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.

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.