Exploring the Qing Dynasty

Exploring the Qing Dynasty
National Library Collections
Talks / Lecture

collection item - illustration of a chinese village
Recording date: 
21 January 2016

Nathan Woolley, curator of Celestial Empire, explores life under the Qing dynasty through the collections of the National Library of Australia and the National Library of China.

 
Nathan Woolley is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Australian Centre on China in the World, within the ANU College of Asia and the Pacific. His research focusses on the role of religion in regional Chinese history.
 
Supported by the ANU Australian Centre on China in the World.
Transcript

Transcript for Exploring the Qing Dynasty through National Library Collections

Speakers: Cathy Pilgrim (C), Dr Nathan Woolley (N)

Location: National Library of Australia

Date: 21/01/2016

C:         Good evening, everyone. It’s wonderful to see so many of you here this evening and that the rain’s stopped. I hope you got in without getting wet. Welcome to the National Library of Australia. My name’s Cathy Pilgrim and I’m the Library’s Assistant Director-General of the Executive and Public Programs Division.

As we begin tonight I’d like to acknowledge the traditional owners of this land, I thank their elders past and present for caring for this land we are now privileged to call home.

Tonight is the first in a series of lectures we are presenting in partnership with the Australian National University’s Centre on China and the World as part of our public programming for the Celestial Empire: Life in China, 1644 to 1911 exhibition. I hope you’ve all had a chance to see it. Celestial Empire and its public programs would not be possible without the support of a tremendous group of partners. It has been an extraordinary collaboration between government, commercial partners and also individual donors. First and foremost I need to thank the National Library of China for sharing its extraordinary collection with us and with all of you. I hope you will take the opportunity if you haven’t seen it already or even if you want to see it again as the exhibition’s open tonight through until 8:00. I’d also like to acknowledge our partners, Shell in Australia, Seven Network, Wander One, Optus Singtel, Huawei, Cathay Pacific, TFE Hotels and our event partners, ANU Centre on China and the World and Asia Society Australia for their generosity. I also thank our government partners, the Australian Government, for support through the National Collecting Institutions Touring Outreach Program and the Australia China Council and the ACT Government through its special event fund. So that’s the end of all the plugs you’ll be pleased to know.

This evening I’m delighted to be introducing Dr Nathan Woolley, who will be exploring the Qing dynasty through items held in the Library’s collections. Since 2013 Nathan has been a postdoctoral fellow at the Australian Centre on China and the World at the ANU. His research interests are Chinese religion, Chinese political and intellectual history, traditional Chinese historiography and national and regional identity in northeast Asia. Nathan has also been working with us here at the Library since 2013 to curate the Celestial Empire exhibition. As well as writing the book accompanying the exhibition Nathan has had his academic research published in scholarly journals. He has presented papers at conferences in Australia and around the world such as the International Conference for Young Scholars of Chinese Medieval History. As well as assessing items from the National Library of China for inclusion in the exhibition Nathan has spent a significant amount of time exploring items from the Qing dynasty that we hold in our own collections. The National Library houses the largest and most actively developing research resource on Asia in Australia holding more than half a million volumes. Our Chinese collection is also the largest in Australia focusing primarily on modern and contemporary China. For the Celestial Empire exhibition Nathan has identified rare items that provide a unique view of early impressions of China from the west. So please join me in welcoming Dr Nathan Woolley.

Applause

N:        Thank you, Cathy, for that kind introduction and thank you all for coming here this evening especially on an evening of unpredictable weather. As Kathy mentioned I’ve been working here at the National Library of Australia for the past year and a half. During this time I’ve had the opportunity to delve deeper into the collections we have here, collections which relate to the history of China, and I’ve also been very privileged to have the opportunity to travel to the National Library of China on a number of occasions to engage with the staff there and work with them on developing the exhibition which is now on display downstairs.

I should also note that my entire career in Chinese studies has been very closely linked to both institutions. Starting Chinese studies at the Australian National University it is very soon that one learns that one is very close to the most important resource in Australia for this field of study. Also the first time I went to China I had the opportunity to visit the National Library of China and it’s a place I’ve been revisiting over many years and through this exhibition I have gained access to many of the rooms in that building I never thought I would have the opportunity to see and I’ll be showing you some of those rooms a bit later on.

