Chinese Works : Yong-le da dian

Chinese Works

<p style='text-align: justify;'> <i>Yong-le da dian</i> 永乐大典 ('<i>Great Compendium of the Yong-le reign-period</i>') was the largest example of the Chinese literary genre known as <i>lei shu</i> 类书 ('book of categories'), a compilation of pre-existing texts rearranged under various subject headings (<i>lei</i>). The original manuscript, compiled at imperial command by over 2,000 scholars from 1403-08, comprised 22,877 sections in 11,095 volumes. Although printing was well developed at the time, the cost of printing such a vast work was too great. After the sole copy had narrowly escaped destruction by fire, the Jiajing Emperor ordered an exact copy (according to some sources two copies) to be made. The work took six years, being completed in 1567, the year of the Emperor's death. The putative second copy (if it existed) is said to have been lost by fire. The original manuscript disappeared from view; an intriguing theory is that it was buried with the Emperor, whose tomb perhaps significantly is called Yong ling 永陵; it has not been excavated but its contents are believed to be intact.</p> <p style='text-align: justify;'> The surviving copy was extensively used to recover texts which had been copied into it wholesale or in part; 395 works (10% of the total) included in the famous Imperial Manuscript Library <i>Si ku quan shu</i> 四库全书 (1773-82) were so derived.</p> <p style='text-align: justify;'> In 1861 the first British Legation was opened in Peking and housed in a ducal mansion known as Liang gong fu 梁公府, located in the centre of the city, immediately to the south of the Han-lin Yuan 翰林院 or Imperial Academy, China's highest academic institution, where the <i>Si ku quan shu</i> had been compiled. The surviving copy of the <i>Yong-le da dian</i> was stored in the Academy, in a pavilion called <i>Jing-yi ting</i> 敬一亭, which was the southernmost of the complex of buildings in the Han-lin compound, separated only by a wall and a few yards of space from the northern boundary of the British Legation.</p> <p style='text-align: justify;'> In 1900 the Boxer Movement, an anti-foreign campaign supported by elements within the Chinese government determined to rid China of all foreign influence, came to a head when a combined force of Boxers and imperial troops laid siege to the legations of the western powers, the most important and largest of which was the British. On Saturday 23 June 1900 Boxer-inspired Chinese troops set fire to the Han-lin buildings, hoping that the flames would spread to the British Legation. Ten days earlier the removal of large quantities of documents had been observed, but many books and printing blocks remained. What happened next is vividly described by the American Congregationalist missionary Arthur H. Smith:</p> <p style='text-align: justify;'>"Saturday, June 23. [...] While at dinner we heard the fire-alarm bell ringing again. It was a great conflagration in the Hanlin Yuan to the north of the British Legation. The soldiers who began the work of destruction first set fire to the outer gate on that street, then to the inner gates of each of the four court yards in succession, establishing themselves in a large hall of the third row of buildings where they kept up an incessant rifle-fire upon the Legation during the whole progress of the fire. The floor of that hall was subsequently found covered with their cartridge shells. The several gateways communicated the fire each to the one beyond, until the danger of a clean sweep of the whole premises made the peril of the Legation imminent, for the wind was blowing a gale from the north. To prevent the servants' quarters behind the Minister's house from catching fire appeared almost impossible, for they were not five yards from the nearer building which towered above them.</p> <p style='text-align: justify;'>The British marines first breached the wall into the Hanlin court, and then gained entrance into the hall from which the Chinese soldiers had been firing. This could not long be held, however, for it, too, was soon in flames, furnishing for several hours a grand spectacle, until the massive roof fell in, when the many tons of earth and tiles acted as a partial and a temporary extinguisher.