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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.

The earliest Chinese lithography

12 December 2017

Earlier this year I was dismissed from my post on the grounds of age, a questionable and not entirely lawful practice which in Great Britain is carried out only at the Universities of Oxford, Cambridge, and St Andrews, where it is known as “retirement”. The occasion was marked by nothing more than a single message from my superior telling me to clear my office of all personal effects by 30 September. Thus charmingly were my forty-one years of service to the Bodleian Library and its collections brought to a close.

But now to more edifying matters – lithography, for example.

In 1988 I attended the “International Conference on Resources for Chinese Studies” that took place at the National Central Library in Taipei between 30 November and 3 December. My contribution was entitled Two collections of nineteenth-century Protestant missionary publications in Chinese in the Bodleian Library, and this was subsequently published in Chinese culture 31:4 (December 1990), 21-38. In it, I concentrated on the value of these collections in exemplifying the introduction of western printing techniques into China, for which the Protestant missionaries were entirely responsible. What follows is an enlargement, with the addition of illustrations, of the passage I wrote on lithography (26-27).

I can’t remember how I discovered what I believe to be the earliest use of lithography for reproducing Chinese text, but when I first came to the Bodleian in 1976 the compilation of the Pre-1920 Catalogue was in full swing, and I was surrounded by colleagues who knew the Library’s collections inside out. Perhaps one of them brought it to my attention. According to its preface, it was compiled and published precisely to demonstrate the ability of lithography to reproduce oriental scripts. Lithography had been invented in 1796 by the German author and actor Alois Senefelder as a cheap method of publishing theatrical works, but this book appeared over twenty years later. So I wouldn’t be surprised if there was an earlier example of Chinese lithography, but I don’t know of one.

From the two title pages we see that it was compiled by George Hunt in 1818, and that in 1819 it was printed by C. Marcuard in Chelsea and published by R. Priestly in Holborn:


It seems to be very rare, and it is unsurprising that the Bodleian’s copy is found in the collection of Francis Douce (Douce L subt. 40); Douce had an intense interest in printing, and the Chinese section of his collection although small contains some real gems – our copy of the Red Decree, for example, which was the subject of my second blog entry in 2011.

Here is the short preface and the page on which the Chinese is reproduced:


Again as far as I know, the earliest complete Chinese work to be printed lithographically is the text of Mencius appended to the French sinologist Stanislaus Julien’s translation, which was published in Paris in 1824 (the Bodleian copy is shelfmarked 2 Θ 121,122). Its execution is particularly fine:


Moving now to the East, the technique is taken up by Walter Henry Medhurst, who you may recall (if you read my earlier blog entry on the woodblock) was a printer by training, and had been engaged by the London Missionary Society to set up a press first in Malacca, and then in Batavia in the 1820s.

His first attempt at lithography was to print his English and Japanese vocabulary, which was published in Batavia in 1830:


In his short introduction to this work, he is perhaps a little too modest:

“The printing needs a thousand excuses; but it must be remembered that the work has been executed at a Lithographic press, by a self-taught artist, and in a warm climate, where Lithography often fails … added to which, being in a colony, it was found impossible to obtain sufficient paper of a like sort, or of an uniform quality to suit the Lithography.”


“Notwithstanding all this, it was thought better to print it under the compiler’s eye, rather than be sending it in MS. to Europe, to run the risk of unnumbered faults, from the illegibilty of a hand-writing, or the unskilfulness of a compositor.”

Four years later, in 1834, under the pseudonym Typographus Sinensis, he wrote a detailed account of the advantages and disadvantages of the various methods of printing Chinese in the Chinese repository (3, October 1834, 246-252). One of the advantages was that the technique “is well adapted for printing alternately in various languages, for mixing different characters, or publishing books in a new character for which no types have yet been formed” (p.250). His English and Japanese vocabulary is an example of this.

