Compilation and Management
The project of compiling the annals of a Joseon ruler's reign began after the ruler under discussion had died and his successor had taken the throne.
That is to say, he annals were always produced posthumously.
Once the decision was made at court to proceed with the project, Sillok Compilation Committee (實錄廳) was established.
A Director-General (總裁官) was appointed, and various officials were named to serve in the office of general compilation (都廳 docheong) as well as the division offices (房 bang) under this headquarters unit.
The division offices normally numbered three but could be increased to as many as six when the deceased ruler had had a very long reign and the volume of records was immense.
Each division was responsible for compiling the records covering a predetermined number of successive reign years.
The Committee on Compilation was mainly staffed by high- and mid-ranking officials who concurrently served as diarist-historians in the Bureau of State Records or had posts in the Office of Special Counselors.
However, when the volume of material to be complied was especially great, officials with excellent writing skills were recruited from throughout the court.
Once the compilation project was officially announced and the Committee on Compilation established,
the court would issue a countrywide decree requiring the submission of all the daily records kept at home by former dedicated diarist-historians,
by officials who once served concurrently as diarist-historians or by surviving family members.
A heavy punishment awaited those who failed to meet the submission deadline.
The daily records collected in this way served as the primary source material for the Sillok compilation project.
The Sillok compilation project proceeded in three major stages.
First, the three (or more) division offices would glean the most important facts from the various source materials at their disposal,
starting with the Records of Administration that were kept at the Bureau of State Records, and produce an initial handwritten manuscript.
In the second stage, the first draft was reviewed by the higher-ranking officials in the office of general compilation.
They added important content that had been omitted, deleted content that was deemed unimportant, and corrected factual errors to produce a handwritten second draft.
Finally, this text was examined for accuracy by the Director-General and other top-ranking officials.
They not only amended errors but also ensured that the writing style and organization of the entire work was consistent, creating a final to print finished copies.
The Records of Administration maintained at Bureau of State Records served as the primary source for the Sillok.
At the end of their duties each day, the diarist-historians submitted their verbatim reports to the Bureau,
where they were organized in chronological order and bundled with other relevant materials such as memorials, edicts, administrative reports, and the appointments and dismissals of officials.
Other source materials included the diarist-historians’ personal records (written from memory each day after returning home from duties at court) that were kept at their homes,
as well as important records kept at major government organizations, to include Records of the Royal Secretariat and Chronicles of the State Council.
In late Joseon, the Official Gazette, Records of the Border Defense Council and also Records of Daily Reflection became important source materials.
Content from officials’ personal diaries and literary collections was also allowed at times.
The daily reports by the diarist-historians (sagwan) were the most important of all the source materials used in Sillok compilation.
A total of eight dedicated sagwan worked in the Office of Royal Decrees:
two senior diarist-historians (bonggyo, 7a rank), two diarist-historians (daegyo, 8a rank) and four assistant diarist-historians (geomyeol, 9a rank).
However, many other scholar-officials were appointed to serve concurrently as sagwan while holding a separate post.
These included the whole officials of the Office of Special Counselors, the Royal Secretariat, and the Palace Library,
in addition to one from each of the Six Ministries as well as the vice provincial governors of the eight provinces.
The job of the diarist-historian was to follow the monarch around and take notes of his words and deeds.
They also recorded verbatim what they say and heard about discussions at court on state affairs, actions taken by the government,
the success or failure of those actions, good and bad customs practiced by the people, proper and improper activities in the countryside, and so on.
They turned in their reports on everyday government affairs, but their reports on sensitive issues were kept at home and only submitted to the government at the time of the Sillok compilation.
Draft history of Injo for the year muin
The law required the diarist-historians’ notes kept confidential and the diarist-historians themselves were protected by the rule that forbade everyone, including the ruler, from reading their notes (prior to the Sillok compilation).
At the same time, any diarist-historian who allowed his the contents of his notes to be leaked would face heavy punishment.
Despite this, their writings sometimes would become known, which could lead to tragic consequences.
The diarist-historians’ notes were strictly guarded during the Sillok compilation process as well.
