Salt and a woodblock

31 December 2021

During the course of my work at the Bodleian, I was occasionally asked to give talks on how traditional Chinese books were produced. That is, how they were printed and bound. To demonstrate this I used a Japanese block that had been given to me by Christer von der Burg – I didn’t have a Chinese one – together with a disbound duplicate copy of one of the modern impressions from old blocks that are issued by Chinese publishers from time to time.

We acquired a Chinese woodblock in October 2013, and in the following January I wrote a blog entry about it. As a printing block it is typical, but its content is distinctly odd, so I’ve always been on the lookout for another. They turn up on eBay from time to time, often wrongly described as Chinese when they are obviously Japanese, and usually unrealistically priced. However, at the beginning of October last year I struck lucky, and managed to get a rather fine example very cheaply; I was the only bidder.

The block is from an edition of Changlu yanfa zhi 長蘆鹽法志, “A treatise on the salt law of Changlu”, an official publication in 20 juan 卷 compiled by Huang Zhanglun 黃掌綸 and others in 1805 on the basis of an earlier Yongzheng 雍正 edition in 16 juan. The subject is interesting, as salt production was a very important industry in traditional China. It was strictly controlled by the government, and was one of the principal sources of tax revenue. The Changlu Saltfield 长芦盐场 is situated on the Gulf of Bohai 渤海湾 near the cities of Tianjin 天津 and Cangzhou 滄州 and still supplies one quarter of China’s salt. During the Qing dynasty it was managed from these two cities, which are both on the Grand Canal 京杭大运河.

The edition was published by the Changlu salt commissioner at the time of its compilation; there are several copies in Peking University Library where it is described as 「清嘉慶十年[1805]長蘆鹽運使刻本」. It is reproduced in the collectaneum Xuxiu siku quanshu 續修四庫全書, from the electronic version of which I have obtained the images reproduced below.

The block measures 215 x 283mm, and is engraved on both sides with the leaves 20:43 and 20:44. These two leaves, when bound presenting four sides to the reader, contain the name, illustrations, and text describing the building known as Jintuo cheyanting 津坨掣鹽廳.


I had no idea what this building might be, so asked Zheng Cheng, who promptly sent me copious amounts of information, for which I’m very grateful.

Firstly, the name.

Jin 津 refers to Tianjin 天津, and tuo 坨 is the term used for blocks of salt. Cheyanting 掣鹽廳 refers to the office where the blocks were literally “drawn in” (che 掣) for examination and checking. I suppose we would call it “quality control”. There is a parallel section describing the Cangzhou office 滄坨掣鹽廳.

The Tianjin office is depicted in a famous 6.8-metre long picture scroll of the Qianlong 乾隆 period kept in the National Museum of China 中国国家博物馆. The scroll has no title, and as a result of an earlier misidentification of what it depicts, it is now named Luhe duyun tu 《潞河督運圖》. Actually, it is a depiction of the installations relating to the salt industry along the Haihe 海河 river which flows from Tianjin to the Gulf of Bohai 渤海湾, and in the opinion of authorities on this matter it would be better named Haihe xunyan tu《海河巡鹽圖》[1].  Here is the relevant section of the scroll, which also shows the nearby pontoon bridge, fuqiao 浮橋:

In the woodblock illustration, prominence is understandably given to the frame that supported the steelyard (chengjia 秤架) for weighing the blocks of salt; it is depicted clearly in the scroll:

The reproduction of Changlu yanfa zhi in Xuxiu siku quanshu is unfortunately not very good. But it is sufficiently clear to confirm that the impression is not taken from my block, which must therefore have been recut. There is nothing unusual about this – missing or damaged blocks were routinely replaced – but so far I have not been able to locate a copy which is described as a repaired edition, which is troubling.

1. Zheng Cheng has drawn my attention to two works on this scroll. (1) 王永谦: 潞河督运图卷. In 吕章申主编: 中国国家博物馆馆藏文物研究丛书, 绘画卷, 风俗画 (上海: 上海古籍出版社, 2007), 226-237; and (2) 高伟: 海河巡盐: 国博藏所谓《潞河督运图》天津风物考 (天津: 天津社会科学院出版社, 2018). I haven’t seen the second one yet.


