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Asian Collections: Library of Congress, An Illustrated Guide

HOME  Preface  Introduction  The World of Asian Books  Chinese Beginnings  Tales from the Yunnan Woods
The Diplomat and the Dalai Lama  From the Steppes of Central Asia  The Japanese World  Korean Classics
Homer on the Ganges  White Whales and Bugis Book  Barangays, Friars, and "The Mild Sway of Justice"
The Theravada Tradition  The Southern Mandarins  Modern Asia  East Asia  Inner Asia  South Asia
Southeast Asia and the Pacific  Epilog  Publications on the Asian Collections


View of Green Island, Macau, 1844.
View of Green Island, Macau, 1844. George West was the official artist attached to U.S. Minister Caleb Cushing's delegation during negotiation of the first U.S. treaty with China in 1844. During Cushing's five-month stay in the Portuguese territory of Macau on China's southern coast, West sketched and painted numerous local scenes. In this watercolor, West shows Green Island (Ilha Verde), a prominent feature in Macau's inner harbor and the site of a seventeenthcentury Jesuit monastery, abandoned by the time West saw it. Today, as the result of land reclamation, Green Island is part of the Macau peninsula. (Caleb Cushing Collection, Manuscript Division)

Chinese books played a central role in the development of the Library's Asian language collection during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In fact, the Library's first special unit to take care of Asian holdings, established in 1928, was called the "Division of Chinese Literature." How did the Library's Chinese collection begin?

A good starting point is February 23, 1844, when the USS Brandywine dropped anchor in Macau's harbor, on China's southern coast. The Brandywine's arrival attracted more than usual attention in the Portuguese colony, for aboard was the first U.S. Minister to China, Caleb Cushing. A politician and lawyer, Cushing had been appointed by President Tyler to negotiate the Treaty of Wang hsia, which would give the United States the same trading privileges China had granted Great Britain only two years earlier in the Treaty of Nanking.

Cushing intended to proceed on to Peking but the Chinese insisted he wait in Macau for the arrival of the emperor's representative. During the nearly four months before the Chinese delegation arrived, Cushing set up a legation on Macau's pleasant Praia Grande, overlooking the harbor, and continued his study of China, including both the Chinese and Manchu languages.

Cushing had excellent tutors. One of those was Dr. Peter Parker, an American medical missionary working in Canton. Cushing appointed Parker and another missionary, Elijah Coleman Bridgeman, as joint "Chinese Secretaries" to the mission. A third American missionary, S. Wells Williams, became an unofficial adviser and will reappear later in the story of the Library's Chinese collection. Williams and Bridgeman published a missionary newspaper, The Chinese Repository, still an important resource for scholars and available in the Library's Rare Book and Special Collections Division.

Fan Map Showing China, Japan and Korea
Fan Map Showing China, Japan, and Korea in the 1870s. Apparently designed for gentry-administrators in China, this fan map was probably made in Shanghai in the late nineteenth century. A note on the left side states that, because of the size and shape of the fan, the island of Taiwan was displaced northward. The size of Korea is also exaggerated. The map includes all administrative divisions for mainland China down to the county level and also lists them on the reverse side. It gives less detail for the island of Taiwan, Korea, and Japan. (Miscellaneous Oriental Collection, Geography and Map Division)

An avid bibliophile, Cushing also used his long wait to buy Chinese books, relying on the three missionaries, who in turn appear to have been assisted by Chinese Christian convert, Liang Afa, who was a printer with wide contacts among Canton's booksellers. By the time Cushing had completed the treaty and was ready to leave Macau at the end of August 1844, he had developed an excellent library of Chinese classics. It was this collection, acquired in 1879, that formed part of the original core of the Library's Chinese holdings. In addition, Cushing's personal papers, including his original card catalog, can be found in the Manuscript Division of the Library. The 237 titles (2,547 volumes) that make up the Cushing collection include history, medicine, classics, poetry, fiction, ethics, astronomy, essays, and dictionaries.

