About Veritable Records
- About Sillok
- About Veritable Records
Origins of and System for Sillok Compilation
The Joseon wangjo sillok (朝鮮王朝實錄 Veritable Records of the Joseon Dynasty) includes 28 different sets of chronological records, and each set covers one ruler's reign. It was compiled immediately after the death of the ruler in question. As such, the Veritable Records are not the typical history planned and written by a specific individual or team of individuals. The collection covers the reigns of 25 rulers, from King Taejo to King Cheoljong, and spans a period of 472 years. The Veritable Records of Emperor Gojong and Veritable Records of Emperor Sunjong are not included in the Joseon wangjo sillok in that they were not compiled during the Joseon period. Rather, they were produced by the Office of Governor-General of Korea between 1927 and 1932, at a time when Korea had lost her sovereignty to Imperial Japan, and the accounts on the Korean emperor and imperial family were greatly distorted. Moreover, the strict annals compilation standards applied during Joseon were not followed after the dynasty's demise. As a result, great care is needed when referring to or citing the historical records included in the Veritable Records of Emperor Gojong and Veritable Records of Emperor Sunjong.
The Joseon wangjo sillok also goes by the name Yijo sillok (李朝實錄 Veritable Records of the Yi Dynasty) and sometimes is referred to by its abbreviation, Sillok. The collection includes two sets of ilgi (日記 daily records), in place of sillok (實錄 veritable records), for the two Joseon rulers who were deposed and stripped of the posthumous title of “great king” (大王 daewang), namely Yeonsan-gun and Gwanghae-gun. Thus, the annals of their reigns are respectively known as Yeongsan-gun ilgi and Gwanghae-gun ilgi, however they were compiled in the same way as the other dynastic annals were, and the nature of their content is also the same.
One version of veritable records was compiled during most reigns, however revised or supplemented versions of some veritable records were compiled later as the Veritable Records of Seonjo, the Veritable Records of Hyeonjong, and the Veritable Records of Gyeongjong were not satisfactory. Moreover, in the case of the Daily Records of Gwanghaegun, the second (正草本) and the final (中草本) drafts, which have no printed versions, have also been handed down. The final draft contains contents that were finally deleted, so this draft retains a lot of information.
Most of the Joseon wangjo sillokwas printed on paper with wooden movable type. However, the annals of the earliest reigns formerly stored at the Mt. Jeongjok archive and two volumes of the Gwanghae-gun ilgi were transcribed by hand. Extant copies of the Sillok in South Korea come from various sources and are kept at multiple locations. Kyujanggak Institute for Korean Studies at Seoul National University maintains 1,707 fascicles (卷 gwon), bound in 1,187 books (冊 chaek), from the Mt. Jeongjok archive, 27 books from the Mt. Odae archive, and some miscellaneous pages. Meanwhile, the National Archives of Korea has at its Historical Repository in Busan 1,707 fascicles (848 books) of the texts originating from the Mt. Odae archive. The texts preserved at both sites have collectively been designated as National Treasure No. 151. In 1997, Hunmin jeong-eum (Correct Sounds for the Instruction of the People), the theoretical explanation of Han-geul, the Korean Alphabet, and the Veritable Records of the Joseon Dynasty were inscribed in UNESCO's Memory of the World Program. The Veritable Records were written in classical Chinese, making them inaccessible to the average reader. In 1968, the King Sejong Memorial Society began translating the Sillok into Korean, and that project was taken over by the Korean Classics Research Institute in 1972 and completed in 1993. The Korean language version was published in 413 volumes, providing the Korean public with an opportunity to read the text directly. To enhance accessibility, the contents were digitalized and provided to the public in the form of CD-ROMs by Seoul System (later renamed as Soltworks in 2003). At the same time, the Academy of Social Sciences in North Korea, translated the Mt. Jeoksang archive version into Korean between 1975 and 1991, resulting in 400 volumes of Han-geul text.
