Uigwe: The Royal Protocols of the Joseon Dynasty

Under the Joseon (Choson) Dynasty from 1392 to 1910, for every significant state function, a Uigwe (Royal Protocol) would be issued. A committee would be set up in advance and decisions taken as to the exact form the ceremony was to take. Subsequently, this would be written out in great detail based on official primary records in a Uigwe, often accompanied by elaborate and very finely executed paintings showing the ceremony taking place.

Uigwe were prepared for ceremonies honouring the dead, investitures, marriage ceremonies, banquets to celebrate the arrival of diplomatic missions, royal archery contests, funerals, and for the initiation and completion of major state building projects. Copies of the Uigwe were kept in the royal palace and in the offices of government there (especially the Protocol Office), and four further copies placed in secure repositories in the countryside, alongside the copies of the Annals. With every significant state function thus covered, the Uigwe are a vital witness to Korean life, culture and history.

The Uigwe survive from 1606 to 1910 (copies of Uigwe from the early part of the Choson Dynasty were lost during the Japanese Invasion of 1592). A total of 3,872 volumes of Uigwe are preserved in Korea. No other country has anything at all comparable to these Uigwe, which are unique to Korea: they are of world cultural and historical significance. The surviving Uigwe are mostly those housed in the secure repositories in the countryside, plus many of those from the royal palace. The Uigwe are particularly important as they survive right down to 1910, showing how state ceremonial in Korea was adapted as the country opened to the outside and became dominated by the Japanese. This documentary heritage was inscribed on the International Memory of the World Register in 2007.

International Register



2940 volumes of Uigwe are housed in Kyujanggak Institute for Korean Studies at Seoul National University, 490 volumes are housed in the Jangseogak site, Academy of Korean Studies, Seoul. In 2011, France returned to Korea on a renewable loan basis 297 volumes which were previously held by the Bibliothèque Nationale de France (National Library of France) while Japan returned permanently 167 volumes previously held by the Imperial Household Agency of Japan. ~ 1. Kyujanggak, the Institute for Korean Studies, Seoul National University 2. Jangseogak, the Academy of Korean Studies