I very much want to demonstrate the diversity of the materials that we’ve attempted to display in the exhibition downstairs. As you’ll see from the subtitle of the exhibition, Life in China, we have really endeavoured to show life in China from a range of different perspectives and a range of different levels in society. And I’d like to share with you first a few images which you can see in the exhibition which immediately demonstrate some of the differences we have and the diversity in cultures we have in China. So the first book that I’d like to show you just before we get into the main body of the presentation I have this evening is this book which dates to the late 17th century. It’s called Portraits of the Lingyan Pavilion. The Lingyan Pavilion was a pavilion which was constructed in the Tang dynasty in the seventh century to commemorate 26 men who were important in the foundation of the Tang dynasty. In succeeding dynasties they were upheld as key and moral exemplars for how men can serve the state. They also have the second Tang emperor, Tang Taizong of [unclear]. He was ... he’s regarded as the most among the emperors of the Tang dynasty and you’d probably also be aware that the Tang dynasty’s one of the high ages of Chinese culture.

So this work, these paintings which were put in this pavilion of these 26 generals was very ... it was destroyed very early but throughout the ages people have sought to reinvent the images to again provide moral exemplars for people living in the modern times. So this book came out in 1668. It’s only a couple of decades after the founding of the Qing dynasty. It has been suggested that it was put together as a ... encouragement for all people under the Qing to serve the new dynasty and it has discussions of each of the generals and officials and the key roles they had in the state and also takes poetry from a Tang dynasty poet putting them all in context. But what I would like to show you here tonight is some of the fine level of detail that we can see on some of these ... this edition. This edition of course is very rare, it’s been lent to us by the National Library of China but in any history of illustrated print culture in China this book is always included.

Little bit hard to see, so on the second image I thought I might zoom in a little bit and you can see some of the final detail. Some places to look are on the armour of this particular figure. This particular figure is Yuchi Gong, is an important Tang dynasty general but also you can see he has a beast on his epaulette. But also throughout his clothing ... throughout his facial expressions and his facial hair it really demonstrates the level of skill which was available ... sorry was available at that period after the effervescence of print culture under the Ming dynasty was still earlier than Qing. And also looking on the other page you can see how very well ... preserves the fine calligraphy so this would have been written up by somebody and then wood block carvers would have carved it on wood for preparation in this print production.

The second book I want to show you is a very different type of edition. This book ... I’m sorry, this screen here is fading out and that was ... oh I’m still there, okay, good ... this edition is a very different type of book for a very different type of audience. It was ... it’s called Illustrated Tales of Retribution for Drowning Daughters so it’s a book that was published by officials to encourage the populace not to engage in female infanticide. And it has a range of different stories of all the bad things that will happen to you if you kill female infants. But you can see the images are quite different because it’s aimed at a quite different audience. They’re somewhat chunkier, somewhat livelier. In many ways there’s sort of more movement but this of course was gauged to people who will be flicking through this book to gain moral encouragement in their everyday lives. This image in fact shows a man who’s about to be led to his execution which is more recompense for his parents killing some of his sisters. I think it’s ... you can see how the wind blows the parasol above the man riding the horse. It very much exemplifies the possibilities that are even possible in these very low-level productions.

To gain a better understanding of what’s possible between these two I want to show two more images. This is an image from the original edition of the most famous book probably in all Chinese culture. This is the Dream of Red Chamber. It circulated in manuscript form for many years and was first printed in 1791 and when it appeared it appeared with these very fine illustrations. Again the National Library of China has very kindly lent us an original edition. The picture here is Lin Daiyu. She is one of the three cousins who form the three central characters in this very dense and complicated novel.

But I’ll put next to it this image. This is a book which was produced twenty years later. This is from the collection of the National Library of Ch ... of Australia so National Library ... National Library of China on the left, National Library of Australia on the right. Immediately you can see that it is a reproduction of the initial image but immediately you can also see that the artisan who produced it was working with different goals, let’s say. One’s first impression might be that it is not as detailed, not as finely cut. Perhaps he didn’t have the tools available to him that the original person has or perhaps he deals with a different audience originally.

Just to pick up some of the details which are quite obviously different, if you come down to the lattice work in the front you can see the original edition makes an attempt to show it three-dimensionally whereas that one’s ... that’s two-dimensional. See the tree? I suppose it ... the branches. Very fine on the left-hand side but very chunky, more cartoonlike on the right. But there’s also another ... among the other differences there’s also another difference which is sort of I believe very telling of what the artist’s background was. If you look at the hair of the two ladies who are depicted you’ll find on the one on the left the hair is very close to the left. The one on the left ... oh sorry, on the right hand, the artist who’s done redone it has added the bun which people ... which married women would normally have. That would seem to suggest that this was a ... experienced artisan who was familiar with carving books and he just added what he would normally add. And I’ll show you another image from the book I just showed you a minute ago. You can see that the lady on the bed who’s actually being attacked by four of her daughters who she killed ... as ghosts ... but you can see that again she has that small bun at the back of the head which would suggest that artisans would generally add this to popular books which were populating all levels of society.