It took thirty-five years, however, before the Cushing collection found its way to the Library. In the meantime, another group of Chinese books had the honor of being the first on the Library's shelves. In 1869, America's interest in China was growing, in part as the result of the previous year's visit to Washington, D.C., of an official Chinese delegation led by the former U.S. minister to China, Anson Burlingame, whose personal papers are now in the Library's Manuscript Division. It was also in 1869 that the U.S. legation in Peking received ten works, consisting of some 934 volumes, from the Chinese government as the result of an international exchange system authorized by Congress in 1867. The American diplomat who played a central role during the two years it took the legation in Peking to negotiate the exchange was none other than S. Wells Williams, the former missionary publisher who had assisted Caleb Cushing in 1844. Carefully listed and annotated by Williams, the books included the Confucian classics and works on medicine, botany, language, philosophy, and mathematics, each with the notation: "Presented to the Government of the U.S.A. by His Majesty the Emperor of China, June 1869."

Nung Ching Ts'iuen Shu (Encyclopedia of Agriculture Among the Chinese)
One of the First Books in the Chinese Collection. The Nung Ching Ts'iuen Shu (Encyclopædia of Agriculture Among the Chinese) was one of the ten titles the Library received from China in 1869. These books, part of an exchange program authorized by Congress in 1867, launched the Library's Chinese collection. (Chinese Rare Book Collection, Asian Division.

One example illustrates the quality of the 1869 collection. The Nung Ching Ts'iuen Shu (Encyclopædia of Agriculture Among the Chinese) is the work of a well-known Ming Dynasty scholar-official, Hsü Kuang-ch'i (1562-1633). In 1600, Hsü met the Italian Jesuit missionary Matteo Ricci and three years later was baptized into the Roman Catholic Church under the name "Paul Hsü." Working with Ricci, Hsü became the first Chinese to translate European books into the Chinese language. In particular, the Hsü-Ricci translation of Euclid's Elements boosted the reputation of Western science and of the Jesuits among the Chinese literati. Hsü's important work on agriculture was written between 1625 and 1628 and was presented to the throne by his grandson Matteo Hsü in 1643. Paul Hsü was not, however, simply a channel for Western influence to enter China but was also a cultural bridge between China and Europe. His work on agriculture, dealing with the idealized Chinese view of the farmer as well as the technicalities of farming, became known in Europe and played a role in the development of the French Enlightenment. Through reading Hsü, a group of French intellectual reformers concluded that China was a country where the true worth of agriculture and the farmer was recognized. These intellectuals, the physiocrats, urged European governments to look to the Chinese model in making a number of reforms, including in agriculture. The Library's copy of Hsü's encyclopedia is a later edition, printed in Kweichou province in 1837.

The Eight Immortals of Taoism
The Eight Immortals of Taoism
. Purchased by Dr. Walter Swingle for the Library in the 1920s, this scroll painting portrays a popular Chinese theme, the eight immortals of the Taoist religion. The eight immortals, who represent all levels of Chinese society, embody the ideal of perfect but imaginary happiness. Three of the immortals are historical figures; the other five are characters from old fables and romances. (Chinese Rare Book Collection, Asian Division.

The 1869 exchange volumes from China and the Caleb Cushing collection were to remain the extent of the Chinese collection until the beginning of the twentieth century when William Woodville Rockhill, an American scholar and diplomat who served as Minister to China from 1905 to 1909, sent to the Library the first of what eventually were to be three donations of Chinese, Manchu, Mongolian, and Tibetan books. Rockhill's gifts, 6,000 volumes in 1901 to 1902 and another 6,000 volumes in 1915, were donated in memory of John Russell Young, Librarian of Congress from 1897 to 1899, who had also served as U.S. Minister to China from 1882 to 1885. Rockhill had served as a junior diplomat in Young's legation in Peking during the final year of Young's tenure and was one of the early China experts whom Young had nurtured. A third donation of smaller size but with several special volumes came from Mrs. Rockhill in 1942.

