25 April 2017

In an earlier blog entry, Survey of the Great Ming Empire, I discussed an edition which had been made sometime around the year 1600, not long before the fall of the Ming. The printing blocks of such a large-scale work represented a huge investment to their owner, but became a liability on the accession of the Qing, so they had to be modified. This made it particularly difficult for me to identify the edition at a time when I was still learning the trade, when I had access to few printed library catalogues, and when the internet was still a long way off.

Another edition which puzzled me at that time was a collection of memorials of famous ministers. Like the Survey of the Great Ming Empire, it is a large work. It had originally been compiled and printed in 1416 by order of the Yongle emperor.

Our edition has a preface preface dated 1635 (崇禎八年), and is in 319 juan. The problem I had when I first encountered it is that all other copies of the edition had 350 juan, like the original Yongle edition; the only 319-juan version that I could find was in the rare book catalogue of the National Central Library. When Shen Jin 沈津 was cataloguing the Harvard copy of this work, he also came across the National Central Library’s copy and thought that it might be simply be defective [1]. But an examination of the Backhouse copy’s table of contents shows that this is not the case. The final page had not been tampered with, and was clearly an impression from a block that ended with juan 319.

The reason why the final 31 juan had been omitted and all evidence of them excised from the table of contents block must surely be because they were concerned with the northern border regions (御邊) and the barbarians that inhabited them (夷狄). Once these barbarians had become the new dynasty, whoever owned the blocks at that time clearly felt that those chapters had to go (although a century later the complete 350-juan version was included in Siku quanshu 四庫全書).

But that is not the end of the story. Many copies of the Chongzhen edition have now been catalogued online, some with specimen pages. Although many of these catalogue entries are vague, ill-researched, and possibly wrong (as indeed was my first effort), I think the evidence is sufficient to provide a perfect case study of how blocks were modified to reflect changes in ownership, politics, and scholarly fashions. So I will describe each stage of its development evolution.


That the Chongzhen edition was actually a cut-down version of the original Yongle edition made by the famous Ming scholar Zhang Pu 張溥 (1602-1641) is stated clearly at the beginning of each chapter: 「吳郡張溥刪正」. But although it had been cut down in size, it still had 350 juan. From the lower banxin 版心下 we see that the blocks were cut by a printing shop called Dongguange 東觀閣, to which I can find no further reference; furthermore, these characters are found only on the first two leaves of the preface and the first two leaves of juan 1.

Copies of the earliest printings are found in in the libraries of Fudan and Kyoto universities. There is also one in Cambridge which I was able to examine at length a fortnight ago. It is in the Wade Collection and is rather fine, although like the rest of that collection, it has been bound in western style. Here is an image of the first leaf of the text:

If I were cataloguing it, I would describe the edition as follows:

歷代名臣奏議 三百五十卷 / (明)永樂十四年[1416]黃淮等奉敕編 ; (明)張溥刪正


The first change to the blocks must reflect a change of ownership between 1635 and the fall of the Qing, and is evidenced by the excision of the name of the printing shop Dongguange 東觀閣 from the lower banxin 版心下. This is exemplified by a copy in Liaoning University:

Be that as it may, the blocks had still been cut by Dongguange, so I would express this later printing as follows, to do the job properly perhaps with an appropriate note:

歷代名臣奏議 三百五十卷 / (明)永樂十四年[1416]黃淮等奉敕編 ; (明)張溥刪正


The 319-juan version must have been produced following the fall of the Ming. Now, we find that the words 「吳郡張溥刪正」 are no longer found in the lower part of the second column of the first leaf of each juan. They have been replaced by a much longer formulation, extending over the full length of the column: 「吳郡張溥刪正 子永錫 孫玉衡玉璇重較」. Zhang Pu had died in 1641, so presumably his son Yongxi and grandsons Yuheng and Yuxuan had taken responsibility for the expurgation of the final 31 juan. Here is the first leaf of Fudan University’s copy together with the fengmian 封面 where the name of Zhang Pu (字天如) is still prominent:


However, doctoring wooden blocks in this way is expensive and time-consuming, and we rarely find editions where it has been done perfectly, especially in large editions like this, where replacements were needed at the beginnings of 319 juan. I haven’t been able to examine any copies in Far Eastern libraries, but the Oxford and Harvard copies suggest that the change was only ever effected at the beginning of the following sixteen juan: 1-10, 13, 20, 131-134.

It is tempting to guess that the edition was made in the early Qing, but we can’t be sure. In fact, throughout the entire history of this edition and its printings, the date of the original preface is the only date we have. So the description of the edition is now as follows:

歷代名臣奏議 三百十九卷 / (明)永樂十四年[1416]黃淮等奉敕編 ; (明)張溥刪正 ; (清)張永錫, (清)張玉衡, (清)張玉璇重較


Now, for some reason, it was felt necessary to dissociate Zhang Pu from the edition and to associate it with his contemporary Chen Renxi 陳仁錫 (字明卿, 1581-1636) instead, and we find a whole series of copies where his name has been removed from the juan beginnings. The blocks evidently changed hands and were repaired in this stage of the edition, but from the specimen pages it is difficult to establish in what order the impressions were made, as they inevitably reflect not only the degradation of the blocks, but the care with which they were inked and the impressions taken.