So when we look at these two books, though, these two images, we can realise that they are very much speaking to different audiences and because they’re speaking to different audiences they’re speaking to different types of collectors. And so in traditional China they have this expression of the four threats to books. These can be expressed in different ways, these can be ... but they’re often expressed to be fire, flood, vermin and war. If a book has survived these four threats to its existence perhaps it’s entered some collection and through the decades, through the centuries it would have entered a major library. And through the vicissitudes of history the book on the left and to the National Library of China through the interests of the collectors who appropriated it and the one on the right entered a very different type of collection which ended up here at the National Library of Australia. So in my talk this evening I want to investigate some of the collections which have been important in putting together the exhibition we have downstairs today. So while I’ve been introducing some general materials from local libraries I really want to focus on two collections from each library just to give an indication of how it is that these major libraries have come to acquire these rare materials which go back centuries.

So these are the two institutions which have come together for this exhibition downstairs. We have one of the branches of the National Library of China on the left and of course up here on the right. So first I want to have a look a little bit at the National Library of China. Fittingly for our exhibition on the Qing dynasty the National Library of China was first founded in the dying years of the Qing dynasty in 1908. It was founded in the Metropolitan Library, the … was its original name and it was a part of educational reforms that the Qing dynasty was engaged in. You’d be aware that the 19th century, early 20th century was a very difficult time for the Qing dynasty, they were seeking ways to modernise. As a part of this they were reforming the education system and public institutions and so the newly formed Ministry of Education asked the courts to found this library and so it was duly formed. However after its formation in 1908 it didn’t quite get to open its doors before the Xinhai revolution in 1911. It only opened its doors in 1912.

But the image we can see here is in fact a later institution, a later building that was ... only housed the collections from the 1930s. And the history of the Library of China through the 20th century is in some ways a potted history of China of that period and I’ll just trace that very quickly for us just so we can get an understanding of how different collections have entered the National Library of China. So after it was named the Metropolitan Library in 1908 it became National Beiping Library in 1928. This was following the northern exhibition of the KMT, the nationalist forces, who defeated the warlords of the north, reunified China and formed the capital at Nanjing. Because the capital’s at Nanjing ... Beijing was renamed Beiping, ‘jing’ meaning capital. And then three years later this branch of the National Library of China was completed and the collection moved here.

I’ve just actually included this very stunning image I found during my research for this presentation. Anybody who’s been to this particular library will immediately recognise this reading. This is a picture from the 1950s. The décor has changed a little bit but actually not all that much, I was only there ... I was there three years ago as an academic and it’s ... looked very much like this which is actually very reassuring so quite a ... adventure, was going to the National Library of China. But during the 1940s you’d be aware that the Japanese occupied part of China so in 1942 it was named Beijing Library for the public government, 1945 it was changed back to the Beiping government when Nanjing became the capital again. Once the founding of the People’s Republic it stayed as Beijing Library but then became the National Collecting Library so all publications printed in China had to go there. After that in 1987 they moved to this new building. This is actually outside the traditional walls of the city out in an area called Beixiahuan.

But soon after this building was completed the library was renamed and it was renamed the National Library of China, the name we have today. And more recently they have completed this building just north of the building in the previous picture. And if you go inside this building it’s quite astounding. They receive 12,000 visitors every day. It’s a very busy place. It takes some learning to work out on the complexities of all the different collections they have there and all the different rooms. This is actually the main reading room looking from down on high. Just on your average day. I might note also that the three architectural styles of the library, of the three branches of the library are also very indicative of the different cultural ties that have been through China in the 20th century.

Now when the Library was first formed because it was formed by the national government in 1908 the foundational libraries which went into the National Library of China included many important collections of the Chinese state so we had the Library of the Grand Secretariat of the Qing dynasty which is the national central government ... central government organ. We also had the libraries of the Hanlin Academy, the library of the Imperial Academy, two very major institutions of learning in the capital. Also they had the remnants of the imperial collections of the Southern Song dynasty and also of the Ming dynasty. These I believe were protected through being ... existing in other imperial collections over the years.

