Sunday, 25 December 2011
Exhibition of Rare Books and Special Collections from the National Library of China
"Exhibition of Rare Books and Special Collections from the National Library of China" at HK Central Library
Precious ancient rare books and special collections from the National Library of China (NLC), which has the world's largest collection of Chinese documents, will be on display from December 9 to January 15 at the Exhibition Gallery of the Hong Kong Central Library (HKCL).
Items on display at the "Exhibition of Rare Books and Special Collections from the National Library of China" include 12 original pieces such as a "Zhaocheng Jin Zang" (Zhaocheng Jin Tripitaka) scroll from the Jin dynasty; "Shizhu Zhai Shuhua Pu" (The Ten Bamboo Studio Manual of Calligraphy and Paintings), "Zhang Shenzhi Xiansheng Zheng Bei Xixiang Miben" (Story of the Western Chamber Revised by Zhang Shenzhi), "Shuo Wen Jie Zi" (Annotations of Chinese Characters) and "Yuanqu Xuan Tu" (Illustrations from Selected Yuan Dramas) from the Ming dynasty; "Yuzhi Guwen Yuanjian" (Anthology of Ancient Essays, Imperial Edition) from the Qing dynasty; and a palm-leaf manuscript of "Narrative Verses of Sariputta from the Abhidhamma-Pitaka" in Dai script from the 19th century.
Officiating at the opening ceremony (December 8) at the HKCL were the Secretary for Home Affairs, Mr Tsang Tak-sing; the former Vice Minister of Culture and Director of the NLC, Mr Zhou Heping; the Deputy Director of the Liaison Office of the Central People's Government in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR), Mr Li Gang; the Deputy Director-General of the Department of Publicity, Cultural and Sports Affairs of the Liaison Office of the Central People's Government in the HKSAR, Mr Liu Hanqi; the Chairman of the Public Libraries Advisory Committee, Professor John Leong; and the Director of Leisure and Cultural Services, Mrs Betty Fung.
"Yudi Tu" (Map of Imperial Territories), one of the finest extant samples of Ming maps to show political and administrative divisions, is one of exhibits on display at the "Exhibition of Rare Books and Special Collections from the National Library of China".
The exhibition, jointly presented by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department and the NLC and organised by the Hong Kong Public Libraries, is one of the key events to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the HKCL. It aims to display the rich and varied cultural heritage of China and the NLC's contributions in heritage conservation and restoration.
The 42 exhibits on display are some of the precious treasures in the NLC's vast holdings. They consist of "shanben" (rare books), Dunhuang documents, ancient maps and atlases, epigraphical and pictorial rubbings and texts and illustrations from China's ethnic minorities, and feature a wide spectrum of disciplines ranging from religion, literature, geography and medicine to art and technology of ancient China.
"Shanben" refers to ancient books with high heritage, artistic and academic value. The original pieces on display include the precious surviving set of "Zhaocheng Jin Zang" (Zhaocheng Jin Tripitaka) from the Jin dynasty; "Shizhu Zhai Shuhua Pu" (The Ten Bamboo Studio Manual of Calligraphy and Paintings), which is regarded as the earliest colour painting manual in China; the first genuine Chinese dictionary, "Shuo Wen Jie Zi" (Annotations of Chinese Characters); "Zhang Shenzhi Xiansheng Zheng Bei Xixiang Miben" (Story of the Western Chamber Revised by Zhang Shenzhi), the artworks of which represent the distinctive woodblock printing techniques of China in the 17th century; "Yuanqu Xuan Tu" (Illustrations from Selected Yuan Dramas) of the Ming dynasty, a significant document for research on Yuan plays; and "Yuzhi Guwen Yuanjian" (Anthology of Ancient Essays, Imperial Edition) from the Qing dynasty, featuring a comprehensive anthology of classical prose literature from ancient times to the Song dynasty.
