Japanese matters

29 May 2023

It’s said that good things come in threes, and here they are.

1. The Kornicki Collection

The first is Peter Kornicki’s donation of his remarkable collection of antiquarian Japanese books to the Bodleian Library in November 2021. Peter is Emeritus Professor of Japanese at Cambridge University but is an Oxford alumnus, having taken his first degree here in 1972 and his D.Phil. in 1979.

Among them are twenty-three Japanese editions of Chinese works (kanseki wakokuhon 漢籍和刻本) and one Korean edition which I have catalogued and listed here, with links to illustrations of specimen pages (書影).

Peter has written a scholarly bibliographical description of his collection which he has made freely available, and I have made references to this at the end of each record, so that 「康仁希文庫目録, A, 19」, for example, points to the nineteenth work in section A of his catalogue.

Peter acquired all the books in the collection on numerous visits to Japan over a period of 40 years, with the exception of two which he bought from Sam Fogg Rare Books in London. These are not only the two oldest books in the collection, but are also kanseki wakokuhon, and thus fall within the remit of the Serica Project. They are both fragments of Buddhist texts and are fine examples of mediaeval Japanese temple printing.

The earlier of the two was printed in 1278 at the temple Kongōbuji 金剛峯寺 on Mt Kōya 高野山, and is thus a so-called Kōya-ban 高野版; the other was printed in the late Kamakura 鎌倉 period (14th century) possibly at Kōfukuji 興福寺 in Nara, whose editions are known as Kasuga-ban 春日版 owing to the custom of presenting copies of them to the nearby Kasuga Taisha 春日大社 (Kōfukuji was the temple of the Fujiwara family, and Kasuga Taisha was their family shrine).

These two related editions have a primal beauty which, I think, cannot fail to move anyone with an interest in East Asian bibliography. Here they are:

大毗盧遮那成佛經疏 : 殘一卷 / (唐釋)一行記
線裝1冊 : 圖 ; 26公分
康仁希文庫目録, A, 1

大般涅槃經 : 殘一卷 / (北涼釋)曇無讖譯
1卷 ; 28公分
康仁希文庫目録, A, 2

Peter’s donation brings the total number of pre-modern kanseki wakokuhon in the Library to 87, and I have listed them all here.

2. Southern Ming calendars

In one of my earliest blog entries I discussed the calendars that were produced by the Ming loyalist regime in Taiwan to justify its imperial pretensions. At first I thought that the only surviving copies of these were in English libraries, but subesequently discovered from Yang Yongzhi’s 楊永智 book 《明清時期台南出版史》(台灣學生書局, 2007) that both the earliest and latest surviving issues (1667 and 1683) were “in the collection of the Kanda family” (p.16).

I assumed that “the Kanda family” referred to that of the great bibliographer Kanda Kiichirō 神田喜一郎 whose collection is now at Otani University in Kyoto, but its published catalogue 《神田鬯盦博士寄贈図書目録》(1988) makes no mention of them. So I concluded my entry by saying that I would very much like to know where they are. Of course, I could have contacted Yang Yongzhi, but as ever, wandered off in other directions.

A few weeks ago, my prayers were answered. Zheng Cheng had read my blog entry, and put me in touch with a young Chinese scholar who had taken a Ph.D. at Kyoto University last year and is currently engaged in post-doctoral work at Fudan University in Shanghai. I now know him by his English name of Leo – his real name is Yin Minzhi 尹敏志, and he blogs as Baixian 白鹇. He is keenly interested in the Chinese books that were published, collected, and studied in Japan, and has already written a book which touches on these things: 《 东京蠹余录》(广西师范大学出版社, 2020). I must thank him for most of the following information.

The calendars were offered for sale in 2021 at the annual antiquarian book auction organised by Tōkyō Kotenkai 東京古典会 , and appeared in the catalogue 《古典籍展觀大入札會目錄》 and also on the Society’s website. It seems that they were originally owned by Kanda Kōgan 神田香巌 (that is, Kanda Nobuatsu 神田信醇, 1854-1918, the grandfather of Kanda Kiichiro 神田喜一郎). They may well have been inherited by Kiichiro, but clearly they were not among the books that went to Otani University, and I don’t know under what circumstances they came to be sold.

