Archive for the 'Uncategorized' Category

Jinling Buddhist Press

28 September 2016

In April 2013 I visited China with Joshua Seufert, who had been appointed in the summer of 2012 to take over most of my responsibilities in the Bodleian so that I could concentrate on cataloguing our pre-modern collections in my final years of employment.

We had a very enjoyable and productive time visiting suppliers of both printed books and digital resources, mostly in Peking and Shanghai. For two days we parted company. While Joshua pursued his own interests in Hangzhou, I took the opportunity of pursuing mine in Nanking to see two places which over the years had excited my curiosity.

The first was the Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall 侵华日军南京大屠杀遇难同胞纪念馆, which presents a large and detailed exposition of the atrocities committed by Japanese troops in the weeks following their occupation of Nanking on 13 December 1937; the second was the subject of this blog entry, the Jinling Buddhist Press 金陵刻經處, whose name is sometimes translated as “Jinling Scriptural Press”.


If there is a connection between these two places, it is because they represent both the highest and the lowest points in the relationship between China and Japan.

I first became aware of Jinling Buddhist Press when cataloguing the following work in our collection:

解深密經 五卷 / (唐釋)玄奘譯
線裝1冊 ; 24公分
Sinica 2536



I had never heard of the publisher, and at the time was not particularly interested in making further investigations – I had several thousand editions to identify and could scarcely pursue scholarly research on each of them. Only when I came across a further ten editions in our collections by the same publisher, together with other Buddhist works printed in identical (or very similar) format by similarly named publishers, was my curiosity aroused.

The Press was founded by Yang Wenhui 楊文會 (1837-1911, 字仁山), who had converted to Buddhism after reading the “Awakening of faith” sutra (大乘起信論) on his recovery from a serious illness in 1864. He moved to Nanking in 1866 to work on the reconstruction of the city, which had been seriously damaged during the Taiping Rebellion. The Taipings had also been responsible for the destruction of the printing blocks of the Jiaxing Tripitaka 嘉興方冊大藏經.


Yang believed that the Buddhist faith, and through it the salvation of mankind, could only be revived through the reprinting and distribution of authoritative editions of its scriptures. So together with a group of like-minded friends, he established the Jinling Buddhist Press in 1866, and in that year its first publication was printed: Jingtu sijing 淨土四經, a collection of four sutras of the Pure Land school.

Like the Jiaxing Tripitaka, the Jinling editions were presented in thread-bound format (xianzhuang 線裝) rather than the folded binding (zhezhuang 折裝) of the imperial editions and of scriptures intended for liturgical use. And also like the Jiaxing Tripitaka, they were financed privately through individual subscription, and not by the Chinese state.

Much has now been published on the Press, including a very thorough article by Wu Yankang 武延康, which has been translated into English by Nancy Morton Tomasko and published in Princeton University’s East Asian library journal. [1] This article is replete with details of Yang’s life and work and the vicissitudes of the Press through the upheavals in Chinese history from its foundation to the present day; and very importantly, it documents the history of the printing blocks that are currently stored on the site, which number over 130,000.


Before proceeding further, I’d like to mention a connection with Oxford, albeit a tenuous one.

In 1878 Yang visited London. He had travelled there with Zeng Jize 曾紀澤 (the eldest son of Zeng Guofan 曾國藩) who had been sent there as minister to Britain, France, and Russia. I don’t know if this was the main purpose of his visit, but during the course of his stay, he went to the British Museum (which then housed what is now the British Library) and discovered Buddhist texts that were no longer extant in China. There he met Bunyiu Nanjio (Nanjō Bun’yū 南条文雄, 1849-1927), the son of a priest of the Jōdo Shinshū 浄土真宗 sect, who is remembered as one of Japan’s greatest Buddhist scholars. [2] At the time, Nanjō was studying English in London so that he could then proceed to Oxford and learn Sanskrit from Max Müller.