The Imperial Illustrated Encyclopedia of Ancient and Modern Times
The Imperial Illustrated Encyclopedia of Ancient and Modern Times. The Ku chin T'u-shu chi-ch'eng is the largest encyclopedia still existing in the world. In 1908, the Chinese government presented this copy to the Library of Congress after the United States had returned its unused portion of the Boxer Indemnity Fund. The work, completed in 1725 and printed in movable bronze type in 1728, consists of over five thousand Chinese volumes. The Library's copy is a photolithograpic reproduction dating from 1895 to 1898. (Chinese Rare Book Collection, Asian Division)

Not long after Rockhill's first gift, the Chinese government made another important contribution to the Library's holdings when it presented 198 works from its exhibit at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition of 1904. China followed this gift in 1908 with another presentation to the Library in acknowledgment of America's return of its unused portion of the Boxer Indemnity Fund. This gift was a complete set of the Chinese encyclopedia, the Ku chin t'u shu chi-ch'eng, originally printed in 1728. With 5,040 volumes, it was considered to be the world's largest printed encyclopedia.

Building on this solid foundation, three men played key roles in developing the Chinese holdings into a broad, systematic collection during the first half of the twentieth century. Herbert Putnam used his forty years as Librarian of Congress (1899-1939) to expand the Library from a "national" to a "universal" library. Strengthening the Asian collections was one of Putnam's objectives and he initially turned to Walter Tennyson Swingle for help. A botanist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture who dedicated a long career to searching for Asian plants that could be useful in the United States, Swingle also collected tens of thousands of books in Chinese and Japanese for the Library of Congress between 1913 and 1937. After 1928, Swingle's collecting was reinforced and guided by Arthur W. Hummel, the first chief of the Library's Asian Division. Returning after thirteen years as a missionary teacher in China, Hummel had so impressed Putnam that the Librarian offered him the job after their first meeting in late 1927. Hummel, who served until 1954, presided over the growth of the Library's Asian collections to world class status.

Chin-ling t'u-yung
Chin-ling t'u-yung
(Gazetteer of Nanking), 1624. Consisting of forty woodblock scenes of the city of Nanking (under its earlier name of "Chin-ling"), this Ming Dynasty printing includes descriptions and eight-line poems about the city and surrounding region. The book was written by Chu Chih-fan, with drawings by Lu Shou-po. (Chinese Rare Book Collection, Asian Division)

What does the Chinese collection look like? With nearly one million books, manuscripts, and publications on religion, history, literature, and science, the Library's Chinese collection is one of the largest outside of China. Although it is impossible to give justice to this massive collection in a short space, several areas of special significance may be singled out. The Library's collection of Chinese gazetteers or local histories ( fang-chih) is especially strong, in large part due to the importance Walter Swingle put on these works. Containing information on each province's history, geography, economy, folklore, culture, and literary developments, gazetteers serve as good records of change over time because they were frequently revised. A second area of note is the ts'ung-shu (collectanea) collection. These are volumes of reprints that brought together manuscripts, monographs, and reprints of rare works that were no longer available

Finally, Swingle, with the support of Hummel, made a major effort to acquire rare Chinese books on behalf of the Library, especially books from the Ming Dynasty (1368 to 1644 ad). They were still widely available at reasonable prices in the 1920s and 1930s and during the war years. A large number of rare items was added to the collection in 1929 with the acquisition of the library of Wang Shunan, a well-known professor at China's Tsinghua University. Some 1,668 works were purchased from Professor Wang through a $10,000 donation from Andrew Mellon, then Secretary of the Treasury and a member of the Library's Trust Fund Board. The Wang collection included 94 rare palace editions, 276 titles printed during the Ming Dynasty, and a Sung book printed between 1131 and 1162. The broad scope of the Wang acquisition greatly enhanced the Library's growing Chinese collection, filling gaps, especially in the area of Chinese literature.