Meanwhile, the Mt. Odae repository archives were taken to Japan during the Colonial Period (1910-45) and mostly destroyed during the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923, but 27 (20 from of the Veritable Records of Jungjong and 7 from the Veritable Records of Seonjo) of the 74 surviving books are now back in Korea and housed in the Kyujanggak collection. The Tokyo National University Library holds the other 47 books (9 from the Veritable Records of Seongjong, 30 from the Veritable Records of Jungjong, and 8 from the Veritable Records of Seonjo). Discussions are now underway on their repatriation to Korea and on designating the place in Korea for their preservation.
■ Origins of Sillok Compilation
The Sillok records, in chronological order (by year, lunar month and day), the events that occurred and reports that were submitted during a given ruler's reign. As such it belongs to the annals genre of literature. The routine recording of court events in Northeast Asia began with the Imperial Diary (Qijuzhu 起居注) during China's Han Dynasty (206 BCE–220 CE), but the term Sillok (Shilu in Chinese) as a genre of recordkeeping first appears on the Huangdi sihilu (皇帝實錄), compiled by Zhou Xing-si (周興嗣 d. 521) during the reign of Emperor Wu of Liang in the early 6th century. The practice of compiling these “veritable records” was regularized during the succeeding Tang and Song Dynasties in China. The Chinese continued to produce Shilu but almost all of the versions before Song Dynasty have been lost. One notable exception is the Shunzong silu (順宗實錄), which was compiled by Han Yu (韓愈 768-824) covers seven months in 805 during the reign of Tang Emperor Shunzong. More recently, however the Ming silu (明實錄, also known as the Daming shilu 大明實錄 or Huangming shilu 皇明實錄) survives in 2,909 volumes, and the Qing shilu (淸實錄, also known as the Daqing lichao shilu 大清歷朝實錄), which includes more than 3,000 volumes. However, the content is not as rich as that of the Joseon wangjo sillok. The Goryeo court, meanwhile, established the Sagwan (史館 Chronicle Office) sometime early in the dynasty, and the institution was later renamed Yemun chunchugwan (藝文春秋館, or Office of Veritable Records Compilation). Veritable Records were produced for the first seven reigns of Goryeo kings (from King Taejo to King Mokjong), but they were destroyed, along with the palace buildings during an invasion by the Khitans in 1011. King Hyeonjong ordered Hwang Juryang (黃周亮), Choe Chung (崔沖), Yun Jinggo (尹徵古), and others to restore the Veritable Records of Seven Reigns (七代實錄) in 1022, and the work was completed in 1034. Following this, later rulers ordered that veritable records be compiled. The Joseon Dynasty inherited the tradition of Goryeo, and compiled the veritable records of King Gongmin and successive rulers of the late Goryeo period in 1398. However, they were all destroyed over the course of several wars, and have not been handed down.
In Korea today, the Joseon wangjo sillok is the only extant set of dynastic annals. It starts with the Veritable Records of King Taejo. King Taejo (太祖 r. 1392-98), the first Joseon ruler, died in 1408, and the sitting monarch Taejong (太宗 r. 1400-18) ordered that compilation of the Veritable Records of King Taejo begin immediately. However, powerful officials in the court such as Ha Yun (河崙 1374-1416) insisted that the project be postponed until the passing of the third ruler (i.e., King Taejong himself). Thus, the compilation project was temporarily halted but then restarted two years later and completed in 1413. During the reign of King Sejong (世宗 r. 1418-50), the fourth king, the Veritable Records of King Jeongjong (定宗實錄, original name: Gongjeong-wang sillok 恭靖王實錄) and the Veritable Records of King Taejong (太宗實錄) were produced.