</p> <p style='text-align: justify;'>Meantime every available man was set to work passing buckets of water from the nearest wells, working the small fire-engines, and cutting down trees with much labour and not a little risk of being crushed beneath the trunks or other falling walls. These huge old trees were one of the most efficient means of spreading the flames. A large branch dropping into a yard was soon followed by a blaze in a new spot, since the woodwork was everywhere extremely dry. One of the large halls standing nearest to the Legation had to be pulled down for our own safety. It was a difficult and dangerous undertaking, for the building was lofty, with large and solid posts and roof-timbers. [...]</p> <p style='text-align: justify;'>About the time of maximum danger the wind suddenly veered to the northwest, greatly encouraging the firemen and their assistants. The structure next in front of the one pulled down was filled with bookcases containing some of the choicest volumes in the Hanlin University, particularly a vast work called after its Imperial patron, Yung Le Ta Tien, a cyclopaedia of Chinese literature of immense compass, never printed, but copied by hand. This is supposed to be the sole copy in the Empire. Owing to the depredations of unprincipled Hanlin scholars it was far from complete, for in China "he who steals a book is not a thief," since literature is honourable, and its tools are often alike indispensable and unattainable.</p> <p style='text-align: justify;'>Scores of the bulky cases were filled with the volumes of this encyclopaedia bound in yellow silk pasted on the board covers, each book nineteen and a half inches long, twelve wide, and about an inch in thickness, having a strip of bright-coloured silk pasted on one cover with the four characters of its title. To the marines, as well as to many others who worked hard to put out the fire and to clear the building threatened, this was nothing more than a sample of the many unintelligible works thrown about in the greatest confusion on that memorable day. But to one who knows even a little of China it was a wonderful relic of the past, worthy of preservation at the hands of the "Foreign Barbarian," even if the Chinese themselves had cared nothing for it.</p> <p style='text-align: justify;'>When it was probable that this building would burn with the rest, the contents of its boxes were unceremoniously tumbled into the yard, where they were soon buried under mounds of other books and lost to sight. An attempt was made to rescue this great cyclopaedia of learning, but although several hundred volumes were collected, many others disappeared. Some, with bushels of other volumes and manuscripts, were thrown into the lotus tank and covered with rubbish to prevent them from taking fire in a mass. At a later period, when they had been thoroughly soaked with water from the fire engines, and by numerous rains, so that they had begun to rot, an order was issued to heap earth upon them to prevent them from infecting the neighbourhood. The execution of this command constituted the formal funeral of all that remained of the ancient Imperial Academy of China!</p> <p style='text-align: justify;'>In the entire area of the Hanlin Yuan the only buildings which escaped the fire were a hall called the Ching I T'ing (now empty except for eleven stone tablets on which are cut the sayings of the sage Ch'eng-tzu and others), the hall containing the cyclopaedia mentioned, and three small pavilions behind it. The first, like several others, was stored with Hanlin essays and with the stereotype blocks of numerous Chinese works, especially poetry, which, when once ignited, added greatly to the fury of the flames. Those blocks which remained were scattered about the premises or were used as firewood or as materials for barricades.</p> <p style='text-align: justify;'>The destruction of the Hanlin Yuan has been described in connection with the narrative of the siege, but a few additional details deserve mention. The principal literary monument of the most ancient people in the world was obliterated in an afternoon, and the wooden stereotype plates of the most valuable works became a prey to the flames, or were used in building barricades, or as kindling by the British marines. Priceless literary treasures were tumbled into the lotus-ponds, wet with the floods of water used to extinguish the fires, and later buried after they had begun to rot, to diminish the disagreeable odour. Expensive camphor-wood cases containing the rare and unique Encyclopaedia of Yung Le were filled with earth to form a part of the ramparts for defence, while the innumerable volumes comprising this great thesaurus were dispersed in every direction, probably to every library in Europe, as well as to innumerable private collections. Not a few of the volumes were thrown into the common heap to mold and to be buried like the rest.