The Oegyujanggak Uigwe


The Oegyujanggak Uigwe





Gyujanggak 奎章閣 was a royal library established on the grounds of Changdeokgung Palace in the capital by order of King Jeongjo (正祖 r. 1776-1800 the 22nd ruler of the Joseon 朝鮮 Dynasty 1392-1910) in 1776. Over time, the library was also developed into a state-spon­sored research institution. In 1782, a royal library annex called Oegyujanggak (oe literally means “outer”) was also established on Gangwha Island to preserve important documents related to the royal family more systematically and securely than could be done in the capital. Oegyujanggak housed copies of writings, calligraphy, and drawings by former kings as well as the royal genealogies, uigwe, and other such items. As such it could be called a repository of royal family culture.


The uigwe is a collection of records of the preparations for and conduct of state-sponsored events and ceremonies involv­ing key members of the Joseon royal family. The text explains each and every process in detail and is supported by illustrations elabo­rately drawn by hand. These volumes served as references for later generations when the time came to organize similar cer­emonies or events, thereby minimizing trial and error.


Uigwe began to be produced in the 15th century, during ear­ly Joseon, and the practice continued until the end of the king­dom in the early 20th century. They preserve core elements of the Confucian cultural world, which revered ritual and propri­ety. These works also reveal the governing philosophy and sys­tems by which the state was run during Joseon. Their historical and cultural value has been recognized globally, and the “The Royal Protocols of the Joseon Dynasty”*1 were inscribed into the UNESCO Memory of the World Register in 2007.


Five to nine copies of each uigwe were produced, and prepared in one of two versions, regular and deluxe. Usu­ally only one copy of the deluxe version*2 was crafted, which was intended to be read exclusively by the king. The rest of the copies*3 were kept for preservation and stored in various libraries or depositories around the kingdom. The uigwe kept at the Oegyu­janggak were of the deluxe variety and are therefore all the more valuable. The copies for the king were naturally far supe­rior to the others in terms of the calligraphy, illustrations, pro­duction materials, and binding. The uigwe reserved for the king’s eyes only feature block style*4 characters meticulously hand­written onto the highest quality paper. The illustrations were gracefully drawn using natural pigments, and the volumes were covered in silk and bound with brass tacks. As such they represent the very finest quality tomes of their day.




The categories of Joseon uigwe are as diverse as the subjects they document, from events in the life of an important royal family member to state-sponsored projects such as the compilation of dynastic annals or royal tomb construction.


The first step in carrying out these events and projects was to establish the ad hoc directorate*5 to plan and oversee their execution. This supervisory organization consisted of a headquarters,*6 under which were placed subunits in charge of carrying out specific tasks. Officials from various govern­ment administrative offices were summoned to take part in the directorate, and since the duties were temporary, the officials often served concurrently in their regular posts. One of the government’s highest-ranking officials*7 was called the “supreme commissioner,”*8 and he had three or four “assistant commis­sioners”*9 under him.


The directorate was disbanded as soon as the state-spon­sored ceremonial event or project was completed, and an “uigwe administrative office”*10 was set up in its place. This body was in charge of collecting and organizing the documents, data and illustrations related to the event or project and then compiling them systematically in an uigwe text.


The main contents of a uigwe include: (1) discussions on holding the ceremony or event; (2) names of the officials in attendance as well as the artisans who made the implements used in the ceremony or who worked on the construction proj­ect, (3) activities performed on each day leading up to and dur­ing the event or throughout the project period, (4) an account­ing of expenditures on labor and materials, (5) illustrations of key scenes and implements used, and (6) the uigwe compilation process.


*1 The uigwe are referred to as “royal protocols” by UNESCO, although these texts serve more as records for reference than as manuals on how to perform the ceremony or carry out the project in question.

*2 It is referred to as eoram-yong, 御覽用 “for royal perusal.”

*3 They are collectively known as bunsang-yong, 分上用 “for distribution.”

*4 Namely the haeseo 楷書 or haeseo-che 楷書體

*5 Dogam, 都監 “directorate,” “general directorate” or “superintendency”

*6 Docheong, 都廳 “directorate headquarters”

*7 Jeongseung 政丞 or Uijeong, 議政 prime-minister and two vice-premiers of Joseon

*8 The dojaejo, 都提調 “supreme commissioner,” “controller-general” or “commissioner-general,” was an advisory position appointed to incumbent or retired High State Councilors.

*9 Jaejo, 提調 “commissioner” or “assistant commissioner.” Jaejo was appointed amongst Panseo, 判書 the heads of the Six Ministries of Six Boards.

*10 Uigwe-cheong, 儀軌廳 uigwe administrative office”

*11 Binjeon, 殯殿 “coffin hall,” where the corpse lies in state before the funeral

*12 Honjeon, 魂殿 “spirit hall,” where the spirit tablet of the deceased king or queen is enshrined during the (nearly) three-year mourning period after the funeral



Uigwe on the Wedding Rites for King Yeongjo and Queen Jeongsun (detail)

Joseon, 1759


Uigwe on the Conferral of a Posthumous Title on Lady Kim, the Top-ranking Concubine of King Seonjo

Joseon, 1755



Uigwe on the Funeral Rites for Uiso, Royal Grandson of King Yeongjo

Joseon, 1752


Uigwe on the Funeral Rites for Queen Jangryeol

Joseon, 1688


An excerpt from NMK’s magazine: National Museum of Korea vol.16, NMK, 2011

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