Documenting Ritual and Celebration - The Royal Protocols of the Joseon Dynasty
The Royal Protocols of the Joseon Dynasty, also referred to as Uigwe, is an over 3,895 volume collection of illustrations and commentary text which depict royal rituals and ceremonies throughout the Joseon dynasty. The Protocols served both as a commemorative record of the event as well as a reference for similar events in the future. Because the illustrations depict clothing, architecture, and more in detail, they are a priceless visual resource in understanding Joseon royal culture. The commentary text also gives insight into the role of ritual and ceremony in Joseon. Rituals and ceremonies depicted in the Royal Protocols include:
- Weddings of the king or crown prince
- Royal investiture of the crown prince, crown princess or queen
- The process of mourning including the royal funeral, mourning rituals, and burial rituals
- Construction of royal tombs
- Selection of a posthumous honorific title for a deceased king or queen
- Construction and improvement of palaces or tomb sites
- Compilation of the code of law or the Annals for a deceased king
- Alteration of the royal genealogy
- Awarding the title of meritorious subject
- Royal portrait painting
- And more
As a Confucian state, Joseon placed great importance on the role of ritual in the realm of state management. Therefore, whenever there was an upcoming ceremony or ritual, a temporary office would be established to oversee the event and ensure the proceedings went according to propriety. Part of the preparations involved the composition of a detailed, color illustration of the participants, their attire, and in what location they should stand. Architectural structures, accouterments for the event like flags, vehicles, and instruments, and more were also depicted in the illustrations. In the illustrations, the king and queen’s seat was left vacant, as it was considered inappropriate to depict the royal family’s likeness in the protocols. The commentary text explained the illustration and the protocols for the event in greater detail. Multiple copies of the protocols were made - one for viewing by the king, and others for various government offices and mountain archives.
In 1866, 297 volumes of the Royal Protocols were seized by French troops and even more were seized by the Japanese during the colonial period. The Japanese-held volumes were returned to Korea in 2011, while the French only agreed to lend their volumes on a renewable basis. The most volumes of the Royal Protocols are stored at Kyujanggak and Jangseokgak Archives. The Royal Protocols were registered as a UNESCO Memory of the World in 2007.
- Koehler, Robert. 2011. Joseon's Royal Heritage: 500 Years of Splendor. Seoul Selection. p. 91.