In the past, kings were regarded as beings that connected people and the heavens. As kings were viewed as sacred beings, providing the principles and standards for the world under the heavens’ commands, they were able to assume the authority to govern over everything that concerned human beings. The term, “royal family,” refers to the king and his family. To be more specific, it refers to the king and his blood descendants, and their mothers. The royal line is connected solely by blood, and because kings were revered due to sanctity, the royal line was also viewed as sacred. Thus, the descendants of the bloodline of the kings and their mothers were not merely family members of the most powerful, but symbolized something more significant, and they were called the royal family. .
Across the ages and in all countries of the world, the king was a man of power, and this was also the case for the kings and the royal family of Joseon. Most kings equated themselves as their sovereign state, and felt entitled to the wealth and luxuries gained through their power. However, this was not the case in Joseon. The members of the royal family of the Joseon Dynasty enjoyed extravagant living in the royal palaces, but the objective of such lifestyle was limited to demonstrating the authority of the king, and they even pursued simplicity. There was an exception to this practice of enjoying wealth with a sense of restraint, and it was books.
Joseon was a country of literature. In addition to those with power and the inTELectuals, even commoners enjoyed reading books. People possessed and read a wide variety of books, and books that disappeared from China could be seen in Joseon. Books produced in Joseon were well-known for having been made with quality paper and bound firmly. When books were destroyed during war and other events, they were restored using the national capacity to the fullest, as a way to overcome the devastation of war.
The most outstanding Joseon books are indisputably the books of the Joseon royal family. The rulers of Joseon did not hide their strong desires for books. They ordered skilled artisans to make books using paper of the finest quality. In the case of scriptures and important books, woodblocks or print were used to mass-produce such books, without any omissions and errors, and they were bestowed upon the provinces and vassals. The kings of Joseon believed that it was their role to provide top-quality books to others.
The Joseon royal family’s interest in books resulted in creative writing and records, and an abundance of diverse records were made for 500 years from the founding of Joseon until its collapse. Joseon wangjo sillok (The Annals of the Joseon Dynasty), Seungjeonwon ilgi (The of Royal Secretariat), and various uigwe (The Royal Protocols of the Joseon Dynasty) are examples of such records. These records are not only accurate and detailed, but they were also strictly stored through the dynasty, and thus are the culmination of the book culture of the Joseon royal family. Moreover, a storage was built to store the annals and other important books. The book storage, managed by government officials, was built in a remote area with rugged terrains so that they may be kept safe in the event of war, and soldiers were assigned to guard the storage as a way to prevent other mishaps and accidents. The stored books were removed from storage to be aired and dried, and this was performed at a specific time of the year. In addition, a law setting forth the procedures for taking out and viewing the books was also enacted for observation. All of these administrative matters can be seen in Poswaeilgi (Daily Records of (Book) Airing) and Sillokhyeongjian.
The books of the Joseon royal family are of the finest quality in terms of material and content. Furthermore, they also provide insight into the Joseon royal family and the state’s attitude toward protecting books through strict storage measures. The book culture of the Joseon royal family is arguably one of the best parts of Joseon culture.