Archive for the 'Uncategorized' Category

Four Great Song Stelae of Suzhou

4 June 2020

It’s well over a year since I last posted a blog entry. This is not an indication that I’ve finally lost interest in old Chinese books. Quite the contrary. I’m in the process of preparing a catalogue of the Bodleian’s pre-1912 Chinese holdings for publication, and have been going through the entire collection to check for any uncatalogued or overlooked material. This is taking quite some time – or at least, it was until March, when the Library closed because of the coronavirus pandemic. Fortunately, I’d completed the work just in time, and am now preparing my final draft for the publisher.

An unwelcome distraction in recent weeks has been the need to preserve and restore access to my work on the collections that was formerly on Bodleian fileservers.

This includes my list of Chinese books that came to Europe in the 17th century (through which the Selden Map was discovered), images and transcriptions of the collectors’ seals on Chinese books in the Bodleian (identified mostly by Zhang Hao at Zhonghua Shuju), and my survey of the Chinese “special collections”. Without warning, and without consulting what I believe are now called “stakeholders”, access to these resources was cut off a few weeks ago. So I’ve set up my own server, where these and a few other things are now located: There they will remain until I’m touched by the cold hand, which draws closer with each passing day.

Much more serious is the suspension of two projects for which the Bodleian received very significant funding from outside sources, and which I was compelled to conduct while in its employ. The first is the UK Union Catalogue of Chinese Books, a project funded by the Research Support Libraries Programme (RSLP) which I completed in August 2002. I’ve set up this database, too, on my own server. It’s only a first effort, and still has many rough edges, but it can be seen here (search in unaggregated pinyin, or simplified characters).

The other project will be rather more difficult to rescue. This is the Serica Project whose production was made possible by the generosity of Mr Nicholas Coulson and the Tan Chin Tuan Foundation, and which came online in August 2012. As I explained on its home page, the project is ” … a subset of the Bodleian’s allegro catalogue of Chinese books, which has been designed to show the extent and nature of our pre-modern holdings, and to give access to those parts of the collection that have been digitised.” But the allegro catalogue has now been closed, as the Library takes its Chinese cataloguing back to the days of MARC (on which subject see the account by a former Bodley’s Librarian), and I have been disallowed to do further work on it. Thus the Serica workflow has been interrupted, and the Library has given me no indication of how it might be restored. Yet again, its interest in an externally funded Chinese project has apparently evaporated.

So the show, if not over, is currently suspended. But the collections are still there for us to take an interest in, so I’ll press on.

When going through them, I made a number of discoveries, not only of the sort referred to in my two previous blog entries (model calligraphic albums 法帖 and ink-squeezes 拓片 of stelae and other inscriptions), but also of some interesting and at times very visually attractive pieces of ephemera which I will try to record in future postings.

The first thing that caught my attention was a second copy (Sinica 2758) of the edition of Chunhuage tie 淳化閣帖 made by King Xian of Su 肅憲王 and completed in 1621. Like the first one (Backhouse 604) it is incomplete. But finding it made me research the edition a little more conscientiously than I did the first time round, so that I’m now not only quite sure that I’ve identified the edition correctly, but have also found out a great deal more about it. Accordingly, I’ve completely revised my blog entry which is now much more informative.

The second discovery was a set of large ink-squeezes (Sinica 2611) taken from the “Four Great Song Stelae of Suzhou” 蘇州四大宋碑 located in Suzhou Confucian Temple 蘇州文廟, now known as Suzhou Stone Inscription Museum 蘇州碑刻博物館 according to its website (Chinese version – the English version is here). The four stelae have the titles Tian wen tu 天文圖 (“map of the heavens”), Di li tu 地理圖 (“map of the earth”)*, Di wang shao yun tu 帝王紹運圖 (“chronological table of emperors”), and Ping jiang tu 平江圖 (“map of Pingjiang”), so that their full title is 《天、地、人、城四大宋碑》.


It’s worth pointing out that the character for di in Di li tu 地理圖 is actually 𨻐, which is currently not displaying. It is composed of the elements 阝+ 豕 (top) + 土 (bottom), and is an old glyph for 「地」. In accounts of this map, the character 「墜」 (together with its pronunciation zhui) is commonly, but wrongly used to represent it. The correct character can be found in Couvreur’s Dictionnaire classique de la langue chinoise (2me éd., 1911, 986), which only goes to increase my admiration for that work, as if any were needed.

