Archive for December, 2021

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.

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.


Douce – postscript on Shixue

12 December 2021

Almost a year ago I posted an entry on the small but choice collection of Chinese books bequeathed to the Bodleian Library by Francis Douce (1757-1834). The following day, Zheng Cheng posted a reply drawing my attention to an article by Elisabetta Corsi on Shixue 視學, the most valuable among them. Following Corsi’s leads, I’ve been able to establish or at least make an informed guess of the provenance of this and a couple of other items in the collection, and have re-written the entry (where her article is referenced) to reflect these findings.

The purpose of this postscript is to make some observations on the edition of Shixue 視學, as there has been some confusion about it, and to present as complete a list as I can of the surviving copies, a list which is much longer than both Corsi’s and the one I originally posted. I’ll update it from time to time, as I discover more about them.

But first I must apologise to all readers of my blog who don’t have a burning interest in Shixue, as they will find what follows to be a mass of tedious detail which they could well do without. So please wait for my next blog entry, which I’ll try to make a little more interesting.

I’m told that the Douce copy of Shixue is one of the finest to survive, and since I wrote my original entry it has been digitised. So it is now possible to make close and accurate comparisons with copies elsewhere if anyone has the will to do so. For my part, I would already have been on the Eurostar to Paris to look at the copy in the Bibliothèque Nationale if it had not been for the pandemic.

Catalogues refer to two editions, the first prefaced 1729 (雍正己酉), the second 1735 (雍正乙卯). In the latter, Nian has added fifty or more plates together with explanations, as he explains in the preface (補縷五十餘圖並爲圖說). But I began to suspect, and so did Zheng Cheng, that the second edition was not a true second edition, but a reprint of the first edition with additional material. Because the edition is in large format, it would have been expensive to produce, and it seemed to me to be most unlikely that the blocks would have been recut after only six years – impressions were commonly taken from Chinese printing blocks for many decades or even centuries after they were cut. So I sent some images from the Bodleian copy (of 1735) to my old colleague and friend Maja Fuchs, and asked if she’d kindly send me images of the corresponding pages in the copy in Vienna (of 1729). This she did, and it was clear that the impressions had been taken from the same blocks except for the preface, which in the Vienna copy has the format 16行16字, but in later copies has been recut in the same format as the 1735 preface, 11行24字.

So the two versions might now be correctly described as follows:

Another complication was the title, which is sometimes given as Shixue jingwen《視學精蘊》. This puzzled me, as it appears nowhere in the text of either the Douce copy or the copy in the Chinese Academy of Sciences, which is reproduced in the collectaneum Xuxiu siku quanshu 續修四庫全書. But it does appear on the cover labels found on some of the copies, printed labels on those of London and St Petersburg, and manuscript on the Vienna copy. But the title of a Chinese book should only be taken from that source as a last resort, as book covers were easily damaged and expendable, and were regularly replaced by collectors. They are thus impermanent, by contrast with what lay within them. We would normally take the title of the first juan of the text as standard, but as the Shixue is not divided into juan, we look elsewhere, and find it at the beginning of the 1729 preface, Shixue bianyan 視學弁言.

And so in Chinese, we would catalogue it as follows:
視學不分卷 …

In English, the edition is correctly described in Leuven’s Chinese Christian Text Database.

Here is the list of locations, with a few observations on the copies; as can be seen, there is much more work to do.

Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, Sin 160-C. 1729. Sent from Peking by the Austrian Jesuit missionary Xaver Ernbert Fridelli, 1673-1743. It has a butterfly binding (蝴蝶裝), and the preface has the block format 16行16字 with original red seals, suggesting that this may be a unique surviving copy of the very earliest printing. Paris
Bibliothèque Nationale, Département des Estampes et de la Photographie, Oe 29 pet.fol.). 1729? The marking “n° 2864” indicates that the copy entered the Bibliothèque Royale en 1763. The copy lacks its covers and preface. The leaves are not bound in their correct order, and the text may be incomplete. (Information from Nathalie Monnet, e-mail, 6 April 2006).London
British Library, ex India Office Library and Records, Chin.H.31. 1735.Oxford
Bodleian Library, Douce Chin.b.2. 1735.Glasgow
University Library, Hunterian Chinese 45. 1735. This copy was originally sent by the Jesuits in Peking to T.S. Bayer in St Petersburg in 1737. See Weston, David: The Bayer Collection: a preliminary catalogue of the manuscripts and books of Professor Theophilus Siegfried Bayer, acquired and augmented by the Reverend Dr Heinrich Walther Gerdes, now preserved in the Hunterian Library of the University of Glasgow (Glasgow, 2018), 217.
St Petersburg
Institute of Oriental Manuscripts (IOM) of the Russian Academy of Sciences (Институт восточных рукописей Российской академии наук), G90. 1729. Zheng Cheng has investigated the St Petersburg copies, and through a contact there has located them in a published catalogue: Вахтин, Борис Борисович: Каталог фонда китайских ксилографов Института востоковедения АН СССР (Москва: Главная редакция восточной литературы, 1973), 95. What follows are the results of his findings to date. This copy, G90, is curious. The format of its preface is the same as that of the Vienna copy (16行16字), but the seals are printed in black, and it has only 16 pages fewer than the Douce and IHNS copies. This has led Zheng Cheng to suggest that it may be an intermediate printing, short of the “50 or more” illustrations of the final 1735 issue. At the same time, it is rather disturbing to note that it has three illustrations which are not found in the supposedly complete Douce and IHNS copies. It is bound in two volumes, western style on the head margin, with no evidence that the leaves were ever folded. All three St Petersburg copies have printed labels bearing the title Shixue jingwen《視學精蘊》.St Petersburg
IOM, F105. 1735. F105 and G91 bear the seals of the Asiatic Museum (Азиатский музей) in St Petersburg, whose collections subsequently passed to the Institute of Oriental Manuscripts. Apart from the printed labels, both are the same as the Douce and IHNS copies.St Petersburg
IOM, G91. 1735.Peking
中国国家图书馆 (NLC). 1735. Chen Yunru 陳韻如 (National Palace Museum, Taipei) has examined both the Douce and NLC copies, and told me in April 2006 that he considered the Douce copy to be the finer.Peking
中国科学院自然科学史研究所 (IHNS), 善子623/224. 1735. This copy is identical in every respect with the Douce copy, but has collectors’ seals.Changsha
湖南图书馆, 383/5. 1735.