22 December 2020

In my last blog entry I said that the subject of my next entry was going to be a Chinese printing block which I acquired at the beginning of October, but an article I read in The Guardian a couple of weeks ago has made me think of Francis Douce, so the block will have to wait.

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 the first edition of Shixue was 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 1735 reprint, 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.

In a note I wrote in 2006, I said that copies of Shixue are found in:

Paris (Bibliothèque Nationale)
St Petersburg (2 copies)
Oxford (Bodleian Library)
Peking (中国国家图书馆)
Peking (中国科学院自然科学史研究所)

but I’m embarrassed to admit that I’ve no idea where I got this information from, nor do I know if any of these copies are of the first edition of 1729. If anyone reading this could enlighten me, I’d be most grateful.

I do know however that the copy in the Bibliothèque Nationale is incomplete.

The Bodleian copy is identical in all respects with that reproduced in Xuxiu siku quanshu 續修四庫全書, which is probably the copy in the Chinese Academy of Sciences, as it bears many owners’ seals – neither the copy in the National Library of China nor the Douce copy bears any seals, and of these two copies, the Douce copy is the finer.

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.

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.

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.

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

As can be seen from the above illustrations, the block format of the Utrecht leaves (right) is identical with that of the Bodleian copy (left), so it seems to me to be beyond reasonable doubt that it is part of the same copy.


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 Bibliotheque 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 my next blog entry.

Four Great Song Stelae of Suzhou

4 June 2020

It’s well over a year since I last posted a blog entry. This is not an indication that I’ve finally lost interest in old Chinese books. Quite the contrary. I’m in the process of preparing a catalogue of the Bodleian’s pre-1912 Chinese holdings for publication, and have been going through the entire collection to check for any uncatalogued or overlooked material. This is taking quite some time – or at least, it was until March, when the Library closed because of the coronavirus pandemic. Fortunately, I’d completed the work just in time, and am now preparing my final draft for the publisher.

An unwelcome distraction in recent weeks has been the need to preserve and restore access to my work on the collections that was formerly on Bodleian fileservers.

This includes my list of Chinese books that came to Europe in the 17th century (through which the Selden Map was discovered), images and transcriptions of the collectors’ seals on Chinese books in the Bodleian (identified mostly by Zhang Hao at Zhonghua Shuju), and my survey of the Chinese “special collections”. Without warning, and without consulting what I believe are now called “stakeholders”, access to these resources was cut off a few weeks ago. So I’ve set up my own server, where these and a few other things are now located: There they will remain until I’m touched by the cold hand, which draws closer with each passing day.

Much more serious is the suspension of two projects for which the Bodleian received very significant funding from outside sources, and which I was compelled to conduct while in its employ. The first is the UK Union Catalogue of Chinese Books, a project funded by the Research Support Libraries Programme (RSLP) which I completed in August 2002. I’ve set up this database, too, on my own server. It’s only a first effort, and still has many rough edges, but it can be seen here (search in unaggregated pinyin, or simplified characters).

The other project was rather more difficult to rescue. This is the Serica Project whose production was made possible by the generosity of Mr Nicholas Coulson and the Tan Chin Tuan Foundation, and which came online in August 2012. As I explained on its home page, the project is ” … a subset of the Bodleian’s allegro catalogue of Chinese books, which has been designed to show the extent and nature of our pre-modern holdings, and to give access to those parts of the collection that have been digitised.” But the allegro catalogue has now been closed, as the Library takes its Chinese cataloguing back to the days of MARC (on which subject see the account by a former Bodley’s Librarian), and I was disallowed to do further work on it. Thus the Serica workflow was interrupted, and in the absence of any indication from the Library as to how it might be restored, I had to make my own alternative arrangements to keep the show on the road. This took quite some time.

When going through the collections for my published catalogue, I made a number of discoveries, not only of the sort referred to in my two previous blog entries (model calligraphic albums 法帖 and ink-squeezes 拓片 of stelae and other inscriptions), but also of some interesting and at times very visually attractive pieces of ephemera which I will try to record in future postings.

The first thing that caught my attention was a second copy (Sinica 2758) of the edition of Chunhuage tie 淳化閣帖 made by King Xian of Su 肅憲王 and completed in 1621. Like the first one (Backhouse 604) it is incomplete. But finding it made me research the edition a little more conscientiously than I did the first time round, so that I’m now not only quite sure that I’ve identified the edition correctly, but have also found out a great deal more about it. Accordingly, I’ve completely revised my blog entry which is now much more informative.

