Union Académique Internationale

English Translation of the Annals of the Joseon Dynasty of Korea

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Project nº82, adopted in 2012

The English translation project of Joseon Wangjo Sillok is to translate page by page this extensive chronicle with documenting the whole gamut of the Joseon dynasty for about five centuries and, upon the completion of the translation of each volume, to provide free its English translation. The National Institute of Korean History aims to complete the English translation of the royal archives by 2033.

The Joseon wangjo sillok

The Joseon wangjo sillok (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 a 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 (Veritable Records of the Yi Dynasty) and sometimes is referred to by its abbreviation, Sillok. The collection includes two sets of ilgi (daily records), in place of sillok, for the two Joseon rulers who were deposed and stripped of the posthumous title of “great king” (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 and the final 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 sillok was 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 (gwon), bound in 1,187 books (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.