The meeting of these two men is what I had in mind when referring above to the highest point in Sino-Japanese relations. The two became good friends, and exchanged letters over the course of many years. [3] Through Nanjō, Yang obtained some three hundred texts from Korea and Japan that could no longer be found in China for reprinting at his press in Nanking; and for his part, Yang provided Nanjō with Chinese esoteric texts for the continuation of the Tripitaka that was currently being compiled in Japan, the Dainihon zokuzōkyō 大日本續蔵經, which was eventually published in Kyoto between 1905 and 1913.

It is also worth mentioning that while he was in England, Nanjō compiled the first western catalogue of the contents of the Chinese Tripitaka, which was published at the Clarendon Press in Oxford in 1883:


Nanjō compiled this on the basis of a copy of the Tetsugen Tripitaka 鐵眼大藏經 which had been given to the India Office library by the Japanese government in 1875. This is said to be the first complete edition of the Tripitaka to come to the western world. It was based on the Jiaxing Tripitaka, a copy of which had been taken to Japan by the Chinese monk Yinyuan Longqi 隱元隆琦 (1592-1673), one of the Ming loyalists who fled there in the wake of the Manchu conquest and became the founder of Japan’s Ōbaku School 黄檗宗 of Zen.

There is thus a remarkable circularity in this story as well as many unexpected connections.

To return to the matter in hand. I referred above to other Buddhist sciptures printed in identical (or very similar) format to those of the Jinling Press by similarly named publishers. The Bodleian has examples from six of them, and here are their colophons:


(Sinica 2549, 2535, 2539, 2538, 6323)

There are some minor variations in format in some of the publications. For example, the text of the following edition is arranged in 8 columns rather than the standard 10; I think this is because it contains an unusual quantity of commentary printed small in double columns, so that if compressed into 10 columns it would be cramped and difficult to read:

大方廣圓覺修多羅了義經略疏 二卷 / (唐釋)宗密述
線裝2冊 ; 25公分
Sinica 2538





One of the editions in the Bodleian’s collection has a particularly fine frontispiece:

大乘密嚴經 三卷 / (唐釋)地婆訶羅奉詔譯
線裝1冊 : 圖 ; 25公分
Sinica 2537



It seems that there was an informal project to reprint the entire Tripitaka by sharing the work out, but details of it are elusive, if indeed they can be discovered at all. The edition has occasionally been described as the Bainaben dazangjing 百納本大藏經, but I think this term is unsatisfactory, as its component editions are far from being unrelated (as in the Bainaben ershisishi 百納本二十四) – the whole point is that they were presented in the same format as a unified whole. But the project was never completed, so that the Bainaben dazangjing 百納本大藏經 doesn’t actually exist.

By ploughing through catalogues, both printed and online, I have discovered scriptures which are clearly part of this project produced by far more presses than are mentioned in any of the articles I have found on the subject; I have listed them here. It remains to take stock of what each of them printed, and over what period, and also to see if any of the texts were printed by more than one press. At first sight it appears that there was no duplication, but to establish that for sure requires more work than I’m currently minded to do.

Yang Zhifeng 杨之峰, in a short article on this Bainaben edition [4], summarised the nature of the project as follows:

“The Bainaben edition of the Tripitaka is the successor to the Jiaxing edition in that it is another large-scale endeavour funded entirely through public subscription. The places where it was printed extend over most of China, many people participated in the project, lay Buddhists rather than clergy were in charge, and although there was no unified organisational structure, there was very close co-operation.”

In short, it seems to have been the sort of anarchistic enterprise that gladdens the heart – or at least, it gladdens mine.

[1] Wu Yankan: Yang Renshan and the Jinling Buddhist Press. East Asian Library Journal 12:2(2006), 49-98.
[2] The EALJ article consistently mis-romanises Nanjō’s given name as “Bunryū”, and describes him as a monk of the “Shinto” sect, whatever that is, rather than Jōdo Shinshū.
[3] Yang’s letters are published in his collected writings: 楊仁山全集 (合肥: 黃山書社, 2000).
[4] 杨之峰: 中国近代的百衲本大藏经. 图书馆工作与研究 163(2009:9), 78-80.