The Veritable Records of King Jeongjong compilation project, led by Byeon Gyeryang (卞季良 1369-1430) among others, was completed in 1426, and the Veritable Records of King Taejong were finished in 1431. However, inaccuracies were found in the accounts covering the struggles over succession among Taejo’s sons (the so-called "riots of the princes") that took place in 1398 and in 1400. Therefore, the Veritable Records of King Jeongjong and King Taejong were partially amended in 1442. Two copies of the completed annals for each king were produced initially, with one being stored at the ##Office of Annals Compilation in the capital and the other kept at the Chungju archive. However, concerns arose over the possible loss or destruction of these precious documents, and, at the recommendation of the Office of Inspector-General, two more copies of the annals covering the first three reigns were transcribed in 1439. New repositories were also constructed at Jeonju and Seongju in which to preserve them. Thus, a total of four history archives emerged in early Joseon. Succeeding kings carried on this tradition of annals production, and strict rules and procedures were followed in the compilation and maintenance of the Sillok archives.
※ The following chart summarizes the facts pertaining to the annals for each ruler.
|Original title / Remarks|
|1||Taejo sillok / Veritable Records of King Taejo||15||3||1413 (13th year of King Taejong)||太祖實錄(太祖康獻大王實錄)|
|2||Gongjeong-wang sillok/ Veritable Records of King Jeongjong||6||1||1426 (8th year of King Sejong)||定宗大王實錄(恭靖王實錄)|
|3||Taejong sillok/ Veritable Records of King Taejong||36||16||1431 (13th year of King Sejong)||太宗實錄(太宗恭定大王實錄)|
|4||Sejong jangheon daewang sillok/ Veritable Records of King Sejong||163||67||1454 (2nd year of King Danjong)||世宗莊憲大王實錄 * Veritable Records of King Sejong including 36 monographs on various topics|
|5||Munjong daewang sillok/ Veritable Records of King Munjong||13||6||1455 (1st year of King Sejo)||文宗恭順大王實錄 (However, fasicle no. 11 is missing.)|
|6||Danjong daewang sillok/ Veritable Records of King Danjong||14||6||1469 (1st year of King Yejong)||端宗大王實錄(魯山君日記) Daily Records of Nosan’gun including a supplement added in 1468, renamed Veritable Records of Danjong in 1704 and includes the supplement.|
|7||Sejo hyejang daewang sillok / Veritable Records of King Sejo||49||18||1471 (2nd year of King Seongjong)||世祖惠莊大王實錄 Veritable Records of Sejo including 2 monographs (on music and geneologies)|
|8||Yejong yangdo daewang sillok / Veritable Records of King Yejong||8||3||1472 (3rd year of King Seongjong)||睿宗襄悼大王實錄|
|9||Seongjong daewang sillok / Veritable Records of King Seonjong||297||47||1499 (5th year of King Yeonsangun)||成宗大王實錄(成宗康靖大王實錄)|
|10||Yeongsan-gun ilgi / Daily Records of Yeonsan'gun||63||17||1509 (4th year of King Jungjong)||燕山君日記|
|11||Jungjong daewang sillok / Veritable Records of King Jungjong||105||53||1550 (5th year of King Myeongjong)||中宗大王實錄(中宗恭僖徽文昭武欽仁誠孝大王實錄)|
|12||Injong daewang sillok / Veritable Records of King Injong||2||2||1550 (5th year of King Myeongjong)||仁宗大王實錄(仁宗榮靖獻文懿武章肅欽孝大王實錄)|
|13||Myeongjong daewang sillok / Veritable Records of King Myeongjong||34||21||1571 (4th year of King Seonjo)||明宗大王實錄|
