Annals of the Joseon Dynasty
The annals of the Joseon Dynasty comprise 1,893 books covering 472 years (1392 -1863) of the history of the Joseon Dynasty, from the reign of King Taejo, the founder, to the end of the reign of King Cheoljong. Thick extensive set of records is considered to deal with the longest period of a single dynasty of any search records in the world. For their cultural and historic rarity, the Annals of the Joseon Dynasty deserve world cultural preservation as an invaluable documentary heritage. First, the Annals of the Joseon Dynasty are the authentic records of one dynasty which cover the longest period of time. There are some well-known historical documents compiled for long periods of time. For instance, the Chinese Huangming Shilu, the Annals of Ming Dynasty, records the 260 years of the reigns of 13 Chinese emperors, and the Chinese Daqing Lizhao Shilu, the Annals of the Great Qing Dynasty, covered 296years.
Yet the Annals of the Joseon Dynasty are unrivaled in the length of time covered. Second, the Annals of the Joseon Dynasty boast the most extensive works containing the greatest variety of historic facts. Since the Dang Dynasty, when China initiated the tradition of compiling annals, Japan and Vietnam followed suit. However, their annals can not stand comparison with the Annals of the Joseon Dynasty in quantity and quality. The Japanese Sandai Jitsuroku, The Annals of Three Reigns, are a very small collection in comparison.
The Vietnamese Great Authentic Annals of Vietnam, recording the history of the Nguyen Dynasty(1802∼1945), consist of 548 books.. The Chinese Huangming Shilu, Annals of Ming Dynasty, with 2,964 books. surpass in number the 1,893 books of the Annals of the Joseon Dynasty, but each volume is thinner and the total number of words is much less. (The Chinese Huangming Shilu have 16 million letters while the Annals of the Joseon Dynasty have 64 million letters). The Annals of the Great Qing Dynasty, are composed of 4,404 books, ranking them as the world largest historical document in numbers of volumes, but they consist of the same content written in three different language, Manchu, Chinese, and Mongolian.
Thus their size is deemed to be one third of the total number of volumes. By this account, the Annals of the Joseon Dynasty are evidently the world’s most outstanding in size, historic value, richness of content, and every other respect. Third, the contents of these annals are encyclopedic. They include not only general state affair but also diplomacy among neighboring northeast Asian countries, politics, the social system, the economy, religion, astronomical and atmospheric phenomena, geography, music, science, military affairs, transportation, and arts, as well as the modus vivendi of all classes from the royal household to the populace.
Therefore these are precious historical materials for Koreanologists and other interested people, clarifying the lifestyle of the Joseon era. Fourth, the Annals of the Joseon Dynasty are highly reliable records based on actual historical facts. For their compilation, historiographers directly collected material, wrote drafts, edited them, and published the annals. These historiographers were professional official legally guaranteed independence in their record-keeping and the right to keep secrets. They had to participate in and record all of the king’s movements and all national affairs to make out the Sacho, or “Draft History”. Their daily drafts and the various documents and daily records of the king and government offices became the main sources for the compilation of the annals.
When a king died, the annals of his reign were started after the coronation of his successor by the Sillokjeong, the Office for Annals Compilation. Nobody was allowed to read the Draft History, not even the king, and any historiographer who disclosed its contents was severely punished. These strict regulations lend great credibili ty to these records. Fifth, the Annals of the Joseon Dynasty, printed with movable type, show the sophisticated status and long tradition of Korean printing.
The Joseon Dynasty’s Annals of the first three reigns, those of Kings Taejo(r.1392∼1398), Jeongjo (r.1399∼1400), and Taejong(r. 1401∼1418), were in manuscript form in excellent calligraphy. But later annals, from the Annals of King Sejong (r. 1418∼1450), were printed with movable metal and wooden type, which was unprecedented in the making of annals in Japan and China. Movable-type printing of these massive works required elaborate skill. Tens and thousands of pieces of movable type in different fonts could be produced only by remarkably advanced printing technology. Taking the advanced printing culture of the Goryeo Dynasty, which utilized metal movable type for the first time in the world, the Joseon Dynasty strenuously upgraded and molded it into the mass production which enabled this landmark documentary heritage.
Sixth, the preservation of the vast collection of annals in almost perfect condition near the end of the Joseon era is unparalleled in the world. The annals published for the previous king were made in four copies and stored with one set in Chunchugwan, the Office for Annals Compilation, and one set in each of three archives in deep mountain sites built to avoid unforeseen damage and to ensure that the annals would be transmitted to posterity. This special care under a national system has made it possible today to utilize the cultural and historical heritage of these precious annals.
Last, the Annals of Joseon Dynasty are treasured historic, political, and diplomatic material for research on the relations of Japan, Manchuria, China, and the Ryukyus. They also provide useful information about Korea’s modern history, the initial period of the open-door policy advancing to the European nations, America, and other countries. These annals clarify that the Joseon Dynasty did not just close its door but sought active diplomatic relationships aiming at brisk political, economic, and cultural exchanges with East Asian countries. Facing the power of european nations in the 17th and 18th centuries, the dynasty initially rejected them but gradually made various approaches to them. So the Annals of the Joseon Dynasty possess great value to the world in casting light on Korea’s diplomatic relations with East Asian, American, and European countries.
To broaden public access to the annals, the Korean government has supported the project of translating them into Korean from the original classical Chinese. After 26 years of effort, the Korean edition of the annals of the Joseon dynasty was completed in 1993. To provide easy public access to the annals themselves and information about them, a CD-ROM version was made in 1995. These have rapidly popularized the Annals of the Joseon Dynasty for in Korea as well as in the world scholarly community, which indicates their great cultural value. In many respects the Annals of the Joseon Dynasty are the finest example of classical historical records in the world, an invaluable documentary heritage.