But more importantly for the exhibition we have downstairs I would like to touch on some of the more everyday types of materials because these are the materials and the collections very much informed the exhibition we have downstairs. So of the two collections I really want to focus on to introduce the National Library of China and the diversity of its collections. The first is the Yangshi Lei archives. Now the Lei family, this was a family which were the imperial architects for the imperial court of the Qing dynasty over seven generations. Nine men in the family served the imperial court in developing plans for the renovations and the buildings of many places which are now iconic in our vision of China, for example they’re responsible for renovating the imperial city, the forbidden city, they built many of the Qing tombs, they were also responsible for the construction of what is now known as the Summer Palace and the old Summer Palace to the northwest of the city. And because the family were the imperial architects for this long period of time of course all the documents were kept in the family and so they were all held in building of the ... actually in three different rooms of the family. But of course when the end of the Qing rolled around they had faced serious difficulties because they couldn't necessarily adjust to new architectural styles and demands. But before I get to how the collections entered the Library ... the National Library of China, I’ll just introduce one or two of the documents.

So this is a unique document we have downstairs, I’ll zoom in in a minute but I just want to give you some idea of its scale, it’s 6m long. What I love about this document is that while it does show the imperial city it is a working document, it is a worker’s document indeed. It shows preparations for the wedding of the Guangzu Emperor in 1889 so it ... while it is ... I think it’s quite attractive, its main purpose isn’t to be pretty, its main purpose is to give people an indication of where people should stand, where tents should be set up, where all the preparations for the wedding ceremony should be stood. It also very carefully notes the different ... the d ... the distances between all the gates in the palace. Of course this gives you an indication of how long it would take to walk from one to the other so they can plan for the length of the ceremony. And we just zoom in a little bit. Oh I put this slide here just to show you.

It’s always a very difficult document to see. This is an attempt to be made from the National Library of China to have a look at the scroll, I think this is only two-thirds of it. Here we can see it zoomed in a little bit and you can see that while it is very finely drawn in some places and you can see that’s the ... all the buildings face inwards so you get a ... very much a perspective of what the building’s going to look like as you pass through it but you can also see there’s changes to the document, there’s a little white bit of paper stuck on the top to show you where a tent should be set up, there are a little annotations all over it so the people who are making these preparations can refer to it throughout the process. And also there are ink smudges. You can see it’s very much a document that was used throughout the preparations.

This is another very interesting document and again it takes an imperial site and brings it back to a human scale. So this is the tomb of the Shen-fung emperor built in the 19th century. Just to give you some indication of course has very good feng shui, we have the mountains behind and the river flowing in front, that’s what you require, and the two arms of the mountain coming around to embrace the tomb. But again if we zoom in we discover it’s a very, very practical document, it measures all the sizes of many of the objects which are going to be placed inside the tomb. These tombs of course were places where rituals were performed by surviving members of the imperial family so again it provides material for people who were engaging with the site. So it doesn’t engage with it as you would a normal individual who just receives ... who’s influenced by the awe of the site on approach, this is people who were working inside it and again I think it’s very useful for bringing all these sites down to ... onto a human scale.

And one of the more stunning objects from this collection that we have downstairs is this design for a tent. And again one of the fascinating things about these documents is they weren’t designed to last, they were produced for a purpose but they weren’t meant to last until today necessarily. These documents are very, very thin, they’re very, very fine, they’re very difficult to work with. We’re very lucky to have colleagues from the National Library of China who worked with our staff here in preparing them for the exhibition but they were difficult because they’re such fine documents. But it just goes to show the amount of detail that went into the preparations for different events that were held in the Imperial Palace.

Now when the Qing dynasty ended there was of course no more need for imperial architects. The Lei family found it difficult to adapt to new architectural styles and so slowly over time many of these materials found their way into bookshops in Peking. They found their way onto the open market. Of course slowly over time different parts of the collection dissipated. I’ve read this described as ‘many of the sons of the Lei family were unfilial’, that’s how they ended up in the market. But in any case they ended up on the market. When this was discovered of course over several years then the people from the National Library of China ... what was then Beiping Library ... made the effort to collect many of the materials as they could and went to the Lei family and secured the others. But many of the materials have ended up elsewhere, there’s some in Tianjin, there is some in Japan, there’s some at Cornell University but the major collection ... the major ... the main body of this collection is now housed at the National Library of China. Because it’s such an important collection for understanding architecture and architectural design of the Qing dynasty it was in fact registered on the Memory of the World Register with UNESCO in 2007.

