History of the Kyujanggak

Following the Past to Create the New:
The Kyujanggak Institute for Korean Studies

The establishment and role of the Kyujanggak as a royal academic institute

The historical origins of the Kyujanggak Institute for Korean Studies at Seoul National University can be traced back to the inception of the Kyujanggak as a royal academic institute in the late Chosŏn period. As early as 1463 (the ninth year of Sejo’s reign), Yang Sŏngji 梁誠之 (1415-1482) suggested establishing the Kyujanggak as a means for preserving royal writings, but at that time his proposal could not be implemented. Only in 1694 (the twentieth year of Sukchong’s reign) was the Kyujanggak established as an annexed building to the Chongbu Temple (宗簿寺), dedicated to the preservation of the calligraphies and texts compiled by the Chosŏn rulers. A hanging tablet board displaying calligraphy by the king himself was installed.

Immediately after Chŏngjo 正祖 (r. 1776-1800) acceded to the throne, he established the Kyujanggak at Ch’angdŏk Palace and, later, instituted the Outer Kyujanggak (Oe Kyujanggak 外奎章閣) in Kanghwa Island. In 1776, Chŏngjo, who had just become king, established the Kyujanggak as an official state institution to preserve documents such as the writings, calligraphies, and paintings of the Chosŏn rulers, as well as the genealogy books of the royal family. Furthermore, he entrusted full-time scholar-officials with the tasks of carrying out research, providing him with advice, preserving and collecting domestic and foreign records as reference material for the administration of the state, and printing books. Chŏngjo also implemented the ch’ogye munsin 抄啓文臣 system in the Kyujanggak, selecting talented people among early career civil officials younger than thirty-seven years old and making them take up studies again. These selected officials became the king’s right-hand men. In 1782 the king also established the Oe Kyujanggak in Kanghwa Island, where he ordered officials to preserve documents such as calligraphies, royal orders (kyomyŏng 敎命), and genealogy books of the royal family that since the reign of Hyojong 孝宗 (r. 1649-1659) had been kept together with military equipment on Kanghwa Island.

Kyujanggak after the reign of Chŏngjo

Right after the death of Chŏngjo in 1800, the role of the Kyujanggak rapidly weakened. The institute lost its function as the principal consultative organ for government administration, and, at the same time, the position of kaksin 閣臣 (Official of the Kyujanggak) bestowed upon its members became an honorary one. The institute’s mission became limited to the preservation of documents such as writings and calligraphies of the rulers. In this period, the work of the editor-compilers (kŏmsŏgwan 檢書官), who were appointed as low-level officials among men from illegitimate lineages (sŏŏl), became more prominent than that of the regular kaksin. These editor-compilers, while continuing to work on the compilation of the already existing Daily Records of the Royal Court (Ilsŏngnok 日省錄), had the task of making sure that there were no mistakes when an important text was published.

After Kojong 高宗 (r. 1863-1907) acceded to the throne in 1863, his father, the regent Hŭngsŏn Taewŏn’gun 興宣 大院君 (1820-1898), in order to expand the power of the Office of the Royal Genealogy (Chongch’inbu 宗親府), assigned to the latter the traditional function of the Kyujanggak as an archive of royal writings, calligraphies, portraits, and genealogy books, while the Kyujanggak remained in charge of the management of regular books. Starting from 1873, in the wake of a growing interest in so-called “enlightenment thought” (kaehwa sasang), Western books were actively imported from Shanghai and stacked in a building annexed to the Kyujanggak. In 1894, as the authority and functions of the royal family were reduced due to the Kabo Reforms (Kabo kaehyŏk), the Kyujanggak was renamed Kyujangwŏn 奎章院 and downgraded as one of the six institutions under the control of the newly created Ministry of the Royal Household (Kungnaebu 宮內府). When the king took refuge in the Russian delegation (Agwan p’ach’ŏn 俄館播遷), the government changed, and with the restoration of royal authority in 1897, the Kyujanggak returned to its original name, its previous functions were restored, and it took the additional role of managing the new books (sinsŏ 新書) purchased to promote the country’s modernization.

The Japanese appropriation of the Kyujanggak collection

In 1907, after Kojong’s forced abdication and the reorganization of government, the functions of the Kyujanggak changed considerably. Besides the preservation of royal writings and artifacts, the Kyujanggak took over the functions of the Office of the Royal Genealogy and the Office of Advancement of Literature (Hongmun’gwan 弘文館). Furthermore, with the management of state-owned books becoming the main task of the Kyujanggak, more than 100,000 volumes, including records kept in the historical archives (sago 史庫) and books owned by the Office of Advancement of Literature, the Crown Prince Tutorial Office (Sigangwŏn 侍講院), the Royal Library (Chibokchae 集玉齋), and the Office for Annals Compilation (Ch’unch’ugwan 春秋館), were integrated into the Kyujanggak collection and named the imperial collection (chesil tosŏ 帝室圖書). It was at this time that the Veritable Records of the Chosŏn Dynasty (Chosŏn wangjo sillok 朝鮮王朝實錄) and the Daily Record of the Royal Secretariat (Sŭngjŏngwŏn ilgi 承政院日記) were transferred to the Kyujanggak.

