The Annals of the Joseon Dynasty From Odaesan Mountain Historical Archives 

National Palace Museum of Korea

The Joseon wangjo sillok(Annals of the Joseon Dynasty) is a vast collection of annual records of state affairs and the activities of Joseon’s rulers spanning almost the entire history of the Joseon dynasty. It is listed in UNESCO's Memory of the World registry. The Odaesan History Archives Collection of the records survived many turbulent times until it found a home at the National Palace Museum of Korea.

Annals of the Joseon Dynasty
Joseon Wang jo Sillok(朝鮮王朝實錄) record the activities of the Joseon kings by month and year from the first King Taejo(r. 1392~1398) to the 25th King Cheoljong(r. 1849~1864) over a total of 1,700 fascicles. The recorded historical facts include pronouncements and governing actions taken by the kings during their rule in chronological order. The Annals surpass all other dynastic records in the world in their sheer amount of historical details collected over the course of 472 years. These records have been acknowledged as Korean National Treasure No. 151 and also as Memory of the World by the UNESCO.

On July 25, 2016, the Odaesan Mountain Edition of the Annals of the Joseon Dynasty (五臺山史庫本/; National Treasure No. 151-3) became a new family member of the National Palace Museum of Korea.

The Annals of the Joseon Dynasty is a compilation of national records spanning the entirety of the Joseon Dynasty, consisting of records on national affairs and activities of the state post-reign. The Annals were not intended to be viewed or utilized in the respective day, and not even the king was allowed to view the contents. With the evaluation by future generations in mind, the neutral recording and safekeeping of the Annals was considered critical.
Thus, multiple copies of these important records such as the Annals were made and stored in various places as protection against war, fire, and natural disasters. Among them is a copy of the Annals stored at the Odaesan Mountain Historical Archives.

Odaesan Mountain Historical Archives was established after the imperial Japanese invasions of Korea (circa 1606) and operated until around 1910. Like other archives, Odaesan Mountain Historical Archives played an important role in enshrining and managing important documents such as the Annals, manuals, and royal genealogical records.

The 788 volumes of the Annals in the Odaesan Mountain Historical Archives, spanning from King Taejo to King Sejong, were transferred to the Tokyo Imperial University Library in 1913 by the Japanese Empire. Then, most of the annals were lost in the devastation of the Great Kanto earthquake of 1923.

Fortunately, however, 74 volumes that were on loan at the time survived the earthquake. Of the 74 volumes, 27 volumes (20 volumes of the Annals of King Jungjong and 7 volumes of the Annals of King Seonjo) were transferred to Keijo Imperial University in 1932 after the national liberation of Korea, while the other 47 volumes (9 volumes of the Annals of King Seongjong, 30 volumes of the Annals of King Jungjong, and 8 volumes of the Annals of King Seonjo) remained at Tokyo Imperial University even after liberation.

The remaining 47 volumes at Tokyo Imperial University were returned after 93 years in July 2006. Thereafter, the Cultural Heritage Administration assigned the curation of the 74 volumes of the Odaesan Mountain Edition of the Annals of the Joseon Dynasty to the National Palace Museum of Korea, where they’ve remained since July 25, 2016.

The difference between the Odaesan Mountain Edition of the Annals of the Joseon Dynasty and other versions is that the former contains revisions that were made in the process of compiling the annals.

These annals are of a revised version with codes written in red and black ink indicting corrections and deletions. But why were draft copies stored in the archives rather than newly-revised versions?

The reason lies in the economic difficulties of the time. Republication of annals was being conducted not long after the Japanese invasions of Korea when printing types and even paper were in short supply. A great deal of materials was lost to war, and supplies were scarce. Therefore, it was probably difficult to discard copies of annals that were no different in content simply because the quality of paper was subpar.

The Odaesan Mountain Edition of the Annals of the Joseon Dynasty was born at the end of the Japanese invasions of Korea and drifted around a foreign nation after the fall Korea. Although the Annals faced natural disaster in an earthquake, destroying much of history, 74 volumes survived these trials to end their long journey at the National Palace Museum of Korea.

Credits: Story


Seong-bae Kim

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