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, which I catalogued some time ago, are:

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

A further hundred or so Cantonese “wooden fish books” were transferred from the Chinese Studies Library in 2014 (Sinica 6194-6295), and another two dozen came from Glen Dubridge in 2017 (Sinica 6751-6774), so that the total size of these three collections is currently:

閩南歌曲 – 480 editions
廣州木魚書 – 487 editions
粵劇劇本 – 461 editions

These are sizeable holdings by any standards.

I’m writing the present blog entry because I’ve recently catalogued three further groups of materials that Piet labelled, and which I’ve attempted to fit 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):

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

Catalogued here.

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

Catalogued 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.

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

Catalogued here.

If anyone with a knowledge of these things could tell me a better way of classifying this type of popular literature, I’d be extremely grateful.