The stelae are famous not only on account of their size and age, but also because all four are unique in some respect of their engraved content. The “map of the heavens” 天文圖 is the oldest engraving of a Chinese star chart; the “map of the earth” 地理圖 (together with the Hua yi tu 華夷圖 and Yu ji tu 禹迹圖 in Xi‘an Beilin 西安碑林) is one of the three oldest surviving maps of the whole of China; the “chronological table of emperors” 帝王紹運圖 is the only early example of such a list; and the “map of Pingjiang” 平江圖 is the oldest surviving town plan to be engraved on a stele.

Here are some images of the ink-squeezes which I took with my mobile phone not long before the coronavirus lockdown began. I haven’t been able to find any professionally digitised images of them on the internet, so it would be good if the Bodleian could make some once things get back to normal, if they ever do.

1張 ; 189 x 100公分
Sinica 2611/1


1張 ; 184 x 103公分
Sinica 2611/2


1張 ; 182 x 95公分
Sinica 2611/3


2張 ; 41 x 26公分, 204 x 143公分
Sinica 2611/4



To catalogue an ink-squeeze fully three questions must be answered. The first is who produced the content, and when; the second is who engraved it on stone, and when; and the third is who made the ink-squeeze, and when. Unusually, in the case of Sinica 2611, we can come quite close to answering all three.

For three of the stelae, the first two questions are answered by a colophon on the “map of the earth” 地理圖 which reads as follows:


“The four charts to the right were presented to the Prince of Jia by Huang Jianshan when he was acting as his tutor. I found them a while ago in the official residence of the provincial judge of Shu, and copied and engraved them in order to preserve them. Wang Zhiyuan of Dongjia, second month of winter, 1247.”

The “Prince of Jia” 嘉王 was a title given in 1189 to the crown prince who subsequently ascended the throne in 1195 as the Emperor Ningzong 寧宗,and the charts are from a set of eight that were made by Huang Shang 黄裳 (字兼山) in 1190. The only three to survive are those engraved by Wang Zhiyuan 王致遠 in 1247, that is, 天文圖, 地理圖, and 帝王紹運圖. It is not known if the fourth chart engraved by Wang was from the set of eight, but it was certainly not the “map of Pingjiang” 平江圖.

The author of this map is not known, but reasoning principally from the names of the engravers in the lower left corner of the stele, Lu Chan 呂梴, Zhang Yuncheng 張允成, and Zhang Yundi 張允迪, the eminent Suzhou scholar Wang Jian 王謇 (1888-1968) concluded that the map was engraved in 1229 绍定二年, a date which is generally accepted.

The engraving was sharpened up after the passing of almost seven centuries, as indicated by another colophon in the lower right corner:


“In the eighth month of autumn in the year dingsi (1917) the engraving was deepened under the supervision of Ye Dehui and Zhu Xiliang, both citizens of this prefecture.”

In answering the third question about these four ink-squeezes, that is who made them and when, we are again fortunate in having clear written evidence in the form of a typescript essay by the donor, Alfred Edward Hippisley, which is shelved together with them as Sinica 2611*. A scan of this essay can be seen here. The essay is somewhat rambling and contains a few misapprehensions, but in it he says:

“I … wrote to Mr. T. Castle, the Commissioner of Chinese Customs at Suchow … and he kindly obtained for me two complete sets of all four charts. They are the finest rubbings I have ever seen …”

I’m grateful to Robert Bickers for informing me that the magnificently named Thomas Amelius Marriott Castle was in office in Suzhou between 1921 and 1925 (see Customs Service: officers in charge, 1921-35. Shanghai: Statistical Department of the Inspectorate General of Customs, 1936, 80).


Hippisley (whose portait I reproduce courtesy of the President and Fellows of Harvard College and Historical Photographs of China, University of Bristol) had a long and distinguished career in the Imperial Chinese Maritime Customs, serving in various places and in various capacities from 1875 to 1910.

His papers were given to the Bodleian Library in 1988 by Miss Doris Wright, a friend of Evelyn Hippisley, his niece.

An account of them, including a biography of Hippisley, was written by Margaret Czepiel in 2007.