The excision of Zhang Pu’s name is evident throughout the Backhouse copy, but inevitably some occurrences were missed, so that it survives at the beginning of the table of contents 目錄 and juan 49, 148, 252, 306, and 318:


But Zhang Pu also wrote the preface, or at least it is ascribed to him. Extraordinarily, here his name has simply been replaced with that of Chen Renxi without any change to either the text or the printed seal Tianru 天如 (Zhang Pu’s zi 字). The following two impressions are both from the same block. That on the right is from the copy of the original 350-juan edition in Liaoning Daxue, and that on the left is from the Backhouse copy of the 319-juan version, the block having degraded somewhat in the meantime and the four characters 「太倉張溥」having been replaced with 「陳明卿氏」:


And on the fengmian 封面 likewise, we now find that it is Chen Renxi who is credited with reducing the text; the images below are both from copies of the 319-juan version, that on the right from an early impression in Fudan Daxue, that on the left from a later impression in Nanjing Shifan Daxue:


The words「本衙藏板」 on the fengmian of the Fudan copy are formulaic are probably not true. And the words「文德堂梓」on the fengmian of the Nanjing copy are obviously nonsense – whatever the Wendetang may have done to the blocks, it certainly didn’t cut them.

The fengmian of the Backhouse copy indicates another owner of the blocks, perhaps before they came into the possession of Wendetang, although again from the quality of the speciman pages it is difficult to be sure:

This enables us finally to catalogue our Backhouse copy with some precision, as follows:

歷代名臣奏議 三百十九卷 / (明)永樂十四年[1416]黃淮等奉敕編 ; (明)張溥刪正 ; (清)張永錫, (清)張玉衡, (清)張玉璇重較
線裝50冊 ; 25公分
Backhouse 114

It is not clear to me why it was felt necessary to replace the name of one famous late Ming author with another. Zhang Pu was not a figure who was out of favour in the Qing Dynasty – indeed, four of his works were reviewed in Siku quanshu zongmu tiyao 四庫全書總目提要, and one was actually included in the final manuscript.

However, in the review of the original Yongle edition of the memorials in the tiyao 提要 (卷55, 史部11), Zhang Pu’s edition is described in rather unflattering terms. There is criticism of the way in which he has carried out the pruning of the original text, which is particularly severe in the periods following the Tang 唐. An extreme example of this is juan 83, where Zhang Pu has reduced the 34 leaves of the Yongle edition to a single leaf in his own. But it is hard to say whether this would have had any bearing on the saleability of the edition, even if the blocks were still around 150 years after they had been cut (the tiyao were not submitted to the throne until 1781).


Throughout the process of charting the development of this edition, I had been closing my eyes to references in various catalogues to a version in 320-juan in the hope that they would go away, but unfortunately they didn’t. A single maverick entry might reasonably be ignored, but not references to copies in the libraries of Fudan University, Jilin University, Zhongshan Daxue, Hong Kong University, and in Japan the Toyo Bunko, Tokyo University, Hosei University, and Nagasaki University. Nearer to home, there is also a copy in Leiden University Library and my colleague Marc Gilbert very kindly sent me some photographs of it, but these only increased my puzzlement, as they suggested that the version in 320 juan was later, not earlier, than the version in 319 juan.

Eventually, this indeed proved to be the case.

It is possible to view online a complete edition of the 320-juan version in Harvard, where it has been digitised (but in a most egregious error, the copy has been described as having 350 juan in both the online catalogue record to which it is attached as well as in both editions of Shen Jin’s printed catalogue quoted above). So I went to Cambridge (the original Cambridge, that is) with a few dozen images from the Backhouse copy to compare all three versions. My comparison left the chronological sequence in no doubt.

Sometimes the blocks of all three versions are the same; sometimes they are all different. Sometimes the 319-juan block is the same as the 350-juan block but different from the 320-juan block; sometimes it is the same as the 320-juan block but different from the 350-juan block. But the 320-juan block is never the same as the 350-juan block but different from the 319-juan block, which proves conclusively that the 320-juan version is the latest. Actually, making this comparison was not easy, and during the course of it I found many examples in the 320-juan version both of blocks that been re-cut in their entirety and some that had only been repaired.

Here are the leaves from the end of the table of contents in the Backhouse copy:


And here are the equivalent leaves from Harvard’s 320-juan impression, where the first block is the same, but the second has been completely re-cut with the addition of juan 320:


I can think of no reason why juan 320 was restored other than to turn the edition into something that didn’t look as if it had been fiddled with. But if this is so, I wonder why the new end leaf of the table of contents was not cut in the same format as the others.

Where re-cutting and repairing has taken place, the name of Zhang Pu has sometimes been restored, as at the beginning of juan 6 for example, where the leaf has been re-cut in its entirety:


But sometimes only repairs have been made, as at the beginning of juan 318, where the worn out bottom two lines of the Backhouse copy have been replaced in the Harvard copy, the rest of the block being identical:


And there is a new fengmian which bears details of the block-owner, who was presumably responsible for all the changes described above:

So we can now catalogue the final version of the edition as follows:

歷代名臣奏議 三百二十卷 / (明)永樂十四年[1416]黃淮等奉敕編 ; (明)張溥刪正 ; (清)張永錫, (清)張玉衡, (清)張玉璇重較

This is by far the most complicated case of block-altering and re-issuing that I have ever encountered, and it has taken me an inordinate length of time to determine and define the publishing history of the edition. I am dissatisfied with the outcome, as I can’t explain the reason for the most striking change: why the attribution was changed from Zhang Pu to Chen Renxi and then finally back again.

Now I ought to plough through the text of the Oxford and Harvard copies to see what (if any) taboo characters have been altered. This would enable us to establish at least approximate dates for the various impressions.

[1]沈津: 美國哈佛大學哈佛燕京圖書館中文善本書志 (上海: 上海辭書出版社, 1999), 155-156; 美國哈佛大學哈佛燕京圖書館藏中文善本書志 (桂林: 廣西師範大學出版社, 2011), 2:421-422.

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