</p> <p style='text-align: justify;'>Thousands of Hanlin essays lay about the premises, the sport of every breeze, serving as fire-wood for the troops. Odd volumes of choice works furnished the waste-paper of the entire Legation for nearly two months; they were found in the kitchens, used by the coolies as pads for carrying bricks on their shoulders, and lay in piles in the outer streets to be ground into tatters under the wheels of passing carts when traffic was once more resumed.</p> <p style='text-align: justify;'>Of the varied forms of Nemesis connected with the uprising against foreigners in China, the fate of the ancient and famous Hanlin takes perhaps the foremost place. Out of twenty or twenty-five halls, but two remained and a few months later every trace of these had been removed from the Hanlin premises, which are now a part of the British Legation grounds. On the northern side a high wall has been put up, with scientific loopholes concealed in its upper part, and protection for gunners in arched recesses at the base, while a clear space is left in front to make a surprise impossible."</p> <p style='text-align: justify;'><i>China in Convulsion</i>, New York: F.H. Revell Co., 1901, pp 281-284</p> <p style='text-align: justify;'>Among the beseiged was 22-year old Student Interpreter Lancelot Giles, a graduate of Christ's College, Cambridge and son of Herbert Giles, Professor of Chinese in the University. One of the volumes in Cambridge University Library (containing sections 16343-16344) was donated by him. The head character is 算 <i>suan</i> ('arithmetic') and it includes (section 16344 folio 6 r°) one of the earliest representations of 'Pascal's triangle' (the arithmetical triangle of binomial coefficients). The other (containing sections 19737-19739) was purchased in 1926, having formerly been in the possession of the Rev. Mr Roland Allen, an Oxford graduate who was Chaplain to the British Legation in Peking and also present during the siege. The head character is 录 <i>lu</i> ('record') and it contains the first three sections of a Buddhist work 国清百录 <i>Guo qing bai lu</i>.</p> <p style='text-align: justify;'>During the more than two centuries that the <i>Yong-le da dian</i> had been stored in the Han-lin Yuan, the number of volumes had gradually diminished due to pilferage; according to the statement of Lu Chuanlin 鹿传霖 (1836-1910) a Hanlin scholar and high offical, at the time of the siege only 607 volumes remained [1]. Modern Chinese scholarship confirms this number [2]. The rate of loss accelerated after 1860, but there is no evidence for the allegation sometimes made by Chinese writers that they disappeared into the British Legation. None of the volumes now held by libraries in the UK arrived before 1900; as H.A. Giles notes in his <i>Memoirs</i>, "up to that date, it had always been carefully concealed from foreigners, so carefully indeed that many doubted if the work was really in existence." Some volumes were returned to the Chinese authorities by the British Legation on 26 July 1901 [3]. They were included in a batch of less than two hundred items; how many of these were parts of the <i>Yong-le da dian</i> is not recorded, but in 1912 64 volumes were transferred from the Ministry of Education to the recently-established Peking Municipal Library [4]. Other volumes taken by private individuals are now dispersed throughout the world. Odd volumes continue to turn up, sometimes having lain unrecognised for decades. The latest <a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href=''>table of extant volumes</a> shows that 432 volumes are known to survive: 174 in the PRC, 72 in Taiwan, 60 in Japan, 53 in the USA, 51 in the UK, 7 in Germany, 4 in Vietnam, 3 in Ireland, 1 in South Korea, 1 split between PRC and Japan, and 6 in unknown locations.</p> <p style='text-align: justify;'>NOTES</p> <p style='text-align: justify;'>[1] “据鹿传林折奏,翰林院失去书籍《永乐大典》六百零七册”,《清宫述闻 (初、续编合编本)》,章乃炜、王蔼人编,北京:紫禁城出版社,1990, p. 516.</p> <p style='text-align: justify;'>[2] 《〈永乐大典〉流传与辑佚研究》,张升著,北京师范大学出版社,2010, p.40.</p> <p style='text-align: justify;'>[3] “去年翰林院火,曾救出存书《永乐大典》等百数十本,加尚可用,希派员来取。” Sir Ernest Satow to Prince Qing, 25 July 1901, National Archives (Kew), FO 932/23, p. 65b. “翰林院存书《永乐大典》等百数十本,兹特遣员领取, 希饬交运回。”