So that’s one collection. Another collection which has proven of great use to me, serendipitously, is the collection that was put together by this man. Now if you have the opportunity you’ll find that many of the books we have, the illustrated books that we’ve borrowed from China, their call number is preceded by the letters XD. I originally didn’t know what this was but I found out XD stands for Xidi. XD is the courtesy name of Zheng Zhenduo. Zheng Zhenduo was a major figure in literary circles in the 20th century China. He was a major person behind pushing literary reform. You may be aware that after the end of the Qing dynasty there was a push to produce in China a new type of literature which would be available to the main body of people so they wanted to abandon the language of the past and right in a new vernacular style that was going to be more accessible. There were a large number of journals that were put out, different societies were established all to popularise and provide models for others.

One person who was very active was Zheng Zhenduo. He was a writer himself, he wrote some novels, some poetry but his main body of work is actually on the history of Chinese literature. Another part of his legacy is actually encouraging others, he was a very important editor of literary journals and encouraged a large number of important figures known to Chinese literature history today. He wrote on plate but he also wrote about Chinese literary history in order to provide a guide to what had happened in the past so people can know what the possibilities were. Importantly for the exhibition we have here is that he also wrote a history of Chinese illustrated works. I actually referred to this work in preparation for the exhibition and it only dawned on me very, very recently that I was probably looking at the same books he was looking at when he wrote it back in the 1940s.

Zheng Zhenduo spent the war years in China and during that time there was a large number of books opening onto the ... going onto the open market and so he built up over this time in the 1930s, 1940s a very large collection of important Chinese works. After the founding of the People’s Republic he had important positions in the Ministry of Culture but he died in a plane crash in 1958. After he died his ... according to his wishes his wife donated all his collections to the state and that is how the Zheng Zhenduo Collection, Xidi Collection ended up in the National Library of China.

One interesting story which I’ll relate now and it will relate to another part of my talk at the end of the presentation is that I came across a story of him acquiring one of the books we have downstairs. This is just some of the other ... some of the items in his collection. Just to give you a feel for works that he was interested in but this is one where we have a little bit of knowledge about how he acquired it. This is a very rare edition that dates from the early Qing dynasty. Zheng Zhenduo, he was very ... it’s a highly influential work because it was done by a painter, it was done by a painter who was trying to produce work for the printing world and so I often find these images a little bit ... takes a little bit of time to adjust to but when you do adjust you find there’s actually very dramatic images of scenery in China so he’s bringing his knowledge of Chinese painting and trying to introduce it to the printed page. This work proved to be very influential in China in later representations of scenery and indeed in Japan and Korea where it’s highly prized.

Now Zheng Zhenduo knew of this and he wanted to acquire one. He found a friend had one in the 1940s, he wanted to acquire it from that friend but he found his friend had already promised to a Japanese gentleman so he lost that edition. Then he found another copy in the hands of another friend and how he acquired it was he swapped it. What he swapped it for were books relating to the Taiping rebellion which we’ll return to in a minute. A recent researcher interestingly has done work on this original edition of this work and says there are only four editions left in the world and so we shouldn’t be surprised to find that there’s one in Anhui, where it was originally done, one in the National Library of China ... the one which belongs to Zheng Zhenduo which we have downstairs ... one in a Japanese private collection and one at Harvard. But it is a very stunning dramatic collection of images but again it does take your eye a little while to adjust, to work out exactly what’s going on and you realise just how bold some of the images are.

Just to ... slightly more about the author of this work so you can get a little bit of understanding of how influential he was, he also did this work. It was one or two years earlier. It’s a book which has illustrations to poetry from the fifth century BC, very influential collection of poetry written by a loyalist. It was printed in 1645 just as the Qing dynasty was forming and the Qing troops were conquering the state. It has been suggested that Xiao Yuncong, the author of the work, in printing it was making a statement. While you would not want to criticise the Qing dynasty directly ‘cause you would lose your head you could make indirect statements about where you stood politically. This is a work by the most famous loyalist in all Chinese history, Qu Yuan. The poems, he added his own images to it and he printed it in 1645 as the conquest was going on. He never served the Qing state, he’d been unsuccessful in the examinations under the Ming dynasty. He remained friends with many other people who did serve the Qing but he himself remained a Ming loyalist to his death and never chose to receive emolument from the state. This image actually gives you a little bit more of an indication. You can see how he’s taken some of his dramatic scenery and worked it into these very imaginative visions of the other world to illustrate the very dramatic poetry that is Qu Yuan’s.