|14||Seonjo sogyeong daewang sillok / Veritable Records of King Seonjo||221||116||1616 (8th year of King Gwanghaegun)||宣宗昭敬大王實錄|
|"||Seonjo sogyeong daewang sujeong sillok / Revised Veritable Records of King Seonjo||42||8||1657 (8th year of King Hyojong)||宣祖昭敬大王修正實錄|
|15||Gwanghae-gun ilgi (jungchobon) / Daily Records of Gwanghaegun (second draft)||187||64||1633 (11th year of King Injo)||光海君日記 (Mt. Taebaek version)|
|"||Gwanghae-gun ilgi (jeongchobon)/ Daily Records of Gwanghaegun (final draft)||187||40||1653 (4th year of King Hyojong)||光海君日記 (Mt. Jeongjok version)|
|16||Injo daewang sillok/ Veritable Records of King Injo||50||50||1653 (4th year of King Hyojong)||仁祖大王實錄|
|17||Hyojong daewang sillok/ Veritable Records of King Hyojong||21||22||1661 (2nd year of King Hyeonjong)||孝宗大王實錄|
|18||Hyeonjong daewang sillok / Veritable Records of King Hyeonjong||22||23||1677 (3rd year of King Sukjong)||顯宗大王實錄(顯宗純文肅武敬仁彰孝大王實錄)|
|"||Hyeonjong daewang gaesu sillok/ Supplemented Veritable Records of King Hyeonjong||28||29||1683 (9th year of King Sukjong)||顯宗大王改修實錄(顯宗純文肅武敬仁彰孝大王改修實錄)|
|19||Sukjong daewang sillok/ Veritable Records of King Sukjong||65||73||1728 (4th year of King Yeongjo)||肅宗大王實錄(肅宗顯義光倫睿聖英烈章文憲武敬明元孝大王實錄) * 卷末에 補闕正誤篇 附錄|
|20||Gyeongjong daewang sillok / Veritable Records of King Gyeongjong||15||7||1732 (8th year of King Yeongjo)||景宗大王實錄(景宗德文翼武純仁宣孝大王實錄)|
|"||Gyeongjong daewang gaesu sillok/ Supplemented Veritable Records of King Gyeongjong||5||3||1781 (5th year of King Jeongjo)||景宗大王修正實錄(景宗德文翼武純仁宣孝大王修正實錄)|
|21||Yeongjong daewang sillok/ Veritable Records of King Yeongjong||127||83||1781 (5th year of King Jeongjo)||英宗大王實錄(英宗至行純德英謨毅烈章義弘倫光仁敦禧體天建極聖功神化大成廣運開泰基永堯明舜哲 乾健坤寧翼文宣武熙敬顯孝大王實錄)|
|22||Jeongjong daewang sillok/ Veritable Records of King Jeongjong||54||56||1805 (5th year of King Sunjo)||正宗大王實錄(正宗文成武烈聖仁莊孝大王實錄)|
|23||Sunjo daewang sillok/ Veritable Records of King Sunjo||34||36||1838 (4th year of King Heonjong)||純宗大王實錄(純宗淵德顯道景仁純禧文安武靖憲敬成孝大王實錄)|
|24||Heonjong daewang sillok/ Veritable Records of King Heonjong||16||9||1851 (2nd year of King Cheoljong)||憲宗大王實錄(憲宗經文緯武明仁哲孝大王實錄)|
|25||Cheoljong daewang sillok/ Veritable Records of King Cheoljong||15||9||1865 (2nd year of King Kojong)||哲宗大王實錄(哲宗熙倫正極粹德純聖文顯武成獻仁英孝大王實錄)|
|1894||888||The Mt. Taebaek version Sillok totals 1,707 fascicles in 848 books|
|26||Gojong sillok/ Veritable Records of King Gojong||52||52||高宗太皇帝實錄(高宗純天隆運肇極敦倫正聖光義明功大德堯峻舜徽禹謨湯敬應命立紀至化神烈巍勳洪業啓基宣曆乾行坤定英毅弘休壽康文憲武章仁翼貞孝太皇帝實錄)|
|27||Sunjong sillok/ Veritable Records of King Sunjong||22||8||純宗皇帝實錄(純宗文溫武寧敦仁誠敬孝皇帝實錄)|
|Total||74||60||##The Mt. Taebaek version Sillok totals 1,707 fascicles in 848 books|
■ Organization and contents of the Sillok
Most of the annals compilation projects followed the procedures and format adopted for the Veritable Records of Taejo. These are outlined below.
Usually, one fascicle covers the events taking place over one year, but some cover a period of just six months, two months or even one month.
The Veritable Records of King Seongjong contains a very high number of fascicles, as each one covered just one month's time regardless of the content volume.
The annals typically begin with a general introduction that includes relatively brief background information on the ruler in question.