Douce – postscript on Shixue

12 December 2021

Almost a year ago I posted an entry on the small but choice collection of Chinese books bequeathed to the Bodleian Library by Francis Douce (1757-1834). The following day, Zheng Cheng posted a reply drawing my attention to an article by Elisabetta Corsi on Shixue 視學, the most valuable among them. Following Corsi’s leads, I’ve been able to establish or at least make an informed guess of the provenance of this and a couple of other items in the collection, and have re-written the entry (where her article is referenced) to reflect these findings.

The purpose of this postscript is to make some observations on the edition of Shixue 視學, as there has been some confusion about it, and to present as complete a list as I can of the surviving copies, a list which is much longer than both Corsi’s and the one I originally posted. I’ll update it from time to time, as I discover more about them.

But first I must apologise to all readers of my blog who don’t have a burning interest in Shixue, as they will find what follows to be a mass of tedious detail which they could well do without. So please wait for my next blog entry, which I’ll try to make a little more interesting.

I’m told that the Douce copy of Shixue is one of the finest to survive, and since I wrote my original entry it has been digitised. So it is now possible to make close and accurate comparisons with copies elsewhere if anyone has the will to do so. For my part, I would already have been on the Eurostar to Paris to look at the copy in the Bibliothèque Nationale if it had not been for the pandemic.

Catalogues refer to two editions, the first prefaced 1729 (雍正己酉), the second 1735 (雍正乙卯). In the latter, Nian has added fifty or more plates together with explanations, as he explains in the preface (補縷五十餘圖並爲圖說). But I began to suspect, and so did Zheng Cheng, that the second edition was not a true second edition, but a reprint of the first edition with additional material. Because the edition is in large format, it would have been expensive to produce, and it seemed to me to be most unlikely that the blocks would have been recut after only six years – impressions were commonly taken from Chinese printing blocks for many decades or even centuries after they were cut. So I sent some images from the Bodleian copy (of 1735) to my old colleague and friend Maja Fuchs, and asked if she’d kindly send me images of the corresponding pages in the copy in Vienna (of 1729). This she did, and it was clear that the impressions had been taken from the same blocks except for the preface, which in the Vienna copy has the format 16行16字, but in later copies has been recut in the same format as the 1735 preface, 11行24字.

So the two versions might now be correctly described as follows:

Another complication was the title, which is sometimes given as Shixue jingwen《視學精蘊》. This puzzled me, as it appears nowhere in the text of either the Douce copy or the copy in the Chinese Academy of Sciences, which is reproduced in the collectaneum Xuxiu siku quanshu 續修四庫全書. But it does appear on the cover labels found on some of the copies, printed labels on those of London and St Petersburg, and manuscript on the Vienna copy. But the title of a Chinese book should only be taken from that source as a last resort, as book covers were easily damaged and expendable, and were regularly replaced by collectors. They are thus impermanent, by contrast with what lay within them. We would normally take the title of the first juan of the text as standard, but as the Shixue is not divided into juan, we look elsewhere, and find it at the beginning of the 1729 preface, Shixue bianyan 視學弁言.

And so in Chinese, we would catalogue it as follows:
視學不分卷 …

In English, the edition is correctly described in Leuven’s Chinese Christian Text Database.

Here is the list of locations, with a few observations on the copies; as can be seen, there is much more work to do.

Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, Sin 160-C. 1729. Sent from Peking by the Austrian Jesuit missionary Xaver Ernbert Fridelli, 1673-1743. It has a butterfly binding (蝴蝶裝), and the preface has the block format 16行16字 with original red seals, suggesting that this may be a unique surviving copy of the very earliest printing. Paris
Bibliothèque Nationale, Département des Estampes et de la Photographie, Oe 29 pet.fol.). 1729? The marking “n° 2864” indicates that the copy entered the Bibliothèque Royale en 1763. The copy lacks its covers and preface. The leaves are not bound in their correct order, and the text may be incomplete. (Information from Nathalie Monnet, e-mail, 6 April 2006).London
British Library, ex India Office Library and Records, Chin.H.31. 1735.Oxford
Bodleian Library, Douce Chin.b.2. 1735.Glasgow
University Library, Hunterian Chinese 45. 1735. This copy was originally sent by the Jesuits in Peking to T.S. Bayer in St Petersburg in 1737. See Weston, David: The Bayer Collection: a preliminary catalogue of the manuscripts and books of Professor Theophilus Siegfried Bayer, acquired and augmented by the Reverend Dr Heinrich Walther Gerdes, now preserved in the Hunterian Library of the University of Glasgow (Glasgow, 2018), 217.
St Petersburg
Institute of Oriental Manuscripts (IOM) of the Russian Academy of Sciences (Институт восточных рукописей Российской академии наук), G90. 1729. Zheng Cheng has investigated the St Petersburg copies, and through a contact there has located them in a published catalogue: Вахтин, Борис Борисович: Каталог фонда китайских ксилографов Института востоковедения АН СССР (Москва: Главная редакция восточной литературы, 1973), 95. What follows are the results of his findings to date. This copy, G90, is curious. The format of its preface is the same as that of the Vienna copy (16行16字), but the seals are printed in black, and it has only 16 pages fewer than the Douce and IHNS copies. This has led Zheng Cheng to suggest that it may be an intermediate printing, short of the “50 or more” illustrations of the final 1735 issue. At the same time, it is rather disturbing to note that it has three illustrations which are not found in the supposedly complete Douce and IHNS copies. It is bound in two volumes, western style on the head margin, with no evidence that the leaves were ever folded. All three St Petersburg copies have printed labels bearing the title Shixue jingwen《視學精蘊》.St Petersburg
IOM, F105. 1735. F105 and G91 bear the seals of the Asiatic Museum (Азиатский музей) in St Petersburg, whose collections subsequently passed to the Institute of Oriental Manuscripts. Apart from the printed labels, both are the same as the Douce and IHNS copies.St Petersburg
IOM, G91. 1735.Peking
中国国家图书馆 (NLC). 1735. Chen Yunru 陳韻如 (National Palace Museum, Taipei) has examined both the Douce and NLC copies, and told me in April 2006 that he considered the Douce copy to be the finer.Peking
中国科学院自然科学史研究所 (IHNS), 善子623/224. 1735. This copy is identical in every respect with the Douce copy, but has collectors’ seals.Changsha
湖南图书馆, 383/5. 1735.


Yongle dadian – 4

18 March 2021

Between December 2014 and May 2015, I posted three blog entries on the subject of Yongle dadian 永樂大典. It was always my intention to post a fourth one in which I would discuss the relocation of roughly half the volumes that survived the burning of Hanlin Yuan 翰林院 on Saturday 23 June 1900 during the Siege of the Legations. In the meantime, the sale of two newly discovered volumes in Paris last year has provided some new and quite unexpected food for thought, which I now throw into the mix.

The Paris volumes contain juan 2268-2269 and 7391-7392, and are explained fully in articles by Weng Lianxi 翁连溪, Director of the National Palace Museum Library and an authority on Chinese bibliography, and Gao Shuwei 高树伟, a doctoral student of classical Chinese literature at Peking University who wrote his master’s thesis on Yongle dadian.

Here they are:

翁连溪: 新出现的两册《永乐大典》趣闻
高树伟: 读巴黎新见两册《永乐大典》记

The volumes were auctioned as Lot 231 by Beaussant Lefèvre in Paris at the sale “Archéologie – Art d’Asie” which began at 2pm on Tuesday 7 July 2020. They carried an estimate of €5,000-8,000.

Full details of the sale in English sources are difficult to come by, and although it was obviously much bigger news in China than in the west, already some of the Chinese internet reports that I bookmarked at the time have disappeared. So my thanks are due to Xu Haiyan 许海燕 at the National Library of China (who is currently masterminding the reprinting of all the extant volumes) for helping me to gather much of the information contained in this entry, which I reproduce in the hope that it will be available for longer than the sources from which it is derived.