But now I’d like to come to the collections at the National Library of Australia and again many of the important works we have here in our collections have been brought to the National Library of Australia through the collections of others. So back in the 1950s and ‘60s this was sort of the last great period of the construction of Chinese collections around the world. Men who had been ... mostly men ... who had been collecting books in China in the 1920s and ‘30s were retiring and they were passing some of their collections to institutions around the world. So just to get to that I do want to emphasise that we do have very ... again here at the National Library of Australia we do have very rare elite editions of very prized books. This is a very prized book. It’s printed possibly with Ming blocks under the Qing dynasty, done by a painter, you can see the style’s very different. Oddly the collection we have here has been western-bound. That does some damage to the integrity of the work but it has actually preserved the work very well, you can see the pages are very well preserved. No foxing, very clean.

Here I’ll just explain what the picture is. A woman threatens to cut off her nose so that she doesn’t have to remarry. It’s all about what women should be doing, protecting the honour of their men and families. That’s why it’s called biographies of women, to provide these different moral exemplars. Anyway this is here at the National Library of Australia. This is another work we have here. Just briefly, I gave a radio interview about this work very, very recently and a week later I received an email from an American academic wanting to know more. This is a very rare edition, possibly only two or three examples of it surviving in the world and just coincidentally those two examples are at the National Library of China and the National Library of Australia. They actually offered us their example when I came back here. I was quite surprised that we found one here and I said no, thank you very much, we’ll use ours.

Again lots of other interesting illustrations from under the Qing dynasty. It’s not always clear how these entered the collections and I’d also note that we have a very fine collection of trade paintings. It’s a very complex story, perhaps for another time but I want I want to get to is two of the collections we have here at the National Library of Australia. The first one I’ll talk about very briefly is the Walter Simon Collection. Now the Walter Simon Collection here at the National Library of Australia consists of Chinese, Japanese, Manchu, Tibetan Sanskrit materials and English. Walter Simon, of course he himself was a German academic. Because he was so proficient in some of these languages he was actually a visiting librarian in Peking, he helped Chinese people in 1930s to catalogue some of the Manchu materials that were held at the Palace Museum at the National Library of China. But when he retired from the University of London in the 1960s he sold some of his collections to the National Library of Australia and after he passed away the remainder of his collection was donated to the Library by his son who was by then Professor of Chinese at the University of Melbourne.

What of course is stunning about this collection of course is it preserves many rare Manchu documents. I don’t want to say too much about the Manchu documents because I can’t read Manchu but I’ve had a very close colleague of mine who’s been helping with some of these materials but again just wanted to provide these two images ‘cause they provide some of the visual drama that Manchu is. On the left we have a printed Manchu document which introduces Chinese culture, the four books of the Confucian classics. And on the right we have a handwritten document and you can see that ... quite beautiful things and there’s a growing number of scholars around the world today who can get into these materials.

But the main collection I want to talk about is the collection which this book has come from and this is the London Missionary Society Collection. Now the London Missionary Society first started work in China in the early 19th century with a chap called Robert Morrison who was working out of Canton. It had to leave the People’s Republic of China in 1952 so it was active in China for 150 years. It was one of the more active protestant organisations that was working in China. Now of course the men and women who were sent out to China to spread the faith were obviously in need of understanding their target audience and so they collected a range of books that was circulating at different levels of society. Now the Catholics who had been in China for centuries previously had focused their attentions on the elite, they wanted to convert people who were officials or indeed members of the imperial family. When the protestants arrived they took a very different tack, they wanted to engage with all members of society and so they were very interested in what was circulating among the common people ‘cause they wanted to understand their desires and their concerns. Of course this is very useful if you want to explain to them a foreign religion.

And so they collected widely among the common people a range of documents which probably at the time was not of particular interest to the collectors of China. As we demonstrated earlier this book is a lot cruder but it does have its own value. This is another document which is from this collection. This is an almanac. It’s a very cheaply printed book that would have been printed in large numbers that would have circulated in all levels of society but the interesting thing is one of these would come out every year and it very much gives you an idea of what the common concerns of everybody was. This is a book that would guide you through the year so it provides you with a breakdown of the months and the days and what are lucky days and what are unfortunate days. It gives you a guide to the constellations. It also gives you different ideas about ... if different things happen to you during the day what it might ... means. If you hear a dog barking at this time it might mean this. If you hear something else like a bird at that time of day it might mean this. All these wonderful examples and again very delightful little illustrations that are very different to some of the elite books which we saw earlier.

