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Book culture in the AOF


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#1 madalibi

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Posted 28 August 2008 - 02:01 AM

Hello everyone,

How much do we know about book culture in this age before printing? Extant documents might not contain answers to all my questions, but let me ask them anway...

The imperial court was usually an important collector of books, yet not a single official history about AOF dynasties contains a catalogue of the imperial library. Does this mean that the ruling houses of the AOF did not collect books? (Note: the Hanshu 汉书/漢書 contained such a catalogue, and so did the later Suishu 隋书/隋書, but no official history in between.) Were many books lost at the time because of war and devastation?

Where were books collected, then? My first thought would be Buddhist monasteries, but I don't know which monasteries had good collections. Do we know if these collections were open to anyone else than monks?

Were there private book collectors? Do we know their names?

How precious were books (as mateial objects) considered? I assume that Buddhist sutras were particularly valued, but I don't know any details. And how about other kinds of texts?

We know that bookstores already existed in the Later Han. Did they still exist in the Age of Fragmentation?

Do some texts found in Dunhuang date back to the AOF? Which ones?

When books were transcribed, were they transcribed as a whole or in fragments that interested the person who wanted the transcription? Who did the transcribing? Did book collectors (or even monasteries) charge fees to people who wanted to copy manuscripts from their collections?

What was the main material support for writing? Were wooden boards used (I am not referring to woodblock imprints)? Were bamboo strips still dominant? Had they been replaced by paper? How do we know?

I'm sure we could think of even more questions, but let's start like this. Thank you in advance for your responses!

Madalibi

#2 Yun

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Posted 28 August 2008 - 03:14 AM

The imperial court was usually an important collector of books, yet not a single official history about AOF dynasties contains a catalogue of the imperial library. Does this mean that the ruling houses of the AOF did not collect books? (Note: the Hanshu 汉书/漢書 contained such a catalogue, and so did the later Suishu 隋书/隋書, but no official history in between.) Were many books lost at the time because of war and devastation?


There was indeed a heavy loss of books during the fall of Luoyang to the Xiongnu rebels in 311. Sui Shu chapter 32 (the first part of the monograph on the imperial library catalogue) states that of 29,945 scrolls in the Jin imperial library, only 3,014 scrolls were brought south to Jiankang (Nanjing) by the founders of Eastern Jin. However, the Eastern Jin made efforts to expand this small library by acquiring lost books from literati refugees who had fled from the north. When Xie Lingyun compiled a catalogue for the Liu-Song library in 431, there were now 14,582 scrolls (note: the Sui Shu text says "64,582", but this is almost certainly a typographical error). In another Liu-Song catalogue from 473, there were 15,704 scrolls. This grew to 18,010 scrolls by the late 480s, under Southern Qi. The civil war at the end of Southern Qi (i.e. Xiao Yan's capture of Jiankang from Xiao Baojuan) caused part of the imperial library to be destroyed by fire, but the Liang regime then engaged in another book-collecting drive that amassed 23,106 scrolls. The Liang court produced several detailed library catalogues, which clearly served as reference for the compilers of the Sui Shu catalogue, since they were able to list works from the Liang library that were now lost. After the Hou Jing rebellion, the Liang emperor Xiao Yi was able to move more than 70,000 scrolls from the imperial library in Jiankang to his new capital at Jiangling! Unfortunately, Xiao Yi then burned his entire library when Jiangling fell to the Western Wei army in 554. The Chen imperial library was therefore much, much smaller, and consisted largely of books produced in the 570s.

The book-collecting situation in north China was less ideal, because the constant warfare between rival states caused much destruction to book collections. When Liu Yu's Eastern Jin army captured Chang'an and conquered Later Qin in 417, there were only 4,000 scrolls in the Later Qin library. The first Northern Wei emperor Tuoba Gui also held a major book-collection drive around 398-408, after the literatus Li Xian told him that books were the most important tool in governance. However, the Northern Wei library remained smaller than that of the Southern Dynasties, and Tuoba Hong (Emperor Xiaowen) sought to 'borrow' books from the Southern Qi court in the 480s and early 490s. The Northern Wei imperial library at Luoyang was then dispersed or destroyed in the chaos of the 520s. The Northern Qi court at Ye and the Northern Zhou court at Chang'an tried to build new collections, but the Northern Zhou library only reached 10,000 scrolls around the mid-560s, and when Northern Zhou conquered Northern Qi in 577, the Northern Qi library had only 5,000 old texts to add to the Northern Zhou collection.

In 583, the Sui court tried to collect more old books by offering a reward of one bolt of silk for every scroll that was offered up to be copied by the imperial librarians. Added to the books acquired from the conquest of Chen in 589, this measure expanded the Sui library considerably.

We are fortunate that the Sui imperial library catalogue was included in the official history of the regime by early Tang historians, and that this practice was followed by Song historians with regard to the Tang imperial catalogue. The historians who wrote the official histories of the Southern Dynasties did not feel a need to include such catalogues, though we know that these catalogues did exist.

Were there private book collectors? Do we know their names?


The richer and larger literati clans engaged in private book collecting and had their own libraries for the education of their children. A characteristic of education in the Age of Fragmentation is that it much of it was family-run. I don't have any names to give at this point, but if you are able to access Chinese journal articles on ilib.com, you may want to read these two:
http://scholar.ilib....k200611004.html
http://scholar.ilib....b200210008.html

On the libraries of Buddhist and Daoist monasteries, this article may be useful:
http://scholar.ilib....j200306049.html
The dead have passed beyond our power to honour or dishonour them, but not beyond our ability to try and understand.