In the same year he compiled and published a “Gospel harmony”, of which there is what I believe to be a copy in the Angus Library of Regent’s Park College, although it lacks an imprint [1]. It is the first purely Chinese work to be printed lithographically, and I catalogue it as follows:

福音調和 八卷 / 尚德者纂
[Batavia], [1834]
精裝1冊(原線裝2冊) ; 24.0公分
Regent’s Park College Chinese 2.31

RPC_Chinese_2.31-2 RPC_Chinese_2.31-1

And in 1837 he published a complete New Testament using lithography, of which there is a copy in the Bible Society’s collection which is now in Cambridge University Library; I have not yet seen it.

The following year he used lithography for a small periodical which seems to be very rare. It is mentioned briefly in Records of the General Conference of the Protestant Missionaries of China held at Shanghai, May 7-20, 1890 (Shanghai, 1890), p.720. There are two issues in the Bodleian which I catalogue as follows:

各國消息 存戊戌年[1838]:9月, 10月
[Canton], 1838-?
毛裝2冊 ; 23公分
Ed. by W H Medhurst, J Legge, and C B Hillier
Has 「每月初一日出」 on front cover/title-page
Sinica 381


In 1840 he produced lithographically a “new version of the Analects” (of which the Bodleian only has the second juan), and a commentary on Genesis I-XI which seems to have appeared soon after:

論語新纂. 下論 / 尚德者纂
[Batavia], [1840]
線裝1冊(41頁) ; 19.3公分
Sinica 1493


創世歷代書 / 尚德者纂
[Batavia?], [c.1840]
線裝1冊(34頁) ; 23.1公分
Sinica 1699


Finally, in 1842, he again used lithography for mixed language printing, but in a rather different way, in his Notices on Chinese grammar. This was described in the Chinese repository (11, June 1842, 317) as “a book almost unique in its mode of printing”. Here Medhurst used typography for the English text, leaving spaces where the Chinese characters were to appear. An impression was then taken and transferred to the lithographic stone. The Chinese characters were then drawn directly on to the stone, and the whole then printed by ordinary lithography.


All this notwithstanding, throughout the nineteenth century the direction of travel in missionary printing was towards the development of western typography. Of the 1,323 different nineteenth-century Protestant missionary publications in the Bodleian’s collections, probably the biggest and most representative in existence, only 163 were printed lithographically – just over 12%.

The invention of offset photolithography in the mid-nineteenth century and its large-scale use by the big Shanghai publishers and even the Chinese government is a different phenomenon, much more influential, and much better documented.

1. When I wrote this blog entry just over a year ago, I did not have any images of this edition. So yesterday (1 March 2019) I re-examinied it (having originally catalogued it in the summer of 2009) and took the images I now reproduce with the kind permission of the Angus Library. Quite recently, along with a number of other books in the library, it was soaked by an overflowing shower on a floor above (the library is in the basement). It was freeze-dried and survives relatively unscathed, although a little water-damage is visible.


26 April 2017

Many years ago I noticed that some of the leaves in our old books had seals on them which were clearly placed there before the book was printed and bound – they are sometimes found on the reverse of the printed side of the paper, and are not usually in logical positions. They turned out to be the seals, or rather the trademarks of the manufacturer of the paper.

I started to record them in the hope that I would discover enough to support a study of them, but long ago I gave up after discovering only ten. Undoubtedly there will be many more in our collection, but finding them will involve examining thousands of editions, tens of thousands of fascicles, and hundreds of thousands if not millions of leaves.

Now, Devin Fitzgerald at Harvard has taken up the task, and with the advantage of youth, not to mention the internet, he will probably succeed. He has already enlisted the help of colleagues in gathering data, and we should regard him as the central collection point for anything we might turn up.

He has drawn attention to this in his blog, where he has also pointed out a bilingual paper on the subject that has been done by Zhang Baoshan 張寶三 of the National Taiwan University: Paper manufacturer hallmarks in rare Chinese books from the Qing dynasty 清代中文善本古籍中所鈐紙廠印記研究.

Here is my small contribution, nothing more than images of the ten papermarks I have discovered in our collection. I have given a precise shelfmark and page reference of the fascicle in which they were found, together with brief details of the edition. I have listed them in chronological order, but it is possible and indeed probable that not all the copies were printed at the time the blocks were cut. In the case of the papermarks that are found on the reverse side of the printed sheet, I have used an image editor to flip the image so that the mark can be read. In one case I have had to join up two separate images.