At the time, Leo downloaded this image of them from the Tōkyō Kotenkai website; it’s no longer there, and unfortunately it’s not very clear, but it’s all we’ve got at present and it makes the point well enough:

Leo was also able to examine the calendars, and has told me that they are printed on brittle paper, and are wrapped in a thick paper cover bearing the following information presumably written by a former Japanese collector:



明治七年三月中旬 吉雪齋藏

The calendars were bought by the antiquarian bookstore Tōjō Shoten 東城書店 in Jimbōchō 神保町, reportedly for the sum of JPY10,000,000 (currently GBP60,000).

Learning all these things was very timely, as I had already arranged to go Japan in the second half of April. So I contacted Tōjō Shoten to ask if I might see the calendars and perhaps get some decent illustrations of them. Both requests were refused. The most I could extract from them was an undertaking that they would let me know when they eventually offered them for sale, which Leo tells me will be for an eye-watering price.

The 1683 (永曆三十七年) issue is particularly special as in that year the Southern Ming was finally brought to an end by the Manchus, and in the following year Taiwan became a prefecture of Fujian Province. All this is given additional piquancy by the current goings-on in that part of the world, something which has surely not escaped the attention of Tōjō Shoten.

3. Fengmian 封面

I’ve always found it difficult to translate the term fengmian 封面 in a way that would enable English readers to understand immediately what it is. Against my better judgement I’ve occasionally called it a “title-page”, but that is misleading as the Chinese fengmian lacks the authority of the western title-page and serves a different purpose.

While wandering around the streets of Tokyo during my visit last month, I came across this bookshop which almost certainly will not survive its present owner. There were many similar shops in Jimbōchō when I worked there 50 years ago, but almost all of them have now been replaced by modern multi-storey buildings with offices on the upper floors and what remains of the bookshop on the ground floor. It is called Asakusa Mikuramae Shobō 浅草御蔵前書房, and is situated in the neighbourhood of the famous temple of Sensōji 浅草寺 (better known as Asakusa Kannon 浅草観音) and the chefs’ paradise of Kappabashi 合羽橋.

Here, some old books (mostly pre-Meiji popular illustrated editions) can be seen in the centre of the display, laid flat so that their titles were visible, inviting passers-by to pick them up, examine them, and hopefully buy them. The setup reminded me of a photograph I once saw of an early twentieth-century Chinese bookshop in which a display of this kind occupied its entire frontage. It was almost certainly one of Hedda Morrison’s, but now I can’t find it.

The fengmian was designed to attract the attention of passers-by in just this situation, and the information it contained was drafted accordingly. It could include a descriptive title, the names of any famous authors or commentators, the name of the printing house or owner of the blocks, and a date. All these elements were intended to be eye-catching rather than strictly accurate or honest. Here are two examples from the late Ming:

史記 一百三十卷 / (漢)司馬遷撰 ; (劉宋)裴駰集解 ; (唐)司馬貞索隱 ; (唐)張守節正義
線裝32冊 ; 26公分
Backhouse 292

性理大全書 七十卷 / (明)胡廣等奉敕撰 ; (明)吳勉學重校
線裝32冊 ; 27公分
Backhouse 402

Note that both these editions are commercial ones. Imperial editions and the editions of private scholars were of an entirely different order and were not circulated in this way, so that they seldom have fengmian.

A missionary treasure box

3 January 2023

In April 2015 the Bodleian received one of the most interesting donations of Chinese materials to have been made during my time as Curator of Chinese Collections. It was small in size, and fitted entirely into a single cardboard box. Of scrappy appearance, the materials were of the sort that many people would throw out following the death of their owner. This alone would ensure that they were rare once a few decades had elapsed.

The donor was the distinguished constitutional lawyer Anthony Bradley who was living in retirement near Oxford, and the materials were the nachlass of his maternal grandfather Arthur Bonsey (1858-1942), who was a younger contemporary of the well-known Welsh missionary Griffith John (1831-1912). Last year I was shocked to see an obituary of Professor Bradley in The Guardian, and greatly regret my failure to post an account of the donation before his death.