#3 madalibi

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Posted 28 August 2008 - 04:11 AM

Thank you, Yun, for your clear and detailed answer. :clapping: :notworthy:

I didn't realize we (you!) knew so much about imperial book collections at the time, and that so many catalogues had been compiled before the Sui! Do you know if there were also catalogues of Buddhist texts? This should be basic sinological knowledge, but do you know when the earliest Chinese editions of the Tripitaka were made: certainly no later than the 8th century, but in the AOF already? And do we have any idea (from scattered mentions in various documents) what books were in the collections of the various dynasties? Finally, do we know what book collection (perhaps the northern Qi library) Song Shiliang 宋世良 used to compile his Wenzi jilue 文字集略 in the late sixth century?

The richer and larger literati clans engaged in private book collecting and had their own libraries for the education of their children. A characteristic of education in the Age of Fragmentation is that it much of it was family-run. I don't have any names to give at this point, but if you are able to access Chinese journal articles on ilib.com, you may want to read these two:
http://scholar.ilib....k200611004.html
http://scholar.ilib....b200210008.html

On the libraries of Buddhist and Daoist monasteries, this article may be useful:
http://scholar.ilib....j200306049.html


Unfortunately I have no access to ilib for the moment, but the abstracts already told me a lot. I will try to contact my University to see if they can restore my old passwords...

Thank you again!
Madalibi

#4 Yun

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Posted 28 August 2008 - 05:18 AM

Do you know if there were also catalogues of Buddhist texts? This should be basic sinological knowledge, but do you know when the earliest Chinese editions of the Tripitaka were made: certainly no later than the 8th century, but in the AOF already?


The earliest extant Buddhist catalogue would be the《出三藏记集》by Sengyou 僧祐 (445-518), a monk of the Southern Dynasties. However, this catalogue was in turn based on an earlier on, entitled《综理众经目录》, by Dao'an 道安 (312-385).

And do we have any idea (from scattered mentions in various documents) what books were in the collections of the various dynasties?


The Sui catalogue does list numerous works that were in the Liang library but permanently lost in the great burning by Xiao Yi at Jiangling.

Finally, do we know what book collection (perhaps the northern Qi library) Song Shiliang 宋世良 used to compile his Wenzi jilue 文字集略 in the late sixth century?


The Wenzi Jilue is actually by Ruan Xiaoxu 阮孝绪 (479-536) of the Liang. The work by Song Shiliang is entitled Zilue 字略.

Ruan Xiaoxu compiled a catalogue entitled《七錄》("The Seven-Category Catalogue"), listing and assessing the books in the Liang imperial library and also in the private collections of various aristocrats. This catalogue is now lost except for fragments, but clearly his Wenzi Jilue would have been based on access to all the works that he catalogued.
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#5 Yun

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Posted 19 September 2008 - 01:33 AM

madalibi, I found a book in French that gives lots of details on this topic: Les bibliotheques en Chine au temps des manuscrits (jusqu'au xe siecle), by Jean-Pierre Drège. You can read reviews of it on JSTOR at

http://www.jstor.org...amp;cookieSet=1

http://www.jstor.org...1...>2.0.CO;2-H
The dead have passed beyond our power to honour or dishonour them, but not beyond our ability to try and understand.

#6 madalibi

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Posted 19 September 2008 - 02:34 AM

madalibi, I found a book in French that gives lots of details on this topic: Les bibliotheques en Chine au temps des manuscrits (jusqu'au xe siecle), by Jean-Pierre Drège. You can read reviews of it on JSTOR at

http://www.jstor.org...amp;cookieSet=1

http://www.jstor.org...1...>2.0.CO;2-H


Thank you! I've meant to read this book for years, but never got around to it. It's now on my shortlist of purchases.

Madalibi

#7 Chow Yun-Fat, PhD

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Posted 23 September 2008 - 12:40 PM

There was enough loss so that Confucian doctrines of the Han had to be somewhat reconstructed and guessed at during the Tang. AOF literates of the court often spent their time making idle poetry instead of intervening in affairs. The Sui emperor mocked a literati, saying "You bookworm! What do you know of such things!" *

These are what I remember from several books spanning topics relating to the era.

* Ha! On the one hand, the bookworm knows history, on the other hand, he is probably really is just a bookworm.

#8 ev108

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Posted 31 August 2012 - 07:22 PM

This is a great and interesting topic! Note that Xiao Yi's private book collection was different from the Imperial Library, so Xiao Yi can be considered a private collector as well. One chapter of his work, Master of the Golden Tower (Jinlouzi 金樓子), describes his collection in some detail. One interesting fact about this is that, although Xiao Yi was an avid reader and writer himself, when it comes to book collection he seems to have been more interested in the material and social aspects of collecting--where and when he received the books, and the quality of their calligraphy, etc. In many cases he does not even mention the titles of the books. I believe some other records of private book collections from the period exist, but I don't know the names of their compilers off the top of my head.

The Drège book mentioned by Yun is indeed really wonderful. I also recommend Glen Dudbridge's Lost Books of Medieval China for a very readable and engaging set of essays on these and other issues related to books and libraries in the medieval period.

Edited by ev108, 31 August 2012 - 07:23 PM.

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