This includes his surname, personal name, courtesy name, parents' names, date of birth, his time as a youth, education, and investiture as crown prince. In case that he was adopted from a cadet branch, his real parent's backgrounds and the adoption process were also documented.
The main text, which includes descriptions of events and the diarist-historians' annotations, is organized chronologically, in the same manner as annals are.
Such a layout makes the Sillok appear to be the typical annals document, but much more is provided than the facts recorded in a log or diary. This is a history enriched by the observations of the court diarist-historians (史官 sagwan) who were posted near the king every day and wrote the daily entries, as well as by the critical commentaries from the Sillok recorders and compilers. Meanwhile, separate monographs (志 ji) have been added to the chronological accounts in both the Veritable Records of King Sejong and the Veritable Records of King Sejo. The Veritable Records of King Danjong includes a supplementary fascicle that details the process of restoring the deposed monarch's posthumous name and title as "king," and includes the related documentation.
The organization scheme for the Sillok text is very simple. At the top of every fascicle is the notation, “Fascicle No. such-and-such of the Veritable Records of so-and-so.,” after which comes the date of the entry. The main text is laid out chronologically.
The main text is laid out chronologically. The date of the entry may include the following elements, in descending order: the king's reign year, season, lunar month and day expressed in terms of the sexagenary cycle. In principle, the year after the ruler ascends the throne (i.e. his first full year on the throne) is designated the first reign year (元年 wonnyeon). However, when the preceeding ruler was deposed, his successor's first reign year is considered to be the same year he takes the throne. This was the case with Sejo, Jungjong and Injo. A notation on the Chinese emperor's reign year is placed below the Joseon ruler's reign year. The annals for the early Joseon rulers record the season along with the lunar month (e.g., spring, first month; summer, fourth month), but later in the dynasty only the month was written. A circle (○) was used to indicate a change in the date of the entry or in the contents of the entry.
The main text is written in large characters, and normally without any breaks. However, one space is left in front of the characters for the personal name of the king in question or of his predecessors, as well as for passages that refer to actions taken personally by these Joseon rulers.
“Small notes” (i.e., notes written in characters smaller than those of the main text) are attached when some special explanation is needed. The commentaries by the diarist-historian (Sagwan) frequently appear in the form of these “small notes.”
Since the annals are written posthumously, an appendix is inserted at the end of the main text to celebrate the ruler's life and mourn his passing.
The appendix will contain records of conducts (行狀); document on the procedures to determine his posthumous title (諡狀), song of lamentation (哀冊文), and tombstone epitaph
The Sillok covers a diverse array of topics, to include the lives and deeds of rulers and leading officials; diplomatic affairs; military activities; the processes of court debates; ceremonial events; astronomical observations; natural disasters; laws and legal precedents; statistics on population, taxation, and corvée labor conscription; information on provinces and folkways; and the contents of reports to the throne, official communiqués, memorials and rescripts. Guidelines were written each time the annals on a king's reign were compiled to determine what content to include and what to exclude. Despite this, the Sillok can be aptly described as being a record on virtually every subject. Notably, the annals written in early Joseon contain much information that would be difficult to justify according to strict Confucian norms. With the passage of time, the rich diversity of the Sillok contents diminished with the focus increasingly put on political matters.
Compilation guidelines (撰修凡例) were set on the types of information to be recorded and on the methods for recoding it. A classic example of such guidelines can be found in the Veritable Records of King Hyojong. The guidelines have been summarized below to shed some light on the types of contents recorded in the Sillok:
Veritable Records of King Hyojong Compilation Guidelines
1. When writing the Sillok, the following sources are used as references: Records of Administration (時政記) by the dedicated diarist-historians, daily records by the recorders (注書日記) in the Royal Secretariat, records by officials who hold concurrent posts in the Bureau of State Records (內外兼春秋所記), memoranda scrolls (狀啓軸) from the Border Defense Council, investigations (推案) by the State Tribunal, major documents from the Ministry of Punishments (刑曹緊關可考文書) and daily records by Royal Secretariat recorders on interrogations at the State Tribunal regarding acts of sedition (事變推鞠注書日記).
