Royal protocols open to the public

Manuscripts returned and exhibited

Published on 19 July 2011

Author(s): The Korea Times/Chung Ah-young

Type:  Exhibition

The National Museum of Korea is holding a special exhibition through Sept. 18 to display “uigwe” (royal protocols) of the Joseon Kingdom (1392-1910).

Featuring a total of 165 historical relics including 71 pieces of uigwe, the exhibition celebrates its homecoming after being looted by French troops on the Ganghwa Island branch of Gyujanggak Library in 1866.

Designated as UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register in 2007, the treasures are the essence of Joseon’s royal culture and the history of records.

The documents were written during the Joseon Kingdom showing the Neo Confucianism culture with more emphasis on manners, the ruling ideology, and the governing system of the state.

Particularly, the uigwe returned from France includes the only copies made to be viewed solely by the kings.

The exhibition consists of six parts. The first part focuses on the definition and composition of the uigwe during the Joseon Kingdom and deals with the ancient preservation efforts of the royal records through the construction of “oegyujanggak” (royal archives) on Ganghwa Island during the reign of King Jeongjo.

The second part highlights the uigwe related to the theme of “Royal Authority & Governance,” providing insight into governing philosophy and introducing a rare case of “Bosanokhundogam Uigwe” (1682) which includes Hangeul (Korean alphabet) texts.

The third section features the theme of “Auspicious State-sponsored Events” which deals with the court rites and celebrations such as weddings and coronations.

The fourth section includes one of the most important rituals of the Kingdom, the “Royal Funerals.” The relics here will show from preparations, formation of the tombs to funeral marches and three-year mourning periods. The uigwe related to the funerals such as “Gukjang Dogam,” “Binjeon Dogam” and “Sanneung Dogam” are on display.

The fifth section titled “Memorial & Remembrance” shows how the kings and queens were remembered after their deaths. In the last part, the return process of the uigwe after being looted by French troops in 1866 is explained. Various Western records related to the French incursion including M. H. Zuber’s article in 1867 are in the section.

In the special corner themed “Life and Uigwe of King Sukjong,” the documents about King Sukjong can be viewed. The exhibition offers diverse content of the uigwe through visual technology.

Lee Su-mi, curator of the exhibition, said that “Garyedogam Uigwe,” depicting a wedding ceremony of King Yeongjo and Queen Jeongsun is reconstituted through a large-sized video. “In this uigwe, 1,299 people take part in the parade. The parade length spans one kilometer and the king’s palanquin greeting the new queen is shown for the first time in this uigwe,” she said.

Kim Young-na, director of the museum, said that the technique that reconstitutes characters in the illustrations through the video was attempted at the 2010 Shanghai Expo for the first time. “We want to make the exhibition livelier by using state-of-the-art technology,” she said.

For more information of the exhibition, visit

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