Prince Qing to Sir Ernest Satow, 26 July 1901, National Archives (Kew), FO 932/22, p. 119b. “[光绪二十七年六月]十一日,收英国 公使函,请派员来馆运取翰林院陈存《永乐大典》书本由。发英国公使函,派员;领取 《永乐大典》等书,并道谢由。”“辛丑议约专档目录:交还”,《国家图书馆藏清代 孤本外交档案》,孙学雷、刘家平主编,北京:全国图书馆文献缩微复制中心,2003, Vol. 32, p. 13428.</p> <p style='text-align: justify;'>[4] “教育部为送交《永乐大典》六十本至京师图书馆函”(一九一二年七月十六日) , [录自《京师图书馆档案》]《中国古代藏书与近代图书馆史料(春秋至五四前后)》, 李希泌,张椒华编, 北京:中华书局,1982, p. 135.</p> <p style='text-align: justify;'><b>ENCYCLOPAEDIA MAXIMA</b></p> <p style='text-align: justify;'><i>The Nineteenth Century and After</i> Vol. 99 (April 1901), 659-665</p> <p style='text-align: justify;'>If the siege of the Peking Legations had no other claim to be remembered, it would always be associated in the minds of those interested in Chinese studies with one of the most appalling literary catastrophes the world has ever seen. The utter destruction by fire of the entire book-quarter, containing not only vast stores of modern books with their wooden blocks (=stereotype plates), from which fresh issues are printed, but also large numbers of rare old editions long since out of print and almost unprocurable, would alone form a very suffcient disaster. Even this, however, is a small matter compared with the burning of the Han-lin College and all its priceless contents.</p> <p style='text-align: justify;'>Before going any farther, it may be as well to note that these two calamities were both brought about by direct acts of the Chinese themselves. The former was caused by the Boxers, who fired various shops in the Chinese city where foreign goods were sold; and in the latter case, Chinese soldiers, presumably under orders, set fire to the Han-lin College, in the hope that the flames might catch on to the British Legation adjoining.</p> <p style='text-align: justify;'>The origin of the Han-lin College is lost in the mists of antiquity. With the first rude efforts in the domain of Chinese historiography this department of State may be said to have come into existence. Its modern name dates only from the eighth century A.D., some time between 713 and 738.</p> <p style='text-align: justify;'>In 1421, when the Mings transferred their capital from Nanking to Peking (where it has remained ever since), the Han-lin College was placed within the Imperial City; but in 1442 it was removed to a building just outside, which under the Mongols had been the Court of State Ceremonial, a kind of Lord Chamberlain's Office, now popularly known as 'the Drowsy Department'. For more than four centuries and a half the College has been always upon the same spot, its members, chosen from the most brilliant among China's rising graduates, occupied among other duties in compiling the <i>Veritable Record</i> of each sovereign's reign, which may become public property only after the final extinction of the dynasty; and also in writing the biographies of any eminent public servants on whom this honour has been conferred. Among these will be found the names of true patriots such as Tsêng Kuo-fan 曾国藩 and (we may hope) Chang Chih-tung 张之洞; among these, too, is the name of Ch'ên Kuo-jui 陈国瑞, who for want of other recommendation must be considered to have rendered good service to the Manchu dynasty as the unpunished instigator of the Tientsin Massacre on the 21st of June, 1870.</p> <p style='text-align: justify;'>The <i>Veritable Records</i>, at any rate for the present dynasty, have probably perished beyond recall. [They survived and have been published.] Those of the Ming dynasty, which ended in 1644, are of course safe. A copy of the latter, in eighty-four large volumes, perhaps the only copy in Europe, stands upon the shelves of the Cambridge University Library. Of far more immediate value than records which may never see the light was the priceless encyclopaedia which shared in the ruin of the Han-lin College, and to which this article has special reference.