THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Asian and African studies blog

20 posts categorized "East Asia"

29 May 2017

Japanese puppet play revived

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On 2nd and 3rd June 2017 a long-lost Japanese Bunraku puppet play will be staged at the British Library by performers led by the shamisen-player Echigo Kakutayū and puppeteer Nishihashi Hachirōbei. Entitled Echigo no Kuni Kashiwazaki Kōchi Hōin godenki越後國柏崎弘知法印御博記 or ‘The Life of the High Priest Kōchi from Kashiwazaki in Echigo Province’, the anonymous play is a highly fictionalised version of the life of the monk Kōchi Hōin (died 1363) whose mummified remains are preserved at the Saishōji Temple in Nagaoka, Niigata Prefecture.

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Front cover and first page of Kōchi Hōin godenki. The latter bears a slightly different form of the title - Kōchi Shōnin - and Kaempfer has rendered the title as Kootsi Foin (BL Or 75.g.23(1))
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To coincide with these performances, the full text of the play, consisting of 16 leaves and including 6 double-page black-and-white illustrations, has been digitised and made available on the British Library Digisited Manuscripts website (BL Or 75.g.23(1))

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Kōchi Hōin encounters a demon  (BL Or 75.g.23(1) fol 7r)
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The play belongs to a genre known as jōruri, a form of dramatic narrative performed by a chanter (tayū) to the accompaniment of the shamisen. More specifically it is described as kojōruri (‘old’ jōruri), the term applied to texts that predate the era of the renowned playwright Chikamatsu Monzaemon. From the early 17th century the stories came to be used for the traditional Japanese puppet theatre, originally called Ningyō jōruri or ‘puppet jōruri’ and today more widely known as Bunraku.

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Geisha playing the shamisen. From Seirō bijin awase, 1770 (BL Or.75.g.34 v.2 fol. 26v)
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Geisha playing with a puppet. From Seirō bijin awase, 1770 (BL Or.75.g.34 v.5 fol. 71v)
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According to a note at the end of the text it was published in Edo (now Tokyo), in 1685 [Jōkyō 2] by Urokogataya based on an original version (shōhon) produced by the chanter Edo Magoshirō . Not long afterwards it was acquired by the German Engelbert Kaempfer (1651-1716), author of the History of Japan, who served as physician to the Dutch East India Company at Deshima from 1690-92. During this time he collected books, manuscripts, maps, natural history samples and ethnological artefacts which were to serve as the source material for his later writings on Japan following his return to Germany. Clearly Kaempfer was interested in this play text as there are annotations in his handwriting identifying some of the main characters.

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Self portrait by Engelbert Kaempfer. Detail
(BL Sloane Ms 3060 fol. 502)
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After Kaempfer’s death in 1716, his collection was purchased by the physician, naturalist and collector Sir Hans Sloane and subsequently entered the British Museum on its foundation in 1753. So it was that the text of The Life of Kōchi Hōin left Japan and found its way to London.

A note on the inside of the front cover records that in December 1770 it was examined, along with other Chinese and Japanese books in the Museum, by a Chinese model-maker named Chetqua who mistakenly declared it to be ‘a Chinese story book’.

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Erroneous note by Chetqua inside front cover  (BL Or 75.g.23(1), front)
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Thereafter for almost two centuries it remained in the British Museum Library, largely unremarked, until its significance as the only surviving copy of the play was recognised by Professor Torigoe Bunzō of Waseda University in 1962.

In 1973, along with the rest of Kaempfer’s books, it was transferred to the newly established British Library.

Although the text of the play was published in Japan in 1966, it was not until 2009 that The Life of Kōchi Hōin was revived and performed again, primarily through the efforts of Donald Keene, Professor Emeritus of Columbia University. This performance in London will bring the story of Kōchi Hōin to life in the city where the play text has been preserved for almost 300 years.

Select bibliography
Yu-Ying Brown. ‘Origins and Charactersitics of the Japanese Collection in the British Library, British Library Journal, 24 (1), 1998, pp. 144-157.
Yu-Ying Brown, ‘Japanese Books and Manuscripts: Sloane’s Japanese Library and the Making of the History of Japan’ in Arthur MacGragor (ed.), Sir Hans Sloane: Collector, Scientist , Antiquary, Founding Father of the British Museum (London: British Museum, 1994), pp. 278-290.
Torigoe Bunzō and Charles Dunn (eds). Kojōrurishū : Daiei Hakubutsukan-bon . Tōkyō : Koten Bunko, 1966

Hamish Todd, Head of East Asian Collections
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08 May 2017

Okinawan manuscripts digitised

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The British Library has recently digitised two important manuscripts relating to the Okinawan language (click on hyperlink to get to digital copies): English-Loochooan dictionary: with many phrases in the higher style of the literati, and a glossary of derivatives from the Chinese language (BL Or.40) and Elements or contributions towards a Loochooan & Japanese grammar (BL Or.41), written by the missionary Bernard Jean Bettelheim (1811-1870) and presented to the British Museum on 2 May 1867.

