Archive for March, 2022

Popular literature

29 March 2022

Since ceasing to be employed by the Bodleian some four and a half years ago, I’ve been trying my best to complete the cataloguing of the Library’s pre-modern and so-called “special” Chinese collections as a private scholar. Inevitably I’ve left the most difficult things until last.

These are some very down-market works of popular literature made by Piet van der Loon. I remember seeing some of them in his study in his house on Boars Hill on my frequent visits there, but never paid much attention to them. I think that he, too, had put them aside for dealing with one day in the future, which of course never came. There are several hundred of them, and I wouldn’t even have known what they were if he hadn’t tied them in bundles and labelled them.

They are extremely difficult to catalogue because they challenge the rules, which were drawn up for cataloguing regular publications, not casually produced ephemera. Again and again one is faced with the choice of either following the rules, or cataloguing the works in such a way as to show the reader what they are and to give access to them. The ideologues in our cataloguing departments often forget this, and would do well to conduct research using their own catalogues from time to time and see for themselves how difficult it often is to find things in them unless the rules are bent.

In these popular and very localised works, occasionaly rather strange alternative or dialect characters are used, and they are often difficult to identify and locate in the character set. My thanks to Andrew West for giving me much help in this area.

The three biggest collections are:

1. 閩南歌曲 (Fujian folk songs), Sinica 4028-4500, 480 editions.
2. 廣州木魚書 (Cantonese “wooden fish books”), Sinica 4911-5234, 487 editions.
3. 粵劇劇本 (Canton opera scripts), Sinica 5241-5700, 461 editions.

There are a further 37 muyushu 木魚書 that came from Glen Dudbridge, which I hope to catalogue soon.

I’m writing the present blog entry because I’ve recently catalogued three further groups of materials that Piet labelled, but about which I’d like more information before assigning a classification term to them and attempting to fit them into my classification scheme, which is the Sibu 四部 system modified so that it will accept everything in our collection, at least after a fashion. They are (to use his terminolgy):

1.
“Canton dramas, genre unidentified”, Sinica 5806-5854, 57 editions.

Listed here.

2.
客家歌冊 (Hakka song books), Sinica 5855-5875, 25 editions.

Listed here.

When I first posted this blog entry I wondered why the term 廣東語 was set against each title if these are indeed Hakka song books. But Justin Leung posted a comment noting that all these editions were published in Taiwan during the Japanese colonial period, when Hakka was known as 廣東語.

3.
福州評話 (Fuzhou stories), Sinica 5876-5899, 26 editions.

Listed here.

If anyone with knowledge of these things could tell me what they know, or point me in the direction of a classification scheme for this type of popular literature, I’d be extremely grateful.