Saturday, June 25, 2011

Jangseogak reopens

From Joseon royal library to global archive, Jangseogak reopens on July 5

The Jangseogak Archives which hold the time-honored royal records of the Joseon Kingdom (1392-1910) will reopen on July 5 in a new building at the Academy of Korean Studies (AKS) in Bundang, Gyeonggi Province. This is the first time for Jangseogak to have its own building since its inception.

King Gojong attempted to establish a royal archive to house some 100,000 volumes of books scattered around various institutions around the nation, which included the annals of the past kings and other royal house-related records under the name of the “Imperial House Book Collection” in 1908. However, as Korea was forcibly annexed by Japan one year later in 1910, the project was abandoned.

In February 1911, a new government agency called “Iwangjik” was created by the Japanese colonial government and took over the management of the Imperial House Book Collection. In June of the same year, the library department of Iwangjik set up a library named “Iwangjik Jangseogak,” and was housed inside Changdeok Palace in 1915. All books held by the institution were relocated to this four-story building, located southeast of Nakseonjae in the palace. The library was named “Jangseogak” from 1918, when a wooden tablet bearing the name was hung on the front of the building. The Jangseogak collection was moved to Changgyeong Palace in 1936.
Then, the library was relocated permanently from the Cultural Heritage Administration to its present address in the AKS in 1981 but it still didn’t have its own building.

Since then, the library has performed the dual function of preserving and managing invaluable classical texts from the royal archives of the Joseon Kingdom and carrying out research on those texts in order to disseminate historical knowledge to a broader audience.
The records and documents stored in the Jangseogak archival collection deal with the full spectrum of activities of the royal court of the Joseon Kingdom, ranging from writings on the culture of the nobility and royal power to edicts and state policies.

The collection encompasses over 90,000 classical texts from the royal court, along with some 40,000 texts from the private sector.
Now, the collection has been moved to the new space and is ready to reopen with better preservation facilities. The construction of the new building began on April 6, 2009 and was completed in May this year with some 22.6 billion won in construction costs.

The reopening of Jangseogak is meant to recover its dignity as a royal library after it experienced the vicissitudes of Korean history.
Jangseogak is the second largest archive that houses royal documents after Gyujanggak. However, it is different from the latter in that it holds more private material which is a key factor to show the life and culture of the noble class beside the royal clans.

Since the 1990s, the academy has focused on collecting the private material from the Joseon noble clans nationwide and currently it holds some 40,000 texts. Private owners have donated ancient documents, which have been handed down from their ancestors to the archive in the hope that the material will be used for further research.

“We’re different from Gyujanggak because we have a large collection from the private sector. Although the royal documents are priceless, the private collection that displays the historical value of the then elite class through the old documents without filtering is as important as the royal manuscripts and we can study them from various perspectives,” Yi Wan-woo, director of the library, said in an interview with The Korea Times.

He pointed to the “Jijeong Jogyeok” (Zhizheng Tiaogeor Code of the Yuan Dynasty), the original copy which was recovered in Gyeongju, North Gyeongsang Province, in 2002. Highly valuable as an academic resource and cultural property, it is also an important historical reference for an analysis of daily life and the study of the legal system, customs, and language of Joseon as well as Goryeo, under the influence of Yuan.

“The collection of Jijeong Jogyeok is the biggest achievement of our institution. Without our efforts to recover and preserve the private collection, such an invaluable asset might have been buried somewhere and remained unnoticed,” he said.

Along with the reopening of the library, the director said he will launch the “21st-Century Jangseogak Research Project” this year.
“If the construction of the new building of Jangseogak is the reinforcement of the hardware, this project will be the supplement of the software. This project will include finding ancient documents scattered around the world and ultimately lead to the establishment of a global archive by digitalizing them so that scholars researching Korean studies worldwide can have easier access to original content,” he said.

Along with the globalization of the digital archive, the academy will also make them familiar to the public for education and use them as other cultural sources.

For the project, Yi said that two billion won will be put into the project annually for the next five years, totaling up to some 10 billion won. “This is the largest project ever taken by our academy,” he said.

As mounting interest in Korean culture has been ignited from the K-pop boom in Europe, it is necessary to build up the basic resources of humanities studies and spiritual ground to maintain the trend.

“To share our products and solid roots of Korean traditional and historical culture with people, I hope we develop our studies and research,” he said.

Jangseogak collection


Registered as a UNESCO Memory of the World, the royal protocols document state rituals and proceedings of various events held at the royal court of the Joseon Kingdom. In beautiful bindings, colorful paintings, illustrations and calligraphy show the essence of the Joseon Royal Court’s culture. The archive includes “Gyeongmo Palace Uigwe” (The Royal Protocols of the Gyeongmo Palace Shrine) created in 1777-1800 as a handwritten manuscript and a series of uigwe records documenting protocols observed during rituals held in Gyeongmo Palace, a shrine dedicated to the memory of Prince Sado, during the reign of King Jeongjo.

Dongui Bogam

Listed as the UNESCO Memory of the World, “Dongui Bogam” (Principles and Practice of Eastern Medicine) is an encyclopedic medical book written in 1613 by a court physician, Heo Jun. It was published by the Medical Center for the Royal Family of the Joseon Kingdom. The academy currently holds 25 woodblock print volumes, along with its “hangeul” (Korean alphabet) script version. It was republished in Japan and China, during the 18th century and thereafter.

Royal genealogy of the Joseon Kingdom

The genealogical records of the Joseon Royal House are the main reference for the identification of the lineages of its kings and queens and their relatives, and the reconstruction of their family trees. Currently, 1,256 books on the genealogy of the Joseon Kingdom are found in the collection of Jangseogak. These include “Seonwollok” (Record of the Wellspring of Fine Jade) and the sole extant copy of “Donnyeong Bocheop” (Royal Genealogy of the Joseon Dynasty), “Seonwon Gyebo Giryak” (Royal Genealogy of the Joseon Kingdom) written in 1882-1897, “Jongbusi” (Office of the Clan Register) and genealogical records of Joseon rulers from King Taejo to King Sunjong, including King Taejo’s fourth to first-generation ancestors.

Kings’ writings and calligraphy

The writings and calligraphy by the kings offer special glimpses into the learning and scholarship of the past rulers of Joseon, and their literary and calligraphic taste and levels. “Yeolseongeopil” (Handwritings of Past Kings) in 1722-1723, Gyoseogan (Office of Editorial Review) edition, rubbings and an album of handwritings by 11 Joseon rulers, including King Munjong, King Sejo and King Sukjong, are the examples.

Code of the Yuan Dynasty

This is a code of law created in Yuan China during the reign of Emperor Zhizheng. The code of law was brought to Korea during the late Goryeo period and was used throughout the Joseon Kingdom, as a reference in legislative activities and diplomatic affairs. The copy in the collection of Jangseogak is currently the only surviving copy of this code of law in the world, and was discovered among old family documents of the head house of the Gyeongju Son Clan.

Classical novels in Hangeul

Classical novels in Hangeul, previously housed in Nakseonjae inside Changgyeong Palace, were the narrative genre widely read among court ladies. They often have a beautiful binding and are written in fine calligraphy. “Nakseongbiryong” (The Falling Star and the Flying Dragon) is a handwritten manuscript while a classical novel telling the epic account of the life of a Chinese hero, written in typical palace-style hangeul calligraphy are representative of the collection.

Source: Korea Times or

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