</p> <p style='text-align: justify;'>In 1403, the third Emperor of the Ming dynasty, commonly known by his year-title as Yong Lo, one of the most energetic monarchs of Chinese history, issued a commission to Hsieh Chin 解缙, the leading scholar of the day, for the preparation of an encyclopaedia. With the assistance of 146 colleagues, Hsieh Chin finished his work in a year and four months, and laid it before the Throne. This book received the name of <i>Wên Hsien Ta Ch'êng</i> 文献大成, or <i>Complete Record of Literature</i>; but when His Majesty came to look into it, he found that Hsieh Chin had altogether misunderstood his instructions as to the scale on which the compilation was to be made. The Emperor thereupon issued a new commission, in which Hsieh Chin appears as one of three Commissioners, with five Directors, twenty sub-Directors, and a staff of 2,141 assistants, making 2,169 persons in all. His Majesty's idea was to collect together in a single work all that had ever been written in the four departments of (1) the Confucian Canon, (2) history, (3) philosophy, and (4) general literature, including astronomy, geography, cosmogony, medicine, divination, Buddhism, Taoism, handicrafts, and arts; and by the end of 1407 or the beginning of 1408 a compilation was submitted to the Sacred Glance which immediately received the stamp of Imperial approval, and was named the <i>Yung Lo Ta Tien</i> - that is, the <i>Great Standard of Yong Lo</i>.</p> <p style='text-align: justify;'>This work, over which so many scholars had spent first and last some five years, ran to no fewer than 22,877 separate sections, to which must be added an index occupying sixty sections. The whole was bound up in 11,100 volumes, each half an inch in thickness; so that, were all the volumes laid flat one upon another, the column thus formed would reach a height of 450 feet, or nearly 46 feet higher than the top of St. Paul's.</p> <p style='text-align: justify;'>The volumes are one foot eight inches in length by one foot in breadth. The binding consists of the usual pasteboard, covered with yellow silk, yellow being the Imperial colour. Each volume bears two labels outside; one of these gives the titles and the numbers of the sections - sometimes only one - contained within; the other gives the rhyme, according to the <i>Hung Wu Chêng Yün</i> 洪武正韵, a rhyming dictionary issued during the reign of the first Emperor of the Ming dynasty and now almost forgotten, under which the entries are classified, together with a number which is probably a librarian's mark for purposes of arrangement.</p> <p style='text-align: justify;'>Chinese not being an alphabetic language, it has always been a puzzle so to arrange the contents of dictionaries, encyclopaedias, &c., that they may be available for easy reference by the student. This difficulty has been met in several ways. Dictionaries have been compiled by taking all characters with a common portion, and then arranging these in reference to the number of strokes in the remaining portion. It must first be laid down what and how many are to be regarded as common portions, and the number has varied in past times; but it is now confined to 214, themselves arranged in groups determined by the number of strokes, which run from one stroke to seventeen strokes. This plan may be illustrated in English as follows, supposing for a moment all our words to occupy the position of Chinese characters. A lexicographer finding <i>acc</i> common to <i>account, accountable, acceptable, accord, accordingly, accommodate</i>, would arrange them thus:</p> <p style='text-align: justify;'>Accord = Acc. + three strokes<br /> Account = " + four strokes<br /> Acceptable = " + seven strokes<br /> Accountable<br /> Accordingly = " + eight strokes<br /> Accommodate</p> <p style='text-align: justify;'>The ordinary method of compiling an encyclopaedia is to arrange its various entries under comprehensive categories, such as <i>Heaven</i>, which would include the sun, moon and stars, rain, snow, wind, &c.; <i>Earth</i>, which would include geography, mineralogy, geomancy, &c.; <i>Man</i>; <i>Fauna</i>; <i>Flora</i>; and so on.</p> <p style='text-align: justify;'>A third method, applicable to dictionaries and encyclopaedias alike, is to arrange the particular words which form the headings in each case under their rhymes. Here, however, the Tones, of which there are four in the book-language, come into play; and <i>bang</i> could not be a rhyme to <i>sang</i> unless both were read in the same tone or inflection of voice.