Other "shanben" original pieces are "Xinbian Mulian Jiumu Quanshan Xiwen" (New Compilation of the Play Scripts about Mulian Rescuing His Mother), "Lidai Minggong Huapu" (Manual of Paintings by Famous Masters of Successive Periods) from the Ming dynasty and "Lingyange Gongchen Tu" (Portraits of Meritorious Officials from the Lingyan Pavilion) from the Qing dynasty. Some of other highlights in this collection include a large-scale encyclopaedia, "Yongle Dadian" (Yongle Encyclopaedia); "Tiangong Kaiwu" (The Exploitation of Nature Works), which has been named as one of the most important works on science and technology in the cultural history of China; "Siku Quanshu" (Complete Library of Four Treasuries), a set of books that is a comprehensive summary of Chinese ancient culture; "Shengping Shu Lianpu" (Albums of Beijing Opera Characters from the Shengping Bureau) from the Qing dynasty featuring all actors in the Beijing opera; and the earliest classic work on traditional Chinese medicine, "Huangdi Neijing Suwen" (Medical Classic of the Emperor Huangdi).
The "Zhaocheng Jin Zang" (Zhaocheng Jin Tripitaka) scroll from the Jin dynasty is one of the originals on display at the "Exhibition of Rare Books and Special Collections from the National Library of China".
Dunhuang documents are ancient literature found in Dunhuang and other sites in China and Central Asia. The manuscripts were mainly official documents, private letters, religious canons, Chinese classic literature and non-Chinese documents. The exhibition showcases "Lao Zi Yi Shu" (Commentary of Dao De Jing), "Bian Wang Lun" and "The Diamond Prajna-Paramita Sutra" from the Tang dynasty.
Ancient Chinese cartography has a long history. The earliest mention of a Chinese city map dates back to the 11th century BC during the early years of the Western Zhou dynasty. In ancient China, maps functioned as the territorial emblems of a state and provided concrete proof of territorial rights. They occupied a hallowed spiritual position and were also utilised for military purposes. Ancient maps also presented the layouts of famous scenic spots and the architectural plans of imperial gardens and palaces. "Yudi Tu" (Map of Imperial Territories), one of the finest extant samples of Ming maps to show political and administrative divisions, and "Bishu Shanzhuang Quantu" (Full Map of the Mountain Resort) from the Qing dynasty, featuring the imperial resort, are the epitome of this collection.
The ancient Chinese utilised the plastrons or carapaces of turtles, bones of animals, bronze, stone and other materials for engraving, incising or writing inscriptions. Rubbing is a reproduction technique achieved by placing a piece of paper or a similar material on the texts or graphics of an engraved or carved subject and making an ink print by means of rubbing. The prints, known as "taben" (rubbing edition), are of high artistic and documentary value as they are able to perfectly record the contents of the original items.
"Zhang Shenzhi Xiansheng Zheng Bei Xixiang Miben" (Story of the Western Chamber Revised by Zhang Shenzhi), which represents the distinctive woodblock printing techniques of China, is one of the originals on display at the "Exhibition of Rare Books and Special Collections from the National Library of China".
The rubbing exhibits include "Yinxin Shiwu Tushuo" (Illustrations of the Yinxin Stone Dwelling), an original work from the Qing dynasty; "Han Junche Huaxiang" (Illustration of a Han Dynasty Procession), which vividly portrays an important official seated in a canopied chariot; "Shence Jun Bei" (Inscription to Commemorate the Emperor's Inspection Tour to the Left-Shen-Ce Forces), a rubbing edition on the writings of the great calligrapher Liu Gongquan of the Tang dynasty; and "Lanting Xiuxi Tu" (Illustration of the Spring Purification Gathering at the Orchid Pavilion), which portrays the graceful scene of literatus Wang Xizhi having a gathering with friends.