This is again four pictures from the twenty-four examples of filial piety. Again it’s providing people with examples of how they should behave towards their parents. And as you go through the book you find all sorts of curious images which guide people through their everyday life throughout the year. And when the new year rolled around you’d buy a new copy, a new almanac for the new year. Also in this collection we find a large number of different religious documents. It is in fact a great source for studying early Christianity in China, a good number of early Bibles which are of great value but also we find a lot of documents which relate to Chinese religion. So here this book describes different ways of achieving immorality. When you achieve immortality you are able to ride on a stork and here people are seeing somebody who has achieved this goal. Another great document in this collection describes all the punishments that await you in hell if you’ve been bad in life. It goes through all the ten courts of hell and describes the different punishments for the different crimes that will be produced for you in each of them.

Of course it realised that its audience wasn’t necessarily literate and so provided very graphic and direct illustrations of what might happen to you. I didn’t quite bring myself to put this image in the exhibition, I put another page. I did think of family audiences. If you just go down to the bottom, the right ... left-hand side on the right you see a person that’s just been hacked apart and his head in his limbs, he’s all stuck to a pole. That doesn’t appear in the exhibition but different pages of this book does. Again what is wonderful about this book also is that it reproduced itself in a way. At the back of the book it provides a guide to the benefits that have accrued to people who have paid for its reprinting. So if you’ve reprinted 100 times, maybe your son has cured ... has been ... has received ... has recovered from illness. If perhaps you’ve printed it 200 times perhaps your son will pass the examinations. Three hundred times, you’ll have great wealth and also provides a guide to how many times you might like to have it reprinted and also helpfully tells you where to find the blocks so you can go and pay the gentleman who will reprint it for you.

This is another fine book from this collection which demonstrates the concerns of everyday people. The ... I have translated the title as Popular Guide to Geomancy. See the Chinese title is Di li bu qiu ren which is deli ... sorry, which is geomancy without asking other people. A colleague at the ANU suggested a modern title for the book might be Geomancy for Dummies. I really like that but again I didn’t quite consider it’d be appropriate in the exhibition but a popular guide to geomancy where you can see all the different landforms and what they mean and so it guides people for where to build tombs and also provide the examples of different families who’ve built tombs in different areas and provides examples of the prosperity of that family after that tomb was built.

And lastly I just wanted to provide you with this image. This does appear in the exhibition downstairs. This again is for prognostications, fortune-telling so it provides you with a guide to what different spots on your face might mean so if you have a spot here it means you shouldn’t go too far from home. If you have a spot here ... sorry, it’s faded out ... if you have a spot here it says you’ll be great rich, there you’ll be a treacherous official, there you will trade your father, there you’ll be in low level of government and so on and so forth. I was going to suggest everybody turns to the person next to them and have a little bit of a look and decide but of course we have to realise of course that of course because women have a different place in Chinese society there is a separate page for women. Just showing how ... again how these different spots on a person’s face can give you an indication of what their future fortunes might be like.

So these are all the different examples of very popular works that were scorned by the elite in China, weren’t collected, didn’t necessarily survive in great numbers but we’re very fortunate at the National Library of Australia that early missionaries to China were very interested in this material ‘cause it connected them to their potential converts and they ... as they endeavoured to understand life in China they collected this material. And that’s how it managed to survive. When you look at these books you can tell from the colour ... from the colour of the paper and from the quality of the paper that it is very fortunate that this material has survived at all. It wasn’t meant to last, it wasn’t designed for entertainment, it was designed for profit and so it was printed very cheaply and very regularly.

So just to ... oh one other brief thing I wanted to mention too is that here at the National Library of Australia ... thanks to the London Missionary Society ... we have a very extensive collection of rare materials which related to the Taiping rebellion. Taiping rebellion was a rebellion that struck China from 1953 to ... 1853 to 1865. Without going into too much detail it was led by a man who believed himself to be the younger brother of Jesus Christ and led to the deaths of 20 million people and so rates as one of the bloodiest conflicts in all human history. Of course because it was finally quashed by the Qing dynasty lots of the materials were destroyed but because of the Christian connection missionaries were of course very interested in it and so early on many missionaries went to the Taiping capital in Nanjing and collected some of the materials here so in fact many of the materials we have here from the Taiping Collection date to very early in the rebellion in the 1850s. And indeed because they’re so rare the National Library of China recently borrowed them from us and printed a three-volume edition to share them with the Chinese reading public.