The compilers were required to maintain the confidentiality of those notes and the Sillok contents as a whole, while their duty to document fairly and accurately was emphasized at all times.
In reality, however, the diarist-historians feared retaliation for their being candid and would sometimes avoid recording events the way they actually witnessed them or revise portions of their notes, although such action was strictly forbidden.
They were held accountable by the rule that required the names of the diarist-historians to put on the notes.
The practice suspended in King Injong’s reign (r. 1544-1545), but then was reinstated in the reign of King Myeongjong (r. 1545–1567).
Once the Sillok was compiled and printed, the source materials (Records of Administration at Bureau of State Records, the diarist-historians’ notes, and so on) as well as the handwritten first and second drafts of the Sillok were all washed clean in order to safeguard state secrets.
Early in the dynasty, the washing was done in the stream at Chail-am (Rock), outside Jaha-mun (Gate), where the government’s Paper Manufactory was located.
(Segeom-jeong is located there today.) The mulberry paper on which the documents were written was then reused.
In late Joseon, the supply of mulberry paper was plentiful, and most of the source materials were simply burned.
The completed Sillok were then stored in archives that were built expressly for this purpose.
The Sillok that were stored inside the archives were taken out and exposed to direct sunlight once every three years to prevent water and insect damage.
One dedicated diarist-historian was required to be present at this event in order to ensure that the ceremonial rules were followed.
The confidentiality of the Sillok contents was strictly guarded during this event as well.
The Veritable Records of the Joseon Dynasty were preserved for centuries in archives that were located in remote, mountainous areas around the country.
The average person was forbidden access to their contents, and even the ruler or top-ranking officials were not able to view the Veritable Records privately.
These records were used solely as a reference when deciding matters to state administration.
When the situation called for such a reference, a diarist-historian was specially dispatched to the archive to transcribe only the portion of the text that was relevant to the issue at hand.
The Sillok was a record of good and bad state governance as well as the honorable and dishonorable deeds done by both rulers and subjects, thus requiring such strict measures for the compilation and protection of its contents.
Storage facility at the Mt. Jeongjok arhive
Mt. Odae archive
Mt. Taebaek archive
The Veritable Records of the Joseon Dynasty begin with the Veritable Records of King Taejo, the initial compilation of which was completed in 1413, in the 13th year of Taejong’s reign.
Next, the Veritable Records of King Jeongjong were finished in 1426 (8th year of Sejong’s reign) followed by the Veritable Records of King Taejong in 1431.
The need for facilities to preserve the Sillok became immediately apparent to the government as soon as the Veritable Records of King Taejong were produced.
These annals of the first three Joseon kings’ reigns were placed in the archive at Chungju (Chungcheong Province), where the historical records of the preceding Goryeo Dynasty had been kept.
However, the Chungju archive was located near a town where commoners’ houses were clustered together, raising concerns over fire danger.
Therefore, on the recommendation of the Office of Inspector-General, new archives were completed near Jeonju (Jeolla Province) and Seongju (Gyeongsang Province) in the sixth month of 1439.
Three additional copies of the Veritable Records were made by the eleventh month of 1445, resulting in four sets.
These were distributed for preservation in the Bureau of State Records as well as in the archives at Chungju, Jeonju, and Seongju.
From the Veritable Records of King Sejong, the compilation project would produce one handwritten version of the final draft along with three copies printed with moveable metallic type, and these four sets would be preserved in archives at four different locations.
Therefore, the copies of the Veritable Records of King Taejo, Veritable Records of King Jeongjong and Veritable Records of King Taejong that are now kept at the Seoul National University were all transcribed by hand during Sejong’s reign and then stored at the Jeonju archive.
No printed versions of these documents ever existed.
One of these five sets was returned to the Bureau of State Records in the capital and referred to as needed by the government.
Each of the other four was safeguarded at one of the archives newly built in remote locations deemed to be less vulnerable to destruction in the event of a war: Mt. Mani on Ganghwa Island;
Mt. Taebaek in Gyeongsang Province; Mt. Myohyang in Pyeong’an Province; and Mt. Odae in Gangwon Province.
The newly printed sets were stored at the Bureau of State Records, on Mt. Taebaek and on Mt. Myohyang.