The bidding started at 4.47pm, and opened at €10,000. In a few moments it reached €500,000, and after a minute and half it amounted to a number larger than the auctioneers’ screen could display. The Chinese lady who secured the volumes entered the bidding at €2,000,000 and finally secured the lot with a bid of €6,400,000. With the auctioneers’ commission of 27%, this brought the price of the two volumes to €8,128,000; that is, more than one thousand times the estimate.

The Chinese lady, whose identity I haven’t been able to establish, was acting on behalf of a businessman called Jin Liang 金亮, who had been informed of the sale and persuaded to bid by Weng Lianxi. Jin Liang is a native of Zhejiang Province 浙江省, and chairman of two companies whose names I can only cite in Chinese, as I can’t find an English version of them: 上海春竹集团有限公司, 浙江奥特莱斯广场有限公司. He is passionately interested in old Chinese books, of which he is both a collector and and a generous benefactor, having donated Song editions to Zhejiang Library 浙江图书馆 and Dunhuang manuscripts to Qixia Temple 栖霞寺. It is naturally a source of great pleasure to the Chinese that these volumes have now been returned to Chinese ownership, and the hope is that one day they will again be in a public collection.

This leads me to consider the original intention of my fourth Yongle dadian post, which is to discuss the problem of where the surviving volumes are currently located. For the Chinese, the fact that half them are in foreign hands is a highly emotive subject. This truth was brought home to me at the international conference held at the National Library of China in April 2002 to commemorate the 600th anniversary of the compilation of Yongle dadian, where I read a paper on the British holdings of this work. (The paper has subsequently been modified to include all the European holdings, and is reprinted and distributed with all the National Library’s reprints of them).

At the conference reception, I was surrounded by a group of very angry young journalists from the Xinhua News Agency who accused me of theft, and demanded that I return the volumes to China without delay. My protestations of personal innocence cut no ice, nor was it accepted that the volumes were not mine to return. And even now, from time to time angry comments are sent to my blog.

The relocation of parts of Yongle dadian is regarded as the bibiographical equivalent of the looting of Yuanming Yuan 圓明園, but the two events could not be more different. The destruction of Yuanming Yuan in October 1860 was entirely the work of the British and French, and the more I think about it, the sicker I feel.

But in June 1900, Hanlin Yuan was set on fire by the Boxers, and it was the British who extinguished it. In fact, if they had not extinguished it, no volumes of Yongle dadian would have survived at all other than a few of the 10,000 or more which had already been removed by the Chinese themselves, and which now seem to have mostly disappeared.

In round numbers, only 800 volumes of Yongle dadian were left in Hanlin Yuan before the fire; of these, 400 were burnt and 400 survived; and of those that survived, roughly half are in China and the rest were taken by foreigners in the immediate aftermath of the Siege. Many Chinese, however, maintain that Hanlin Yuan was looted at the same time as Yuanming Yuan, as can quickly be discovered by the most casual internet search.

In fact there is no evidence for this assertion. I have personally examined every volume in Europe, and described them exhaustively in the table appended to my paper. Wherever their provenance is documented, it points to the Siege. There is nothing to suggest that any volumes of Yongle dadian came to Europe earlier than this, much less that there is a cache somewhere of previously stolen volumes hidden away from public view.

The provenance of the Paris volumes however is different. And for me, given the fact that Yongle dadian gave up its secrets long ago, their provenance is the only interesting thing about them. It is therefore most unfortunate that so little is known about it – or that so little has been divulged – and that it is so vague. Near the end of his article, Weng Lianxi reports that the volumes were offered for sale by the descendants of a French naval officer who was in China in the 1870s, and that he received them together with other gifts from Chinese officials with whom he had dealings. He goes on to say that all this is quite plausible.

If this is indeed the case, the two Paris volumes would be the only ones yet discovered that came to Europe before the Siege, and which were not removed from Hanlin Yuan by foreigners.

I mention all these things not to justify the present location of what little survives of Yongle dadian, much less how it got there, but to introduce a few facts into an argument often clouded by unreason and emotion.



22 December 2020

An article I read in The Guardian a couple of weeks ago has made me think of Francis Douce.