Hui-chiang chih (Gazetteer of the Muslim Regions)
Hui-chiang chih
(Gazetteer of the Muslim Regions), 1772. In 1758, the Ch'ien-lung emperor sent an army to put down armed resistance by the Khojas in the far western region of Kashgaria. Several officers who led the successful Chinese army wrote this manuscript in 1772, giving their account of the campaign. Illustrated here is an Islamic religious leader, an "akhund" ("a-hun" in Chinese). (Chinese Rare Book Collection, Asian Division)

Today's scholars are the beneficiaries of the foresight of Hummel and the Director of the National Library of China, Dr. T. L. Yüan, who arranged for the temporary transfer of rare books from Peking to the Library of Congress in order to save them from possible destruction during the war. As part of the arrangement, the Library was able to microfilm the books and make the films available to interested libraries. The Chinese rare book collection would have been of limited use, however, if it were not for the efforts of Wang Ch'ung-min, a specialist in rare Chinese works, who compiled a catalog for the Library between 1939 and 1942. Wang's catalog, revised and supplemented by T. L.Yüan, was published by the Library in 1957 and listed 1,777 rare books in the Chinese collection.

One of the characteristics of China's traditional form of government was the use of a rigorous system of examinations to select the scholar-officials who administered the state. The Library has a unique collection of examination papers consisting of thirty-two printed items and thirty manuscripts, the gift of Kiang K'ang-hu. Born into a family of scholar-officials in 1883, Kiang played an active role in Chinese history during the first half of the twentieth century. A scholar and politician, Kiang founded China's Socialist Party in 1912 but soon ran into trouble when his party was banned. Fleeing China, he taught Chinese at the University of California at Berkeley between 1913 and 1920 and worked several summers cataloging the Chinese collection at the Library of Congress. After he returned to China, Kiang's political misfortunes continued, culminating with his service as a senior official in the Japanese-sponsored government of Wang Chingwei and his resulting imprisonment after the Japanese surrender in 1945. Nonetheless, three generations of his family's examination papers can still be found in the Library of Congress.

Keng chi t'u (Pictures of Tilling and Weaving)
Keng chi t'u
(Pictures of Tilling and Weaving, 1696). For many centuries, this famous work on agriculture and sericulture was widely known in China. This is the K'ang-hsi edition, ordered printed by the emperor after he was shown copies of the ancient work during a trip to southern China in 1696. It has forty-six colored woodblock prints, based on the paintings of Chiao Ping-chen (circa 1650- 1726), with a poem for each illustration to be sung by the men and women during work in the fields or at home. (Chinese Rare Book Collection, Asian Division)

In recent years, Western scholars have become more interested in traditional Chinese cartography. Before China adopted a more mathematical system of mapping in the wake of the 1894-1895 Sino-Japanese War, Chinese maps had been distinctly different from their Western cousins, more concerned with aesthetics and an idealized world than with scientific measurement. Chinese maps also reflected administrative priorities, frequently depicting internal waterways or coastal regions and walled cities. World maps tended to represent a Sinocentric view with "barbarians" pushed to the edges of the "Middle Kingdom." Many splendid examples of traditional Chinese cartography can be found in the Geography and Map Division. The Arthur W. Hummel collection consists of some eighty-five scrolls, wall maps, and atlases dating from the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) through the nineteenth century. The Langdon Warner collection has thirty items, including manuscript maps, atlases, and fan maps of China and Korea.

Early Buddhist manuscript from Tun-huang.
Early Buddhist manuscript from Tun-huang
. An important oasis on the eastern edge of the Silk Road, Tun-huang was also a vital center of Buddhism. It was renowned for its Caves of the Thousand Buddhas. In the early years of this century, a walled-up library was opened at Tun-huang and found to contain ancient Buddhist manuscripts, including the oldest known printed book, dated 868 A.D. The Library of Congress has eight scrolls of the Tun-huang type: six from the Tun-huang caves; one from Turfan, to the northwest of Tun-huang; and one that appears to have been preserved in Japan.

In addition to the confrontation with the West in the nineteenth century, the Ch'ing Dynasty faced several internal rebellions. The most serious of these was the T'aiping Rebellion of 1851 to 1864. At the peak of their power, the T'aipings controlled a large area of China and had established a capital at the city of Nanking. Among the Asian Division's unique holdings are ten books that were published by the T'aiping Kingdom that offer some insight into the early years of the movement. These works, published between 1851 and 1853, included volumes of T'aiping edicts, an almanac, a book on T'aiping rituals, religious hymns, a primer for children, a book of children's rhymes, and a bibliography of T'aiping publications.