A note in the papers says that in 1936 he made a donation to the Bodleian of a Chinese manuscript in 20 volumes entitled “Exhaustive inquiry into the Five Ceremonials”, which I have catalogued thus:

五禮通考 二百六十二卷總目二卷 / (清)秦蕙田撰
洋裝20冊(原線裝80冊) ; 31公分

There is no mention of the ink-squeezes, but as these were originally shelved near other books that were acquired in 1936, it is reasonable to assume that they were donated at the same time.

The second of Hippisley’s “two complete sets of all four charts” which Castle made for him in the 1920s was found among the papers quite recently, and transferred to the Sinica Collection where they are shelfmarked Sinica 6013-6016.


12 March 2019

In my previous blog entry (which I partly wrote as a mise-en-scène for this one), I confessed to having left our albums of model calligraphy (fatie 法帖) until last because they were difficult. This, of course, is what librarians do: shove anything difficult into a cupboard and forget about it – my own cupboard was pretty full when I was dismissed eighteen months ago.

It’s some consolation to find that even Thomas Hyde wasn’t above doing this sort of thing. In his manuscript notes of our Chinese holdings (British Library Sloane Or.853, increasingly quoted in my blog) he has a section headed Praetermissa in Arch. A, literally “Things put aside in Arch[ivum] A” (I won’t repeat the facts about the storage and handling of our earliest Chinese accessions – it’s all explained in an earlier blog entry). I think it’s pretty clear what he meant by “put aside” – one of the items is Sinica 91, something I have put aside these past forty years.

In his notes, Hyde describes the item as follows:

Praetermissa in Arch. A …
182. Liber Fa-tie, continens Calligraphiae exemplaria nitida pro addiscentibus scribere linguam Sinensem.

Things put aside in Arch[ivum] A …
182. A Fa-tie, containing fine examples of calligraphy for those who are learning to write the Chinese language.

In the Bernard catalogue (p.152), we learn a little more about it; it is a roll, and the text appears as white on black:

Rotulae in Archivo A …
2969.18 Liber Sinensis impressus Characteribus albis in charta nigra, continens exemplaria Calligraphiae nitida pro addiscentibus scribere linguam Sinensem.

Rolls in Archivum A …
2969.18 A Chinese printed book with white characters on a black background, containing fine examples of calligraphy for those who are learning to write the Chinese language.

Here is the item as it is currently preserved:


It is bound in a codex, probably by Nicholson. The composition of the codex and the order in which the leaves are presented suggest that in Hyde’s time the Chinese leaves were rolled up in a protective sheet of western paper, and that the whole thing was then rolled in a piece of limp vellum inscribed by Shen and Hyde in the usual way. The inscription is for the most part illegible, that is unless you are Will Poole, for it is he who kindly transcribed and translated it for me within minutes of receiving my e-mail:


A 182
fa Formularius
tie Libellus seu charta
Est libellus pro Institutione eorum qui / primò addiscunt scribere linguam Chinensem, / continens varia Exemplaria rariores / Scripturae tam quadratae quam cursivae. / Anglicè A China Copy-booke.

A 182
法 fa A model
帖 tie album
This is a book for teaching those who are first gaining knowledge of how to write the Chinese language, containing various uncommon examples of writing both squared and cursive. In English: A Chinese copy-book.

The codex contains the first 17 pages of the fatie, but they are not bound in order. Here is the first, which clearly bears its title, Mingshu jixuan fatie 名書集選法帖 (“An album of collected works by famous calligraphers”), and appropriately the very first example is by Wang Xizhi 王羲之 (see my previous blog entry):


The leaf, like all the others, is clearly divided into three panels, with pagination in the lower right corner. Originally they would have been pasted together and folded to make an “accordion” binding (zhezhuang 折裝).

According to Madan and Craster’s Summary catalogue [1], the item was “acquired about 1618”, but I don’t know where this information came from. This means that it must have been printed during the Wanli period at the latest, so I have described it thus in my catalogue:

名書集選法帖 不分卷殘十七葉
洋裝1冊(原活葉) ; 60 x 30公分
Sinica 91

I can find no record of the title in any catalogue, whether printed or online. A Google search for “名書集選法帖” will at the time of writing find only two things: this text in my online list Chinese books in Europe in the 17th century, and a work entitled Mingshu jixuan fatie qianzi wen 名書集選法帖千字文 (the “Thousand character classic”) by the Tang dynasty monk and calligrapher Huaisu 懷素 (737–799) in Osaka Prefectural Nakanoshima Library 大阪府立中之島圖書館 in Japan.