Douce (1757-1834) has already been mentioned twice in my blog as the donor of the Bodleian’s copy of the Red Decree and the small volume which contains what may be the first example of Chinese lithography. He is the subject of a brief article in Wikipedia, and here it is only necessary to point out that he built up an enormous collection of printed books and manuscripts that he bequeathed to the Bodleian, and that this bequest is one of the greatest gifts the Library ever received. In 1984 its sesquicentennial anniversary was marked by an exhibition, The Douce Legacy.

The Douce Chinese collection, numbering only some twenty items, consists almost entirely of illustrated books. This is understandable, as Douce was collecting in the period between the time when Chinese books were imported into Europe as curiosities – because nobody could read them – and later in the 19th century when the Protestant missionaries – who certainly could read them – brought back collections which for the first time could sustain serious sinological enquiry.

For the exhibition I chose what I think are two of the most interesting ones. After thirty-six years my choice would still be the same (but don’t look them up in the exhibition catalogue – they managed to get both captions wrong).

The first is indeed rare. It is a copy of Shixue 視學, a richly illustrated work on perspective in western art by Nian Xiyao 年希堯 (1671-1738):

視學 不分卷 / (清)年希堯撰
洋裝(原線裝)1冊 : 圖 ; 39公分
Douce Chin.b.2

Nian Xiyao was the elder brother of the more eminent Nian Gengyao 年羹堯 (1679-1726) [1], and had learned about perspective from the Jesuit missionary artist Giuseppe Castiglione (1688-1766) who had come to China in 1715. Castiglione was a master of painting trompe l’oeil designs, and had painted a trompe l’oeil dome on the ceiling of the Dongtang 東堂 Catholic church in Peking in 1729, the year in which Shixue was first published. (Castiglione and his colleagues would later delight the Qianlong 乾隆 emperor with their perspective work on the so-called “Western Mansions” 西洋樓 of Yuanming Yuan 圓明園. [2])

Nian acknowledges the help of Castiglione in his preface. Both had learned much from Andrea Pozzo’s influential work Perspectiva pictorum et architectorum (Rome, 1693), of which there was a copy among the books held in the libraries of the Jesuit missionaries in Peking in the early 18th century. The illustrations in Shixue are largely but not entirely derived from this.

The Douce copy is of the expanded version printed in 1735, which has considerably more illustrations, and is reproduced in its entirety (from microfilm) in Chuugoku no youfuugaten : minmatsu kara shinjidai no kaiga hanga sashiebon 『中国の洋風画』展 : 明末から清時代の絵画・版画・挿絵本 (Machida 町田, 1995), with the corresponding Pozzo illustrations alongside. It is identical in all respects with that reproduced in Xuxiu siku quanshu 續修四庫全書, which is the copy in the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

The Library has another, lesser known work by Nian Xiyao, which I catalogue as follows:

綱鑑甲子圖 / (清)年希堯撰
1張 ; 112 x 57公分
背抄「Table chinoise des empereurs de la Chine」
Sinica 352

This work has never been regarded as part of the Douce Collection, but it is exactly the sort of thing that Douce collected. The same was true of our copy of the Red Decree until I sent it for conservation, when the faintly pencilled “F. Douce” was found on the verso.

Its provenance is not known, but the verso inscription “Table chinoise des empereurs de la Chine” suggests that it may have been among many other 18th-century works sent to Europe by the Jesuits, which according to Cordier [3] may have passed through the hands of L.F. Delatour, “ancien imprimeur-libraire et sécretaire du roi” before going on to the open market.

The Bibliothèque Nationale de France has copies of both Shixue and Gangjian jiazitu, possibly those which according to Elisabetti Corsi [4] were sent to Jean Jacques d’Ortous de Mairan, Secretary General of the  Académie Royale des Sciences, by the French Jesuit missionary Dominique Parrenin in 1733 or shortly after. It is equally possible that the Douce copies of both these works are of the same origin.

Other printed single-sheet items in the Douce Collection are found in two large guardbooks shelfmarked Douce.Chin.b.1 and Douce.Chin.c.1, the former labelled A collection of Chinese shop bills, &c., the latter containing printed illustrations. Among them are three Suzhou prints of which one is a unique surving copy. Christer von der Burg identified them a while ago, and wrote about them in his blog.