Specimen pages

2 June 2016

Collections of specimen pages are a characteristically Chinese bibliographical genre, albeit one that doesn’t go back much more than a century.

The earliest example is thought to be a work by the famous bibliographer Yang Shoujing 楊守敬 (1839-1915), who in 1880 became an attaché in the Chinese embassy in Tokyo. While in Japan, he befriended local bibliophiles such as Mori Risshi 森立之 (1807-1885), and taking advantage of the low price that Chinese books were currently fetching on the market there, built up a collection of editions that were either rare or not extant in China, and eventually shipped them home. His notes on these books were published in 1901 with the title Riben fangshu zhi 日本訪書志.

Ten years later, the tracings of specimen pages that he made from the rare books he saw in Japan, together with others made in China (a total of 483) were published in twelve fascicles. Unsurprisingly – as he was a bibliographer and collector himself – there was a copy among Piet van der Loon’s books:

留真譜初編 不分卷 / (清)楊守敬編
線裝12冊 ; 31公分
Sinica 4545

This work is notable for three reasons. Firstly, it is the prototype of the genre; secondly, it is rare; and thirdly it is block-printed, and not produced photo-lithographically as all the later collections are, right up to the present.

The following illustration shows how remarkable this work is:


Although the page appears to have been produced carelessly, it is in fact a superb example of the block-cutter’s craft. The tilt is deliberate, as evidenced by the specimen on the right hand side of the leaf, which is squared up (not visible of course in this illustration); it has been made so in order to replicate exactly the copy from which it was traced. The smudges are also deliberate, and even the worm holes have been carefully reproduced.

A second collection (「二編」) in eight fascicles and containing a further 252 specimen pages was published posthumously in 1917. Kyoto has both parts, so does Stanford, but I have so far found none elsewhere.

The purpose of these collections, which continue to be produced, is primarily to show what the editions look like – Chinese printed pages are very variable in design and presentation, and are difficult if not impossible to visualise from normal catalogue entries. But specimen pages are also an invaluable tool for the cataloguer as an aid to identification.

This is best illustrated by the following example of a problem we experience whenever we set about cataloguing a Chinese book.

Here is a palace edition whose contents needn’t concern us, but it is described as “a synthesis of the doctrines of the Neo-Confucian school” by Fang chao-ying (in Hummel, 474). It was compiled and printed at imperial behest in 1715 by a team of scholars working under the direction of Li Guangdi, and is absolutely typical of the genre. I catalogue it thus:

御纂性理精義 十二卷 / (清)康熙五十四年[1715]李光地等奉敕撰
線裝8冊 ; 28公分
Sinica 2834

The copy is rather good, being printed on fine white paper, and the preface bears two imperial seals. In the bibliography of palace editions compiled by the National Palace Museum and Liaoning Provincial Library in 1995 (清代內府刻書目錄解題, 301), the physical description of the edition reads as follows:


I will translate and explain this for the sake of those who are coming to this sort of bibliographical description for the first time. What we have is a detailed description of the printing block, unusually long in this case, as the text comes in three sizes:

Each half-leaf has large text in 8 columns, with 18 characters in each column; there is small text in double columns, with 21 characters in each column; there is medium-size text in 8 columns, with 20 characters in each column. The block frame is a double line all the way round, the centre column is white, there is one fish-tail, and there are no column rulings. Each half-block is 22.5cm. high and 16.2cm. wide.