China is a unified nation in which different ethnic groups contributed to the establishment of a splendid civilisation. The ancient scripts show the great heritage and research value in ancient language, philology, religion, literature, art, history, archaeology, astronomy, calendrical studies and medicine of these ethnic groups. Exhibits in this collection include documents in the Dai, Mongolian, Manchu, Tibetan, Sanskrit, Yi, Tangut and Dongba scripts, among which "Imperial Patent of Nobility to the Parents of Yulin" (in Manchu and Chinese scripts) from the Qing dynasty and "Narrative Verses of Sariputta from the Abhidhamma-Pitaka" (in Dai script) from the 19th century are the originals. Not to be missed are "Annals of the Creation", written in colour Dongba symbols on the ancient Naxi people's view of nature and the origins of human beings, and "Twenty-One Hymns to the Rescuer Mother of Buddhas" written in Manchu, Tibetan, Mongolian and Chinese scripts in the Qing dynasty.
To complement the exhibition, the HKCL has organised two subject talks. The first one, entitled "Preservation of Ancient Books to Sustain Civilisation: Preservation and Conservation of Ancient Chinese Books and Records and the Implementation Project", will be held at 9 December ). The Director of the NLC and Director of the National Centre for Preservation and Conservation of Ancient Books, Mr Zhou Heping, will share his views on conservation of rare documents. The other talk, entitled "Bastions of Civilisation: Rare Books and Special Collections from the National Library of China and Stories Behind the Exhibits", hosted by the Director of the Ancient Books Library of the NLC, Ms Chen Hongyan, will be held on December 10 (Saturday). Both talks, to be conducted in Putonghua, will be held at the Lecture Theatre of the HKCL.
Catalogue of this exhibition
Following a nice and inspiring review of this book on Amazon.co.uk
This exhibition catalogue is a must have item for anyone who has a serious interest in China's rich textual tradition. I have already put Visible Traces on my Christmas wish list in hopes that my relatives, who have no idea why I have been studying Chinese literature and history all these years, will break down and give me something related to my life's work. And I haven't written a wish list in ages, that's how much I want a copy of this on my bookshelf. And if they don't give me a copy, I'll give one to myself as a gift once I finish my PhD.
If you didn't have an opportunity to see these rare books, maps and artefacts when they were on display in New York or Los Angeles, or if you don't feel like buying a plane ticket to visit the National Library of China in Beijing, this catalogue is an economical way to savor what you missed. The editorial review does a wonderful job of summarizing the contents, so I won't repeat that. The color photography certainly does justice to the original works. I enjoyed seeing the photographs of a 1621 manuscript on Tang poetry because it's connected to my own research, but there is something in this volume for anyone who loves Chinese culture. The reader will find scrolls of Buddhist sutras, delicate drawings of gentlemen playing the game of go, specialist monographs on the varieties of crysanthemums, illustrated manuals on goldfish, albums of Beijing opera characters, oracle bones, pictorial rubbings and multi-color maps of the Chinese empire, and more.
For the specialist the bibliography is detailed enough to start tracking down other extant copies of the items in the exhibition as well as general information to be found in secondary sources.
That said, why didn't I rate this book a 5? Only a couple reasons. Some sections of maps and charts have been magnified, and are less distinct than their smaller scale originals, which some readers will find frustrating. Every reader will have a different reason why they love this book. I wanted to be able to see the whole 1621 poetry collection. A crysanthemum connoisseur will want to see every flower illustration. Map lovers will wish that all the maps had been printed. In other words, every one will wish the book were bigger and that it covered his or her interest in more detail (even at the expense of someone else's). At 337 pages, however, it's already a large volume. After savoring each page, you may find yourself falling for some new aspect of Chinese culture and you'll realize you may have to buy that plane ticket to China after all. Visible Traces will whet your appetite, but it won't quench your thirst, which is fine because no one volume could ever contain all the glories of China's print culture. DO NOT show this catalogue to your kids, unless you are happy for them to fall in love with Chinese history and art and study for PhDs instead of becoming a lawyer or getting an MBA.