Old calendrical diary by friend of Admiral Yi Sun-sin returns to Korea
An old calendar from 1600 that was used like a diary for Ryu Seong-ryong (1542-1607), a Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) scholar-official and longtime friend of Admiral Yi Sun-sin (1545-1598), returned to Korea and was revealed to the local press on Thursday.
The Cultural Heritage Administration (CHA) and the Overseas Korean Cultural Heritage Foundation said it acquired the Calendrical Book of the Byeongja Year (1600) with Memoranda by Ryu Seong-ryong from a private Japanese collector in August after hearing about its existence in May. The Japanese collector had purchased it through an auction two years ago.
“The returned item is an example of a daetongnyeok, a type of almanac from the Joseon Dynasty,” said Chung Je-kyu, an expert on ancient documents and an outside adviser to the CHA. According to Chung, such calendrical books were kept close to the owners, like the diaries or schedulers of today, to add notes about their daily schedules along with their thoughts in the margins.
Looking through the 16-page diary Ryu kept 422 years ago, Chung says he seems like he would have been a very “poetic guy.”
“The book was compared with content from ‘A Chronology of Ryu Seong-ryong’ and we believe that Ryu used this calendrical book to write the chronology,” said Chung. “He sounds more formal in the chronology, but not so much in the calendrical book.”
The margins of the newly returned item are inscribed with handwritten ink noting even the smallest details, like how he took his mother to see the flowers, though it was a windy day, and returned home in the evening — dated March 16, 1600.
There are important notes that have historical significance as well, like how he mentions the return of Kang Hang (1567-1618), who had been captured and sent to Japan when Japan invaded Korea in 1597, as well as the passing of Queen Uiin, the consort of King Seonjo. It also includes how to brew his hometown alcoholic beverage, which was Andong’s Hahoe Village. However, the most significant part of the book, according to Chung, is the front cover, which features details of an event involving Admiral Yi during the Japanese invasions of Korea.
“The original cover is lost, and it looks like it was lost when Ryu was using this calendrical book for nearly a year,” said Ryu. “So it looks like he used some paper lying around next to him to create this temporary cover, and he happened to use one on which he wrote about Admiral Yi. We think it was one of the notes that he had kept to write the famous ‘Jingbirok,’ the memoir of the Imjin War [1592-98].”
Ryu was appointed to many important posts, and when he was the chief state councilor, he realized that the Japanese army would attack Joseon. Hence, he appointed Admiral Yi and General Gwon Yul to prepare for war.
The edges are damaged, but the reused paper that was used as a makeshift cover has 83 characters that describe how Admiral Yi participated in the war, despite attempts to dissuade him by others, to encourage his soldiers and how he was killed by a flying bullet.
Ryu’s descendants have eight more such calendrical books, for the years 1594, 1596, 1597, 1598, 1604, 1605, 1606 and 1607, six of which are designated as Treasures. Chung said the returned item is at least as significant as the existing ones, “or even more, as it’s the only surviving daetongnyeok for the year 1600 and because of its unique cover.”
“We have no idea how this daetongnyeok got taken outside the country,” said Ryu Chang-hae, Ryu’s descendant who participated in the press conference on Thursday. “I apologize on behalf of Ryu’s descendants and want to thank the CHA and the Overseas Korean Cultural Heritage Foundation for putting in the effort to bring it back to Korea. We are happy to have found some new information about our ancestor through this newly returned daetongnyeok, especially the method of brewing rice wine, as such information does not exist in other daetongnyeok.”
The returned item will be managed by the National Palace Museum of Korea and be utilized for research and exhibitions.
BY YIM SEUNG-HYE [firstname.lastname@example.org]