The second discovery was a set of large ink-squeezes (Sinica 2611) taken from the “Four Great Song Stelae of Suzhou” 蘇州四大宋碑 located in Suzhou Confucian Temple 蘇州文廟, now known as Suzhou Stone Inscription Museum 蘇州碑刻博物館 according to its website (Chinese version – the English version is here). The four stelae have the titles Tian wen tu 天文圖 (“map of the heavens”), Di li tu 地理圖 (“map of the earth”)*, Di wang shao yun tu 帝王紹運圖 (“chronological table of emperors”), and Ping jiang tu 平江圖 (“map of Pingjiang”), so that their full title is 《天、地、人、城四大宋碑》.


It’s worth pointing out that the character for di in Di li tu 地理圖 is actually 𨻐, which is currently not displaying. It is composed of the elements 阝+ 豕 (top) + 土 (bottom), and is an old glyph for 「地」. In accounts of this map, the character 「墜」 (together with its pronunciation zhui) is commonly, but wrongly used to represent it. The correct character can be found in Couvreur’s Dictionnaire classique de la langue chinoise (2me éd., 1911, 986), which only goes to increase my admiration for that work, as if any were needed.

The stelae are famous not only on account of their size and age, but also because all four are unique in some respect of their engraved content. The “map of the heavens” 天文圖 is the oldest engraving of a Chinese star chart; the “map of the earth” 地理圖 (together with the Hua yi tu 華夷圖 and Yu ji tu 禹迹圖 in Xi‘an Beilin 西安碑林) is one of the three oldest surviving maps of the whole of China; the “chronological table of emperors” 帝王紹運圖 is the only early example of such a list; and the “map of Pingjiang” 平江圖 is the oldest surviving town plan to be engraved on a stele.

Here are some images of the ink-squeezes which I took with my mobile phone not long before the coronavirus lockdown began. I haven’t been able to find any professionally digitised images of them on the internet, so it would be good if the Bodleian could make some once things get back to normal, if they ever do.

1張 ; 189 x 100公分
Sinica 2611/1


1張 ; 184 x 103公分
Sinica 2611/2


1張 ; 182 x 95公分
Sinica 2611/3


2張 ; 41 x 26公分, 204 x 143公分
Sinica 2611/4



To catalogue an ink-squeeze fully three questions must be answered. The first is who produced the content, and when; the second is who engraved it on stone, and when; and the third is who made the ink-squeeze, and when. Unusually, in the case of Sinica 2611, we can come quite close to answering all three.

For three of the stelae, the first two questions are answered by a colophon on the “map of the earth” 地理圖 which reads as follows:


“The four charts to the right were presented to the Prince of Jia by Huang Jianshan when he was acting as his tutor. I found them a while ago in the official residence of the provincial judge of Shu, and copied and engraved them in order to preserve them. Wang Zhiyuan of Dongjia, second month of winter, 1247.”

The “Prince of Jia” 嘉王 was a title given in 1189 to the crown prince who subsequently ascended the throne in 1195 as the Emperor Ningzong 寧宗,and the charts are from a set of eight that were made by Huang Shang 黄裳 (字兼山) in 1190. The only three to survive are those engraved by Wang Zhiyuan 王致遠 in 1247, that is, 天文圖, 地理圖, and 帝王紹運圖. It is not known if the fourth chart engraved by Wang was from the set of eight, but it was certainly not the “map of Pingjiang” 平江圖.

The author of this map is not known, but reasoning principally from the names of the engravers in the lower left corner of the stele, Lu Chan 呂梴, Zhang Yuncheng 張允成, and Zhang Yundi 張允迪, the eminent Suzhou scholar Wang Jian 王謇 (1888-1968) concluded that the map was engraved in 1229 绍定二年, a date which is generally accepted.

The engraving was sharpened up after the passing of almost seven centuries, as indicated by another colophon in the lower right corner:


“In the eighth month of autumn in the year dingsi (1917) the engraving was deepened under the supervision of Ye Dehui and Zhu Xiliang, both citizens of this prefecture.”

