472 Years of History Recorded with Precision - The Annals of the Joseon Dynasty
The Veritable Records of the Joseon Dynasty, also called the Annals of the Joseon Dynasty or, simply, the Sillok, are a collection of the daily records of 25 kings of the Joseon dynasty (1392-1910). The 133,968-page collection – which would take seven years to read at a pace of 50 pages a day – covers nearly every day during the 472 years between the enthronement of Joseon’s founding king, Taejo, in 1392 to the death of its 25th king, Cheoljong, in 1863. The veritable records of Joseon’s final kings, Gojong and Sunjong, are excluded from the official collection as they were manipulated by imperial Japan.
As stated on the Veritable Records website, "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.""
The practice of compiling daily records of the king began in China and was started in Korea during the Goryeo period (918-1392). Compilation of veritable records was considered a check on a king’s behavior in Confucian society since he knew that his every action would be recorded for future generations to see.
During the reign of a king, eight full-time royal historiographers worked in rotating pairs, recording in detail the contents of all the king’s meetings, activities, and events. Documents from government bureaus, provincial offices, and envoys, information about weather and natural events, obituaries of key officials who had died, and more, would also be collected as reference material. Then, upon the death of a king, a temporary office would be created to oversee the compilation of the Veritable Records for that king. There were various regulations regarding what and how to include in the text, and historiographers would add their own commentary about events and people.
After the Veritable Records of a king were finalized, four copies were made. One copy was kept in the capital, Hanyang, while the other three copies were each sent to a different provincial archive. However, being located in cities made the archives vulnerable to looting and fire, so they were later relocated to remote mountain archives.
The Veritable Records were written in classical Chinese and were therefore difficult for even scholars to read. Therefore, beginning in the 1960s, the Veritable Records were translated into Korean. In the 1990s, the texts were digitized and made available on CD-ROM. Today, the Veritable Records are available online, with search features and footnotes on terminology and historical figures. This has led to a growth of historical movies and dramas based on the events described in the Veritable Records. Projects to translate the Veritable Records into English are also underway.
- National Institute of Korean History, "Veritable Records of the Joseon Dynasty - Compilation and Management of the Sillok"
- Koehler, Robert. 2011. Joseon's Royal Heritage: 500 Years of Splendor. Seoul Selection. p. 86-95.