</p> <p style='text-align: justify;'>Each section of the <i>Yung Lo Ta Tien</i> contains about twenty leaves, making a total of 917,480 pages for the whole work, as against 22,000 in the <i>Encyclopaedia Britannica</i>. Each page contains sixteen columns of characters, averaging twenty-five characters to each column, or a total of 366,992,000 characters. A comparison between this gigantic number and the total words in the <i>Encyclopaedia Britannica</i> would be an unfair test of the relative amount of matter comprised in the two works, for the simple reason that in the book-language of China condensation is pushed to limits never dreamt of even by Tacitus, all possible pronouns, prepositions, conjunctions, and particles generally being sacrificed to what the Chinese regard as style. The late Professor Legge declared that 100 Chinese characters were about equivalent to 130 English words; in view of which it is interesting to note that the <i>Encyclopaedia Britannica</i> has 22,000 pages, 44,000 columns, (say) seventy lines to a column and about ten words to a line = 30,800,000 words.</p> <p style='text-align: justify;'>The next stage in what may fairly be called the tragedy of the <i>Yung Lo Ta Tien</i> is connected with the art of printing, which has been widely applied to the production of books in China ever since the tenth century A.D. Specimens of early Chinese printing are extremely rare. Professor Hirth, of Munich, gave in his <i>China and the Roman Orient</i> a facsimile of a page from the history of the later Han dynasty, printed in 1167, and the oldest printed book in the Cambridge Library is <i>An Account of Strange Nations</i> 异域图志, with full-page illustrations, which dates from 1390. But that books were printed in the tenth century we know from many collateral sources. For instance, the <i>Yü Hai</i> 玉海, a very rare encyclopaedia, of which the University of Leyden is fortunate enough to possess a perfect copy, has the following entry: 'In the third year of T'ai-p'ing Hsing-kuo, (A.D. 978) the <i>T'ai P'ing Kuang Chi</i> 太平广记 (a collection of extracts on all manner of curious topics) was completed, and in the sixth year of the same (A.D. 981) orders were given that it should be cut on blocks for printing.'</p> <p style='text-align: justify;'>Accordingly, when the <i>Yung Lo Ta Tien</i> was completed the Emperor gave orders that it should be transcribed for printing. The process is, and always has been the same all over China. Two consecutive pages of a book, separated by a column containing the title, number of section, and number of <i>leaf</i>, are written out and pasted face downwards on a block of wood (<i>Lindera tzŭ-mu</i>, Hemsl.). This paper, where not written upon, is cut away with sharp tools, leaving the characters in relief, and of course back- wards, as in the case of European type. The block is then inked, and an impression is taken off, on one side of the paper only. This sheet is then folded down the middle of the separating column above mentioned, so that the blank halves come together, leaving two pages of printed matter outside; and when enough sheets have been brought together, they are stabbed at the open ends and form a volume, to be further wrapped in paper or pasteboard, and labelled with title, &c. It is almost superfluous to say that the pages of a Chinese book must not be cut. There is nothing inside, and, more- over the column bearing the title and leaf number would be cut through. Sometimes the thin Chinese leaf is thickened and rendered more durable by the insertion of a blank sheet of soft and cheap paper. Occasionally unsold remainders are used for this purpose. One of the Chinese works in the Cambridge Library is padded with the poems - <i>chartae ineptae</i> - of the great Emperor Ch'ien Lung.</p> <p style='text-align: justify;'>To return. Within two years, that is to say by 1410, the work was ready for the block-cutter, but it was then discovered that the expense of carrying through the scheme was too serious to be faced, and the project was allowed to drop.</p> <p style='text-align: justify;'>In 1421 the capital was removed from Nanking to Peking, where it has ever since remained; and the <i>Yung Lo Ta Tien</i> was also transferred, and stored in a pavilion belonging to the palace.