellow. This is used for application to artificial products. After that, we distill or filter off the impurities. The most important part of processing is to get the density right. “While the lacquer color is controlled by the oxidation process its consistency is regulated not by oxidization or refining but by the quantity of solvents,” remarked our guest interviewee. Two determinants can be established: density differs according to tree color and varnish target, and the sap’s hue can be different according to individual taste or a person’s favorite color. He went on, “The concentration density is decided by the solid level and status; thickness of paper and the kind of metal used are more critical factors than the tree’s color. We can also regulate its color according to individual taste.” He added that the depth of lacquers can generally be diluted.
Uses and Effects of Hwang-Chil
As Hwang-Chil was included in tribute or memorial items, it caused pain to people. That was why the Gold-tree steadily decreased in number and its use decreased in the past. Also, processing Hwang-gil took a long time as in its crude liquid form it should be extracted from tree aged 15 years to 20 years. As such its quantities were scarce. In recent times, people rarely use Hwang-Chil products as artificial lacquers are far more competitive in price. Thus we aren’t familiar with Hwang-Chil, but many people have begun to be concerned about this situation. Jeong Byeong-seok is one of them, and he is now performing various researches into Hwang-Chil. In earnest let’s us find out on use and effect of Hwang-Chil.
Hwang-Chil sap works well as a lacquer because it can be applied to metal, paper and fabric as well as wood. Also, Hwang-Chil has heat-endurable properties that withstand heats of up to 200℃ degrees. It is naturally durable, sufficiently dexterous for inscription and has a superior color than lacquer or lacquering. As a result Hwang-Chil can be used more situations as it is a natural lacquer. Hwang-Chil sap and other elements of the Gold-tree for e.g., leaves, stems, roots, and so on can be used in food production, such as health beverages and anti-cancer medicines. The base can be used in various fields as the Hwang-Chil sap contains more than sixty natural ingredients including sesquiterpene and medical ingredients with anti-oxidant and anti-cancer properties.
Gold-tree Industrialization in Jeollado Province
Jeong Byeong-seok became involved in the study of Gold-trees after listening to the Dept. of Biology professor at CNU. The “Hwang-Chil” which is specifically native to Korea has almost disappeared. Although the gold tree was designated as ‘extinct tree’ in the past, a recent report shows that it is likely to be endemic in Jeollanamdo Province from now on. The Gold-tree is an indigenous product of Korea and main habitat is the Jeollanamdo region. Byeong-seok is trying to construct a ‘Gold-tree Theme Park’ and a ‘Gold-tree Industrialization Support Center’ by connecting Gold-tree initiatives, major industries in Jeollanamdo and the herbal- and biological industries. Hwang-Chil is being developed for functional food and medical supplies. Gold-tree industries as well as natural lacquering should be cultivated as selective industries of Jeollado Province.
Hwang-Chil is a transparent mysterious lacquer a one thousand year-old history. The sap extracted from the Gold-tree can be used as a natural lacquer and people can develop a Gold-tree industry. “Hwang-Chil, the beautiful lacquer,” he said, “is a blessing of Jeollado Province.” He added that he will keep on studying Hwang-Chil for the further development of Jeollado Province. We are not accustomed to Hwang-Chil anymore. The color is very nice and elegance. Isn’t it? We can’t forget golden sap. We should expect to see various goods using Hwang-Chil in our environment from here on out.