Another unique collection of nineteenth-century Chinese material came to the Library from the family of William Gamble (1830-1886), an American who went to China in 1858 as a missionary printer. The Gamble collection consists of some 277 Chinese publications and 120 items in English and other languages, dating mainly from the first half of the nineteenth century. The collection includes Christian missionary publications in Chinese and translations of Western works on subjects such as geography, astronomy, and mathematics.

Two important dynasties stand somewhat apart in China's history. The Yüan Dynasty (1280-1368) was Mongolian, and the Ch'ing Dynasty (1644-1912) was Manchu. Both Mongols and Manchus have their own written languages, taken from the Syrian Estrangelo alphabet introduced by Nestorian Christian missionaries in the seventh or eighth century. The Asian Division holds classics in both languages. Many of the approximately eighty Mongolian manuscripts and xylographs are Buddhist religious texts. Of the nonreligious texts, the Ta Yüan i t'ung chih (Great Yüan Gazetteer) is especially important. Kublai Khan ordered the first draft of this book in 1285 and his grandson Timur (Ch'eng-tsung), who ruled from 1284 to 1307, had the work revised. The Library's fourteenth-century manuscript consists of six books bound in ten volumes, each volume with a large seal showing it had been seen by the Yüan emperor in 1303. A preface dated 1303 discusses Kublai Khan's reasons for moving his capital to Peking. Another valuable Mongol work is The Epic Poem of King Geser, printed in 1716, which is one of the classics of Mongolian literature.

Buddhist Sutras from the Thunder Peak Pagoda (975 AD)

Thunder Peak Pagoda
Buddhist Sutras from the Thunder Peak Pagoda
(975 A.D.). The earliest example of Chinese printing in the Library of Congress, this Buddhist invocation sutra was recovered from the foundations of the Thunder Peak Pagoda (Lei-feng t'a) after it collapsed during a storm in 1924. Ch'ien Shu (929-988 AD), prince of the Kingdom of Wu-yüeh, ordered the printing of some eighty-four thousand rolls of the sutra and then had them placed in holes bored in the bricks used to build the seven-story pagoda. The Library's sutra is fragmented and mounted on a more modern scroll. (Chinese Rare Book Collection, Asian Division)

The Manchu collection consists of about four hundred titles covering philosophy, religion, language, literature, politics, and Chinese classics. A Catalogue of Manchu Materials in the Library of Congress: Xylographs, Manuscripts, Archives, compiled by Jun Matsumura, was published by the Toyo Bunko in Tokyo in 1999. The Edward Barrett collection of 114 titles, some wholly in Manchu and others in Manchu and Chinese, provides valuable insight into the economic affairs of the Ch'ing Dynasty. It contains reports to the throne on the condition of the treasury, on the types and quality of valuables received and stored in the palace, on rental income from imperial lands, and on the distribution of payments to Manchu and Mongol bannermen (soldiers).

Eighteenth Century Scroll Map
Eighteenth-Century Chinese Scroll Map
. This manuscript map of China's coastal defenses covers the entire coastline, from Manchuria in the north to Hainan Island in the south. About nine meters when fully unrolled, the map is oriented with north to the right. It uses pictorial symbols, with military installations shown as drawings of forts. Shown here on the island is the walled city of Macau, under Portuguese administration. (Hummel Collection, Geography and Map Division

HOME  Preface  Introduction  The World of Asian Books  Chinese Beginnings  Tales from the Yunnan Woods
The Diplomat and the Dalai Lama  From the Steppes of Central Asia  The Japanese World  Korean Classics
Homer on the Ganges  White Whales and Bugis Book  Barangays, Friars, and "The Mild Sway of Justice"
The Theravada Tradition  The Southern Mandarins  Modern Asia  East Asia  Inner Asia  South Asia
Southeast Asia and the Pacific  Epilog  Publications on the Asian Collections

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( August 20, 2012 )
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