In answering the third question about these four ink-squeezes, that is who made them and when, we are again fortunate in having clear written evidence in the form of a typescript essay by the donor, Alfred Edward Hippisley, which is shelved together with them as Sinica 2611*. A scan of this essay can be seen here. The essay is somewhat rambling and contains a few misapprehensions, but in it he says:

“I … wrote to Mr. T. Castle, the Commissioner of Chinese Customs at Suchow … and he kindly obtained for me two complete sets of all four charts. They are the finest rubbings I have ever seen …”

I’m grateful to Robert Bickers for informing me that the magnificently named Thomas Amelius Marriott Castle was in office in Suzhou between 1921 and 1925 (see Customs Service: officers in charge, 1921-35. Shanghai: Statistical Department of the Inspectorate General of Customs, 1936, 80).


Hippisley (whose portait I reproduce courtesy of the President and Fellows of Harvard College and Historical Photographs of China, University of Bristol) had a long and distinguished career in the Imperial Chinese Maritime Customs, serving in various places and in various capacities from 1875 to 1910.

His papers were given to the Bodleian Library in 1988 by Miss Doris Wright, a friend of Evelyn Hippisley, his niece.

An account of them, including a biography of Hippisley, was written by Margaret Czepiel in 2007.

A note in the papers says that in 1936 he made a donation to the Bodleian of a Chinese manuscript in 20 volumes entitled “Exhaustive inquiry into the Five Ceremonials”, which I have catalogued thus:

五禮通考 二百六十二卷總目二卷 / (清)秦蕙田撰
洋裝20冊(原線裝80冊) ; 31公分

There is no mention of the ink-squeezes, but as these were originally shelved near other books that were acquired in 1936, it is reasonable to assume that they were donated at the same time.

The second of Hippisley’s “two complete sets of all four charts” which Castle made for him in the 1920s was found among the papers quite recently, and transferred to the Sinica Collection where they are shelfmarked Sinica 6013-6016.


12 March 2019

In my previous blog entry (which I partly wrote as a mise-en-scène for this one), I confessed to having left our albums of model calligraphy (fatie 法帖) until last because they were difficult. This, of course, is what librarians do: shove anything difficult into a cupboard and forget about it – my own cupboard was pretty full when I was dismissed eighteen months ago.

It’s some consolation to find that even Thomas Hyde wasn’t above doing this sort of thing. In his manuscript notes of our Chinese holdings (British Library Sloane Or.853, increasingly quoted in my blog) he has a section headed Praetermissa in Arch. A, literally “Things put aside in Arch[ivum] A” (I won’t repeat the facts about the storage and handling of our earliest Chinese accessions – it’s all explained in an earlier blog entry). I think it’s pretty clear what he meant by “put aside” – one of the items is Sinica 91, something I have put aside these past forty years.

In his notes, Hyde describes the item as follows:

Praetermissa in Arch. A …
182. Liber Fa-tie, continens Calligraphiae exemplaria nitida pro addiscentibus scribere linguam Sinensem.

Things put aside in Arch[ivum] A …
182. A Fa-tie, containing fine examples of calligraphy for those who are learning to write the Chinese language.

In the Bernard catalogue (p.152), we learn a little more about it; it is a roll, and the text appears as white on black:

Rotulae in Archivo A …
2969.18 Liber Sinensis impressus Characteribus albis in charta nigra, continens exemplaria Calligraphiae nitida pro addiscentibus scribere linguam Sinensem.

Rolls in Archivum A …
2969.18 A Chinese printed book with white characters on a black background, containing fine examples of calligraphy for those who are learning to write the Chinese language.

Here is the item as it is currently preserved:


It is bound in a codex, probably by Nicholson. The composition of the codex and the order in which the leaves are presented suggest that in Hyde’s time the Chinese leaves were rolled up in a protective sheet of western paper, and that the whole thing was then rolled in a piece of limp vellum inscribed by Shen and Hyde in the usual way. The inscription is for the most part illegible, that is unless you are Will Poole, for it is he who kindly transcribed and translated it for me within minutes of receiving my e-mail:


A 182
fa Formularius
tie Libellus seu charta
Est libellus pro Institutione eorum qui / primò addiscunt scribere linguam Chinensem, / continens varia Exemplaria rariores / Scripturae tam quadratae quam cursivae. / Anglicè A China Copy-booke.