</p> <p style='text-align: justify;'>We do not again hear of it until 1562, when orders were issued for 100 scholars to make a copy and duplicate copy of the whole work, a task which was completed in 1567. The original was then sent back to Nanking; and of the copy and duplicate copy, the former was placed in a pavilion of the palace, the latter in the Office of Imperial Historiography. At the downfall of the Ming dynasty, in 1644, the original at Nanking and the duplicate copy in the Office of Historiography perished by fire. The copy deposited in the pavilion had been transferred to the Han-lin College, which, as has been stated, was established outside the Imperial City in 1442, and thus escaped destruction at the hands of the rebels; but even that was found later on to be wanting 2,422 sections, or over 1,000 volumes. We are nowhere told that this last was actually a facsimile of the original, but the scale and style in which it was produced leave little room for any other conclusion. Ku Chiang 顾绛, a great scholar and a loyal adherent of the Mings, who after their fall changed his name to Ku Yen-wu 顾炎武 and resolutely declined to serve under the Manchus, has stated in his well-known <i>Adversaria</i> 日知录 that the entire work was destroyed; but the editors of the <i>Imperial Catalogue</i> 四库全书总目, drawn up between 1772-1782, declared him to be in error, and we now know that they were right. They add that the hand of God (literally) was manifestly guiding the original compilers in order that so many valuable books as are preserved in this encyclopaedia, many of which have since been reprinted, should be handed down for the use of posterity.</p> <p style='text-align: justify;'>This entry in the <i>Imperial Catalogue</i>, itself a wonderful work, running to 200 sections and bound up in twenty-six thick volumes octavo, soon attracted the notice of foreign students, many of whom doubted not only the present existence of the <i>Yung Lo Ta Tien</i>, but even that such a vast undertaking had ever been carried to completion. Stories were current, however, among Chinese literates which agreed as to the great size of the volumes while differing in matters of detail; and some of the Manchu <i>bitgeshi</i>, or clerks, employed at the British Legation were ready to swear that they had seen it with their own eyes. Meanwhile foreign scholars were in a state of suspended judgment, until in June 1900 the veil which had so long shrouded the <i>Yung Lo Ta Tien</i> in mystery was rudely drawn aside.</p> <p style='text-align: justify;'>I will now quote from the diary of my son, Mr. Lancelot Giles of H.B.M. China Consular Service, who went through the siege of Peking:</p> <p style='text-align: justify;'>"Saturday, the 23rd of June. - At 11.15 A.M. a fire was reported in the Han-lin, where the Chinese were entrenched. It was got under and the Han-lin cleared of Chinese troops.</p> <p style='text-align: justify;'>There was some doubt as to whether we should occupy the Han-lin as a strategic position, and pull down the buildings in order to prevent fires. It was argued, however, that the Chinese would never set fire to so venerable a monument of the country's literature.</p> <p style='text-align: justify;'>This was set at nought by the Chinese, who fired the various buildings all through the day. The library was almost entirely destroyed. An attempt was made to save the famous <i>Yung Lo Ta Tien</i>; but heaps of volumes had been burnt, so the attempt was given up. I secured volume 13,345 [he meant the volume containing that section] for myself, merely as a specimen. The pages are 1 foot 8 inches by 1 foot, and the volumes vary from 1/12 inch to 1 inch in thickness. Each page has eight columns, and each column contains two rows of twenty-six characters.</p> <p style='text-align: justify;'>I also picked up a couple of the essays written by some candidate for one of the great examinations.</p> <p style='text-align: justify;'>Within the next few days we completed the work begun by the Chinese, and razed the Han-lin to the ground."</p> <p style='text-align: justify;'>Since the siege of Peking five volumes of the <i>Yung Lo Ta Tien</i> have reached me, as follows:</p> <p style='text-align: justify;'>(1) Sections 13,344, containing poetry, apparently the concluding portion of an anthology; and 13,345, dealing with the terminology of canonisation, as bestowed upon Emperors and deserving officials. [Now in the Library of Congress.]</p> <p style='text-align: justify;'>Canonisation is a matter of course for Emperors and certain members of the Imperial family; for officials it is the one honour which throws all others of of a more transitory character into the shade. The Emperor who decided that history should begin with his reign, B.C. 221, abolished canonisation and substituted the ordinal numbers, starting from himself as the First. His line, however, ended with his son, who was called the Second. Canonisation was refused in the case of Admiral Ting, who for humanity's sake surrendered Wei-hai-wei to the Japanese, and then committed suicide. Had he committed suicide without surrendering, hundreds of his country- men would have been killed and wounded, and his own name blazoned on the roll of China's immortals. Even now we read that the Empress Dowager is about to canonise the wise counsellors who advised her against the extermination-of-foreigners policy and who received decapitation as their reward.