This can only mean either that Sinica 91 is of exceptional rarity, or it isn’t a discrete work, but part of another which I have failed to identify. Either way, it is extraordinary that a work of such quality should have arrived along with the rather cheaper productions of the Jianyang and Jinling commercial printers, and it must surely be the very first calligraphic manual to reach Europe.

1. Summary catalogue of Western manuscripts in the Bodleian Library at Oxford, vol.2 pt.1 (Oxford, 1922), p.558.

Model calligraphy

9 March 2019

I have almost finished cataloguing the pre-modern Chinese collections in the Bodleian Library, but have left two things until last because they are difficult. These are so-called “ink-squeezes” (tapian 拓片) and the model calligraphic albums known as fatie 法帖. They are related in how they are produced, but are different in nature and function.

Ink squeezes (sometimes inaccurately termed “rubbings”) are used to reproduce inscriptions on rock faces and stelae, in tombs, or even on bronze vessels and other artefacts. They are “one-off” products, usually presented as single sheets, often extemely large. They are classified as epigraphy.

Fatie on the other hand are collections of model calligraphy used for self-instruction or teaching. These are published as printed books, but are produced in the same way as ink squeezes. That is, the calligraphy is engraved on stone or wooden blocks in intaglio, not relief, so that the end product is white on black, not black on white. They are usually presented in so-called “accordion” bindings (zhezhuang 折裝), and are classified as text-books.

The two types of material are sometimes confused. Ink squeezes are occasionally cut up and bound accordion-style to make them easier to store and consult, so that they look like fatie. And sometimes, epigraphical material is re-engraved on blocks and published as fatie.

Although there were antecedents, none of which is extant, the archetypal fatie is the famous Chunhuage tie 淳化閣帖 which was commissioned by the Song emperor Taizong 宋太宗 in 992, the third year of his reign period (淳化三年), from which it takes its name. He ordered the Hanlin academician Wang Zhu 王著 to make a compilation of the calligraphy which was preserved in the imperial collection and engrave it on blocks. Copies of the resulting publication were then given to the imperial princes and senior officials.

The work consists of ten juan 卷. The first five contain the calligraphy of emperors, officials, and others. The last five contain the work of Wang Xizhi 王羲之 (303–361) and his son Wang Xianzhi 王獻之 (344–386); these two figures from the Eastern Jin dynasty 東晉 (317-420) are generally regarded as the founding fathers of calligraphy as an art form. The title of each juan follows the formula「…法帖第…」, and it is from this that the term fatie 法帖 to describe this genre is believed to be derived. At the end of each juan, in seal script, is a reminder of when and under what circumstances the work was produced:「淳化三年壬辰歲十一月六日奉聖旨摹勒上石」. Although this colophon ends with the words 「上石」”engraved on stone”, there is reason to suppose that the calligraphy was actually engraved on wood. [1]

The Chunhuage tie was recut many times, especially during the Song and the Ming dynasties, and it is very difficult to identify the various editions, as a mere glance at any catalogue whether published or online will confirm.

There are three copies of the work in the Bodleian Library; two of them are incomplete copies of the same edition, which I catalogue as follows:

淳化閣帖 殘七卷
折裝7冊 ; 32公分
全書十卷, 殘卷四~十
Sinica 2758

法帖第六. 王羲之書一
法帖第七. 王羲之書二
法帖第八. 王羲之書三
法帖第九. 晉王獻之一
法帖第十. 晉王獻之二

淳化閣帖 殘五卷
折裝5冊 ; 32公分
全書十卷, 殘卷一~五
Backhouse 604


The only difference between the two copies (apart from the sections preserved) is that Sinica 2758 was printed earlier than Backhouse 604, as indicated in my statement of the imprint.

The history of the edition is almost common knowledge, and can be found in many Chinese sources both printed and online. I summarise it as follows.