In 2018 Tony published a biography of Bonsey [1], whose work at the London Missionary Society’s station in Hankow extended over a period of some forty years, from his arrival there at the end of 1892 until his retirement in the spring of 1923. He spent the rest of his life in Oxford until his death on 2 December 1942, with so far as I know no contact with the Bodleian Library, much less any idea that his box of odds and ends would eventually become one of its treasures.

The following portrait of Bonsey is taken from a commemorative publication of the Griffith John College in Hankow, of which he was appointed Principal in 1913 [2]:

The College had been established in 1899 as the London Mission College 倫敦會書院, later changing its name to Boxue Shuyuan 博學書院 in Chinese and Griffith John College in English [3]. The main building with its bell tower survives as part of Wuhan No.4 Middle School 武汉市第四中学.

There are 197 printed items in Arthur Bonsey’s collection, of which 59 are single sheets. They are shelfmarked Sinica 6371-6421, 6423-6568 (Sinica 6422 is a manuscript) and they can all be found in Library catalogues except for two pieces of printed ephemera (Sinica 6552, 6553).

There are also 43 manuscripts, shelfmarked MS.Chin.a.24(1-13), MS.Chin.c.45, MS.Chin.d.77-78, MS.Chin.e.29, Sinica 6422. Some of them are single-sheet items, others are letters consisting of one or more sheets in an envelope grouped together under the same shelfmark. None of them can currently be found in Library catalogues, but they are all listed here with brief descriptions; all but three have been digitised.

Riots in the Yangtse valley

I distinctly remember the day when Tony delivered his grandfather’s nachlass to the New Library in Broad Street, Friday 27 March 2015. He opened the boot of his car to reveal a box of materials, on top of which lay a volume with a distinctive landscape orientation and grey paper covers. He was surpised when I recognised it immediately despite the fact that it was face down – Chinese books are much less varied in appearance than western ones, and I had long been familiar with two copies of the same work that were already in the Library’s collection: The cause of the riots in the Yangtse valley : a complete picture gallery (Hankow, 1891, 29 x 35cm), Sinica 5987 and (RHO) USPG 1861.

In view of the fact that the Bodleian already had two copies of this work, it was felt that a third was unnecessary, so it was kept by the family and I believe it was among the materials which Tony presented to Central China Normal University 华中师范大学 in Wuhan when he visited them a couple of months later in May 2015.

The work and its background are explained in full by Peter Perdue on the MIT Visualising cultures website, which uses the copy in Yale University Library. The copy in Princeton University Library has also been digitised.

In summary, it is a reproduction of an illustrated anti-Christian tract entitled Jinzun shengyu biye quantu 謹遵聖諭辟邪全圖, translated and introduced by Griffith John. The tract is said to have been written by Zhou Han 周漢 (1842-1922), a leading anti-Christian campaigner whose works were widely circulated in the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtse valley [4]. One does not need to be a Christian to find that the tract and its illustrations are utterly repellent – such material would be shocking no matter what religion it was directed against. For this reason I used to find it very hard to believe that Griffith John had actually reproduced it, despite his disclaimer in the preface (section 8) which states:

“This reproduction of the Picture Gallery being intended for the thoughtful few, and not at all for the multitude, no attempt has been made to gloss over its extreme grossness in picture and language. It is not the production of illiterate men. The Hunan antichristian publications, almost without exception, have scholars as their authors, and there can be no doubt about this one.”

However, among the Bonsey materials are seven manuscript illustrations which look as if they were indeed produced as drafts for the final block-cutting and printing. Bonsey must have seen the work being done and collected them as he approached the end of his first posting in Hankow (from 1882-1891).

Here is the draft of the first illustration, MS.Chin.a.24(7), described in the published text as “The Devils (foreigners) Worshipping the Hog (Jesus)”:

And here is what was actually printed and published (Princeton copy):

There are two drafts relating to the third illustration, MS.Chin.a.24(8, 9), described in the published text as “Propagating Religion in the Chapels”:

Perhaps the first of these two was intended to be for a block that was to print only the black portions of the illustration – in the taoban 套版 printing technique a separate block was required for each colour. In the event, the illustration that was finally printed and published had a different colour scheme and was much simpler:

The illustration shows the faithful worshipping the crucified Saviour, depicted as a hog, while foreign missionaries engage in acts of fornication at the back of the chapel.