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Dedication from Bettelheim’s Dictionary (BL Or.40 f.2r)  noc:

As this dictionary was written while I was in part supported by kind English friends, and in grateful remembrance of many favors, both temporal and spiritual, recevied from Englishmen while in England & at Loochoo & especially for the gracious protection received from the English Government while in my mission field I wish this volume to become the property of the national museum in London, Great Britain. Cayuga, Illinois, U.S.A., Apr 10th 1867.

Bettelheim’s career
Bettelheim, the first Protestant missionary in what was then the independent Kingdom of Ryukyu (technically a tributary state of Qing China but de facto under the control of the Satsuma Domain on behalf of the Japanese Shogunate), was born in June 1811 in Pressburg (Bratislava) of Jewish descent. He was educated in Budapest and Vienna before moving to Italy where he obtained a doctorate of medicine at the University of Padua in September 1836. He converted from Judaism to Christianity in 1840 while serving as a military surgeon in Smyrna. Some months later he moved to London where in 1843 he married an Englishwoman, Elizabeth Mary Barwick (1821-1872), and took British nationality. The same year he joined the ‘Loochoo Naval Mission’, founded by Lt. Herbert Clifford, as a lay preacher and medical missionary, and on 1 May 1846 he arrived in Naha, Okinawa on board the ‘Starling’ accompanied by his wife and their two young children.

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Bernard Jean Bettelheim (Okinawa Prefectural Museum)

From the outset Bettelheim met with strong opposition from the local authorities and he and his family endured many slights and hardships. His efforts to preach were disrupted by officials and according to one account, ‘People even went so far as to put buckets of filth at his feet while he was speaking’ (Pierre Leturdu, quoted by Cary, p.23). Nevertheless Bettelheim remained in Ryukyu for eight years, working as a missionary, using his medical skills to treat the sick, studying the Okinawan (or ‘Loochooan’ language)[1] and translating parts of the Bible. Throughout these years he maintained a detailed journal which chronicles his trials, tribulations and successes as well as providing a vivid account of life in Ryukyu at that time. Bettelheim finally left Okinawa, to the relief of the authorities, aboard an American warship (part of Commodore Matthew Perry's fleet) in July 1854 and went to Hong Kong where his translations of the Gospels of St Luke and St John, and of the Acts of the Apostles and Romans were published in 1855 at the instigation of George Smith (1815-1871), Anglican Bishop of Victoria.

From Hong Kong Bettelheim moved to the USA, settling in New York. During the Civil War he served as an army doctor and was living in Cayuga, Illinois when he presented his works to the British Museum. He died of pneumonia in Brookfield, Missouri on 9 February 1870. In 1926 to commemorate the 80th anniversary of his arrival, a memorial was erected on the site of his former home in the precincts of the Gokokuji Temple in Naha. Although it was destroyed in World War II, a new memorial has since been set up.

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Memorial to Bettelheim at Gokouji, Nara (Source: Wikimedia Commons. Photo by LordAmeth)

Bettelheim was a controversial figure both in his own day and since, with biographers disagreeing over his personality, importance and legacy. His presence was a source of constant irritation to the Ryukyu authorities and his journal details the hardships he faced. His success as a missionary appears to have been limited - according to the highly critical account by George Kerr, he made just ‘one avowed convert in seven years’ (Kerr, p. 288). However, Earl Bull, a Methodist missionary in Okinawa, considered him a remarkable and self-sacrificing man but one who was ‘not fitted temperamentally to be a successful missionary’ (Bull, p. 122). Otis Cary said of Bettelheim, ‘The Kingdom of God is not to be built up by the disregard of the rights of others, and it is to be questioned whether its progress was not retarded rather than hastened by what was done in Loochoo’ (Cary, p.22). One of his more sympathetic critics, Anthony Jenkins, who edited his voluminous journal, wrote ‘A man of science, linguistics, theology, music and even amateur aesthetics, Bettelheim was one who whose brilliance was parallelled by self-importance’ (Jenkins, p.viii).

