Archive for the 'Uncategorized' Category

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.

Chinese leaves

5 November 2018

In several previous blog entries I have referred to my online list Chinese books in Europe in the 17th century. Over a period of several decades I have been trying to locate them all, and in gathering this information have been helped by a growing number of scholars for whose contributions I am deeply grateful; they are named and their contributions are acknowledged in the list. Among the most assiduous is Koos Kuiper, who most recently has told me of a single printed leaf that he discovered in the Museum Martena in Franeker (Friesland, the Netherlands).

It is the second leaf of the first juan 卷 of a work called Wuche bajin 五車拔錦, which I suppose one could translate as “Five cartloads of collected goodies”. It is actually an encyclopaedia full of all kinds of useful knowledge, and of these there are already several examples in my 17th century list.

If there were a copy of the complete work in the Bodleian I would catalogue it as follows:
新鍥全補天下四民利用便觀五車拔錦 三十三卷 / (明)徐三友校

In fact, there are currently only two known complete copies, one in the Library of Congress and the other in the library of Tokyo University’s “Institute for Advanced Studies on Asia” (to use its official English name), better known to us as Tōyō Bunka Kenkyūjo 東洋文化研究所. The latter came from the collection of the distinguished academic Niida Noboru 仁井田陞 (1904-1966), and was reproduced in 1999 as the first text in the series of popular reference works Chūgoku nichiyō ruisho shūsei 中國日用類書集成. This reproduction was then pirated in China in 2011 in the series Mingdai tongsu riyong leishu jikan 代通俗日用類書集刊 – the seal of Tōyō Bunka Kenkyūjo has been carefully air-brushed out, but not that of the Niida bequest.

The Japanese reproduction is particularly well done, and the series is prefaced by an account by Sakai Tadao 酒井忠夫 of Noboru Niida and popular encyclopaedias in general, and one by Sakade Yoshinobu 坂出祥伸 of the popular enclopaedias of the Ming Dynasty. Each text has an explanatory postface, and that of Wuche bajin is by Ogawa Yōichi 小川陽一.

Here are images of the first leaf of text and the paizi 牌子 to show what the edition looks like:


The single leaf of this edition that Koos discovered in Franeker is surely from one of the consignments of Chinese books imported by Dutch merchants in the early 17th century and sold at auction in Amsterdam, as it is accompanied by a letter dated 1637, a very important piece of evidence as we shall see in a moment. Five complete juan (24-28) of the same edition are found in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France (Chinois 5652), and these can be seen online. They are likely to be from the same copy, and I have added them to my list as such, but this has yet to be confirmed.

The Museum Martena’s website has images of both the single leaf and the accompanying letter. The letter is addressed to Anna Maria van Schurman, and it is from Adreas Colvius. Here is Koos’s transcription of the text:

A fin que ma lettre vous puisse aggreer, j’y adjousteray quelques rarites / que peut estre vous n’avez jamais veus. Assc. characteres Persiques / Japonois, et du Royaume de Siam, ou est cette grande ville d’Odia [Ayutthaya]. / s’il vous plaist retenir tout ceci, je me contenteray des copies de / vostre main, vous laissant l’authentique. Pour le chinois, il est / assez commun, et j’en ai assez. J’entends qu’il y a un chinois a Amsterdam, qui sait lire leur escriture. Je salue monsr. vostre / frere, et aussi-tost que mr. le Receveur Hoogenes mon cousin / aura ordre, je le lui signifieray. Au reste vous savez que je / ne desire que de temoigner que suis
Madle. vostre tres-humble serviteur
André Colvius
Le 3 de nov. 1637

Koos informs me that Andreas Colvius (1594-1671) was registered in the university of Leiden in 1612, where he studied Greek, Hebrew, mathematics, and theology; in 1619 he became a candidate for the Protestant ministry, and was minister at the Walloon Church in Dordrecht from 1628 to 1666.

Anna Maria van Schurman (1607-1678) is the subject of a lengthy Wikipedia article where she is described as “a Dutch painter, engraver, poet, and scholar, who is best known for her exceptional learning and her defence of female education. A highly educated woman by seventeenth century standards, she excelled in art, music, and literature, becoming proficient in 14 languages, including contemporary European languages, Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Arabic, Syriac, Aramaic, and an Ethiopic language.” (I think the apparently patronising phrase “by seventeenth century standards” is somewhat infelicitous; I’m sure the writer meant “by any standards” and that for a woman to be so highly educated at that time was rare.)

The printed leaf with its covering letter was handed down to Anna Maria’s heirs until 1780, when the family bequeathed it to Franeker University (established in 1585, and the second oldest university in the Netherlands after Leiden). When the University was disbanded by Napoleon in 1811, it passed to Franeker Municipality, and is now on permanent loan to the Museum Martena. It was here, in August, at an exhibition on Anna Maria van Schurman, that Koos discovered it.

Aside from the welcome addition to my list of two more printed fragments, what interests me most about this discovery are the words in which Colvius refers to the leaf in his letter “il est assez commun, et j’en ai assez.” So we now have it out of the horse’s mouth that in the early 17th century not only were books split up into fascicles for the curiosity trade, but even fascicles into leaves, and on quite some scale.

By the most extraordinary coincidence, only days after Koos had told me of the leaf in the Museum Martena, Peter Kornicki contacted me to say that he had discovered several Chinese printed leaves bound up with the Japanese historical work Azuma kagami 吾妻鏡 in the library of Trinity College Dublin (MS 1645). These are from an edition of Sishu daquan 四書大全, and will be added to my list as soon as I have learned a bit more about them.

