Proscholium Exhibition

11 July 2014

As promised in my last blog entry, I am now presenting the contents of an exhibition in the Proscholium of the Old Library. This was designed for the public, most of whom know nothing about Chinese books or the traditional Chinese examination system. My blog entry is therefore for the record, rather than to inform my readers, who will know all about these things, and more. The Proscholium is the main entrance to the Old Library, and against one of its walls there is a large exhibition case in which temporary displays are mounted. What follows is an account of what this case contained between 22 February and 6 April 2014.

 

TESTING TIME – A CHINESE EXAMINATION

 

CaseViewSmall

 

In traditional China the most respectable careers were in government service. For most men the route to this was through the triennial examinations that were held at provincial and national levels.

Success at the provincial level qualified them for the lower ranking posts, and also for candidature in the national examination which was held in the capital. And success here qualified them for the highest positions in the land, with the prospect of lasting fame both for them and their families.

Education was centred on the canonical texts of Confucianism, and in particular, the Four Books and Five Classics. These were essential reading for all who aspired to a post in government, and for most of its history, were the “set books” for the questions in the examination system.

Examinations were held in large complexes such as the one illustrated below. These photographs are of the provincial examination cells in Nanking, and were taken in 1913, ten years after the system had been abolished, so they are already falling into ruin. This was the largest examination complex in imperial China, with over 20,000 cells in use by the late Qing dynasty (1644-1912).

 

NankingHall-1

NankingHall-2

NankingHall-3

 

The two examination papers (of a set of three) which are the main focus of this display would have been used in such a setting. The examination lasted for three days, and the entire period, was spent in these cells. Physical discomfort in cramped and insanitary conditions was thus added to the stress of the examination itself. Ichisada Miyazaki’s standard work on the subject, China’s examination hell (1976), describes the examination cell as being “like a prison without bars”.

Provincial examination papers
Nanchang, 1902
Gift of Revd Arnold Foster, September 1910
Sinica 3043/3
Sinica 3043/2

Sinica3043-3

Sinica3043-2

The two papers displayed here are from a set of three which were used for the triennial provincial examination in Nanchang, the capital of Jiangxi province, in autumn, 1902. This was the last examination to be held there, as the provincial examinations were abolished in 1903, and the metropolitan examinations in 1904. The format of this examination was rather different from those of earlier times, as in 1901 the system was reformed to reduce the emphasis on the traditional Four Books and Five Classics, so that the requirements of the three papers were as follows:

1. Chinese institutions and politics (5 essays)
2. Western institutions and politics (5 essays)
3. The Four Books (2 essays) and the Five Classics (1 essay)

The seals on the right side of each paper were applied at various stages of the examination process to certify that the paper had been produced and distributed according to the correct procedures.

Commentary on the Spring and autumn annals
c.1500
Gift of Sir Edmund Trelawney Backhouse, collection received 1913-1922
Backhouse 163

s00552

The Spring and autumn annals was one of the Five Classics, and a candidate from a rich family would have editions like this to study from. It is one of the finest in the Bodleian Library’s Chinese collections. It was produced in the mid-Ming dynasty (c.1500), and is a close copy of the edition of the classics originally prepared two or three centuries earlier in the Yuan dynasty for the family academy of a certain “Mr Yue of Xiangtai” 相臺岳氏. Books like this were very expensive, and of very limited circulation.

This is an example of a traditional Chinese block-printed book. The leaves are printed on one side and then folded to form a page with the folded edge at the front, and the covers are then stitched on with thread. So we call such bindings either “doubled-leaf bindings” or “thread bindings”. Almost all pre-modern Chinese books were bound in this way. The fascicles are laid flat, and in this example they are stored in camphorwood boxes to deter insects.

The Four Books
Jianyang, c.1580
Purchased by Sir Thomas Bodley in 1604 with money given by Henry Percy, Ninth Earl of Northumberland, in 1603
Sinica 2

s00993

By contrast, this fagmentary copy of an edition of the Four Books was produced in the late sixteenth century in Jianyang, Fujian province, which was the centre of commercial book production during the second half of the Ming dynasty. It is a cheap edition, and although it was probably circulated widely at the time, this copy is a unique survival. It was brought to Europe by merchants of the Dutch East India Company as a curiosity, sold at auction in Amsterdam, and bought by agents of Sir Thomas Bodley for his new library. Here, it was given its limp vellum binding. Nobody could read Chinese at that time, or could even tell which way up the book was supposed to be, so that Bodley’s inscription is upside down.