I think most of this is self explanatory apart from the fish-tail, perhaps. This is the black device in the centre column which is there as a marker for folding the leaves. Often there are two, and occasionally more. Sometimes there are none. This image will make things clear (apart from the medium-size text, which doesn’t appear on the first leaf):


Now here is a leaf from what a first sight appears to be the same edition:


But closer inspection will show that the impression comes from a completely different block. The edition is actually a copy of the palace edition made by a commercial publisher whose name is stamped on the printed label on the first fascicle. I describe it as follows:

御纂性理精義 十二卷 / (清)康熙五十四年[1715]李光地等奉敕撰
線裝8冊 ; 29公分
Sinica 2573

The problem is, the elaborate physical description above could equally be applied to this copied edition. Only the dimensions are slightly different, and even they are not critical to identification. A wooden block which is dry, perhaps having been stored for a long time (and some are stored for centuries) will have shrunk. When inked, it will begin to expand, so that the impressions taken at the end of the day are sometimes considerably larger in height than those taken at the beginning. The grain of a printing block always runs horizontally (as evidenced by cracks, which are never vertical), so the expansion always affects the height, not the width of the printed leaf, which stays the same. However, thin Chinese paper is very unstable, and easily distorts when moistened, so that the printed area of a leaf, first wet from the printing, then dry, is not necessarily identical with that of the block from which it was printed. And if the book is old and the leaves have been repaired and perhaps even laminated, the measurements will be of no use whatsoever for distinguishing editions.

All this leads me to question the value of these traditional Chinese book descriptions, especially when we can now produce scans of “specimen pages” 書影 so easily and make them universally available on the internet. We do not need to describe what can be seen at a glance, and the specimen page leaves no doubt as to which block an impression is taken from.

This is why modern online catalogues are increasingly attaching specimen pages to their records, and why we have developed this functionality for our own. Producing them is a little time-consuming, and I have not been able to make them for every record. But I try to do so at least when I’m unable to identify an edition, or when my confidence in an identification is less than total.

In the examples quoted above, it is quite clear which edition is which, because one is printed on fine white paper, the fascicles have indigo covers, and the preface has imperial seals. The other, by contrast, not only bears the seal of a dealer, but is of inferior workmanship and is printed on very yellow bamboo paper. But the identification of the palace edition is confirmed by comparing the impression with specimen pages from the many copies of this work in Peking University Library that appear in CALIS.


The state of things

6 April 2016

Regular readers of this blog might be thinking that I’ve lost interest in it, or even that I might be dead, as it is now some ten months since my latest offering. Neither is the case.

First, I had to finish my Serica project (to catalogue 5,200 of our pre-modern books). Then It was necessary to catalogue an extraordinary donation of missionary material collected by Arthur Bonsey, a Congregational minister who worked with the London Missionary Society in central China from 1882 to 1923 – I’ll be writing a blog entry about this before long.

And finally, I’ve been playing around with computers – a classic displacement activity, but one which occasionally produces something worthwhile. In particular, I’ve been tidying up and enhancing our implementation of the allegro software (developed by Bernhard Eversberg at Braunschweig Technical University) for cataloguing Chinese and other special collections in the Bodleian Library. This work has taken far longer than I expected.

Specimen pages  (書影)

One of the enhancements which is especially important to the work of describing our collections and making them widely known and accessible is the provision of “specimen pages” (書影) attached to the catalogue entry. The programming behind the button that does that has been done by my colleague Thaddeus Lipinski. I will explain the importance, and indeed the necessity for these specimen pages in my next blog entry.

Another enhancement adds to the allegro catalogue a function widely available in other databases, namely a link to texts which we have digitised and which are now available online.

Examples of these new functions can be seen here (go to the shelfmark index, and look for Backhouse 610 and Sinica 1250).

Pre-1920 Catalogue

Still on the subject of allegro, I have been whiling away the winter evenings by rescuing the Bodleian’s catalogue of pre-1920 (western) imprints; the rescued product, containing over one million records, can be seen here.

The Pre-1920 Catalogue is a project that was in full swing when I joined the Library on 5 April 1976, and its story is briefly told in the “About” section of the catalogue. I completed work on it only last week, and have presented it to the Library as a fortieth birthday present (we do things that way round here).

The Pre-1920 project was not only an early example of library automation, but was ahead of its time in encoding special glyphs (including Greek, Cyrillic, and Hebrew original script) using only the alpha-numeric keys on the standard English keyboard, with coded instructions in angle-brackets. Only now is it possible to display most of these glyphs on the computer screen. The system was the invention of John Jolliffe in the early 1970s; at the time he was Keeper of Catalogues, and subsequently became Bodley’s Librarian until his untimely death in 1985.