1. Sinica 180/27, 2:32b. 三才圖會 (明萬曆中).

2.  Sinica 528/19, 首2a. 二如亭群芳譜 (明末).

3. Sinica 3143/4, inside rear cover. 石榴記傳奇 (清乾隆壬辰[1772]).


4. Sinica 2691/7, 滱水3a. 水經注 (清乾隆中).
5. Sinica 2691/8, 濟水22b.


6. Sinica 559 序2b. 歲寒堂詩話 (清乾隆中).

7. Backhouse 254/54, 本傳5a. 畿輔叢書 (清光緒五年[1879]).


8. Sinica 2695/1, 花卉起手式上冊2. 芥子園畫傳三集 (清).


9. Sinica 2645/10, 西臺摘疏57. 涇川叢書 (民國六年[1917]).


10. Sinica 2698/61, 1:2a. 十三經讀本 (民國甲子[1924]).



25 April 2017

In an earlier blog entry, Survey of the Great Ming Empire, I discussed an edition which had been made sometime around the year 1600, not long before the fall of the Ming. The printing blocks of such a large-scale work represented a huge investment to their owner, but became a liability on the accession of the Qing, so they had to be modified. This made it particularly difficult for me to identify the edition at a time when I was still learning the trade, when I had access to few printed library catalogues, and when the internet was still a long way off.

Another edition which puzzled me at that time was a collection of memorials of famous ministers. Like the Survey of the Great Ming Empire, it is a large work. It had originally been compiled and printed in 1416 by order of the Yongle emperor.

Our edition has a preface preface dated 1635 (崇禎八年), and is in 319 juan. The problem I had when I first encountered it is that all other copies of the edition had 350 juan, like the original Yongle edition; the only 319-juan version that I could find was in the rare book catalogue of the National Central Library. When Shen Jin 沈津 was cataloguing the Harvard copy of this work, he also came across the National Central Library’s copy and thought that it might be simply be defective [1]. But an examination of the Backhouse copy’s table of contents shows that this is not the case. The final page had not been tampered with, and was clearly an impression from a block that ended with juan 319.

The reason why the final 31 juan had been omitted and all evidence of them excised from the table of contents block must surely be because they were concerned with the northern border regions (御邊) and the barbarians that inhabited them (夷狄). Once these barbarians had become the new dynasty, whoever owned the blocks at that time clearly felt that those chapters had to go (although a century later the complete 350-juan version was included in Siku quanshu 四庫全書).

But that is not the end of the story. Many copies of the Chongzhen edition have now been catalogued online, some with specimen pages. Although many of these catalogue entries are vague, ill-researched, and possibly wrong (as indeed was my first effort), I think the evidence is sufficient to provide a perfect case study of how blocks were modified to reflect changes in ownership, politics, and scholarly fashions. So I will describe each stage of its development evolution.


That the Chongzhen edition was actually a cut-down version of the original Yongle edition made by the famous Ming scholar Zhang Pu 張溥 (1602-1641) is stated clearly at the beginning of each chapter: 「吳郡張溥刪正」. But although it had been cut down in size, it still had 350 juan. From the lower banxin 版心下 we see that the blocks were cut by a printing shop called Dongguange 東觀閣, to which I can find no further reference; furthermore, these characters are found only on the first two leaves of the preface and the first two leaves of juan 1.

Copies of the earliest printings are found in in the libraries of Fudan and Kyoto universities. There is also one in Cambridge which I was able to examine at length a fortnight ago. It is in the Wade Collection and is rather fine, although like the rest of that collection, it has been bound in western style. Here is an image of the first leaf of the text:

If I were cataloguing it, I would describe the edition as follows:

歷代名臣奏議 三百五十卷 / (明)永樂十四年[1416]黃淮等奉敕編 ; (明)張溥刪正


The first change to the blocks must reflect a change of ownership between 1635 and the fall of the Qing, and is evidenced by the excision of the name of the printing shop Dongguange 東觀閣 from the lower banxin 版心下. This is exemplified by a copy in Liaoning University:

Be that as it may, the blocks had still been cut by Dongguange, so I would express this later printing as follows, to do the job properly perhaps with an appropriate note:

歷代名臣奏議 三百五十卷 / (明)永樂十四年[1416]黃淮等奉敕編 ; (明)張溥刪正


The 319-juan version must have been produced following the fall of the Ming. Now, we find that the words 「吳郡張溥刪正」 are no longer found in the lower part of the second column of the first leaf of each juan. They have been replaced by a much longer formulation, extending over the full length of the column: 「吳郡張溥刪正 子永錫 孫玉衡玉璇重較」. Zhang Pu had died in 1641, so presumably his son Yongxi and grandsons Yuheng and Yuxuan had taken responsibility for the expurgation of the final 31 juan. Here is the first leaf of Fudan University’s copy together with the fengmian 封面 where the name of Zhang Pu (字天如) is still prominent:


However, doctoring wooden blocks in this way is expensive and time-consuming, and we rarely find editions where it has been done perfectly, especially in large editions like this, where replacements were needed at the beginnings of 319 juan. I haven’t been able to examine any copies in Far Eastern libraries, but the Oxford and Harvard copies suggest that the change was only ever effected at the beginning of the following sixteen juan: 1-10, 13, 20, 131-134.

It is tempting to guess that the edition was made in the early Qing, but we can’t be sure. In fact, throughout the entire history of this edition and its printings, the date of the original preface is the only date we have. So the description of the edition is now as follows:

歷代名臣奏議 三百十九卷 / (明)永樂十四年[1416]黃淮等奉敕編 ; (明)張溥刪正 ; (清)張永錫, (清)張玉衡, (清)張玉璇重較


Now, for some reason, it was felt necessary to dissociate Zhang Pu from the edition and to associate it with his contemporary Chen Renxi 陳仁錫 (字明卿, 1581-1636) instead, and we find a whole series of copies where his name has been removed from the juan beginnings. The blocks evidently changed hands and were repaired in this stage of the edition, but from the specimen pages it is difficult to establish in what order the impressions were made, as they inevitably reflect not only the degradation of the blocks, but the care with which they were inked and the impressions taken.

The excision of Zhang Pu’s name is evident throughout the Backhouse copy, but inevitably some occurrences were missed, so that it survives at the beginning of the table of contents 目錄 and juan 49, 148, 252, 306, and 318:


But Zhang Pu also wrote the preface, or at least it is ascribed to him. Extraordinarily, here his name has simply been replaced with that of Chen Renxi without any change to either the text or the printed seal Tianru 天如 (Zhang Pu’s zi 字). The following two impressions are both from the same block. That on the right is from the copy of the original 350-juan edition in Liaoning Daxue, and that on the left is from the Backhouse copy of the 319-juan version, the block having degraded somewhat in the meantime and the four characters 「太倉張溥」having been replaced with 「陳明卿氏」:


And on the fengmian 封面 likewise, we now find that it is Chen Renxi who is credited with reducing the text; the images below are both from copies of the 319-juan version, that on the right from an early impression in Fudan Daxue, that on the left from a later impression in Nanjing Shifan Daxue:


The words「本衙藏板」 on the fengmian of the Fudan copy are formulaic are probably not true. And the words「文德堂梓」on the fengmian of the Nanjing copy are obviously nonsense – whatever the Wendetang may have done to the blocks, it certainly didn’t cut them.

The fengmian of the Backhouse copy indicates another owner of the blocks, perhaps before they came into the possession of Wendetang, although again from the quality of the speciman pages it is difficult to be sure:

This enables us finally to catalogue our Backhouse copy with some precision, as follows:

歷代名臣奏議 三百十九卷 / (明)永樂十四年[1416]黃淮等奉敕編 ; (明)張溥刪正 ; (清)張永錫, (清)張玉衡, (清)張玉璇重較
線裝50冊 ; 25公分
Backhouse 114

It is not clear to me why it was felt necessary to replace the name of one famous late Ming author with another. Zhang Pu was not a figure who was out of favour in the Qing Dynasty – indeed, four of his works were reviewed in Siku quanshu zongmu tiyao 四庫全書總目提要, and one was actually included in the final manuscript.