The second Douce item that I chose for the sesquicentennial exhibition in 1984 is what the article I read in the Guardian reminded me of. It is an illustrated manual of go strategies:

圍碁近譜 一卷 / (清)金樹志撰
線裝1冊 : 圖 ; 30公分
Douce Chin.d.2

Like Shixue, this edition is also rather rare; I have only found two copies in Peking University Libary, one in the Naikaku Bunko, and another in Columbia University Library.

Unusually, we know the exact provenance of the Bodleian copy. Douce bought it at a Christie’s sale in London on Friday 15 February 1799, where it was lot 16 of

“… a capital, and truly valuable assemblage of Chinese drawings, paintings, natural and artificial curiosities, the property of A.E. van Braam [Andeas Everard van Braam Houckgeest], Esq. Chief of the Direction of the Dutch Wast India Company at Canton, and Second in the Dutch Embassy to the Court of Pekin, in the years 1794 and 1795 …”

This information comes from Douce’s annotated copy of the sales catalogue, which is preserved in the Bodleian’s collection. [5] Intriguingly, the catalogue lists another work on weiqi (lot 18) in five volumes which along with his copy of Shixue also appears in one of Douce’s manuscript lists [6], but no trace of it can now be found.

The content of the Guardian article may well be common knowledge, but I certainly didn’t know it. It is about Hara Masahiro 原昌宏, an employee of the Japanese automobile components firm Denso Wave. Over twenty-five years ago he was looking for a better way of managing inventories of large numbers of parts than barcodes could provide, and the answer came to him when he was having a lunchtime game of go with a colleague. Looking at the way in which the black and white stones were arranged on the grid, he came up with the idea of the QR code, which can handle 200 times more information than a standard barcode.

1. Hummel 587-590.
2. See John R Finlay: The Qianlong Emperor’s western vistas: linear perspective and tromp l’oeil illusion in the European palaces of the Yuanming yuan (in Bulletin de l’Ecole française d’Extrême-Orient 94(2007), 159-193).
3. Henri Cordier: Catalogue des albums chinois et ouvrages relatifs à la Chine Conservés au cabinet des estampes de la Bibliothèque nationale (Paris, 1909), 210.
4. See Elisabetta Corsi: Envisioning perspective: Nian Xiyao 年希堯 (1671-1738)’s rendering of Western perspective in the prologues to “The science of vision”. In A life journey to the East: sinological studies in memory of Giuliano Bertuccioli (1923-2001), edited by Antonio Forte and Federico Masini (Kyoto: Scuola Italiana di Studi sull’Asia Orientale, 2002), 201-243.
5. Douce FF 65(5).
6. MS.Douce d.79, f45.


More seventeenth-century finds

28 November 2020

Most of my latest blog entries have been concerned with the Chinese books that came to Europe in the 17th century, and so is this one. It’s beyond my control. People keep finding them, and when they do, if I can I like to provide some background information about them that it would be inappropriate to put in my simple list.

Pembroke College Cambridge

News of the first one came from Will Poole. Noel Malcolm had drawn his attention to an entry in the Benefactors’ Book of Pembroke College, Cambridge recording the donation of a Qu’ran by the London merchant Edward Tines, probably in the early 1630s, followed by a Chinese book in 1633. The Chinese book is an almanac for the year 1631. When I saw an image of it, I recognised it immediately because by a strange coincidence, earlier this year I’d re-examined another copy of the same work in Corpus Christi College in Oxford, which I catalogue as follows:

天星日子 不分卷有缺
洋裝(原線裝)1冊 ; 28公分
Corpus Christi College MS 216

The discovery of the Pembroke copy is particularly fortunate, as its title-page (to use a misleading word, as there is no real English equivalent of the Chinese term fengmian 封面) is complete, whereas that of the Corpus copy lacks the top portion which bears the date of the almanac: 崇禎四年辛未歲 “4th year of the Chongzhen emperor, the year xinwei“, that is, 1631. I’d already established the date of the Corpus copy from the text, but to see it so prominently displayed on the title-page was nevertheless reassuring.