And just finally I just wanted to ... just to finish off I just wanted to share with you two different types of surprises I’ve had in my adventures over the past year and a half working on this exhibition. One here at the National Library of China ... National Library of Australia and one at the National Library of China. So of course during the preparation for the exhibition I had the opportunity to go into the storage room where we hold all the Chinese rare books and go through most of them to decide which would really ... which items would really resonate with the themes we wanted to put in the exhibition.

When I was going through this book I had a little surprise. This book is an explanation of the four books of Confucianism so we have the Mencius, the Analects of Confucius, the Great Learning and Doctrine of the Mean, four books put together by a philosopher of the 12th century which became important key books for learning about Confucianism. However when I opened this book up and was flipping through the pages I found this. It’s a receipt for the making of four colour funnel coats for $2. It is to a Mr Leo Dun which is interesting, Leo Dun is undoubtedly a foreigner, it’s obviously a foreign name ... those two characters are always used for foreigners so ... but it’s hard to always go back. But it’s a delightful little insight into the exchange that was happening in Canton in 1893. In fact on the 23rd of December in 1893. It provides a delightful little look at perhaps that we have a European here who had come to China and was engaged in studying Chinese culture and he had some more coats made. Anyway I’ve had this item separately accessioned so now people are aware of it ‘cause it does show a very interesting part of cultural history in China.

My second surprise ... this is on a slightly different level ... came when I was at the National Library of China. Now throughout my academic career I’d been aware of this thing called the Complete Library of the Four Branches. This was a major collection of work ... Siku Quanshu ... this was a major collection of over 3,000 works that was compiled in the 1700s by the Qianlong emperor. It was meant to be a depository of all the important works of Chinese learning. Now after it was commissioned in the 1770s it was completed in the 1870s, it had 3,471 books in it which totalled nearly 80,000 chapters over 2.3 million pages and over 800 million characters. Obviously this isn’t something you bulk produce, only seven copies were ever produced, hand-copied. They were stationed at important points around the empire. Four were stationed at locations where the emperor would go so he could enjoy the books at his leisure and three ... they were all around north China ... and three were stationed in south China so that approved academics would have access to this great font of learning.

Now through the conflagrations of the 19th century three and a half of these collections were destroyed so only three and a half survive. One is in Taiwan, one is in the National Library of China, one’s in Guangzhou province ... it was taken through during the 1960s ... and there is half a copy in Hangzhou. Now throughout my academic career this is work I have often referred to, in facsimile obviously. It’s ... there is a 1,500 volume set we have here at the National Library of Australia which I’m ... I discovered in my undergraduate career and I have been using ever since ... but I was quite put out and somewhat alarmed to learn that part of the work we would be doing at the National Library of China would be inside this original collection. So as you can see from the next image one of the working tables that we had at the National Library of China was stationed inside this complete works of the four treasures inside Siku Quanshu. The shelves are original, dating from the Qianlong period. I was told very clearly I was not to get too close to it, I was not to touch it, I was certainly not allowed to open any of the boxes to look at the volumes inside. They very kindly opened one of the boxes and showed me that all the books were there in their original covers, in original conditions. But it was certainly an unexpected pleasure to be so close to such a major collection. 

However I will also admit that over the days that I spent in this room working with colleagues at the National Library of China sometimes we’d be involved deeply in discussions about some of the materials and sometimes we’d be standing for such a long time that you’d just sort of relax. Fortunately I came to my senses quickly enough and was only there for a few seconds but I suddenly realised I was leaning on the Qianlong emperor’s shelves and I quickly desisted from doing that. But it was certainly one of the unexpected pleasures I’ve had working on this exhibition, to come so close, indeed to enter within this major important repository of Chinese books.

That’s all I wanted to say this evening. I will just add that of course we will have the opportunity now to go downstairs and to view the exhibition but before we do that I just wanted to remind you that this is only the first in a series of lectures that we’re going to be having here with Celestial Empire. This is very much introductory, just introduce you to the two library’s collections, some of the materials we have in exhibition but over the next few weeks and few months we will be going in to investigate more deeply some of the different materials and different colleagues from ANU and other universities in Australia will be providing their insights in some of the materials we have in the collection. So I hope you’ll also be able to join us for some of these lecturers we have in the future.

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