Grammar and Dictionary
When he arrived in Ryukyu, Bettelheim had very few resources to assist him in his efforts to learn the language. He had a copy of Medhurst’s Japanese-English Dictionary [2], Karl Gützlaff’s Japanese translations of portions of the Bible, and a glossary of Okinawan compiled by Clifford in 1818 which Bettelheim found to be full of mistakes. In his study of the local language, therefore, he was compelled to start from scratch, relying principally on what he could learn from the Okinawans themselves.

Bettelheim set to work on compiling his grammar shortly after his arrival. The British Library’s manuscript has a preface dated 4 September 1849 but as early as 10 September 1846 he noted in his journal that he had ‘already begun to collect notes towards a grammar of the Loochooan’. Work on the dictionary must have begun around the same time for by 20 March 1847 he wrote in the Dictionary ‘I am at “Brib”’. His linguistic labours continued for five years until finally he recorded in his journal - with a characteristic lack of modesty (Jenkins, Vol. I p.616):

25 Dec 1851 … the greatest entry of this day, yea The Greatest Entry of the Year I have to make is that the Dictionary is finished. Thanks be to God for patience & health given to accomplish such arduous work. With such materials as I had, I am sure never man wrote such Dictionary. And I am equally sure, notwithstanding all the defects the work may have, the degree of completeness to which it is brought was never given to a dictionary by one man [….] What a beastly labour of hand & back bending, besides mental toil & anxiety.

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Title page of Bettelheim’s Okinawan grammar (BL Or.41 f.1r)

The status of Okinawan as an independent language or as a dialect of Japanese has been much debated. It seems Bettelheim himself was confused at times - the title page of his grammar shows that the original title was Elements or contributions towards a Japanese grammar with ‘Loochooan &’ being added later. In his preface he writes ‘I have never been in Japan nor did I hear natives from Japan speak more than three times, we being entirely prevented from coming into contact with those arriving here’. Nevertheless he states:

From a regular comparison between our language spoken here, and that contained in the books referred to [3], I hope I am not at all mistaken in calling ours Japanese, with the exception of a trifling difference between the sounds’. He concludes that ‘though there may be,as in any other language there are, dialectic differences in the Japanese, and that therefore a Yedoman [4] may as much differ from a Shuri-samuré as a London Cockney does from a broadmouthed Scotchman, yet the language of both to all ends and purposes is the same, and they will be able to understand and converse with each other.

Perhaps he later came to change his mind and added ‘Loochooan’ to the title when presenting the manuscript to the British Museum.

Following the annexation of Ryukyu by Japan, the Ryukyuan languages were customarily regarded as Japanese dialects. They are now recognised as independent languages belonging to the Japonic language family, related to – but distinct from – Japanese. Nowadays, the language described in the grammar and dictionary is defined by linguists as ‘Shuri Ryukyuan’ or uchinaaguchi, the language of the royal court in Shuri, capital of the Ryukyu Kingdom, which enjoyed greater prestige among the various Ryukyuan languages [5].

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‘On the Japanese Letters’ – katakana as used to write Okinawan (BL Or.41 f.3v)

Although Bettelheim’s Bible translations into Okinawan were published in 1855, his grammar and dictionary were long overlooked. The grammar was finally edited and published in the 1980s (Kina et al. (1980-1984)). It contains 100 pages with sections ‘on the Japanese Letters’ (i.e. katakana), the phonology, morphology and syntax of Okinawan as well as some exercises and examples of the language. The dictionary, which runs to over 1,300 pages from A to Zoology, remains unpublished.

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The last page of Bettelheim’s dictionary – ‘Zone’ and ‘Zoology’: ‘Through the help of God finished Christmas Day 1851’ (BL Or.40 f. 626v)

The British Library also holds copies of Bettelheim’s Okinawan translations of the Gospel of St John (16011.a.8, 16011.a.11), Gospel of St Luke (16011.a.10), Acts of the Apostles (16011.a.6, 16011.a.9) and Romans (16011.a.7,16011.a.12), and a further translation of the Gospel of St Luke into Japanese (16011.a.13).

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Bettelheim’s Okinawan translations of the Gospels of St John (left) and St Luke (right) (BL 16011.a.8 & 16011.a.10)  noc

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Bettelheim’s Okinawan translations of St Paul’s Letter to the Romans (left) and Acts of the Apostles (right) (BL. 16011.a.12 & 16011.a.9)  noc

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First chapter of Bettelheim’s Okinawan translation of St Paul’s Letter to the Romans (BL. 16011.a.12)  noc

Whatever his successes or failings as a missionary, later generations have reason to be grateful for Bettelheim’s energy and dedication to recording the Okinawan language. His Grammar and Dictionary constitute an extremely valuable resource for the study of the language.