Something worth noting is that there are editions in the 17th century corpus that date to well before the first Dutch East India Company voyages. For example, several of the medical works date to the first decade or so of the Wanli 萬暦 period, so does the edition of the word-book described below. So they could have been bought at any time from the first voyage onwards, as works like these are permanently in demand and would have been available from booksellers at any time.

Almanacs on the other hand are very ephemeral, and would only have been sold around the time of the Chinese new year, which in 1631 fell on Saturday 1 February, if the website from which I found this out is any good. And the fact that at least two copies of this almanac came to Europe suggest that they were indeed bought at this time, when multiple copies were on sale. So it may be possible for somebody with a detailed knowledge of the early VOC voyages to identify the sailing on which these two almanacs – and maybe even more – came to Europe.

Universiteitsbibliotheek Utrecht

The second find was made by Koos Kuiper. It’s actually three finds, in Utrecht University Library. Koos told me about them last year, but I didn’t put them into my list until he reminded me about them a couple of weeks ago. Inexcusable.


Two of the finds clearly belong to editions which are already in the list. The first is four more juan 卷 of Zhou Shixian’s 周士顯 edition of the Four books 周會魁校正四書大全: 2, 4, and two copies of 10 (V OCT 855). They were given to the library by Willem van Cleeff in 1719, who Koos thinks is probably the Gulielmus van Cleeff who obtained a doctorate in Utrecht in 1706.

This work has 18 juan altogether. Most of the surviving examples are in Oxford, and apart from the recently discovered juan in Utrecht there are a few leaves from juan 18 in Trinity College Dublin on which I posted a blog entry at the beginning of last year, telling all that I know about the edition and its distribution. I have nothing to add to that, except to point out that as my catalogue aims to record all Chinese books in Oxford, not just those in the Bodleian, I have added the juan in Corpus Christi College to my catalogue entry – it was already in the list – so that the entry now reads as follows:

周會魁校正四書大全 殘十六卷 / (明)胡廣, (明)楊榮奉敕纂修 ; (明)周士顯校正
線裝18冊 ; 27公分
全書十八卷, 殘卷一~六﹑八﹑九﹑十一~十八, 有缺
Sinica 68
Sinica 69 殘卷一﹑三﹑十二﹑十四﹑十五﹑十八, 有缺. – 線裝6冊
Sinica 52 殘卷十二. – 洋裝(原線裝)1冊 ; 28公分
Sinica 43 殘卷十四. – 線裝1冊 ; 25公分
CCC MS 205 殘卷十七. – 洋裝(原線裝)1冊 ; 27公分

From this it can be deduced that Oxford has fascicles from at least three different copies (there are three copies of juan 14). But we have no copies of juan 10 – they went to Utrecht. The only part of this work of which no example has yet been found in Europe is juan 7.


The next Utrecht find is some leaves from a medical text of which the first three juan are in the Bodleian, and which someone told me is a unique survival; indeed, I’ve failed to find it in any catalogue whether printed or online, and a Google search for this title or even part of it will currently only lead to its entry in the Serica Project website. I catalogue it as follows:

刻馬玄臺先生註證脈訣正義 殘三卷 / (明)馬蒔撰
線裝2冊 ; 28公分
Sinica 11

But the discovery of the Utrecht fragment shows that at least a second copy must have come to Europe, as it duplicates the first of the Bodleian fascicles:


The only difference is that the Bodleian fascicle (left) preserves p.22-54, and the Utrecht fascicle (right) p.21-53. It is possible that owing to its length, the first juan may have been bound in two fascicles, but it is a strange coincidence that only the second of the two should have been preserved in both Oxford and Utrecht.

This, together with the fact that almost all of the European 17th-century acquisitions are incomplete, makes me think that the complete books may never have been brought to Europe. The VOC merchants had no idea what they were buying, only that whatever it was, it had a curiousity value once it reached Amsterdam. So they might simply have bought (or been given) odds and ends by the Chinese they were trading with.


