Archive for November, 2018

Shen Fuzong and a letter writer

11 November 2018

An exhibition Shen Fuzong, the first Chinese visitor to Oxford is on display until 14 December at the China Centre in St Hugh’s College. The College’s puff describes it as “ground-breaking”, but Shen’s story has always been common knowledge.

I lost interest in it at the planning stage when it became clear that it was not to be shown in the Proscholium of the Old Library, only metres away from where the historic encounter of Shen Fuzong and Thomas Hyde (Bodley’s Librarian) took place, and where it would have been seen by countless visitors. Instead, it was to be shown in the middle of nowhere at St Hugh’s, apparently hopping to the tune of a benefactor, with the Library tagging along. But I’m always slow to see the positive side of apparently hopeless situations, and so it was on this occasion: if you visit the exhibition, you will enjoy the luxury of being alone with all the important materials relating to Shen and Hyde’s encounter.

The show is physically dominated by The Chinese convert, the life-size portrait of Michael Alphonsius Shen Fuzong made by Sir Godfrey Kneller in 1687, on loan from the Royal Collection. A series of smaller cases contain a selection of the Chinese works that Shen identified for Bodley’s Librarian Thomas Hyde (all listed in my page Chinese books in Europe in the 17th century), together with the notes (now in the British Library) on these and other things that Shen and Hyde discussed during Shen’s six-week stay in Oxford.


Shen Fuzong is the Bodleian’s first Chinese cataloguer. During the course of his stay in the autumn of 1687, he examined almost all the Chinese books in the Library’s collection at the time, well over one hundred, of which all but one are still there. He wrote down the romanised title of each book on the cover, and then explained what the book was in Latin to Thomas Hyde, who wrote the description down beside Shen’s romanisation. Later, Hyde shortened them and made a list of them (now among his papers in the British Library, Sloane Or. 853), and it is from this this list that Edward Bernard copied almost unchanged the entries for the Chinese books in Oxford in his famous Catalogi librorum manuscriptorum Angliae et Hibernae in unum collecti, cum indice alphabetico, which was published posthumously in 1697, the year of his death. Bernard described the Chinese books elsewhere, which Shen did not see, as simply “Liber Chinensis”. I have transcribed all Bernard’s entries for the Chinese books in the Bodleian and provided their current shelfmark together with their number in Hunt and Madan’s Summary catalogue; my transcription can be seen here.

A selection of these books in the exhibition illustrates the modus operandi of Shen and Hyde perfectly. I will take one example which should have been in the exhibition, but isn’t. They put the wrong book out. The caption identifies it as “Tu xiansheng pingshi mou yeji [sic – for mouye ji] … collection of essays by the famous Ming poet and artist Wang Zhideng (1535-1612) … Sinica 27″.

Actually, Sinica 27 is not a bad choice, and perhaps it will have its own blog entry some time in the future. It is a unique surviving illustrated edition of selected yuefu 樂府 (a poetic genre), described thus in my catalogue:

新鍥梨園摘錦樂府菁華 十二卷 / (明)劉君錫輯
洋裝(原線裝)1冊 : 圖 ; 27公分
Sinica 27

s00434 s00435 s00436

But it isn’t the book that should have been put out, which is Sinica 30, nor is Sinica 30 a collection of essays. The organisers of the exhibition were informed of this a month ago, but to no effect. I wonder what this tells us about the state of things.

Let’s turn to Sinica 30, and see what it actually is and how Shen and Hyde dealt with it. I have described it thus in my catalogue:

屠先生評釋謀野集 四卷 / (明)王穉登撰 ; (明)屠隆評釋
洋裝(原線裝)1冊 ; 27公分
Sinica 30


The book is a collection of Wang Zhideng’s correspondence, as a mere glance at the table of contents makes clear: it lists letters he sent, replies to letters received, and what in e-mail parlance we would call “conversations”.

Wang’s correspondence was first published by Yu Wenshu 郁文叔 in an edition prefaced 1588 (萬曆十六年序江陰郁氏玉樹堂刊本) which is not very common, and it has ten juan 卷. In his preface to this work, Feng Shike 馮時可 (himself a prolific writer) says that Yu decided to print Wang’s correspondence because he had a very high opinion of him, and that it was Yu who gave it the name mouyeji 謀野集. The term mouye 謀野 is difficult to translate, but I take it to mean “engaging with those in distant parts” – an elegant way of saying “corresponding”.