Other works by Griffith John

Griffith John is a towering figure in the 19th-century Protestant mission, and much has been published about him both in print and on the internet; his Wikipedia entry is a good starting point.

Here I will only draw attention to the large number of his publications that were collected by Arthur Bonsey and which are now in the Bodleian Library. One of the many things that grated during my final years of service there was the increasing use of the term “world-class” by those who run the place to describe their own institution and its collections, something that struck me as being immodest to the point of vulgarity. So I leave it to others to examine my list of Griffith John’s publications, to search for them in WorldCat and elsewhere, and to decide for themselves whether such a claim can be made for this particular corpus.

The printed single-sheet items seem to be of exceptional rarity, which could be because they were considered too trivial and ephemeral to be taken into library collections; or they may indeed be in libraries but are lying unidentified and uncatalogued. I have found no examples of any of the six “sheet tracts” by Griffith John listed in Wylie’s Memorials of Protestant missionaries (Shanghae, 1867, 237-238) – but copies of all four of the multi-leaf tracts he lists are present in the Bodleian collection – nor have I found any other examples of the 35 single-sheet tracts in Bonsey’s collection. Of these, 28 are what I have described as “folded” single sheets, which look as if they might have been designed to be bound up into pamphlets; here is one of them, Sinica 6399 :

Griffith John regarded the establishment of schools, hospitals, and training colleges as an essential part of the Christian mission, and some of the single-sheet items bear witness to this, such as Sinica 6530, which explains the rationale behind it:

And on the subject of physical as well as spiritual welfare, John was particulary active in the anti-opium and anti-footbinding movements. I have compiled lists of materials on these subjects which are found in the Bodleian collections. Most of the anti-opium publications and all the anti-footbinding publications came from Bonsey; here is one of them, Sinica 6551:

Other single-sheet printed material

Visually impressive and certainly deserving attention are five calendars in the form of posters, clearly produced to promote the missionary enterprise. They are for the years 1887 (Sinica 6564), 1889 (Sinica 6565), 1890 (Sinica 6566), 1891 (Sinica 6562), and 1910 (Sinica 6567); this last one is printed in two colours and is particularly appealing:

Bonsey also collected a number of contemporary single-sheet items that were not related to the Protestant mission. For example official handouts of one sort or another that were read and then discarded, such as the handbill (or perhaps a small poster) announcing the establishment of mathematics and western science as subjects for the official government examinations, Sinica 6534:

The most spectacular among them is Sinica 6568, an enormous poster measuring 90 x 266cm. and printed on yellow paper with a red border of imperial dragons. The text is part of an imperial edict dated 1 February 1901 (according to the western calendar) requiring local officials to suppress all anti-foreign demonstrations and punish those responsible on pain of immediate dismissal and with no prospect of being re-hired. The injunction was presumably printed repeatedly in a number of locations – there is another example in the Bavarian State Library, printed from different blocks but of similar size and appearance. I suppose these huge posters were intended to be pasted to city walls and gates, or the walls of government offices, but this is only a guess. I’d be grateful to hear if anyone has more knowledge of this.

And finally, there is Sinica 6559, a delightful New Year print of the “Woosung Railway” 吳淞鐵路, China’s first passenger railway which opened in 1876 and ran from Shanghai to Wusong; its chequered history is the subject of a Wikipedia article. There are several iterations of this print, as an internet search will reveal.


Bonsey himself appears to have written and published very little indeed. In fact I have only been able to find a single copy (in SOAS Library) of a four-page pamphlet entitled The loving doctor Chow Chi Kwan (London Missionary Society, c.1900).

At the Griffith John College, as well as being Principal, Bonsey also taught history, English, and music, and there is a large musical score entitled The tune book of the C.C.R.T.S. Union hymn book (Hankow: Central China Religious Tract Society, 1905) in Rolvaag Memorial Library, St. Olaf College Northfield, MN (USA); again, this is the only copy I have found.