A 182
法 fa A model
帖 tie album
This is a book for teaching those who are first gaining knowledge of how to write the Chinese language, containing various uncommon examples of writing both squared and cursive. In English: A Chinese copy-book.

The codex contains the first 17 pages of the fatie, but they are not bound in order. Here is the first, which clearly bears its title, Mingshu jixuan fatie 名書集選法帖 (“An album of collected works by famous calligraphers”), and appropriately the very first example is by Wang Xizhi 王羲之 (see my previous blog entry):


The leaf, like all the others, is clearly divided into three panels, with pagination in the lower right corner. Originally they would have been pasted together and folded to make an “accordion” binding (zhezhuang 折裝).

According to Madan and Craster’s Summary catalogue [1], the item was “acquired about 1618”, but I don’t know where this information came from. This means that it must have been printed during the Wanli period at the latest, so I have described it thus in my catalogue:

名書集選法帖 不分卷殘十七葉
洋裝1冊(原活葉) ; 60 x 30公分
Sinica 91

I can find no record of the title in any catalogue, whether printed or online. A Google search for “名書集選法帖” will at the time of writing find only two things: this text in my online list Chinese books in Europe in the 17th century, and a work entitled Mingshu jixuan fatie qianzi wen 名書集選法帖千字文 (the “Thousand character classic”) by the Tang dynasty monk and calligrapher Huaisu 懷素 (737–799) in Osaka Prefectural Nakanoshima Library 大阪府立中之島圖書館 in Japan.

This can only mean either that Sinica 91 is of exceptional rarity, or it isn’t a discrete work, but part of another which I have failed to identify. Either way, it is extraordinary that a work of such quality should have arrived along with the rather cheaper productions of the Jianyang and Jinling commercial printers, and it must surely be the very first calligraphic manual to reach Europe.

1. Summary catalogue of Western manuscripts in the Bodleian Library at Oxford, vol.2 pt.1 (Oxford, 1922), p.558.

Model calligraphy

9 March 2019

I have almost finished cataloguing the pre-modern Chinese collections in the Bodleian Library, but have left two things until last because they are difficult. These are so-called “ink-squeezes” (tapian 拓片) and the model calligraphic albums known as fatie 法帖. They are related in how they are produced, but are different in nature and function.

Ink squeezes (sometimes inaccurately termed “rubbings”) are used to reproduce inscriptions on rock faces and stelae, in tombs, or even on bronze vessels and other artefacts. They are “one-off” products, usually presented as single sheets, often extemely large. They are classified as epigraphy.

Fatie on the other hand are collections of model calligraphy used for self-instruction or teaching. These are published as printed books, but are produced in the same way as ink squeezes. That is, the calligraphy is engraved on stone or wooden blocks in intaglio, not relief, so that the end product is white on black, not black on white. They are usually presented in so-called “accordion” bindings (zhezhuang 折裝), and are classified as text-books.

The two types of material are sometimes confused. Ink squeezes are occasionally cut up and bound accordion-style to make them easier to store and consult, so that they look like fatie. And sometimes, epigraphical material is re-engraved on blocks and published as fatie.

Although there were antecedents, none of which is extant, the archetypal fatie is the famous Chunhuage tie 淳化閣帖 which was commissioned by the Song emperor Taizong 宋太宗 in 992, the third year of his reign period (淳化三年), from which it takes its name. He ordered the Hanlin academician Wang Zhu 王著 to make a compilation of the calligraphy which was preserved in the imperial collection and engrave it on blocks. Copies of the resulting publication were then given to the imperial princes and senior officials.

The work consists of ten juan 卷. The first five contain the calligraphy of emperors, officials, and others. The last five contain the work of Wang Xizhi 王羲之 (303–361) and his son Wang Xianzhi 王獻之 (344–386); these two figures from the Eastern Jin dynasty 東晉 (317-420) are generally regarded as the founding fathers of calligraphy as an art form. The title of each juan follows the formula「…法帖第…」, and it is from this that the term fatie 法帖 to describe this genre is believed to be derived. At the end of each juan, in seal script, is a reminder of when and under what circumstances the work was produced:「淳化三年壬辰歲十一月六日奉聖旨摹勒上石」. Although this colophon ends with the words 「上石」”engraved on stone”, there is reason to suppose that the calligraphy was actually engraved on wood. [1]

The Chunhuage tie was recut many times, especially during the Song and the Ming dynasties, and it is very difficult to identify the various editions, as a mere glance at any catalogue whether published or online will confirm.