However, in the review of the original Yongle edition of the memorials in the tiyao 提要 (卷55, 史部11), Zhang Pu’s edition is described in rather unflattering terms. There is criticism of the way in which he has carried out the pruning of the original text, which is particularly severe in the periods following the Tang 唐. An extreme example of this is juan 83, where Zhang Pu has reduced the 34 leaves of the Yongle edition to a single leaf in his own. But it is hard to say whether this would have had any bearing on the saleability of the edition, even if the blocks were still around 150 years after they had been cut (the tiyao were not submitted to the throne until 1781).


Throughout the process of charting the development of this edition, I had been closing my eyes to references in various catalogues to a version in 320-juan in the hope that they would go away, but unfortunately they didn’t. A single maverick entry might reasonably be ignored, but not references to copies in the libraries of Fudan University, Jilin University, Zhongshan Daxue, Hong Kong University, and in Japan the Toyo Bunko, Tokyo University, Hosei University, and Nagasaki University. Nearer to home, there is also a copy in Leiden University Library and my colleague Marc Gilbert very kindly sent me some photographs of it, but these only increased my puzzlement, as they suggested that the version in 320 juan was later, not earlier, than the version in 319 juan.

Eventually, this indeed proved to be the case.

It is possible to view online a complete edition of the 320-juan version in Harvard, where it has been digitised (but in a most egregious error, the copy has been described as having 350 juan in both the online catalogue record to which it is attached as well as in both editions of Shen Jin’s printed catalogue quoted above). So I went to Cambridge (the original Cambridge, that is) with a few dozen images from the Backhouse copy to compare all three versions. My comparison left the chronological sequence in no doubt.

Sometimes the blocks of all three versions are the same; sometimes they are all different. Sometimes the 319-juan block is the same as the 350-juan block but different from the 320-juan block; sometimes it is the same as the 320-juan block but different from the 350-juan block. But the 320-juan block is never the same as the 350-juan block but different from the 319-juan block, which proves conclusively that the 320-juan version is the latest. Actually, making this comparison was not easy, and during the course of it I found many examples in the 320-juan version both of blocks that been re-cut in their entirety and some that had only been repaired.

Here are the leaves from the end of the table of contents in the Backhouse copy:


And here are the equivalent leaves from Harvard’s 320-juan impression, where the first block is the same, but the second has been completely re-cut with the addition of juan 320:


I can think of no reason why juan 320 was restored other than to turn the edition into something that didn’t look as if it had been fiddled with. But if this is so, I wonder why the new end leaf of the table of contents was not cut in the same format as the others.

Where re-cutting and repairing has taken place, the name of Zhang Pu has sometimes been restored, as at the beginning of juan 6 for example, where the leaf has been re-cut in its entirety:


But sometimes only repairs have been made, as at the beginning of juan 318, where the worn out bottom two lines of the Backhouse copy have been replaced in the Harvard copy, the rest of the block being identical:


And there is a new fengmian which bears details of the block-owner, who was presumably responsible for all the changes described above:

So we can now catalogue the final version of the edition as follows:

歷代名臣奏議 三百二十卷 / (明)永樂十四年[1416]黃淮等奉敕編 ; (明)張溥刪正 ; (清)張永錫, (清)張玉衡, (清)張玉璇重較

This is by far the most complicated case of block-altering and re-issuing that I have ever encountered, and it has taken me an inordinate length of time to determine and define the publishing history of the edition. I am dissatisfied with the outcome, as I can’t explain the reason for the most striking change: why the attribution was changed from Zhang Pu to Chen Renxi and then finally back again.

Now I ought to plough through the text of the Oxford and Harvard copies to see what (if any) taboo characters have been altered. This would enable us to establish at least approximate dates for the various impressions.

[1]沈津: 美國哈佛大學哈佛燕京圖書館中文善本書志 (上海: 上海辭書出版社, 1999), 155-156; 美國哈佛大學哈佛燕京圖書館藏中文善本書志 (桂林: 廣西師範大學出版社, 2011), 2:421-422.