Constructing an allegro database from this data was relatively simple. What took time was mapping the data to UTF-8 values so that the glyphs could be displayed. Most of the original documentation had disappeared apart from a few pages which incredibly were preserved by a colleague who wasn’t even here at the time. Much had to be construed from the data itself, and I hope I’ve got it right. Certainly, Old Church Slavonic makes the Chinese script look like child’s play. Hebrew, with its short alphabet and lack of accented letters was easy, but the less said about Greek, the better.

To return to the matter in hand: old Chinese books. There have been a number of developments.

Zheng Cheng

Zheng Cheng 鄭誠 is a visiting scholar at the Needham Research Institute in Cambridge, from the Institute for the History of Natural Sciences, Chinese Academy of Sciences 中国科学院自然科学史研究所 in Peking. He told me that his main research focuses on the history of science and technology in the Ming and Qing, especially military technology and the influence of European technology on Chinese firearms, and that his interest in the history of books is just “a hobby”.

Some hobby! He has just brought out an edition of the catalogue of the Ming bibliophile Qi Chenghan’s 祁承㸁 private library (Danshengtang 澹生堂), one of the largest in the late Ming. And out of the blue, he told me that he had read my blog entry of 27 March 2012 in which I asked for help in identifying seals, and promptly identified most of the impressions reproduced here.

In Cambridge, he has been hunting down 17th-century accessions both in the University Library and the colleges, and has made a number of discoveries which he has given me to add to my rather primitive, but I hope increasingly comprehensive 17th-century page.

All this is primarily to acknowledge his help and to thank him for it.

Southern Ming calendars

Another example of the fifty copies of the Southern Ming calendar for 1671 presented to Ellis Crisp by the “King of Formosa” (Zheng Jing 鄭經) has turned up in the library of Christ Church – I have made a note of it both on my 17th-century page (just cited) and also in my blog entry on these calendars.

I was told about it by the Christ Church librarian Cristina Neagu, and immediately went to examine it. Her discovery brings the total of known surviving copies to eight, and I’m sure that a few more will eventually turn up.

I’ve lived in Oxford for forty years, and my house is only a few minutes’ walk from Christ Church. I’ve shown visitors around many times, but had never entered the library until I went to see the calendar. What a spectacular interior! The 18th-century plasterwork in the Upper Library is extraordinary – so three-dimensional that one wonders how it stays up.

The Red Decree

Finally, another copy of the Red Decree has been found, in the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin. It was discovered in their online catalogue by Devin Fitzgerald, who is writing a dissertation at Harvard on the global trade in Chinese books in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. He will visit Oxford in July.

That brings to 16 the number of known extant copies, and I’ve added it to the list in my blog entry. Quite an increase from the four that were known when I entered the profession! As I’ve pointed out several times already, the internet is making rare Chinese books less rare by the day.

Five classics, Four books

2 June 2015

In the Backhouse Collection there is an edition of the Wujing sishu 五經四書, the most important sections of the Confucian canon and essential reading for anyone about to take the official examinations. This edition has puzzled me for over thirty years. During that time – I can’t remember when, where, or how – I came across a catalogue entry for an edition in the Bavarian State Library which I thought might be the same as ours.

Last month, I was able to see the Munich edition, and it is indeed identical. To judge by the quality of the impression, it may be a little later, but not much. Putting my conclusion before the reasoning, if it were in Oxford I would catalogue it as follows:

線裝33冊 ; 31公分
4° L.sin. C 16

周易 四卷 / (宋)朱熹本義
書經 六卷 / (宋)蔡沈集傳
詩經 八卷 / (宋)朱熹傳
禮記 十卷 / (元)陳澔集說
春秋 三十卷 / (宋)胡安國傳
大學 一卷 / (宋)朱熹章句
中庸 一卷 / (宋)朱熹章句
論語 十卷 / (宋)朱熹集注
孟子 七卷 / (宋)朱熹集注

Actually, we have two copies of this edition, but both are incomplete. I was once tempted to shelfmark them together, but this would have been quite wrong as although the paper of both text and covers is the same, as is the thread and the silk used for the corner protectors, the fascicles differ in size by a few millimetres. Also, the seals and tao 套 show that they are ultimately of different provenance (we can ignore the manuscript label 「殿本四書」; if labels were an indication of contents, we would have Song editions – we have none).