In 1392, the Hongwu 洪武 emperor Zhu Yuanzhang 朱元璋, founder of the Ming dynasty, made his fourteenth son Zhu Yang 朱楧 king of Su 肅, a fiefdom centred on Lanzhou 蘭州 in Gansu Province 甘肅省. To mark the occasion, he presented him with a copy of a Song edition of the Chunhuage tie for him and his heirs to treasure. In 1615, his successor Zhu Shenyao 朱紳堯, king Xian 憲, ordered Wen Ruyu 溫如玉 and Zhang Ying 張應 to make a copy of the edition, as recorded in the colophon:


The work was completed in 1621 天啟元年. Over 140 stone blocks were used to make the edition, and most of them were engraved on both sides, so that there are over 250 pages. Already by the early Qing some of the blocks had got damaged, so some 40 were re-cut in 1654, as recorded in another colophon:


The blocks are extant. In 1910 the Hanlin academician Liu Erxin 劉爾忻 moved them into the Zunjingge 尊經閣, a pavilion of Lanzhou Confucian Temple 蘭州文廟 (now Lanzhou No.2 Middle School 兰州市第二中学), and in 1966 they were moved into Gansu Provincial Musuem 甘肃省博物馆, which is where they are to this day.

Some images of these blocks can be found on the web, although I’ve had difficulty in finding a good one. Here is an image of the block for the opening of juan 2, together with one of the impression in Backhouse 604 that has been taken from it:



Xu Guoping 许国平 has made a detailed study [2] of datable impressions of the Su edition of Chunhuage tie in the Palace Museum collections, in which he carefully notes how the stone blocks have deteriorated over the course of time. It is from his notes that I have, tentatively at least, been able to date the Bodleian impressions to the Kangxi 康熙 period or possibly a little earlier (Sinica 2758), and the Qianlong 乾隆 period or possibly later (Backhouse 604).

For example, Xu notes that in the following leaf from juan 4, the block was intact in all impressions up to and including the Kangxi period, but broken in the Qianlong period:


Sinica 2758


Backhouse 604

The break is vertical, for as we would expect, a piece of stone is more likely to fracture at its smaller dimension. With wood blocks the reverse is the case, as wood splits along its grain, not across it, and in printing blocks the grain is invariably horizontal.

The third copy in the Bodleian Library is of what I suppose is a later edition, but it could well be earlier. It is one of many fatie and ink squeezes among the books that were given to the Library by Dr William Lockhart, a medical missionary, in 1879. It is larger in size than the Backhouse copy, and of very much finer quality. Its heavy wooden boards are covered in brocade, which may help in dating the copy, but unfortunately I have no expertise in this area. I describe it as follows:

淳化閣帖 十卷
折裝10冊 ; 39公分
Sinica 465

歷代帝王法帖第一 (有缺, 殘末六葉)
法帖第六. 晉王羲之書
法帖第七. 晉王羲之書
法帖第八. 晉王羲之書
法帖第九. 晉王獻之書
法帖第十. 晉王獻之書




1. Rong Geng 容庚 (叢帖目, 14) quotes Zhang Boying 張伯英 who refers to a passage in Ouyang Xiu’s 歐陽修 Jigulu 集古錄 which says that copies became scarce as a result of a fire which destroyed the blocks.
2. 许国平: 肃府本《淳化阁帖》版本考略. In 中国书法学术 271(2015:11), 177-181.

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 apart from that I was at first unable to find out anything about him. Then Soeren Edgren told me that he is best known for his edition of Gujin yunhui juyao xiaobu 古今韻會舉要小補 [1] published in Jianyang in 1606, and that from the prefaces to that edition we learn that he served as District Magistrate at Jianyang from 1603-1607. As he also published an Yijing daquan 易經大全 there in 1605, it is reasonable to assume that our edition of the Four Books, too, was published in Jianyang sometime during his period of office, all of which is corroborated by the provenance of our seventeenth-century acquisitions.

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.

1. This text is based on Gujin yunhui 古今韻會, a rhyming dictionary written by the scholar Huang Gongshao 黃公紹 in 1292. It was re-organised and simplified by his friend Xiong Zhong 熊忠 in 1297 and accordingly renamed Gujin yunhui juyao 古今韻會舉要. It was again revised in the late Ming by Fang Risheng 方日升 and Li Weizhen 李維楨 and renamed Gujin yunhui juyao xiaobu 古今韻會舉要小補. Both Huang Gongshao and Xiong Zhong were natives of Shaowu 邵武 in Fujian province, and Li Weizhen held office there when he edited Fang’s revision.

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.