When Wang’s friend Tu Long 屠隆 got hold of this edition, he decided to select the finest letters and present them in four juan 卷, and to provide them with commentary and explanations for the convenience of his readers; that is, he turned it into a textbook. This was quite clear to Shen Fuzong, who first transliterates the words mouye (meuye in his native dialect), and then explains their meaning to Thomas Hyde who writes it down in Latin. A longer explanation follows:


Est nempe formularium epistolarum juvans excogitare materiam scribendam ad amicos distantes (“This book is actually a formulary of letters, dealing with material suitable for writing to distant friends”). In other words, it is a letter-writer.

The longer description of Mouyeji on the book itself becomes Liber Meu-ye, seu Formularium Epistolarum in Hyde’s manuscript list (where it is no.56), and almost unaltered as Lib. Meu-ye seu Formularium Epistolarum in the Bernard catalogue.

The letter-writer is one of two in my 17th century list, and unlike many items in that list, it is complete. It has been studied seriously, as evidenced by the manuscript notations on each leaf, clearly visible on the first page of text illustrated above – the circles and dots are used both to punctuate and as an equivalent to our underlining. The copy bears two seals:


These are not collectors’ seals, but are of the sort bought off the peg for decorative purposes and bear the whimsical sentiments si ru feng yun 思入風雲 “my thoughts enter the wind and clouds” and yin feng nong yue 吟風弄月 “singing of the wind and moon”.

This book has been used and valued by somebody, and bears clear evidence of its owner’s preoccupations.

Chinese leaves

5 November 2018

In several previous blog entries I have referred to my online list Chinese books in Europe in the 17th century. Over a period of several decades I have been trying to locate them all, and in gathering this information have been helped by a growing number of scholars for whose contributions I am deeply grateful; they are named and their contributions are acknowledged in the list. Among the most assiduous is Koos Kuiper, who most recently has told me of a single printed leaf that he discovered in the Museum Martena in Franeker (Friesland, the Netherlands).

It is the second leaf of the first juan 卷 of a work called Wuche bajin 五車拔錦, which I suppose one could translate as “Five cartloads of collected goodies”. It is actually an encyclopaedia full of all kinds of useful knowledge, and of these there are already several examples in my 17th century list.

If there were a copy of the complete work in the Bodleian I would catalogue it as follows:
新鍥全補天下四民利用便觀五車拔錦 三十三卷 / (明)徐三友校

In fact, there are currently only two known complete copies, one in the Library of Congress and the other in the library of Tokyo University’s “Institute for Advanced Studies on Asia” (to use its official English name), better known to us as Tōyō Bunka Kenkyūjo 東洋文化研究所. The latter came from the collection of the distinguished academic Niida Noboru 仁井田陞 (1904-1966), and was reproduced in 1999 as the first text in the series of popular reference works Chūgoku nichiyō ruisho shūsei 中國日用類書集成. This reproduction was then pirated in China in 2011 in the series Mingdai tongsu riyong leishu jikan 代通俗日用類書集刊 – the seal of Tōyō Bunka Kenkyūjo has been carefully air-brushed out, but not that of the Niida bequest.

The Japanese reproduction is particularly well done, and the series is prefaced by an account by Sakai Tadao 酒井忠夫 of Noboru Niida and popular encyclopaedias in general, and one by Sakade Yoshinobu 坂出祥伸 of the popular enclopaedias of the Ming Dynasty. Each text has an explanatory postface, and that of Wuche bajin is by Ogawa Yōichi 小川陽一.

Here are images of the first leaf of text and the paizi 牌子 to show what the edition looks like:


The single leaf of this edition that Koos discovered in Franeker is surely from one of the consignments of Chinese books imported by Dutch merchants in the early 17th century and sold at auction in Amsterdam, as it is accompanied by a letter dated 1637, a very important piece of evidence as we shall see in a moment. Five complete juan (24-28) of the same edition are found in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France (Chinois 5652), and these can be seen online. They are likely to be from the same copy, and I have added them to my list as such, but this has yet to be confirmed.

The Museum Martena’s website has images of both the single leaf and the accompanying letter. The letter is addressed to Anna Maria van Schurman, and it is from Adreas Colvius. Here is Koos’s transcription of the text:

A fin que ma lettre vous puisse aggreer, j’y adjousteray quelques rarites / que peut estre vous n’avez jamais veus. Assc. characteres Persiques / Japonois, et du Royaume de Siam, ou est cette grande ville d’Odia [Ayutthaya]. / s’il vous plaist retenir tout ceci, je me contenteray des copies de / vostre main, vous laissant l’authentique. Pour le chinois, il est / assez commun, et j’en ai assez. J’entends qu’il y a un chinois a Amsterdam, qui sait lire leur escriture. Je salue monsr. vostre / frere, et aussi-tost que mr. le Receveur Hoogenes mon cousin / aura ordre, je le lui signifieray. Au reste vous savez que je / ne desire que de temoigner que suis
Madle. vostre tres-humble serviteur
André Colvius
Le 3 de nov. 1637

Koos informs me that Andreas Colvius (1594-1671) was registered in the university of Leiden in 1612, where he studied Greek, Hebrew, mathematics, and theology; in 1619 he became a candidate for the Protestant ministry, and was minister at the Walloon Church in Dordrecht from 1628 to 1666.

Anna Maria van Schurman (1607-1678) is the subject of a lengthy Wikipedia article where she is described as “a Dutch painter, engraver, poet, and scholar, who is best known for her exceptional learning and her defence of female education. A highly educated woman by seventeenth century standards, she excelled in art, music, and literature, becoming proficient in 14 languages, including contemporary European languages, Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Arabic, Syriac, Aramaic, and an Ethiopic language.” (I think the apparently patronising phrase “by seventeenth century standards” is somewhat infelicitous; I’m sure the writer meant “by any standards” and that for a woman to be so highly educated at that time was rare.)

The printed leaf with its covering letter was handed down to Anna Maria’s heirs until 1780, when the family bequeathed it to Franeker University (established in 1585, and the second oldest university in the Netherlands after Leiden). When the University was disbanded by Napoleon in 1811, it passed to Franeker Municipality, and is now on permanent loan to the Museum Martena. It was here, in August, at an exhibition on Anna Maria van Schurman, that Koos discovered it.

Aside from the welcome addition to my list of two more printed fragments, what interests me most about this discovery are the words in which Colvius refers to the leaf in his letter “il est assez commun, et j’en ai assez.” So we now have it out of the horse’s mouth that in the early 17th century not only were books split up into fascicles for the curiosity trade, but even fascicles into leaves, and on quite some scale.

By the most extraordinary coincidence, only days after Koos had told me of the leaf in the Museum Martena, Peter Kornicki contacted me to say that he had discovered several Chinese printed leaves bound up with the Japanese historical work Azuma kagami 吾妻鏡 in the library of Trinity College Dublin (MS 1645). These are from an edition of Sishu daquan 四書大全, and will be added to my list as soon as I have learned a bit more about them.

None of this should have surprised me, because the single printed leaf in the Bodleian Library (Sinica 121) from a unique edition of the Shuihuzhuan 水滸傳 (of which other parts are in Stuttgart, Copenhagen, and Paris), together with a leaf bearing notes by Shen Fuzong and Thomas Hyde, has long been famous – it was the subject of a brief note by J.J.L. Duyvendak in The Bodleian Library record 2:28(1949), 245-247. More recently, in the summer of 2006, one of Elias Ashmole’s manuscripts (MS.Ashmole 1787) consisting of miscellaneous Oriental fragments was broken up and re-assigned, and one of them (now Sinica 90) was a single printed leaf from the medical work Yixue rumen 醫學入門 of which there are four complete fascicles in the Bodleian, one in Groningen, and another in the Vatican; bound with it, incidentally, was the much more important unique surviving copy of the latest known example of the Southern Ming calendar (Sinica 88, for the year 1677), which I have already mentioned in a previous blog entry.

But the realisation that from their first appearance in Europe these leaves were widely distributed is mildly depressing, as tracking them down will be a Sisyphean task, especially when they are preserved not as discrete items in a collection (like Sinica 90 and 121, and S0119 in the Museum Martena), but bound up with other works as little more than endpapers (like MS 1645 in Trinity College Dublin).

What’s new? Nothing. Sixty years ago, when I was a child at primary school in the wilds of Yorkshire where no Chinese had ever set foot, a girl in my class got hold of a page from what must have been a Hong Kong newspaper. None of us had ever seen any written Chinese before, any more than anyone had in the early seventeenth century. She carefully tore pieces off and gave them to her friends, and I was lucky enough to receive one. I think that was the spark that set off my interest in China. The desire of seventeenth century scholars to get their hands on a Chinese leaf is all too understandable.