The “Five Classics” were originally shelfmarked separately, but as these are obviously part of a set, I have amalgamated them, and now catalogue our copies as follows:

五經四書讀本 殘五經
線裝25冊 ; 28公分
Backhouse 36

周易 四卷 / (宋)朱熹本義
書經 六卷 / (宋)蔡沈集傳
詩經 八卷 / (宋)朱熹傳
禮記 十卷 / (元)陳澔集說
春秋 三十卷 / (宋)胡安國傳

五經四書讀本 殘四書
線裝5冊 ; 27公分
Backhouse 229

大學 一卷 / (宋)朱熹章句
中庸 一卷 / (宋)朱熹章句
論語 十卷 / (宋)朱熹集注
孟子 七卷 / (宋)朱熹集注

In his list of Palace editions (清代殿板書目), the authoritative Republican period bibliographer Tao Xiang 陶湘 inverts the sequence of the two sections of this work in the overall title, calling it Sishu wujing duben 四書五經讀本; and unusually (because for the most part it’s simply a list) he goes into some detail about the edition.

It was supplied to the Guozijian 國子監 (the “Imperial Academy”) and the Baqi Guanxue 八旗官學. The latter was a department of the Guozijian set up in the first year of the dynasty (1644) to educate the offspring of the Eight Banners who were not members of the imperial family. It was also supplied to provincial academies and commercial publishers, who used it as a model for their own editions, which were therefore popularly known as “Academy editions” 監本. When first published, the Chunqiu 春秋 was the version with Hu Anguo’s commentary, as shown above, but during the Qianlong period this was replaced with the Zuozhuan 左傳, and Hu Anguo’s commentary fell into disuse.

In view of all this, it is extraordinary that complete sets of this edition (as distinct from copies of the individual works in it) seem to be rather rare. Other than the Munich and Oxford copies, from both printed catalogues and online databases I have only been able to find copies in the following libraries:


The entry in the descriptive catalogue of government editions prepared by the National Palace Museum Library and Liaoning Provincial Library (清代內附刻書目錄解題, 紫禁城出版社 1995, 18-19) is based on the copies in those libraries, and corresponds with the Munich and Oxford copies in all but one respect: it describes the text frame as having a double border (雙邊), whereas ours is single (單邊), and so does the entry in Weng Lianxi’s 翁連溪 illustrated catalogue of government editions (清代內附刻書圖錄, 北京出版社 2004, 3). The descriptions in the two catalogues are identical, and one must have been copied from the other, or both from the same source.

In WorldCat however, the Liaoning copy is described as having a single border 單邊, like the Munich and Oxford copies. Furthermore, both the CALIS database and WordCat record a copy of the Shijing 詩經 from this edition in the library of the University of British Columbia in Canada which is also described as having a single border. So it seems clear to me that the Chinese printed catalogues are mistaken.

So how do we know that the copies in Munich and Oxford are of the same edition as those in China? In the edition itself there is nothing to help us. The overall title is invented, and there is no prefatory material relating to the edition, only the standard short prefaces to each individual work.

We could make a start with the date, because the edition is a simple, classic example of how works can be dated by examining taboo characters, especially during the reigns of the Kangxi 康熙, Yongzheng 雍正, and Qianlong 乾隆 emperors, when the observance of taboos was particularly strict.