The third Utrecht find was at first rather difficult to identify, because the surviving leaves lack the juan 卷 beginnings and endings where a title would normally be found, nor is there a title in the banxin 版心, the central column of the block. Koos had studied the text and established that whereas it was clearly a word-book with phonetic glosses arranged according to radicals, the radicals were not in the familiar order of any of the well-known dictionaries such as the Shuowen 說文 or Zihui 字彙. As in the Yupian 玉篇, the radicals were arranged in categories denoting similar things, not in the order of their stroke count.

He then sent me some images, so that I was able to compare them with word-books in our own collection. The most promising was one having twenty juan, which I would have catalogued as follows if complete:

翰林重考字義韻律大板海篇心鏡 二十卷 / (明)劉孔當校

There are 6 fascicles of this work in the Bodleian representing three distinct printings.

Sinica 14 is the earliest printing, and the blocks have a so called heikou 黑口 or “black mouth”, that is, the central column of the block is uncarved, so that a thick black band runs down the centre of the leaf. (The word “mouth” is used because when the leaves are bound, that column is at the point where the book opens.) There are two fascicles of this printing, in which juan 2, 3, and 18 are preserved (below left).

There are two fascicles in Utrecht, and they are clearly of a piece with this edition (below right). The fascicles are both incomplete copies of juan 19 (pp.2b-30a and pp.1b-28a, 29a). It’s rather strange that again, Utrecht should have two copies of a juan which is not represented in a work of which the Bodleian has more extensive holdings.

In Sinica 15, the “black mouth” has been excised, so that the blocks now have a baikou 白口, or “white mouth”. This copy also has two fascicles, preserving juan 18 and 20. This is most fortunate, as juan 18 can be compared with the juan 18 in Sinica 14, showing that it is indeed from the same blocks; and juan 20 is the last fascicle, at the end of which there is a magnificent paizi 牌子 which tells us all we need to know about the edition:

The Bodleian also has two fascicles from what appears to be a third distinct printing, Sinica 73, preserving juan 13 and 14. This may be a later printing from the “black mouth” version before the central column was excised, but as these juan are not represented in the other copies, it can’t be proved one way or the other.

That three printings of this edition should have been on sale when the Dutch merchants picked them up is scarcely surprising. The nature of the Chinese script is such that anyone who can read it needs a dictionary by their side at all times. My colleagues and I have worn out several copies of Xinhua zidian 新华字典 during the course of our careers, and someone once told me that this dictionary is the best selling book of all time, including the Bible.


I’ve long thought that the most obvious places to look for other parts of the European 17th century corpus would be the smaller old-established libraries, which in England would be the libraries of Oxbridge colleges, cathedrals, country houses, or perhaps of the older private schools such as Eton College. The Pembroke almanac is a case in point.

It would never have occurred to me to look on eBay, but that is exactly where the last and probably most significant of the finds I’m describing was made last year. Andrew West told me about it.

It is a mid-19th century western leather binding containing juan 9-13 of the well-known and presumably unique surviving edition of the Shuihuzhuan which is already in my list, and of which other parts are in Copenhagen, the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Stuttgart, and Oxford, where there is a single leaf:

There isn’t enough of the copy preserved to enable more than a rather vague description of the edition to be made: the opening juan and prefatory material are missing, as is the last juan, which may have had a paizi 牌子 at the end. So it isn’t even possible to say how many juan the complete edition would have had. But juan 21 (in Paris, the last of the preserved juan) begins with hui 回 102, so I reckon 120 hui in 24 juan might be a reasonable guess, and would tentatively catalogue the edition as follows:

新刻京本全像插增田虎王慶忠義水滸全傳 二十四卷一百二十回 / (明)施耐庵撰 ; (明)羅本編

The eBay volume was offered for sale by a bookseller in Winchester who had no idea what it was or what it was worth. It was eventually sold for the sum of £18,100, and has been taken abroad. Although this is currently the only part of the 17th century corpus to be in private hands and therefore not able to be freely examined, it is apparently going to be published in facsimile next year. All the other extant parts of the copy have already been published either in print or online.

I don’t know why the fact that part of the 17th century corpus turned up on eBay amuses me, but it does. Illogical, because I’ve found equally recherché, if less valuable things on eBay myself. In fact I found a Chinese printing block there only a few weeks ago, which will be the subject of a future blog entry.