2. All imperial decrees (from China) and royal edicts related to the present dynasty (Joseon) are cited directly.
3. The passing of prominent officials is indicated with the character chol (卒). When information on these persons is incomplete, it is to be supplemented by the public opinion toward them, or his own writings and tombstone epitaph.
4. Daily entries are indicated in terms of the sexagenary cycle.
5. As a general rule, records by the Office for Observance of Natural Phenomena are examined when detailing natural disasters and celestial portents, which are covered as individual events. Each typhoon, earthquake and other natural disaster that occurs in outlying regions must be recorded without fail by examining the reports that were submitted the throne at the time of occurrence.
6. As a general rule, details on selections for government posts (besides the unimportant positions, miscellaneous tasks, extraneous officials, and honorary positions) are to be written after examining the personnel-related documents at the Ministry of Personnel and Ministry of War.
7. Regarding censors’ reports to the throne, all the important contents of their first submission are to be included, while follow-ups are to be noted simply as “follow-up report” (連啓). However, when important new details are included, they are to be recorded.
8. Censors’ reports are to be identified simply by the notations “Office of Inspector-General” (憲府) or “Office of the Censor-General” (諫院), and the submitters’ names are not to be mentioned, except for the initial report. In the event of a major controversy, the names of the principle proponents and opponents must be recorded. The names of general inspectors (御史) are to be recorded, and their actions, to include demoting or promoting people as well as addressing social ills, are to be presented in detail.
9. The most important of the memorials to the throne are to be recorded entirely, but unimportant details within those memorials may be omitted. Ceremonial resignations normally need not be recorded in full. However, when these actions involve questions of right and wrong with regard to government affairs, they must be recorded.
10. Passers of the higher civil service examination each year are to be referred to as “chuigideung giin” (取其等幾人).
11. The number of soldiers in the military, the legal practices within and without the capital area, and the number of households throughout the state must be recorded in detail, after examining the relevant documents.
12. The writers must strive to keep the text both concise and substantive, deleting useless passages and simplifying confusing parts.
13. Issues of the auspicious (such as weddings, birthdays) and inauspicious (funerals) ceremonies at court which are of value to future generations concerning the standards and norms of behavior should be recorded despite their complexity.
14. Important points must, without fail, be recorded in summary regarding the demotion and promotion of officials and their right and wrong deeds in both the public and private spheres.
The above text illustrates what the Sillok compilers believed to be important and provides clues as to how they organized the material.
Compilation and Management of the Sillok
■ 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, the 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.
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.
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.
The Imjin War with Japan erupted in 1592 (25th year of Seonjo’s reign), and the archives inside the Bureau of State Records (in the capital) as well as in the archives at Chungju and Seongju were all destroyed by fire that same year. Fortunately, the sets safeguarded at Jeonju were saved thanks to the heroic efforts of local scholars An Ui (安義 ?-?) and Son Hongrok (孫弘祿 ?-?). They heard the news that the invading Japanese troops had reached Geumsan in the sixth month of 1592 and used their own funds to move 804 fascicles of Sillok texts, covering the reigns from Taejo to Myeongjong, as well as other documents stored in the Jeonju archive, to Eunbong-am, a Buddhist hermitage on Mt. Naejang, in Jeong-eup (Township). The two scholars took turns guarding the precious documents for more than a year, until they could be handed over to the government authorities in the seventh month of 1593. The government officials who received the texts first transported them to the coast and then by sea to Haeju (Hwanghae Province). They were subsequently relocated to Ganghwa Island in the mouth of the Han River and then to Mt. Myohang (Pyeong’an Province). The Imjin War ended in 1598, leaving a devastated country and a government bereft of funds and material resources. Despite the difficulties, a 33-month-long project was launched in the seventh month in 1603 to reproduce three printed sets of the first thirteen Veritable Records (from Taejo to Myeongjong). The project ended in the third month of 1606 with five complete sets of the Joseon Sillok up to that time (the original set from Jeonju, a handwritten revised version used as the master for printing, plus the three printed sets).
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.