It cannot have been made earlier than the Kangxi period, because the taboo of the first character in the emperor’s personal name, Xuanye 玄燁, has been avoided by omitting the final stroke of the character:

fcfb-02-yi-1-13b   周易 1:13b

Nor can it have been made earlier than the Yongzheng period, because the taboo of that emperor’s personal name, Yinzhen 胤禎, has been similarly avoided:

fcfb-04-shu-2-38b   書經 2:38b

The taboo of the Qianlong emperor’s personal name Hongli 弘曆 is not observed:

fcfb-06-lun-4-13b   論語 4:13b

This does not necessarily mean that the edition was not made in his reign, as only in the thirteenth year (1748) was the order given to avoid the taboo of his personal name by omitting the last stroke. But it is generally reckoned that the edition was made during the Yongzheng period, and the taboos do not preclude that.

We have copies of individual works made from this edition later during the Qing dynasty, and it is instructive to compare them with the orginal edition, and to note how the taboos have been treated.

For example, in this edition of the Shijing, the taboo of Qianlong’s name has indeed been observed:

詩經 八卷 / (宋)朱熹傳
線裝4冊 ; 29公分
Sinica 2607

fcfb-07-shi-5-20a   fcfb-08-shi-5-20a
詩經 5:20a; L: 監本, R: 嘉慶十年本

And consistent with the Jiaqing date of this edition, we find that the taboo of the Jiaqing emperor’s name Yuyan 顒琰 is also avoided:

fcfb-09-shi-5-3b   fcfb-10-shi-5-3b
詩經 5:3b; L: 監本, R: 嘉慶十年本

However the character ning 寧 in the personal name of the Daoguang emperor, Minning 旻寧 is not replaced with ning 甯, which it invariably is in even the Protestant missionary works that were printed in Ningbo (甯波 for 寧波) in that period:

詩經 3:10a

By contrast, in this edition of the Liji:

禮記 十卷 / (元)陳澔集說
線裝10冊 ; 27公分
Backhouse 183

the original edition has been copied without observing the taboo of the Qianlong emperor’s name in the only place in the text where it occurs:

fcfb-12-li-7-31b   fcfb-13
禮記 7:31b

But if we have a Jiaqing edition which doesn’t observe the later taboos (and at this time the observance of taboos was not very strict), how can we be sure that the Munich and Oxford copies are not also a later edition? I believe that a single leaf in one of the Oxford copies provides the answer to that. It is the first leaf of the Four books section:


A large square seal has been excised in the upper half of the leaf and the text replaced in manuscript; and in the bottom right corner, a large vertical seal has been excised and replaced by a new owner’s seal.

What I believe are the same seals are to be found on different pages in this palace edition, and in the same position:

欽定四書文 存化治六卷正嘉六卷隆萬六卷啟禎六卷 / (清)乾隆五年[1740]弘晝等奉敕編
線裝9冊 ; 28公分
Backhouse 5

fcfb-16   fcfb-15

The seals are 「國子監印」 and 「國子監八學官書」, the Imperial Academy and the Baqi Guanxue, precisely the establishments that Tao Xiang says the edition was made for.

Yongle dadian – 3

29 May 2015

Most of the extant parts of Yongle dadian were published by Zhonghua Shuju in 1960, when 730 juan were reproduced in reduced format in 202 ce, contained in 20 han. This publication was continued in 1984 when a further 67 juan were added in 20 ce, contained in 2 han. I catalogue the complete work as follows:

永樂大典 / (明)永樂中解縉等奉敕撰
北京 : 中華書局, 1960-1984
線裝222冊 ; 20公分
第1-20函 永樂大典 殘七百三十卷. – 1960.-  202冊
第21-22函 永樂大典 殘六十七卷. – 1984. – 20冊

Since then, other parts have been discovered in various places, and have been published from time to time either singly or in groups. The Bodleian has recently digitised all its holdings, which can be seen here. A single volume in the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin has also been digitised and made available online.

A group of hitherto undiscovered volumes was published the year after the 2002 conference in Peking:

海外新發現永樂大典十七卷 / 胡道靜撰序 ; 許中毅, 余嵐責任編輯
上海 : 上海辭書出版社, 2003
精裝1冊 ; 30公分
ISBN 7-5326-1285-6

I must confess to having been rattled by this, as three of the volumes it reproduces are in Ireland, and I thought I’d taken full stock of what is located in European libraries; now, I had to start again.