The Dutch East India Company merchants bought books like this from overseas Chinese communities in Southeast Asia, and they had no idea what they were buying.

This is a very inferior edition, and could only have been used at the lowest level of the learning and testing process, but it shows how pervasive was the desire to learn the right things and to progress accordingly. This attitude to learning and examinations is nowhere more apparent than in China and other East Asian countries at the present time.

Model answers
c.1600
Acquired early 17th century
Sinica 20

mencius

Further evidence of how popular learning was oriented towards the examination system is this book of model answers, which is of the same provenance as Sinica 2.

As in modern examinations, the questions were often based on the same passages of text, and collections of answers by successful candidates were compiled and published for study and memorising. This was not as difficult as it sounds, as at that time the essays were limited to 500 characters.

The book is open at an essay on a passage from Mencius (one of the Four Books) extolling the virtue of filial piety, the glue which held Chinese society together. It has 431 characters, well within the permitted length. We are told that it was written by Yuan Zongdao 袁宗道, who came first in the metropolitan examination of 1586 (Yuan was a famous scholar who for a time was tutor to the Emperor’s eldest son and heir apparent). The black manuscript circles are the equivalent of our underlining, and show that the text has been well studied.

Elements of international law
Peking, 1864
Acquired 1977
Sinica 2887

s00901 s00899

The second of the two examination papers gives evidence of what had become required reading during the reforms at the very end of the Qing dynasty. It refers specifically to Henry Wheaton’s Elements of international law. This had been translated by the American Protestant missionary W.A.P. Martin and printed and published by the Chinese government in 1864. Wheaton’s work was influential throughout the world, and especially in East Asia, where it introduced the concept of international law for the first time.

We show the first Chinese edition of 1865, which is block-printed. The four fascicles are contained in a wrap-around container, which would then lie flat on the shelf. This was the normal way in which Chinese books were stored. However, candidates for the Nanchang examination of 1902 would probably have used one of the late nineteenth-century editions printed by western typography, which by that time was rapidly replacing the block-print tradition.

As the examinations were the path to fame and fortune, the stakes were high, and there was great temptation to cheat. This could be done in a number of ways: by hiring a surrogate to take the examination, by bribing the officials involved (who risked being caned or even executed if discovered), or by smuggling cribbing materials into the examination cell.

These materials could be written on paper or silk. They could even be written on clothing. There is a well-known example of this in the Gest Library at Princeton University, an undergarment on which the text of specimen essays is written in very small characters. The garment may also have been worn as a talisman.

Opinions vary as to the practicality of using these cribbing materials, as humiliating body-searches were performed when the candidates had entered the examination precincts. Bribery may have helped to circumvent this problem, but unless foreknowledge of the questions had also been obtained, it was a matter of luck as to whether any of the model essays could actually be used.

Silk crib sheet
18th or 19th c.
Gift of Sir Li Ka-shing, 2013
Sinica 6016

sinica6096

A crib sheet in the form of a napkin, containing about two dozen model essays. Each essay is no more than 700 characters in length, which was the maximum permitted by imperial decree in 1778, an increase over the earlier limit of 500. These essays were written in the so-called “eight-legged” form, a complex structure which became compulsory in the fifteenth century, but which was abolished in the reforms of 1901.

This crib sheet is finely written in ink on silk, and would have been very expensive to produce. Its use for cribbing would have been quite feasible, as it would have been very easy to conceal. However, some scholars think that if a candidate knew enough to be able to use such materials, he wouldn’t really need to.

The Four books
19 th c.
Acquired late 19th century
Sinica 2103

s01295 s01294

A tiny printed edition of the Four Books. This is the smallest block-printed Chinese book in the Library’s collections. Such editions were known as “sleeve editions” as they were small enough to be hidden in the sleeve of a garment. But it is doubtful whether they would have escaped all but the most perfunctory of searches, and it is also doubtful whether a candidate in the provincial or metropolitan examinations would have needed a copy of these elementary texts. Most likely, editions like this would have been used in local examinations.

 


Chü jên papers

11 June 2014

I was shocked to discover that my previous blog entry was written almost exactly five months ago. My silence is not due to lack of interest, much less of things to write about, but because I have had to modernise our Chinese catalogue, something which would merit its own blog entry if it were a little less off-message.

So here at last is a brief account of the set of three papers that were used in the provincial examination at Nanchang in 1902. They were exhibited together with related materials in the Proscholium of the Old Library between 22 February and 6 April. I will present the exhibition online as my next blog entry.

But first to the papers themselves. I have called them Chü jên papers not out of antiquarianism, but because on the spine of the small yellow folder in which the papers were kept, presumably made shortly after their acquisition in September 1910, are the words

3 CHÜ JÊN EXAMINATION PAPERS

They are described as follows in my catalogue, and may be seen here.

光緒二十八年壬寅補行庚子恩科並辛丑正科江西鄉試題 第壹、贰、叁場 / (清)光緒二十八年[1902]官撰

3張 ; 58 x 90, 58 x 87, 54 x 86公分
Sinica 3043

Also in the folder were two letters from Arnold Foster. The first is dated 22 June 1910; it says what the papers are and offers a set to the Library. The second is dated 2 September 1910 and encloses the papers; it was evidently written in response to a reply from the Library. There are also two copies of a printed single-sheet description of the papers, with blanks where the names of the city and province should be written. These have been completed in manuscript, to read:

“… in the Examination Cells of Nan-chang Fu the Capital of the Province of Kiang-si …”

I’m grateful to my Cambridge colleague Charles Aylmer for drawing to my attention the work Arnold Foster : memoir, selected writings, etc. (London Missionary Society, 1921), which gives evidence of the provenance of these examination papers. I will quote the relevant paragraph (pp.44-45) in full, as it also sheds light on the dissemination of missionary publications:

“During the Manchu Dynasty, Triennial examinations were held in all the provincial capitals, and students, who had already obtained their B.A. degree, came from all parts of the province to sit for the examination. Out of the five or six thousand who go in for it only seventy or eighty could pass, but as this was the only door to official life, large numbers always competed. This was felt to be a unique opportunity for reaching the student class. In September, 1902, Mr. Foster and representatives from all Protestant Missions in the three cities, with Chinese Christian helpers, waited at the gate of the examination hall with packets of books to give to the students, as they left the building. Thirty-two hampers full of books were given late in the evening and very early the next morning. This was an occasion when Mr. Foster believed in free distribution. As a rule, he thought it much wiser to sell books, as being paid for, they would be valued and read. He regretted that free distribution had revived in later years, so making sales more difficult.”

It must surely have been during the course of this book distribution that Foster obtained copies of the examination papers. We are not told the names of the cities in which these exchanges of materials took place, but in his letter of 22 June 1910, Foster says he got sets of papers from “each of six or seven of the Provincial Capitals of China”, and that in addition to Oxford, he was making “a similar offer to the British Museum, to the Cambridge University Library, & to one other English library only.”

foster1

Arnold Foster (1846-1919) was a graduate of St. John’s College and President of the Cambridge Union (1870). Accordingly, he gave what is probably the finest set of papers to his alma mater. These are from Nanking, the capital of Kiangsu Province, which had the largest examination complex in China with 20,644 cells. This set has been described by Charles Aylmer on the CUL website.

The only other set I have seen is ours, which is from Nanchang, the capital of Kiangsi Province. I suppose the set given to the British Museum (assuming they accepted Foster’s offer) is now in the British Library – I will try and find out. What is the “other English library”, I wonder, and what happened to the other two or three sets that Foster said he had acquired?

Like ours until earlier this year, they are probably lying undiscovered on a library shelf or in someone’s office. It is therefore impossible to say whether such sets of papers are rare. I can only say that the only two copies known to me are those in Oxford and Cambridge. A Google search for the title (or more sensibly, elements of the title such as “恩科”, “正科” “鄉試題”) does not reveal any more copies of the papers themselves, but plenty of published reports and lists of candidates, notably in the Toyo Bunko and other Japanese libraries.


The Promotion Chart

10 January 2014

Ephemera is notoriously difficult to describe and thus bring to the attention of scholars. It is even difficult to know what things are, because scholars are normally concerned with scholarship, and not the tiny details of daily life and work to which ephemera almost exclusively relates. And when all who might remember these details are long dead, so that there is nobody to ask, the difficulties are often insuperable.

I aim to describe all our Chinese ephemera in due course, and to identify it as best I can with the help of others.

In my second blog entry over two years ago, I described a rather high-brow piece of ephemera, the Red Decree. The subject of the current blog entry is rather different. I catalogue it as follows:

陞官圖 / 舊題(明)倪元璐作
清道光庚子[1840]廣東刊
1張 ; 82 x 75公分
有「張隆盛製」朱文印記
Sinica 440/2

This is a large single-sheet item, bearing no title, so the title is simply a statement of what the item is, and was assigned to it by Xiang Da so that it could be included in his card catalogue. The “promotion chart” is simply an English translation of this description.

pc1

The above image is too small to be legible – I reproduce it only to show what the chart looks like; the full image can be seen and examined here.

The chart was among the books given to us in 1877 by General Lawrence Shadwell,who had served in the 98th (Prince of Wales) Regiment of Foot which had been sent to Hong Kong in 1842. His books are the first to be listed in James Legge’s manuscript continuation of Joseph Edkins’ printed catalogue of Chinese books in the Bodleian, which appeared in 1876 and contains 299 entries. Legge’s list therefore starts at number 300, and I reproduce the first entry to give a flavour of this document, which is surprisingly crude, and to introduce it to readers of this blog:

pc2

Unfortunately, there is no individual entry for the chart, which is found under number 321, “Extracts from Peking Gazette, Treaties, &c.”, and in fact it is only because of later annotations to this entry that we know that this batch of materials comprised 3 printed volumes, 19 manuscript volumes, and 4 printed sheets, of which one was discarded as a duplicate in 1939 by EOW (Eric Otto Winstedt, who was keeper of the Oriental collections at the time). Let’s hope it wasn’t a duplicate of the chart!

pc3

And here is the description of the chart “written on the back” as Legge’s entry suggests, and in his own hand:

pc4

However, it is wrong. Although the chart does indeed depict the structure of the contemporary Chinese bureaucracy, it is not a directory, but a game.

This, together with almost everything else I now know about the chart, I learned from Puk Wing Kin when he visited me in Oxford in 2009. Most important to me as a cataloguer, he pointed out that certain characters in the chart are represented by simplified forms which are only homophonous in Cantonese. For example: you 由 is used for rou 柔 (both are pronounced yau in Cantonese), and zhuang 庄 is used for zang 贓 (in Cantonese both are pronounced jong). I was thus able to say with some certainty where the map was printed in my catalogue entry, rather than merely infer it from its provenance; the date of 1840 道光庚子 is clearly printed in the central panel.

Puk Wing Kin came to Oxford in 1995 to pursue doctoral research under David Faure; his subject was the Ming salt monopoly, and he gained his D.Phil. in 2007. He had been introduced to the chart as an M.Phil student at Hong Kong Baptist University in the early 1990s. He is now a history professor in the Chinese University of Hong Kong specialising in the socio-economic history of Ming and Qing China, and is thus well qualified to understand the complexities of the game. He has written a book about it, which was published in 2010, with a second edition in 2011:

遊戲官場 : 陞官圖與中國官制文化 / 卜永堅著
再版
香港 : 中華書局, 2011
平裝1冊(96頁) : 圖, 表 ; 23公分 + 圖2張
ISBN 978-962-8931-75-0

The two charts reproduced in large format in the book are facsimiles of ours and one printed in Shanghai in the Republican period.

The book discusses the history of the game, which originated in the Tang and achieved its present form in the Ming. The details of the chart change from time to time, according to the contemporary structure of the Chinese bureaucracy. The book also explains the rules of the game. They are very complex, and I will not pretend to understand the details, but the aim is quite simple: to achieve high government office, which means reaching the post of Grand Secretary 大學士 in the Grand Secretariat 內閣, encircled in red in the following image:

pc5

This involves a long series of promotions and demotions, as set forth in the small print in each of the rectangular panels, all determined by the roll of dice and the movement of counters. As in life, much depends on where one starts from, which in the game is again determined by the roll of dice.

By playing the game, much can be learned about the bureaucratic structure of imperial China and how officials rose and fell within it, for which reason Wing Kin told me that he sometimes plays the game with his students.

Although on one level the game is a very sophisticated form of snakes and ladders, perhaps its nearest western equivalent is Monopoly, which leads to a comparison of the two. While both are aleatory – games of chance depending on the roll of dice – whereas the aim of one is to attain the highest office in the land through virtuous conduct, that of the other is to become rich by bankrupting one’s neighbours. Food for thought here, don’t you think?

I’m going to describe another piece of printed ephemera in my next blog entry, as it’s closely related. Appointment to any of the posts represented in the promotion chart depended on passing the official examinations that were periodically held at local, provincial, and metropolitan levels. We have a set of three papers that were used in the provincial examination at Nanchang in 1902 which I’d like to bring to your attention. They will be exhibited in the Proscholium of the Old Library for a few weeks from mid-February, the aim of the display being to illustrate the traditional Chinese preoccupation with success in examinations as the path to fame and fortune.


Four Tang poets

29 August 2013

So far, I have found seven editions in our collections that were published by the famous Ming Dynasty bibliophile Mao Jin 毛晉 (1599-1659). If there is one publishing house whose name will be familiar to those with an interest Chinese books, it will be his: the Jiguge 汲古閣, originally called Lüjunting 綠君亭.

Mao Jin started to collect books in his youth, and had family money to support his interest. If he was unable to acquire a Song edition, he would make a tracing of it (影宋鈔本) for his library, thus preserving the text and appearance of a number of editions that were subsequently lost. At an early stage of his publishing career he produced editions of the Thirteen Confucian Classics 十三經 and the Seventeen Dynastic histories 七十史, supposedly because of a dream he had while taking the provincial examination in 1627, in which a dragon appeared bearing two pennants, one inscribed with the word jing 經 (classics) and the other with shi 史 (histories). As the dragon is a symbol of the emperor, and the dream occurred at around the time of the Chongzhen 崇禎 emperor’s accession, Mao Jin took this as a divine command to start printing them.

All this is recounted in Fang Chao-ying’s entry for Mao Jin in Hummel’s Eminent Chinese of the Ch’ing period (565-566), and further details of Mao Jin’s life and work are too well-known to repeat – there are many accessible accounts both in print and on the internet.

Mao Jin’s publications are a joy to book collectors and scholars owing to the excellence of both their recension and production. In the Bodleian collections, one in particular stands out, his edition of Four Tang poets 唐人四集 which I catalogue as follows:

唐人四集 / (明)毛晉編
明崇禎中虞山毛氏汲古閣刊本
線裝6冊 ; 30公分
Backhouse 477
内容 :
1. 歌詩編 : 四卷集外詩一卷 / (唐)李賀撰
2. 唐英歌詩 : 三卷 / (唐)吳融撰. – 清康熙四十一年[1702]洞庭席啟寓琴川書屋刊「唐詩百名家集」本
3. 唐風集 : 三卷 / (唐)杜荀鶴撰
4. 竇氏聯珠集 : 一卷 / (唐)竇常, (唐)竇牟, (唐)竇群, (唐)竇庠, (唐)竇鞏撰 ; (唐)褚藏言輯

The first printed leaf of the copy is the so-called “cover page” (fengmian 封面). This often gets called a “title-page” by western writers (including me), but wrongly so, as it serves a different purpose. Traditionally, booksellers would spread out their books on tables inside the shop or even on the street, and the “cover-page” was designed to attract attention to them. This is why they so often contained mendacious attributions to famous authors or distinguished publishers.

The cover page of Backhouse 477 is visible only with difficulty, as it was encapsulated in a doubled leaf of the interleaving paper when the book was restored in Peking – I will discuss this procedure below.

 ftp2  ftp1

But we can just see the attribution of the editing work and printing (correct, in this case) to Mao Jin, corroborated by two of his seals: 「毛氏正本」 and 「汲古閣」.

This is a scholarly edition, and was clearly owned by a scholar. This is evident from the annotations throughout the second work in the copy, the poems of Wu Rong. According to a manuscript colophon after the table of contents, the copy was originally owned my a “Mr Xu of Wucheng” 吴城徐氏, but as it lacked the poems of Wu Rong, these were supplied from a different edition as described above. The writer of the colophon has taken the trouble to compare the two editions, and to note the discrepancies in his own copy and supply what is lacking, including the short biography of the author at the end of the text.

Here is the colophon and the first page of the text – the image also shows some of the annotations:

ftp3  ftp4

It is tempting to speculate on the identity of the writer, who signs himself “Jingxi” 景溪 in the eighth month of 1770 乾隆庚寅, with the seal “Huaidong” 懷東.

The Backhouse Collection contains many books that were formerly in imperial collections and owned by famous scholars and statesmen, and it is possible that “Jingxi” may be Xi Ao 席鏊 (字景溪), a juren 舉人 graduate of 1729 who rose to the Grand Secretariat and knew a thing or two about poetry. The timing fits reasonably well, although the date of his death is not recorded, nor are the words “Huaidong” 懷東 on the seal. I have reproduced this and the other owners’ seals in my list, but unfortunately have not been able to identify any of the owners, nor to read all the seals with any certainty.

Backhouse 477 is one of many books in the Backhouse Collection which were restored in Peking in the closing years of the Qing dynasty before being sent to Oxford from 1913 onwards. These books are models of the traditional art of Chinese book restoration at its height, and I used them when preparing the translation referred to at the end of my piece on Sinica 41. In fact, only by studying them was I able to understand what the Chinese manual was referring to.

The most sophisticated restoration format is the so-called “jade set in gold” ( jinxiangyu 金鑲玉) binding. This allows the original leaves to be preserved almost untouched whilst at the same time allowing the interleaving leaves to be trimmed and thus present a pristine appearance to the reader. The name comes from an old story in which the jade seal of an ancient kingdom got broken, and was repaired by binding the pieces together with gold wire. The leaves of the book correspond to the broken jade pieces, and they are held together by the gold wire of the interleaving.

In a “jade set in gold” binding, the interleaving extends beyond the leaves of the original, so that it can be trimmed without loss to them. Compensating slips of paper need to be present in the portions of interleaving that extend beyond the leaves of the original so that the two are of equal thickness. This is achieved by folding the interleaving paper as described in my translation of the Chinese manual. Here is one of the illustrations from it which shows how this structure functions:

ftp5

Traditionally in China the lamination of thin or damaged leaves was avoided as it both reduced the flexibility on which the functioning of the binding structure depended, and also attracted insects through its extensive use of paste. Doubled leaves were supported by interleaving, and their edges were protected by extending it as described above

But this is not possible with single leaves, for example the cover page of this copy. This could have been converted into a doubled leaf by extending it, but the restorer chose to encapsulate it rather than alter its original form, which would have had the additional disadvantage of using paste.

The leaves from the second work in Backhouse 477 (which was supplied from a different edition) are smaller than those of the rest of the work, so they were extended to make them match. The paper used to make the extensions was dyed to make it harmonise with the original, but not so much as to make it identical. This is clearly visible in the illustrations above.

Thus the approach of the traditional Chinese book restorer conforms with modern conservation requirements in so many ways: respecting the original, sacrificing no part of it, and ensuring that all alterations are visible and reversible.

There is one final twist to the story of Backhouse 477.

Among Alexander Wylie’s books is the following work:

汲古閣校刻書目 : 一卷補遺一卷刻板存亡考一卷 / (清)鄭德懋編
清道光壬寅[1842]顧湘刊本
線裝1冊 ; 30公分
Sinica 800

This is a list of the books printed by Mao Jin (although it is believed to be very incomplete), and it is of exceptional interest. It starts with a list of titles together with a total page-count, but also contains an amazing section which tells us what happened to the printing blocks (刻板存亡考). In most cases this is not known, so the list is quite short, with only two dozen titles on three leaves. Also the details are usually quite brief, for example “blocks in the possession of Mr Jiang of Suzhou” (板存蘇州蔣氏), “blocks no longer in existence – edition copied by Mr Xia of Songjiang” (板已無 有松江夏氏翻板) and so forth.

But when it comes to the Four Tang poets, we find the longest entry of all, telling the following charming story:

The blocks have been used as firewood for boiling tea water. The story goes that Mao Jin had a grandson who was fond of tea. He had bought some fresh new “Azure Vine” tea leaves from Mount Dongting, and some water from the Jade Crab Spring on Mount Yu. His only regret was that he lacked some good firewood. He therefore looked at the printing blocks of Four Tang poets, heaved a sigh and said: “If I use these to boil the water for my tea, it will taste twice as good.” And so each day he split a few of them up, and burnt them.

And then, perhaps, we find the reason why the second work in our copy, the poems of Wu Rong, went missing:

Of the works in Four Tang poets, the Poems of Wu Rong is the best edition. Mr Xi also printed this title in his Works of one hundred Tang poets [the edition used to replace it in Backhouse 477], but his text is lacking as many as two or three hundred characters, so that people can’t read it properly. So the Jiguge edition is to be highly prized.


The last flowering

22 August 2013

In May 2006 Christer von der Burg sold me a copy of what will probably prove to be the last major Chinese book to have been printed by woodblock. I have just catalogued it as follows:

里堂道聽錄 : 四十卷 / (清)焦循撰
附 焦里堂先生年譜 : 一卷 / 江蘇廣陵古籍刻印社輯錄
辛已年[2001]揚州廣陵書社校刊南京江蘇廣陵古籍刻印社發行本
線裝40冊 ; 29公分
Sinica 6044

The book is a collection of short philological pieces by the prolific Qing Dynasty scholar and philosopher Jiao Xun (1763-1820), a native of Yangzhou. The original manuscript is in the National Library of China, and was photolithographically reproduced in the 1990s (the publication is undated) in its series of rare editions in its own collections (北京圖書館古籍珍本叢刊 – the National Library of China was then still called Peking Library, and its publishing house was called Shumu Wenxian Chubanshe 書目文獻出版社).

According to the information supplied by Christer, the edition took twenty years to produce, during which time two scribes and ten different block-cutters worked on it. In the Serica entry for the work I have presented many images from this book for the obvious reason that the edition will probably be the last of its kind, and readers may be curious to know what it looks like. Here is one of the images, the first page of text:

Litang

Although the blocks appear to have been finely cut, the quality of the impression is not at all good. There is a fuzziness which should not be present given that only one hundred copies had been taken from the blocks when we received ours – I have crystal-clear specimen impressions from blocks that were cut centuries before these, among them leaves from the Manchu Tripitaka and the Tetsugen Tripitika at Mampukuji near Kyoto. I think the reason might be partly due to the use of unsuitable paper.

Owing to this extraordinarily small print run, the book is not widely distributed, and it may be that ours is the only copy in Europe. WorldCat shows eight copies in the United States, one in Taiwan, and one in Hong Kong. The only other copy I have found is in the National Library of China. It is very odd that none can be found in Japan.

The National Library of China gives the imprint as 「南京 : 江蘇古籍出版社, 2001」. In WorldCat we find that nine of the ten libraries represented express the imprint as 「南京市 : 江蘇古籍出版社, 2001」 and one as 「揚州 : 廣陵書社, 2001」.

It is depressing indeed that librarians continue to follow slavishly rules that were written on the back of an envelope (see John Joliffe’s work on the subject) rather than tell readers what an edition actually is. AACR and MARC were devised primarily for cataloguing modern printed books in English;  traditionally produced Chinese books are about as far removed from that as it is possible to be.

For this reason, I follow the traditional Chinese practice of expressing the edition of a book in a single sentence of classical Chinese. Thus, my statement for this edition tells the reader exactly how the book was produced and distributed; the WorldCat and NLC records do neither, and only one refers to Yangzhou – the whole point of the edition, as it was produced in homage to one of that city’s most famous scholars!


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