The Seungjeongwon, the Royal Secretariat of the Joseon Dynasty, was responsible for keeping
Seungjeongwon Ilgi, the Diaries of the Royal Secretariat. These diaries are a detailed record
of the daily events and official schedules of the court, from the Joseon Dynasty's first king,
King Taejo, to its 27th and last, King Sunjong. Through the vicissitudes of time, only 3,243 diaries
are extant. The existing diaries have detailed information on 288 years of the Joseon Dynasty, from March 12,
1623 (the 1st year of the 16th king, King Injo) to August 29,1910 (the 4th year of the 27th king, king Sunjong).
Seungjeongwon Ilgi has the largest amount of authentic historical recordings and state secrets of
the Joseon Dynasty. Also, it served as the primary source to Annals of Joseon Dynasty, thus,
its historical value is even greater than that of the Annals of Joseon Dynasty. It was designated as
National Treasure No. 303 in April, 1999 and registered as Memory of the World in September
2001. Its content contains the entire picture of Seungjeongwon, a pivotal office in a royal court,
taking care of not only important national events, but also simple routines as well. The king's
appointments including gyeongyeon, or discussions with scholars on the Confucian and other
Chinese classics, meetings with court functionaries, administrative acts, and affairs in the queen's
inner palace were listed in the preface to a monthly diary. The names of the royal secretaries
and of the scribes are recorded in every day's diary. Recorded underneath the list are the names
of daily deputy officials and their attendance or absence.
The details of the main text are written in the order of the
daily tasks of the Seungjeongwon, daily regards to the
king and his queen, the king's gyeongyeon, the
Seungjeongwon's personnel affairs, reports from different
ministries, and the king's commands. On general principle,
the daily records were supposed to be compiled into one
diary every month. But most diaries recording the earlier
period of a king were rather roughly written, so that two to
five months were compiled into one diary. Later in a reign
the content tended to increase, so that two diaries might
be needed for one month.
The keeping of diaries began in the founding year of the Joseon Dynasty, but those of the kings
before King Injo were burned to ashes during the Japanese invasions of Korea and by palace
fires. Thus, the extant 3,243 diaries are preserved. Seungjeongwon Ilgi vividly represents an
Eastern monarchial sovereign system, politics, policy making, and power structure, while at the
same time containing an invaluable legacy of documentary culture. The size of Seungjeongwon
Ilgi is unprecedented: about 242.5 million characters in 3,243 diaries.
(Comparative data: Annals of the Joseon Dynasty contains 54 million characters in 888 volumes;
Ershiwushi, the Compendium of Chinese History Books, 40 million characters in 3,386 volumes)
Seungjeongwon Ilgi, recorded by royal secretaries and scribes, provides etymological data, as
well as changes in Korean and Chinese writing, the co-use of Chinese and Korean in state
documents around the time of the opening of the nation's ports, the influx of foreign civilization including the Japanese language and government system, and other diverse sources of
information (social and cultural value).
It covers 288 years of weather observation from the 17th to 21st centuries. It also makes
possible the accurate comparison of the lunar and the solar date (scientific and statistical value).
It shows how Catholicism started to take root under the time-honored Confucian society and the
reaction of the authorities (religious value). Diaries written after the Political Reform of 1894,
the 31st year of King Gojong, record Japan's intervention in domestic affairs. They include the
compulsory agreement requested of the Joseon king and other behind-the-scenes history in the
court, making them primary historical sources for the study of modern times of the Far East.
For the preservation of the original copies of Seungjeongwon Ilgi, housed in the Gyujanggak
Library of Seoul National University, public viewing is not allowed. But the 141 photocopies
compiled by the National History Compilation Committee (1961-1977) from the original
Seungjeongwon Ilgi are available for public reference. Moreover, the Academy of Korean Studies
has scanned and provides through the internet the hand-written copies by the Annals
Compilation Committee of the Yi Royal Household Office of the Seungjeongwon Ilgi that cover
the 2nd year (1851) of King Cheoljong to the 4th year (1910) of King Sunjong.
The National History Compilation Committee plans to digitize the photocopies of all the diaries
and provide them through the internet in the near future.