It is irritating that no details are given as to the precise whereabouts of the volumes, only the countries where they are located. But I suppose this is a little better than the Zhonghua Shuju edition, which gives no details at all. Thus we are told that of the 17 juan reproduced, 2 are in America, 2 in Japan, 5 in England, and 8 in Ireland.

Those in England are contained in two volumes in the British Library, and a colleague told me that the ones in Ireland were in the Chester Beatty Library. Later, a little searching on the internet quickly revealed the locations of the volumes in America and Japan. Here they are, seven volumes in total:

  1. juan 803-806 — Chester Beatty Library (Republic of Ireland)
  2. juan 8569-8570 — Kurokawa Institute of Ancient Cultures 黑川古文化研究所 (Kobe 神戶, Japan)
  3. juan 10110-10112 —  Chester Beatty Library (Republic of Ireland)
  4. juan 13201-13203 — British Library (United Kingdom)
  5. juan 14219-14220 — British Library (United Kingdom)
  6. juan 15957-15958 — New York Public Library (United States of America)
  7. juan 19866 — Chester Beatty Library (Republic of Ireland)

Actually the last of these, containing juan 19866, had already been reproduced by Zhonghua Shuju in 1984, but page 8a had been omitted, perhaps because it was accidentally omitted when the photostats were being made in 1931. The Shanghai reproduction makes good that omission.

It seems clear to me that the reason why Shanghai Cishu Chubanshe didn’t name the libraries in which these volumes are held is because the images were reproduced without authorisation. This certainly seems to have been the case with the Chester Beatty volumes, as when I visited that library last autumn, the staff there had no knowledge of the reproduction.

More serious, however, is how the reproduction was made. Like the Zhonghua Shuju edition, only the text is reproduced, not the matter that appears before and after it. Thus we lose the Siku quanshu forms (see Yongle dadian – 2) as well as any inscriptions and details of provenance. Whether by accident or design, the history of these volumes has been erased.

So we find that the extensive water damage that resulted from the British action to extinguish the fire that had been started by the Boxers has been airbrushed out. This is particularly obvious from the last leaf of one of the Chester Beatty volumes –  I reproduce the image from Shane McCausland’s Copying and transmitting, knowledge and nonsense (in Original intentions : essays on production, reproduction, and interpretation in the arts of China, University Press of Florida  2012) alongside the Shanghai Cishu Chubanshe version:

sac250a shcscbs1

The images have also been heavily edited in other ways. For example, instead of reproducing each page as photographed, the black text has been extracted and an identical red frame superimposed on it. This may be because the editors were working from black and white or greyscale images, and wanted to reproduce the appearance of the original. But in the case of one of the Chester Beatty volumes, absurdly, a red text frame has even been printed over an illustration:

sac249 shcscbs2

Most recently, the Bodleian has received visits from Li Honglin 李虹霖, Deputy Director of the National Library of China, and Fang Zijin 方自金, Director of the National Library of China Publishing House. Their aim is to produce a full-size facsimile of all extant volumes of Yongle Dadian, and to that end last week we presented them with high-resolution scans of all 19 volumes in our library. As mentioned above, these are already accessible online, and were included in the Zhonghua Shuju’s printed edition in 1960. We still have a copy of the microfilm from which this edition was made. It was produced for us in the 1950s by Oxford University Press, presumably because at that time we didn’t yet have our own filming studio.

It will be interesting to see how the National Library’s facsimile turns out. I’m on the lookout for airbrushing, as a very prominent inscription which defaces the first leaf of the volume containing juan 14607-14709 (MS.Chin.b.9) leaves its history in no doubt:

“Peking 1900. One volume from a Chinese Encyclopaedia found in the ruins of the Hanlin Library during the Boxer rising, 1900 … which the Chinese burnt in the expectation that its flames would set fire to adjacent British Legation buildings. T. Biggin.”