Yongle dadian – 3

29 May 2015

Most of the extant parts of Yongle dadian were published by Zhonghua Shuju in 1960, when 730 juan were reproduced in reduced format in 202 ce, contained in 20 han. This publication was continued in 1984 when a further 67 juan were added in 20 ce, contained in 2 han. I catalogue the complete work as follows:

永樂大典 / (明)永樂中解縉等奉敕撰
北京 : 中華書局, 1960-1984
線裝222冊 ; 20公分
影印嘉靖隆慶間內府重寫本殘卷
內容:
第1-20函 永樂大典 殘七百三十卷. – 1960.-  202冊
第21-22函 永樂大典 殘六十七卷. – 1984. – 20冊

Since then, other parts have been discovered in various places, and have been published from time to time either singly or in groups. The Bodleian has recently digitised all its holdings, which can be seen here. A single volume in the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin has also been digitised and made available online.

A group of hitherto undiscovered volumes was published the year after the 2002 conference in Peking:

海外新發現永樂大典十七卷 / 胡道靜撰序 ; 許中毅, 余嵐責任編輯
上海 : 上海辭書出版社, 2003
精裝1冊 ; 30公分
ISBN 7-5326-1285-6

I must confess to having been rattled by this, as three of the volumes it reproduces are in Ireland, and I thought I’d taken full stock of what is located in European libraries; now, I had to start again.

It is irritating that no details are given as to the precise whereabouts of the volumes, only the countries where they are located. But I suppose this is a little better than the Zhonghua Shuju edition, which gives no details at all. Thus we are told that of the 17 juan reproduced, 2 are in America, 2 in Japan, 5 in England, and 8 in Ireland.

Those in England are contained in two volumes in the British Library, and a colleague told me that the ones in Ireland were in the Chester Beatty Library. Later, a little searching on the internet quickly revealed the locations of the volumes in America and Japan. Here they are, seven volumes in total:

  1. juan 803-806 — Chester Beatty Library (Republic of Ireland)
  2. juan 8569-8570 — Kurokawa Institute of Ancient Cultures 黑川古文化研究所 (Kobe 神戶, Japan)
  3. juan 10110-10112 —  Chester Beatty Library (Republic of Ireland)
  4. juan 13201-13203 — British Library (United Kingdom)
  5. juan 14219-14220 — British Library (United Kingdom)
  6. juan 15957-15958 — New York Public Library (United States of America)
  7. juan 19866 — Chester Beatty Library (Republic of Ireland)

Actually the last of these, containing juan 19866, had already been reproduced by Zhonghua Shuju in 1984, but page 8a had been omitted, perhaps because it was accidentally omitted when the photostats were being made in 1931. The Shanghai reproduction makes good that omission.

It seems clear to me that the reason why Shanghai Cishu Chubanshe didn’t name the libraries in which these volumes are held is because the images were reproduced without authorisation. This certainly seems to have been the case with the Chester Beatty volumes, as when I visited that library last autumn, the staff there had no knowledge of the reproduction.

More serious, however, is how the reproduction was made. Like the Zhonghua Shuju edition, only the text is reproduced, not the matter that appears before and after it. Thus we lose the Siku quanshu forms (see Yongle dadian – 2) as well as any inscriptions and details of provenance. Whether by accident or design, the history of these volumes has been erased.

So we find that the extensive water damage that resulted from the British action to extinguish the fire that had been started by the Boxers has been airbrushed out. This is particularly obvious from the last leaf of one of the Chester Beatty volumes –  I reproduce the image from Shane McCausland’s Copying and transmitting, knowledge and nonsense (in Original intentions : essays on production, reproduction, and interpretation in the arts of China, University Press of Florida  2012) alongside the Shanghai Cishu Chubanshe version:

sac250a shcscbs1

The images have also been heavily edited in other ways. For example, instead of reproducing each page as photographed, the black text has been extracted and an identical red frame superimposed on it. This may be because the editors were working from black and white or greyscale images, and wanted to reproduce the appearance of the original. But in the case of one of the Chester Beatty volumes, absurdly, a red text frame has even been printed over an illustration:

sac249 shcscbs2

Most recently, the Bodleian has received visits from Li Honglin 李虹霖, Deputy Director of the National Library of China, and Fang Zijin 方自金, Director of the National Library of China Publishing House. Their aim is to produce a full-size facsimile of all extant volumes of Yongle Dadian, and to that end last week we presented them with high-resolution scans of all 19 volumes in our library. As mentioned above, these are already accessible online, and were included in the Zhonghua Shuju’s printed edition in 1960. We still have a copy of the microfilm from which this edition was made. It was produced for us in the 1950s by Oxford University Press, presumably because at that time we didn’t yet have our own filming studio.

It will be interesting to see how the National Library’s facsimile turns out. I’m on the lookout for airbrushing, as a very prominent inscription which defaces the first leaf of the volume containing juan 14607-14709 (MS.Chin.b.9) leaves its history in no doubt:

“Peking 1900. One volume from a Chinese Encyclopaedia found in the ruins of the Hanlin Library during the Boxer rising, 1900 … which the Chinese burnt in the expectation that its flames would set fire to adjacent British Legation buildings. T. Biggin.”

2 Responses to “Yongle dadian – 3”

  1. Bruce Rusk Says:

    To this list you might add the volumes recently discovered at the Huntington Library in California: http://huntington.org/WebAssets/Templates/content.aspx?id=17577


    • Indeed. By an extraordinary coincidence, I learned about this on Friday 17 October last year at the very moment when I was examining the volumes in the Chester Beatty Library in Dublin. I paused from my work to check my e-mails, with the volumes right next to my laptop, and found a message from Bodley’s Librarian drawing my attention to the report of this in the LA Times (http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/arts/culture/la-et-cm-huntington-library-chinese-yongle-encyclopedia-20141015-story.html). I remember being very irritated to read “Fast forward to the mid-19th century, which saw the British and French empires pitted in brutal battle against the Chinese. At that time, much of the Yongle copy was lost or destroyed in looting.” There is no evidence for this. We stole/rescued (take your pick) our volumes during the Siege of the Legations in 1900. Quite rightly, the Huntington account doesn’t repeat this myth, which I’m going to debunk in “Yongle Dadian – 4”. By the way, you say “volumes”, but it was only a single volume, containing two juan.


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