There are three copies of the work in the Bodleian Library; two of them are incomplete copies of the same edition, which I catalogue as follows:

淳化閣帖 殘七卷
折裝7冊 ; 32公分
全書十卷, 殘卷四~十
Sinica 2758

法帖第六. 王羲之書一
法帖第七. 王羲之書二
法帖第八. 王羲之書三
法帖第九. 晉王獻之一
法帖第十. 晉王獻之二

淳化閣帖 殘五卷
折裝5冊 ; 32公分
全書十卷, 殘卷一~五
Backhouse 604


The only difference between the two copies (apart from the sections preserved) is that Sinica 2758 was printed earlier than Backhouse 604, as indicated in my statement of the imprint.

The history of the edition is almost common knowledge, and can be found in many Chinese sources both printed and online. I summarise it as follows.

In 1392, the Hongwu 洪武 emperor Zhu Yuanzhang 朱元璋, founder of the Ming dynasty, made his fourteenth son Zhu Yang 朱楧 king of Su 肅, a fiefdom centred on Lanzhou 蘭州 in Gansu Province 甘肅省. To mark the occasion, he presented him with a copy of a Song edition of the Chunhuage tie for him and his heirs to treasure. In 1615, his successor Zhu Shenyao 朱紳堯, king Xian 憲, ordered Wen Ruyu 溫如玉 and Zhang Ying 張應 to make a copy of the edition, as recorded in the colophon:


The work was completed in 1621 天啟元年. Over 140 stone blocks were used to make the edition, and most of them were engraved on both sides, so that there are over 250 pages. Already by the early Qing some of the blocks had got damaged, so some 40 were re-cut in 1654, as recorded in another colophon:


The blocks are extant. In 1910 the Hanlin academician Liu Erxin 劉爾忻 moved them into the Zunjingge 尊經閣, a pavilion of Lanzhou Confucian Temple 蘭州文廟 (now Lanzhou No.2 Middle School 兰州市第二中学), and in 1966 they were moved into Gansu Provincial Musuem 甘肃省博物馆, which is where they are to this day.

Some images of these blocks can be found on the web, although I’ve had difficulty in finding a good one. Here is an image of the block for the opening of juan 2, together with one of the impression in Backhouse 604 that has been taken from it:



Xu Guoping 许国平 has made a detailed study [2] of datable impressions of the Su edition of Chunhuage tie in the Palace Museum collections, in which he carefully notes how the stone blocks have deteriorated over the course of time. It is from his notes that I have, tentatively at least, been able to date the Bodleian impressions to the Kangxi 康熙 period or possibly a little earlier (Sinica 2758), and the Qianlong 乾隆 period or possibly later (Backhouse 604).

For example, Xu notes that in the following leaf from juan 4, the block was intact in all impressions up to and including the Kangxi period, but broken in the Qianlong period:


Sinica 2758


Backhouse 604

The break is vertical, for as we would expect, a piece of stone is more likely to fracture at its smaller dimension. With wood blocks the reverse is the case, as wood splits along its grain, not across it, and in printing blocks the grain is invariably horizontal.

The third copy in the Bodleian Library is of what I suppose is a later edition, but it could well be earlier. It is one of many fatie and ink squeezes among the books that were given to the Library by Dr William Lockhart, a medical missionary, in 1879. It is larger in size than the Backhouse copy, and of very much finer quality. Its heavy wooden boards are covered in brocade, which may help in dating the copy, but unfortunately I have no expertise in this area. I describe it as follows:

淳化閣帖 十卷
折裝10冊 ; 39公分
Sinica 465

歷代帝王法帖第一 (有缺, 殘末六葉)
法帖第六. 晉王羲之書
法帖第七. 晉王羲之書
法帖第八. 晉王羲之書
法帖第九. 晉王獻之書
法帖第十. 晉王獻之書




1. Rong Geng 容庚 (叢帖目, 14) quotes Zhang Boying 張伯英 who refers to a passage in Ouyang Xiu’s 歐陽修 Jigulu 集古錄 which says that copies became scarce as a result of a fire which destroyed the blocks.
2. 许国平: 肃府本《淳化阁帖》版本考略. In 中国书法学术 271(2015:11), 177-181.