Although it was not published under his name, for many years Bonsey chaired the editorial team that compiled The R.T.S. hymnal with tunes, which was published by the Religious Tract Society of North & Central China in Shanghai in 1922. It has a preface signed G.A.C., who I presume is the Methodist missionary George Alfred Clayton.

There is a copy in the London Missionary Society Collection in the National Library of Australia, but apart from that the only other copy I know of is the presentation copy given to Bonsey in commemoration of his forty years’ service in Hankow, the front fly leaf of which bears a beautifully drawn dedicatory inscription. The volume is in the possession of the Bradley family, and Tony showed it to me in his son’s garden on 26 June 2020. That was the last time I saw him, and the pictures of it which he allowed me to take for my blog are an appropriate place to conclude this entry.

1. Bradley, Anthony: Arthur Bonsey (1858-1942) and the missionary enterprise in central China. In The journal of the United Reformed Church History Society, 10:3 (November 2018), 125-144.
2. 級友錄, 漢口博學書院, 1919. Sinica 6508.
3. See 中國現代化的區域研究. 湖北省, 1860-1916 / 蘇雲峰著. – 台北 : 中央研究院近代史研究所, 民國70年[1981]. – (中央研究院近代史研究所專刊 ; 41). 145-146.
4. See 黄金乐: 周汉生卒年考, in 黑龙江史志, 346(2015:9), 18, 20; also 邵雍: 《谨遵圣谕辟邪全图》之解读, in 史學月刊, 223(2007:9), 131-134.

Lists and Chungking publications

4 November 2022

At the forty-second EASL conference in Ghent at the beginning of September, I gave a short talk which was simply called “Lists”.

Increasingly, especially during the later years of my employment, scholars – mostly Chinese – were not asking to see specific books which could easily be found in our online catalogue without reference to me or any other librarian. They were asking the question “what have you got”. It would have been pointless, and even unhelpful, for me to tell them to go and have a look in the online catalogue, as online catalogues are not designed to answer this question.

Online catalogues are designed to limit what is being looked for, not to show everything. And the more they limit it, the better most readers are pleased. The ideal is to find exactly the book or books you’re looking for, and nothing more, in the first hit.

And so I designed the Serica website as an attempt to give an overview of all the “special” Chinese books in Oxford, not just a few of them. It is nothing more than a collection of lists, some of them very long. The data is arranged in a modified version of the Sibu 四部 classification, which can be seen and understood at a glance. Each category gives access to a list that can be viewed, printed out, or downloaded as required. Each list can be structured in a way that best suits the data it contains rather than a way that has to conform to a particular set of rules.

I had actually started to make lists at a very early stage of my career, well over forty years ago. Shortly after I was first appointed to the Bodleian in 1976, I started to visit Piet van der Loon at his house on Boar’s Hill to learn the facts of Chinese bibliography. He quickly infected me with his enthusiasm for the popular editions that had arrived in Europe in the seventeenth century, and I started to make a list of them. I then expanded the list to include the seventeenth-century Chinese acquisitions in other British libraries.

As soon as the internet appeared, and the Library staff were given space on which to mount their own pages, which we were encouraged to produce, I mounted my list and further expanded it to include the seventeenth-century acquisitions of all other European libraries. When scholars interested in these matters saw it, they started to help me, so that little by little, maybe only once or twice a year, the list continues to grow, a process which is regularly documented in this blog.

The list is expressed in the simplest HTML – it’s little more than a textfile – and is not a work of scholarship. But it led directly to the discovery of one of the most important Chinese historical documents in existence, the Selden Map. Robert Bachelor had noticed that there was a Ming dynasty map on my list, and asked to see it when he visited the Bodleian at the beginning of January, 2008.

I’ve recently started to produce other lists, the latest being a list of the official publications of the Chinese government when it was based at Chungking in the 1940s. The Bodleian received a gift of 151 of these from what was then called the “National Library of Peiping” in February, 1946. The original list that accompanied this donation is in English, and is preserved in the Library Records (Library Records c.1734):

A scan of the complete document can be found here.

All of these publications are valuable, and some are now very rare indeed, for example this work on Tojo and Koiso:

Before he left for Princeton, Joshua Seufert had located them and extracted them from the modern collection. I don’t know why or how he did this, but it has enabled the Library to incorporate them into its special collections, and I have subsequently made a list of them. The list has been produced automatically from the allegro catalogue and follows the order of the National Library of Peiping original, with its numbering given at the head of each record:

The complete list can be seen here.

My first list gives access to materials that could never be found in online catalogues – I don’t know what search-term would lead the reader to materials that came to Europe in the seventeenth century. And my latest list could only be produced from most online catalogues with much time and difficulty, and only by readers who really know what they’re doing and can cope with the sheer awfulness of the systems currently in use.

The more I work on the Bodleian’s special collections, the more my enthusiasm for lists increases. When I’ve been unable to find texts in online databases, I’ve resorted to Google searches, and these have often led to lists of books which Chinese scholars have mounted on their websites or reproduced in their blogs just as I do myself. Not only do you find what you’re after, but occasionally you notice things in the list which turn out to be even more interesting than what you were originally looking for.

Popular literature

29 March 2022

Since ceasing to be employed by the Bodleian some four and a half years ago, I’ve been trying my best to complete the cataloguing of the Library’s pre-modern and so-called “special” Chinese collections as a private scholar. Inevitably I’ve left the most difficult things until last.

These are some very down-market works of popular literature made by Piet van der Loon. I remember seeing some of them in his study in his house on Boars Hill on my frequent visits there, but never paid much attention to them. I think that he, too, had put them aside for dealing with one day in the future, which of course never came. There are several hundred of them, and I wouldn’t even have known what they were if he hadn’t tied them in bundles and labelled them.

They are extremely difficult to catalogue because they challenge the rules, which were drawn up for cataloguing regular publications, not casually produced ephemera. Again and again one is faced with the choice of either following the rules, or cataloguing the works in such a way as to show the reader what they are and to give access to them. The ideologues in our cataloguing departments often forget this, and would do well to conduct research using their own catalogues from time to time and see for themselves how difficult it often is to find things in them unless the rules are bent.

In these popular and very localised works, occasionaly rather strange alternative or dialect characters are used, and they are often difficult to identify and locate in the character set. My thanks to Andrew West for giving me much help in this area.

The three biggest collections, which I catalogued some time ago, are:

1. 閩南歌曲 (Fujian folk songs), Sinica 4028-4500
2. 廣州木魚書 (Cantonese “wooden fish books”), Sinica 4911-5234
3. 粵劇劇本 (Canton opera scripts), Sinica 5241-5700

A further hundred or so Cantonese “wooden fish books” were transferred from the Chinese Studies Library in 2014 (Sinica 6194-6295), and another two dozen came from Glen Dubridge in 2017 (Sinica 6751-6774), so that the total size of these three collections is currently:

閩南歌曲 – 480 editions
廣州木魚書 – 487 editions
粵劇劇本 – 461 editions

These are sizeable holdings by any standards.

I’m writing the present blog entry because I’ve recently catalogued three further groups of materials that Piet labelled, and which I’ve attempted to fit into my classification scheme, which is the Sibu 四部 system modified so that it will accept everything in our collection, at least after a fashion. They are (to use his terminolgy):

“Canton dramas, genre unidentified”, Sinica 5806-5854, 57 editions.

Catalogued here.

客家歌冊 (Hakka song books), Sinica 5855-5875, 25 editions.

Catalogued here.

When I first posted this blog entry I wondered why the term 廣東語 was set against each title if these are indeed Hakka song books. But Justin Leung posted a comment noting that all these editions were published in Taiwan during the Japanese colonial period, when Hakka was known as 廣東語.

福州評話 (Fuzhou stories), Sinica 5876-5899, 26 editions.

Catalogued here.

If anyone with a knowledge of these things could tell me a better way of classifying this type of popular literature, I’d be extremely grateful.


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.

Postscript 16 May 2023

I donated this block to the Bodleian in Spring, 2022, and it is shelfmarked Sinica 6854.

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.