In 1910, with Japan’s annexation of Korea, the Kyujanggak was discontinued, and the imperial collection came to be provisionally managed by the Office of the Yi Royal Family (Yiwangjik 李王職). The following year, the Investigation Bureau (Ch’wijoguk 取調局) of the Government-General of Korea (Chosŏn ch’ongdokpu 朝鮮總督府) took over the collection and stored it in the newly built Japanese-style structures of Pongmo-dang (奉慕堂) and Pogak (譜閣) inside Ch’anggyŏng Palace. In 1912, the Governor-General’s Office took charge of the imperial collection and changed its name to the Kyujanggak collection (Kyujanggak tosŏ 奎章閣圖書). After establishing Keijō Imperial University in 1923, the Government-General decided to relocate the Kyujanggak collection from the Education and Management Bureau of the Government-General to the Keijō Imperial University library, moving a total of 160,561 books in three phases from 1928 to 1930. Excluding 20,648 books classified as regular volumes, 140,913 books were designated as the Kyujanggak collection.

Reception and cataloging of the Kyujanggak collection at Seoul National University

Seoul National University was established in October 1946, and the Kyujanggak collection previously preserved at Keijō Imperial University was newly placed under the jurisdiction of the Seoul National University Library Annex, without any change in the number of volumes and place of preservation.

During the Korean War, a total of 8,657 volumes that would be later designated as National Treasures were loaded onto military trucks and transferred to the city of Busan, which at the time was the temporary capital. Among these volumes were the Veritable Records of the Chosŏn Dynasty, the Records of the Border Defense Council (Pibyŏnsa tŭngnok 備邊司謄錄), the Daily Records of the Royal Court, and the Daily Record of the Royal Secretariat. They were continuously moved during the war between different archives, such as the Office of Property Custody (Kwanjaech'ŏ 官財處), the Korean Women’s Association of South Gyeongsang (Kyŏngnam Taehan puin hoe), and the South Gyeongsang Provincial Government Office (Kyŏngnam toch'ŏng), before returning to the Seoul National University library in June of 1954. Full-scale cataloging of the Kyujanggak collection could only begin in the 1960s. In November 1962, a committee was established under the president’s direct control to deliberate on the preservation, management, and use of the Kyujanggak collection. Soon after that, an Index of book titles of the editions made in Korea of the Kyujanggak collection (Kyujanggak tosŏ Han’gukpon sŏmyŏng saegin 奎章閣圖書韓國本書名索引) in four volumes was completed, followed the next year by an Index of book titles of the editions made in China of the Kyujanggak collection, completed in August 1963. In little more than one and a half years, from September 1964 to June 1966, more than 52,000 ancient documents were cataloged. And from 1973, works such as the Veritable Records of the Chosŏn Dynasty, the Records of the Border Defense Council, the Daily Records of the Royal Court, the Essentials of Seventeen Dynastic Histories (Sip-ch’il sach’an kogŭm t’ongyo 十七史纂古今通要), and the Collection of Appeals and Letters to the Emperors of the Song Dynasty (Songjo p’yojŏn ch’ongnyu 宋朝表牋總類) were designated as National Treasures.

Establishment of the Kyujanggak collection management office

In 1975, Seoul National University moved its campus from Daehak-ro, in central Seoul, to Gwanak, in the city’s south. At that time, its annexed library was enlarged and reorganized, and its name changed to Seoul National University Library. Within the library, a Kyujanggak collection management office was established as a branch dedicated to the administration of the collection, which was preserved in special stacks of the central library situated on Gwanak campus. The university at the time already possessed 6,380 books purchased after the independence of the country, or donated by the Ilsa archive, the Karam archive, the Sangbaek archive, and the Kyŏngje archive. Furthermore, 17,821 woodblocks of the Office of Publication (Kyosŏgwan 校書館) that were previously stored in the colonnade corridors of Kyŏngbok Palace were incorporated into the Kyujanggak collection

Organization of the Kyujanggak collection progressed steadily after the 1960s, and its results began to be published in the mid-1970s. Starting with the one-volume edition of the Annotated catalog of the Kyujanggak collection – classics and masters categories (Kyujanggak tosŏ haeje – kyŏng, chabu) in 1978, a total of eight volumes of annotated catalogs were published until 1987. In 1981, a two-volume Complete index of the Korean editions of the Kyujanggak collection (Kyujanggak tosŏ han’gukpon jonghammongnok) was published, followed the next year by the Complete index of the Chinese editions (Chunggukpon chonghammongnok). An academic journal titled Kyujanggak began publication in 1977, featuring research papers and annotated works on the material preserved in the Kyujanggak.

Transfer from the central library to an independent and newly constructed building

In September 1990, the Kyujanggak moved to a dedicated, newly constructed building, becoming independent from the central library and setting the stage for its autonomous development. In March 1992, with the reorganization of the university, the Kyujanggak collection management office, formerly attached to the central library, became an independent institution affiliated with the university. Furthermore, the Kyujanggak regulations were promulgated and a management committee was created. As an independent institution, the office appointed librarians and full-time curators and researchers in charge of the management and study of the collection, creating its own workforce able to carry out research and document management.

Rebirth as a Korean studies research institute

In February 2006, in order to develop a full-fledged Korean studies research institution, the Seoul National University Korean Culture Research Center and the Kyujanggak joined as a single organ, establishing the Kyujanggak Institute for Korean Studies. Through the combination of the preexisting organization and functions of the two institutions, the activities of preservation and management of the Kyujanggak collection and those of research, publishing, education, and dissemination became more integrated and effective.