None of this should have surprised me, because the single printed leaf in the Bodleian Library (Sinica 121) from a unique edition of the Shuihuzhuan 水滸傳 (of which other parts are in Stuttgart, Copenhagen, and Paris), together with a leaf bearing notes by Shen Fuzong and Thomas Hyde, has long been famous – it was the subject of a brief note by J.J.L. Duyvendak in The Bodleian Library record 2:28(1949), 245-247. More recently, in the summer of 2006, one of Elias Ashmole’s manuscripts (MS.Ashmole 1787) consisting of miscellaneous Oriental fragments was broken up and re-assigned, and one of them (now Sinica 90) was a single printed leaf from the medical work Yixue rumen 醫學入門 of which there are four complete fascicles in the Bodleian, one in Groningen, and another in the Vatican; bound with it, incidentally, was the much more important unique surviving copy of the latest known example of the Southern Ming calendar (Sinica 88, for the year 1677), which I have already mentioned in a previous blog entry.

But the realisation that from their first appearance in Europe these leaves were widely distributed is mildly depressing, as tracking them down will be a Sisyphean task, especially when they are preserved not as discrete items in a collection (like Sinica 90 and 121, and S0119 in the Museum Martena), but bound up with other works as little more than endpapers (like MS 1645 in Trinity College Dublin).

What’s new? Nothing. Sixty years ago, when I was a child at primary school in the wilds of Yorkshire where no Chinese had ever set foot, a girl in my class got hold of a page from what must have been a Hong Kong newspaper. None of us had ever seen any written Chinese before, any more than anyone had in the early seventeenth century. She carefully tore pieces off and gave them to her friends, and I was lucky enough to receive one. I think that was the spark that set off my interest in China. The desire of seventeenth century scholars to get their hands on a Chinese leaf is all too understandable.

Notice of an epidemic

18 December 2017

From time to time people come to the Bodleian with something they have found in their attic. They say they want to know what it is, but what they really want to know is what it’s worth. I was usually able to identify what they brought in, but was not allowed to value it, even if I could.

The manuscript I’m about to describe was brought to me by a Mr Turner in the summer of 1979, just three years after I joined the Library. Although photocopiers had been invented at that time, I didn’t have one, and scanners weren’t even dreamed of, so I transcribed it by hand. At the same time I identified it and wrote a couple of paragraphs on it for the owner. When he returned to collect it I offered to buy it from him once he had got a valuation from commercial dealers, but he never came back and I never saw the document again.

But I kept my transcription together with a carbon copy of my identification, and came across it for the first time in nearly forty years when clearing out my room as instructed, prior to my dismissal (see my previous blog entry).

The manuscript is a piece of ephemera of the sort I have recently become rather interested in. And so have the Chinese, who have started publishing collections of it which they sometimes call guzhidui 故紙堆, or “piles of old papers”. Ephemera is notoriously difficult to catalogue and make accessible to readers, but is of immense value in putting flesh on the bare bones of historical fact. Mr Turner’s manuscript illustrates this perfectly.

It is a notice from the acting magistrates of Nanhai 南海 and Panyu 番禺, two towns near Canton. It is quite large, 55cm high. and 66cm. wide, and is one of several copies that would have been made to be posted on the city walls near the main gates. It is dated the 17th day of the 5th month of the 20th year of Guangxu, which in the western calendar is 20 June 1894. It bears two seals applied side by side over the characters 「二十」 in the date. One is the official seal of Nanhai, and the other, which is illegible, is probably that of Panyu. The day of the month 「十七」 is written in red and would have been filled in after the rest of the document had been completed, just prior to its issue; and also written in red are the check marks and signature of the clerk who prepared it.

Here is my transcription of the manuscript, presented horizontally but preserving the text alignment and layout of the original (to see the vertical arrangement in PDF click here):




The 1911 edition of Nan hai xian zhi 南海縣志 records that in 1894 the magistrate was Yang Yinting 楊蔭廷 (9:1b) and that in this year there was a serious epidemic, the mention consisting of two characters only:「大疫」(2:69b). And the 1931 edition of Pan yu xian xu zhi 番禺縣續志 records that in 1894 the magistrate was Du Youbai 杜友白 (13:14a); the epidemic is not noted in the main chronological section (42:7b), but receives passing mention elsewhere (2:40a, 41a). (The editions of these two gazetteers are the first to have been published after the epidemic, and the links I have supplied lead to our catalogue entries of the reproductions I have used; both are in the recently published and very fine series Guang zhou da dian 廣州大典.)

It is immediately apparent that Mr Turner’s piece of ephemera tells us very much more than the laconic mentions in the gazetteers.

The epidemic has been troubling the region for several months. There is a rumour that it has been caused by poison planted by foreign missionaries, but this cannot be true as it has also affected the foreign residents of Hong Kong. The rumour has been put about by trouble makers with the object of causing a disturbance. The magistrates have posted the bill to inform people that the trouble makers have been arrested and punished, and that the epidemic is now abating so that they may go about their business as usual. They should pay no attention to the fabrications of trouble makers, and should obey the magisterial commands in fear and trembling.

If this text gets picked up by web crawlers and becomes searchable, and if this is the only form in which it survives, which it probably is, I will feel that my blog entry will have served a useful purpose, if only a small one. And if we had the time and resources to treat the countless pieces of ephemera in our libraries similarly, surely that would be a job worth doing.