</p> <p style='text-align: justify;'>(2) Sections 16,343 and 16,344, containing chapters fourteen and fifteen of a treatise on arithmetic. [Now in Cambridge University Library.]</p> <p style='text-align: justify;'>Here is a specimen of the arithmetic: 'If silk is worth 240 cash a pound, and you have 1,328 cash, how much silk can you buy? Answer: 5 lbs. 8 ozs. 12 4/5; dwts.' (Curiously enough, although the decimal system prevails in China, the lb. is divided into sixteen ozs. and the ounce into twenty-four dwts.) Similar, but much more difficult questions in interest, square measure, &c., are given farther on, in all cases with methods for working.</p> <p style='text-align: justify;'>(3) Sections 19,742, containing some historical episodes classed under a certain character, <i>lu</i> = record; and 19,743, containing a vocabulary of characters of the Same phonetic value as <i>lu</i> above mentioned. [Now in the Library of Congress.]</p> <p style='text-align: justify;'>(4) Sections 19,789 and 19,790, dealing with vestments, Court dresses, official robes. &c. [Now in the British Library.]</p> <p style='text-align: justify;'>(5) Section 19,792, also dealing with vestments, &c. [Now in the Library of Congress.]</p> <p style='text-align: justify;'>At the end of each volume is a slip with the name of the officials and scholars whose duty it was to copy, punctuate, and compare with the original the text of that particular volume. From these slips we gather proofs of two important points: (1) that the present volumes are actually copies, and not the original work, and (2) that they date from 1562-67, as stated in the <i>Imperial Catalogue</i>. For two names are mentioned, representing the chief directors in regard to these five volumes, namely, Ch'ên I-ch'in 陈以勤 and Ch'in Ming-lei 秦鸣雷, which duly appear in the biographical records of the Ming dynasty. Ch'ên I-ch'in was born in 1510, and graduated in the third or highest degree in 1541. He was then appointed to the Han-lin College, and rose to be one of its Chancellors, subsequently becoming President of the Board of Rites, and dying in 1586. Of Ch'in Ming-lei we are told only that he graduated in the third degree in 1544, that he was appointed to be Compiler in the Han-lin College, and rose to be President of the Board of Rites. In each case the evidence is enough. It establishes the fact that during the period 1562-67, when the <i>Yung Lo Ta Tien</i> is said to have been copied out under the direction of Ch'ên I-ch'in and Ch'in Ming-lei, two scholars such as would be required, bearing those names, and both members of the Han-lin College, were alive and available for the work.</p> <p style='text-align: justify;'>The great literary monument which I have here attempted to describe is now gone for ever. We had been led to believe that it lay neglected in a Shed, and had long since succumbed to decay by natural processes. Yet it must have been well cared for, and guarded from damp and insects, to judge by the wonderful state of preservation in which these five volumes appear to-day. It was, in fact, too well guarded. Ever since Peking was first opened in 1860, all applications from foreign scholars to be allowed even to view such an interesting relic have always been curtly refused. There is no occasion for any further display of such dog-in-the-manger sentiments. China has lost her treasure through the misguided violence of her own sons; while the only hands stretched forward to save it from destruction were those of the foreigners from whom it had been so jealously withheld.</p> <p style='text-align: justify;'>HERBERT A. GILES.</p>

Want to know more?

Under the 'More' menu you can find , any transcription and translation we have of the text and find out about downloading or sharing this image.

No Contents List Available
No Metadata Available



If you want to share this page with others you can send them a link to this individual page:
Alternatively please share this page on social media

You can also embed the viewer into your own website or blog using the code below: