Chinese leaves in Trinity College Dublin

4 February 2019

In my last blog entry but one, posted in November, I referred to some printed Chinese leaves that Peter Kornicki had found in Trinity College Dublin. They are bound with the Japanese historical text Azuma kagami 吾妻鏡 in a volume shelfmarked MS 1645.

In the hope of being able to indentify them, I ordered scans from TCD, and received them on 3 January – a very good start to the new year.

It turns out that they are from the same edition, and perhaps even from one of the copies of the biggest single Chinese work (that is, having the most fascicles) that the Bodleian acquired in the 17th century, which I catalogue as follows:

周會魁校正四書大全 殘卷一~六﹑八﹑九﹑十一~十八, 有缺 / (明)胡廣, (明)楊榮奉敕纂修 ; (明)周士顯校正
線裝18冊 ; 27公分
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


The copy in TCD preserves the following leaves, all from juan 18 (the TCD foliation is given in the first column):

73r = 18:92b
73v = 18:92a
74r = 18:43a reverse side
74v = 18:43a
75r = 18:31b
75v = 18:31a
76r = 18:26a reverse side
76v = 18:26a
77r = 18:24b
77v = 18:24a
78r = 18:36a reverse side
78v = 18:36a
79r = 18:22b
79v = 18:22a
80r = 18:38b
80v = 18:38a

As noted, the left-hand side of the leaf is missing from leaves 43, 26, and 36.

Juan 18 is the section of the work entitled Zhongyong huowen 中庸或問, and here is an image of the first page of the juan taken from the Bodleian’s Sinica 68:


The logic of the surviving portions shows that at least three different copies of this work are represented by what is in the Bodleian and TCD. I think Sinica 52 and Sinica 43 are from the same copy, although of a different immediate provenance, as their cover paper is the same; but there is no way of knowing whether the TCD leaves are also from this copy or from a fourth copy.

The original edition on which the present edition is based is an exposition of the Five Classics and Four Books (五經四書) of Confucianism compiled at imperial behest by Hu Guang and others in the Yongle period. According to Wang Zhongmin 王重民 (中國善本書提要, 35), it was compiled over a period of three years, starting with the Four Books; the works were originally circulated separately as they were printed, and were only later issued as sets, with varying titles. Detailed information about the edition, as well as examples of the complete set, are very difficult to find. The preface to the Four Books is dated 1415 (永樂十三年).

The present edition was produced in the late Ming, and is attributed to the scholar Zhou Shixian 周士顯, both at the beginning of the text and also in the title. Zhou Shixian was a jinshi 進士 of 1601 (萬曆二十九年), but other than that I’ve been unable to find out anything about him. Strangely, if he did indeed edit this text, there seems to be no extant preface by him. I wonder if this is yet another example of a bookseller seeking to cash in by attributing his edition to a famous scholar?

The distribution of surviving copies of Zhou’s edition is worth noting. According to the union catalogue Xueyuan jigu 學苑汲古 there are only four copies in Chinese higher educational establishments (and don’t look too closely at the cataloguing – two of them are given imprints of the early 15th century, which would have made Zhou a very old man indeed by the time he graduated), and there is a fifth copy in the National Library of China. As we have seen, at least three copies came to Europe, and there are copies in Harvard and the Australian National University. The union catalogue Zenkoku kanseki deetabeesu 全國漢籍データベース records at least eight copies in Japan, as well as a couple of locally produced re-editions. So there are more than twice as many copies outside China as in China itself.

This is because for Chinese scholars, as a product of the commercial printers of Jianyang or Jinling (which is what it undoubtedly is), the edition was worthless. But such editions poured into Japan through traders in Nagasaki in response to an increased interest in Chinese learning under the first Tokugawa shoguns; and to a lesser extent they were taken to Europe by Dutch traders to satisfy the curiosity market.

The book into which the TCD leaves are bound was presented by Archbishop John Parker of Dublin, who was translated there in 1679 and died in 1681.

Sinica 68 and 69 came from the collection of the famous Dutch scholar Golius (Jacob Gool, 1596-1667). When his library was auctioned by his heirs in Amsterdam in 1696, almost thirty years after his death, the larger part was acquired by Archbishop Narcissus Marsh of Dublin. Marsh died in 1713, and bequeathed all his books to the Bodleian; they arrived on 12th August 1714.

That the only copies in Europe should both have been owned by Archbishops of Dublin is a most extraordinary coincidence; there cannot possibly be any connection, as Marsh only acquired his copies from Amsterdam fifteen years after Parker’s death.

Just as I was about to post this blog entry, I remembered that I had failed to follow my own advice: never suppose that you have identified a Chinese edition until you have examined every single leaf, however large the work. Actually, in this case it wasn’t too difficult, as there are only eight of them in TCD’s MS 1645.

The leaves of seven of them are indeed from the same blocks as their equivalents in Sinica 68 and 69. But on closer examination, one (18:43) is quite clearly from a different block:

TCD18-43a  BOD18-43

The TCD leaf (left) has the same double-line frame borders throughout. But in the Bodleian leaf (right) of Sinica 68, as well as Sinica 69, the horizontal borders have been reduced to a single line, the only leaf in the copy to be so treated. Furthermore, the Bodleian block is very slightly larger, and a close examination of the text will show that it is indeed an impression from a different block.

So although the editions are the same, the printings are clearly different. The most likely explanation is that the block of leaf 18:43 got damaged and had to be replaced, indicating that the TCD impression must be earlier than the Bodleian ones.

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