The original set from Jeonju ended up at Mt. Mani, while the revised master set went to Mt. Odae.
The precedent was thus set for five copies to be produced each time the annals for a ruler’s reign was compiled.
The Veritable Records of King Seonjo were produced in five sets during the reign of Gwanghaegun (r. 1608-23) and each was stored in one of the five archives.
However, all the annals inside the Bureau of State Records in the capital were burned during a rebellion by General Yi Gwal (李适 ?-1624) in 1624 (second year of Injo’s reign).
The set that was lost was never reproduced, and the Sillok was no longer maintained at the Bureau of State Records.
Subsequent annals were produced in four sets only, and these were preserved in the four archives outside the capital.
The Later Jin arose in Manchuria in 1633, and diplomatic relations between Joseon and the Manchus soured, prompting the government to relocated the archives at Mt. Myohyang to a new archive on Mt. Jeoksang, in Jeolla Province.
The Sillok at Mt. Mani (on Ganghwa-do) suffered extensive damage during the Manchu invasion of Joseon in 1636.
Numerous pages and even entire fascicles were lost, but the missing parts were fully restored during the reign of Hyeonjong (r. 1659-75).
A new archive was on Ganghwa-do, this time on Mt. Jeongjok, in 1678 (fourth year of Sukjong’s reign), and the restored set was moved there.
Thereafter, the four sets of annals produced for each reign through Cheoljong (r. 1849-63) were preserved at the four archives on Mt. Jeongjok, Mt. Taebaek, Mt. Jeoksang, and Mt. Odae.
These were kept intact at these locations until the end of Joseon in the early 20th century.
However, the country lost her sovereignty to Japan in 1910, and the Veritable Records of the Joseon Dynasty were once again put into great peril.
The archives at Mt. Jeongjok and Mt. Taebaek, along with the collection from the Palace Library came under the control of the Japanese Government-General of Korea, while the Sillok from the Mt. Jeoksang archive was entrusted to the Jangseogak Library on the grounds of the old Imperial Palace
(known as Deoksu-gung today) and the set from Mt. Odae was sent to Tokyo Imperial University in Japan.
The Sillok from the Mt. Odae archive shipped to Tokyo Imperial University was then mainly lost during the Great Kanto Earthquake that struck Japan on September 1, 1923.
Twenty-seven (20 from the Veritable Records of King Jungjong and 7 from the Veritable Records of King Seonjo) of the 74 books that escaped destruction in the earthquake were transferred to Seoul and put in the Keijo Imperial University Library on May 28, 1932.
The other 47 books (9 from the Veritable Records of King Seongjong, 30 from the Veritable Records of King Jungjong, and 8 from the Veritable Records of King Seonjo) were returned from the University of Tokyo to the Kyujanggak Institute for Korean Studies at Seoul National University on July 7, 2006.
All 74 books are currently kept at the National Palace Museum of Korea.
On March 22, 1985, meanwhile, responsibility for the 848 books that were once stored in the Mt. Taebaek archive was assumed by the National Archives of Korea under an agreement among the National Archives of Korea, Cultural Properties Administration and Seoul National University.
The Historical Repository in Busan was subsequently designated as the official guardian of the Sillok from Mt. Taebaek.
In addition, the Mt. Jeonksang version was maintained at the Jangseogak Library, but a lot of books were stolen and lost immediately after Korea’s liberation from Japanese rule in 1945.
The rest of the collection was is said to have been moved to North Korea while the North Korean forces occupied the capital during the Korean War, and now kept at the Kim Il Sung University Library in Pyeongyang;
this has not been officially confirmed yet.
The Veritable Records of the Joseon Dynasty represent a valuable historical resource, the likes of which is hard to find anywhere else in the entire world.
The collection is massive in terms of sheer volumes.
At the same time the Sillok provides a high diverse range of contemporary data from Joseon covering governance, diplomacy, military affairs, government systems, laws, the economy, industry, transportation, communication, society, customs, astronomy, geography, the principles of Yin and Yang, science, medicine, literature, music, visual arts, handicrafts, scholarship, ideology, ethics, morality and religion.