Archive for November, 2011


25 November 2011

In 2003, we received the books of Piet van der Loon, who had left them to us in his will. Piet died in 2002, and is buried in the graveyard of St Peter’s Church at Wootton at the foot of Old Boar’s Hill near Oxford, where he lived in the house called “Midhurst” until the time of his death.

I will give an account of his remarkable collection in a later posting, but for now it need only be pointed out that he had what was probably the finest personal collection of Chinese books in Europe, amounting to some 10,000 volumes occupying over 250 metres of shelving. Even now, we are still going through it.

Among his books is the following phonetic dictionary of Fuzhou dialect:

加訂美全八音 四卷 / (清)鍾德明撰
線裝1冊 ; 17公分
Sinica 4814

On the front cover, Piet wrote “Rarissimus! 1906”, and on the back “Foochow dialect. 1906. No other copies are known”.

What a dangerous thing to say! The Internet is rapidly making statements of this sort impossible. We have already seen an example of it in the Red Decree: my French colleagues thought that only four copies existed, and I was very excited when I discovered a fifth in Oxford; we now know that there are at least fifteen. I’m wondering how many rare Chinese books there will be in our collections once my project is complete. During Piet’s lifetime, the Internet had not yet become the indispensable scholarly tool that it now is, and despite his acceptance that the computer was the way forward (he was far too shrewd to be Luddite in this matter), he never used one. When we closed the card catalogue in the Oriental Reading Room, he would ask me a little nervously to find books for him “on the screen”.

Two further copies of Jiading meiquan bayin 加訂美全八音 are to be found, in the C.V. Starr East Asian Library of the University of California, Berkeley, and in Yale University Library. Their existence was revealed to me by entries in WorldCat, which also shows that the California copy has been scanned, and is contained in the HathiTrust Digital Library. Grotesquely, the full text seems to be unavailable outside the United States “due to copyright restrictions”.

Li Chunxiao 李春晓 made the work the subject of his doctoral thesis at Fuzhou Normal University in 2002 (加订美全八音音系研究), and published and article about it in 2003 (福州方言韵书《加订美全八音》, 辞书研究 2003:4, 128-134).

According to Li, its author Zhong Deming 鍾德明 was in the employ of Fuzhou Gezhi High School 福州格致中学, the oldest missionary school in Fujian province (it was founded in 1846, and is still in existence), and he got the teachers and students of this and Wenshan 文山, another missionary school, to collaborate in its compilation. Although the missionaries R.S. Maclay and C.C. Baldwin had published An alphabetic dictionary of the Chinese language in the Foochow dialect in 1870 (Methodist Episcopal Mission Press), with a revised edition appearing in 1898, this was presented in English and arranged alphabetically, and was thus inaccessible to Chinese readers.

I’m rather struck by the manner in which Li obtained this information about the book’s background. It was due to a chance meeting with Zhang Guoying 張國英, a retired teacher from Changle No.1 Junior High School 長樂第一中學 whose paternal grandmother Zheng Zhang Zeng’en 鄭張增恩 had been a pupil of Wenshan, and actually participated in the dictionary’s compilation. I wonder if this explains how Li had access to the work in China – so far I haven’t been able to locate a copy there. The digital copy would not have been available then, and in any case it is inaccessible outside the United States. Perhaps Zhang Guoying has one, which he got from his grandmother.

Zhong’s arrangement of the syllables was not alphabetic, but followed that of the Ba yin 八音 (or paik ing in Foochow dialect), the short name of Qi Lin ba yin 戚林八音, which is the oldest known Chinese dialect dictionary. This work is so called because it is a collocation of two dictionaries put together by the Fujian scholar Pu An 晋安 in 1749, one printed on the top, the corresponding part of the other printed on the bottom half of each page. The first is attributed to the famous general Qi Jiguang 戚继光, who is said to have written it during his campaign against the Japanese during the Jiajing 嘉靖 period, and the second was by Lin Wenying 林文英, a jinshi 進士 of 1688. The Library has a copy of this work, which is one of Alexander Wylie’s books:

戚參軍八音字義便覽 四卷 / (明)戚繼光撰
太史林碧山先生珠玉同聲 四卷 / (清)林文英撰
線裝1冊 ; 23公分
Sinica 558

The words are arranged first by their final sound (the vowel and final consonant, if any), and within that by their initial consonant, and then each of the resulting syllables is arranged by tones, of which there were originally eight, hence the title Pa yin 八音.

Although Zhong’s dictionary is presented in Chinese, and is blockprinted, it does not entirely dispense with romanisation. In fact, the heading for each syllable is its romanised form, printed white on black so that it stands out clearly on the page, starting with lŭng 巃, whose pronunciation is formed by the initial consonant of liu 柳 followed by the vowel and closing part of ch’ung 春. The small size of the edition and the poor quality of its physical production indicate that it was designed for practical use rather than to grace the shelves of a bibliophile. This probably accounts for its rarity.

Piet gives a brief account of these early dialect books in Part 2 (pp.125-126) of The Manila incunabula and early Hokkien studies (Asia Major NS13, 1967, 95-186), but does not mention Jiading meiquan bayin, suggesting that he may not have acquired his copy by that time and so didn’t know it existed. Nor does he mention the Bodleian’s copy of Qi Lin ba yin, being aware only of copies of the 1841 edition in the British Library and the Royal Asiatic Society’s Chinese collection, now in the Brotherton Library at Leeds.

He says that the Ba yin served as a model for the first recorded spelling dicitionary of Hokkien, and the only available dictionary of the Quanzhou dialect, Huiyin miaowu 彙音妙悟, of which he had two editions; these are now also in the Bodleian:

新鐫彙音妙悟全集 不分卷 / (清)黃謙撰
線裝1冊 ; 22公分
Sinica 4892

新鐫彙音妙悟全集 不分卷 / (清)黃謙撰
線裝1冊 ; 20公分
Sinica 4891

Finally he mentions the Changzhou dialect dictionary Huiji yasu tong shiwu yin 彙集雅俗通十五音, which is however unrelated to the Ba yin and its derivatives in the way in which it is compiled. There is a copy of the 1818 edition of this in the British Museum and of the 1869 edition in the Sinologisch Instituut in Leiden. He does not mention the much later edition that came to us from his own collection, which therefore might also not have been in his possession when he wrote the article:

彙集雅俗通十五音 八卷 / (清)謝秀嵐撰
線裝9冊 ; 15公分
Sinica 4815

Based on this dictionary is the Zengbu huiyin 增補彙音, of which there is a copy of the first edition in the British Library, and a slightly later one in the Bodleian, which came to us from the missionary Edwin Evans in 1856:

增補彙音 六卷 / 佚名撰
線裝6冊 ; 15公分
Sinica 308

The earliest printing

10 November 2011

We have two copies of the great Song Dynasty encylopaedia Cefu yuangui, which was begun in 1005 and completed in 1013:

冊府元龜 一千卷目錄十卷 / (宋)景德二年[1005]王欽若等奉敕編
線裝300冊 ; 27公分
Backhouse 81

冊府元龜 一千卷目錄十卷 / (宋)景德二年[1005]王欽若等奉敕編. –
洋裝50冊(原線裝200冊) ; 26公分
Sinica 2709

Both are of the late Ming edition made by Huang Guoqi, which is not at all rare. The Backhouse copy is a fairly early printing. The Sinica copy is later, and has been spoiled by the application of a western binding of the worst sort: glued and rounded. It was formerly in the Faculty Library (now the Chinese Studies Library), and was among the substantial collection of books acquired from Peking during the professorship of Homer H. Dubs. All were treated in this way, which greatly detracts from their value as objects and is already causing serious conservation problems.

In a roundabout way, this gives me cause to reflect on the very origins of printing.

It is well-known that the world’s earliest complete surviving printed book is Kumarajiva’s translation of the Diamond Sutra 金剛般若波羅蜜經 in the British Library, which was printed in AD 868.

By “book” I mean an assemblage of printed sheets – there are single-sheet items and printed fragments that are believed to date as far back as the 7th century, some eight centuries before the first appearance of printing in Europe. There is also good reason to believe that the printing of texts was commonplace by the 8th century, as the practice had already spread to other parts of East Asia by that time. This is evidenced in Korea by the printed dharani (Buddhist charm) discovered in the base of a stone pagoda in Pulguksa erected in 751 in Kyongju, and in Japan by the million dharani 百万塔陀羅尼 commissioned by the Empress Shōtoku in 764 in gratitude for the suppression of a rebellion, of which many copies are extant.

Less well-known (and it does not follow) is the fact that the world’s earliest textual reference to printing is also Chinese. It is found in the Old Tang history 舊唐書 (17下), the first version of the “dynastic history” of the Tang, completed in 945. It refers to an event that took place in 835:


On the day dingchou of the 12th month (29 December), the order was given to the circuits and prefectures to disallow the private production of printing blocks for calendars.

The text of which this is a summary is preserved in full in Cefu yuangui 冊府元龜  (160:5b). The reason is this. The sections of Cefu yuangui which deal with the Tang and Wudai periods quote the “veritable records” 實錄 of those dynasties, which are no longer extant. The “veritable records” were used to compile the “dynastic histories”, which are a very much condensed account. This episode not only illustrates the process perfectly, but also demonstrates the value of Chinese encyclopaedias in preserving lost texts. The entries in Chinese encyclopaedias are not digests, as in western encyclopaedias, but direct quotations from their sources. So although this extract refers to something that happened almost two centuries before the Cefu yuangui was compiled, there can be no doubting its authenticity:

九年十二月丁丑, 東川節度使馮宿奏准勑禁斷印曆日版。劍南兩川及淮南道,皆以版印曆日鬻於市。每歲司天臺未奏頒下新曆,其印曆已滿天下。有乖敬授之道。故命禁之。

On the day dingchou of the 12th month of the 9th year [of Taihe] (29th December 835), Feng Su, military commandant of Dongchuan, submitted a memorial to the throne requesting that the printing of calendars from wooden blocks should be prohibited. From the two commanderies of Jiannan (Dongchuan and Xichuan, west of Chengdu) as far as the Huainan circuit (around Yangzhou in the east), block-printed calendars were for sale in the marketplace. Each year, these printed calendars could be found everywhere, before the Board of Astronomy had submitted the new version to the Emperor for official distribution, in violation of the correct practice for promulgating the calendar. Consequently the order was given to prohibit it.

[The commandery of Dongchuan 東川 was situated at Zizhou梓州 (modern Santaixian 三台縣 in Sichuan 四川 province). The 劍南兩川 were the commanderies of Jiannan Dongchuan 劍南東川 (see above) and Jiannan Xichuan 劍南西川 which was in Chengdufu 成都府. 敬授 is an allusion to 敬授人時 which occurs in the 書經 “to deliver respectfully the seasons to be observed by the people” (Legge, Shu King, p. 32). 有乖敬授之道 therefore might be rendered “in violation of the practice of issuing the calendar”. 《書•堯典》:“乃命羲和,欽若昊天,曆象日月星辰,敬授人時”。蔡沈集傳:“人時,謂耕獲之候”。]

“From the two commanderies of Jiannan as far as the Huainan circuit” is in fact almost the entire length of the Yangze. So this report shows not only how early printing was taking place, but also how widespread it was.

Furthermore, it is highly significant that the printing referred to is of calendars, the production of which was one of the most important functions of the central government throughout the entire history of dynastic China. In fact the two characters jingshou 敬授 in the expression that I have here paraphrased as “the correct practice for promulgating the calendar” are taken directly from a passage in the second book of the Confucian canon, the Book of History 書經 (堯典).

In this most sacred of texts, fixing the calendar is among the duties of the sage king:


Thereupon Yaou commanded He and Ho, in reverent accordance with their observation of the wide heavens, to calculate and delineate the movements and appearances of the sun, the moon, the stars, and the zodiacal spaces; and so to deliver respectfully the seasons to be observed by the people.



The emperor said, “Ah! you, He and Ho, a round year consists of three hundred, sixty, and six days. By means of an intercalary month do you fix the four seasons, and complete the determination of the year. Thereafter, in exact accordance with this, regulating the various officers, all the works of the year will be fully performed.”

[tr. Legge, The Chinese classics IIIi (1865), 18, 21-22.]

I shall return to the theme of the calendar, and the solemn duty of compiling it, in a future posting.

The Red Decree

9 November 2011

Last Friday evening, together with two colleagues from Western Manuscripts I helped to entertain a group of parents from Cherwell School. The pattern was familiar: we had to choose one interesting item in our collections and talk about it for five minutes. I chose the Red Decree, a piece of Chinese ephemera which in recent decades has become less rare, as more copies are being discovered.

We need not dwell on what it is (it has been comprehensively described on the website of San Francisco’s Ricci Institute, where it is known as the “Red Manifesto“) but a word of clarification is in order. Actually, it is neither a decree nor a manifesto, but an open letter, written at the height of the “Rites Controversy” that was eventually to bring about the collapse of the entire Jesuit mission to China.

In 1705 Clement XI had forbidden Chinese Christian converts from practising the customary rites to ancestors, and when news of this and other complications reached China, it was considered so egregious that Kangxi sought explicit clarification from the Vatican. He therefore sent Antonio de Barros and Antoine de Beauvollier as envoys to Rome in 1706. They both drowned when their ship capsized near Portugal. In 1708 two further envoys were sent, José Ramón Arxo and Giuseppe Provana, but neither returned as Arxo died in Spain in 1711, and Provana died in 1720 on the return voyage. According to the Decree, while waiting for the return of these envoys, a further communication had been sent overland through the Russians.

In an attempt to discover their fate, this letter was sent to Canton to be given to all foreigners who arrived there, asking for information about them. It is written in Latin, Manchu, and a strange form of Chinese which is a mixture of classical and baihua 白话, perhaps to make it more easily understood by those to whom it was addressed.

It is printed from three wooden blocks, and in its general appearance, it resembles the bill proclaiming the foundation of the Qing Dynasty (Anmin gaoshi 安民告示) in 1644, although this is printed in Chinese only, and in black (see 清代內府刻書圖錄, 4-5).

How did I find the Bodleian copy? The story is worth telling, as it suggests that other copies might be lying unrecognised elsewhere.

When I first began to take stock of our old Chinese books in the late 1970s, I found a single folded sheet, printed in red, and bound in heavy boards under the shelfmark Chin.d.35. It must have been put there in the late 1880s when the sized oriental language collections were established during the Nicholson reclassification. At the time it meant nothing to me, so I replaced it unidentified, as previous generations of librarians had also done.

In 1992, I visited the impressive (and skilfully named) exhibition Impressions de Chine at the Bibliothèque Nationale, where “le Décret rouge” was displayed among other notable products of the Sino-European press. It had been identified by the Library’s Chinese curators, Monique Cohen and Nathalie Monnet. At the time, only three other copies were known, in London, Wolfenbüttel, and Stockholm.

The object reminded me of the object I had seen in Oxford some ten years previously, and when I returned, I was able to confirm that a fifth copy had now been found. I immediately had it removed from its boards and fully restored, and assigned it to its current location, Sinica 3762. During the course of the restoration work, the faintly pencilled words “F. Douce” were found on the verso. So our copy of the Red Decree is actually part of the bequest of the antiquary and book collector Francis Douce (1757-1834), and is possibly the last part of this enormous collection to be discovered and identified.

Now, the whereabouts of a further twelve copies are known, and here is a list of all sixteen:

Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Munich
Herzog August Bibliothek, Wolfenbüttel (copy 1)
Herzog August Bibliothek, Wolfenbüttel (copy 2)
Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin Preußischer Kulturbesitz
Bodleian Library, Oxford
British Library, London
University Library, Cambridge
Muban Foundation, London
Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Paris
Sinological Institute, Leiden
Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Rome
Royal Library, Stockholm
Rouleau Archives, Ricci Institute, University of San Francisco
Lilly Library (Boxer Collection), Indiana University
University Library (Wason Collection), Cornell
Private collection, Tokyo

There are none in China.


7 November 2011

This blog is the “outer chapter” to the “inner chapter” of the project that will consume the remainder of my career at the Bodleian Library, where I have been Curator of Chinese Collections since April 1976 (although that job title is of relatively recent creation). Soon, the work of maintaining our substantial collections of modern printed and electronic materials will pass to a new “Chinese Studies Librarian”.

The project, sposored by the Tan Chin Tuan Foundation in Singapore, will locate, identify, and list all the pre-modern Chinese materials in the Bodleian Library. It is therefore appropriate to call it “Serica”, which means “Chinese things”, as these materials comprise not only books, but also scrolls, ink-squeezes, and even a few objects.

The term “serica” refers to the Seres, the ancient Latin name for the Central Asian people from whom the Romans obtained silk, and may be ultimately derived from the Chinese word for silk, which is si 絲. Other worthy Chinese undertakings have also used this epithet, notably the Monumenta Serica Institute of the Societas Verbi Divini in Sankt Augustin, near Bonn. In the Bodleian, the old Chinese books were once shelfmarked Serica, a topic to which I will return when discussing the history of their organisation.

On the subject of silk, the opportunity may be taken to introduce an edition of the famous Illustrated poems on tilling and weaving composed by the Kangxi emperor in 1696:

御製耕織圖 二卷 / (清)焦秉貞繪 ; (清)聖祖撰詩
折裝2冊 : 圖 ; 35公分
Sinica 2729

This is a Japanese edition of some quality, made by Sakurai Tadamichi 酒井忠道, lord of Himeji-han between 1790 and 1814. It is not particularly rare – there are three copies, for example, in the main library of Tokyo University 東京大学総合図書館. We have no copy of the original Palace edition.

The work is in my mind because I was recently asked to provide a picture for the hoardings that have been erected around the New Library (at the bottom of Broad Street) which is currently being transformed into a special collections library – the “Weston Library”, which will open in March 2015. The pictures are alphabetical, each letter standing for something of note in our collections. I was assigned the letter Y, so selected an image of yarn from this edition.

The illustration shows threads being wound from the cocoons of silkworms. The cocoons are brought to a woman who is supervising their immersion into a pot of hot water, which releases the threads. A boy attends to the fire. The woman who is supposed to be winding off the threads is more interested in showing her infant to the neighbours over the fence than in doing her job.