Further reading
Bull, Earl R., Okinawa or Ryukyu – the Floating Dragon. Newark (Ohio), 1958.
Cary, Otis, A History of Christianity in Japan. New York: Fleming H. Revell Co, 1909.
Griesenhofer, Christopher, ‘B. J. Bettelheim 1849 : The first grammar of Ryukyuan’ in Handbook of the Ryukyuan languages: history, structure and use. Berlin ; Boston, Walter Gruyter GmbH, 2015.
Jenkins, Anthony P., The Journal and correspondence of Bernard Jean Bettelheim 1845-1854. Parts I-II. Naha: Okinawa-ken Kyōiku Iinkai, 2005-2012.
Kerr, George H., Okinawa: the history of an island people. Rutland ; Tokyo : Tuttle & Co., 1958.
Kina Chōshō et al., “Betteruhaimu-cho ‘Ryūkyūgo to Nihongo no bunpō no yōkō’, Nantō bunka ; 2 (1980)-6 (1984).

Hamish Todd, Asian and African Collections
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[1] Okinawan is one of the five (some argue six) Ryukyuan languages. The obsolete terms ‘Loochoo’ and ‘Loochooan’ derive from Liuqiu, the Chinese pronunciation of the characters 琉球 which are read in Japanese as Ryūkyū.
[2] An English and Japanese, and Japanese and English vocabulary : compiled from native works, by Walter H Medhurst. Batavia, 1830.
[3] i.e. Medhurst’s dictionary and Gützlaff’s translations.
[4] i.e. citizen of Edo (Tokyo).
[5] For a detailed description of the grammar contained in Elements, see Griesenhofer.

03 March 2017

Vietnam and Dragons

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In Vietnamese culture, as in many other East and South East Asian societies, the dragon plays a very prominent role. It is arguably the most sacred of the four mythical creatures - the dragon, the phoenix, the unicorn and the turtle - and its pre-eminence is closely related to the birth of the nation. Legend has it that Lạc Long Quân, king of the dragons who lived in the water, married Âu Cơ, a fairy from the bird kingdom. She gave birth to 100 sons and her first-born son became King Hùng Vương of Lạc Việt, the first dynasty of Vietnam. The word 'Long' in the name of the legendary Lạc Long Quân (Dragon Lord of the Lac) is a Hán-Việt word which also means 'dragon', or rồng in modern Vietnamese. Hence there is a proverb saying that the Vietnamese are con rồng cháu tiên or “children of the dragon and grandchildren of the fairy”.

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Gilded dragon on the reverse of an Imperial edict of Emperor Khải Đinh, 1924. British Library, Or.14665 Noc

From the very birth of the country, the dragon has thus been closely associated with Vietnamese kings or rulers, but it is believed that in even earlier times the dragon was used as a symbol at clan level to represent talent, noble and beauty. There are proverbs which refer to the dragon in this context, such as chữ viết đẹp như rồng bay phượng múa, 'handwriting is as beautiful as a flying dragon and a dancing phoenix'. However the increasing use of the word 'dragon' and objects with dragon patterns by feudal lords led to this creature becoming a symbol of the authority of the imperial clan. In China, it is believed that an emperor of the Han dynasty (B.C.206-A.D.220) was the first ruler to use the dragon to represent his authority.

Vietnamese tales and legends also reinforce a close association between this creature and the country’s rulers. For example, when Lý Công Uẩn took power from the Early Lê dynasty in A.D. 1009, he is said to have seen a golden dragon descending from the sky over Đại La citadel. He therefore renamed Đại La as Thăng Long ('Rising Dragon'). Lý Công Uẩn  became Emperor Lý Thái Tổ, the founder of the Lý dynasty (A.D. 1009-1225) and Thăng Long, which later became Hà Nội, was chosen as the capital. It is believed that both the new emperor and the capital city were blessed by this mythical creature right from the very beginning. Lý Thái Tổ was not the only emperor who claimed to see a golden dragon during his reign, for Emperor Lý Nhân Tông (A.D. 1066-1127) and Emperor Lê Thanh Tông (A.D. 1442-1497) were also said to have seen golden dragons several times during their reigns (Zeng Zen 2000: 46).

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The Imperial dragon depicted on the yellow silk front and back covers of a manuscript of KimVăn Kiều, 19th c. British Library, Or.14844 Noc

The dragon is regarded as immortal and even though its appearance can seem frightening, it does not represent evil. On the contrary, in Vietnam the dragon was always regarded as a symbol of power and nobility, and thus became the chief attribute of the person highest in nobility and greatest in power: the emperor or king (Buttinger 1983: 20). The Vietnamese imperial throne is called bệ rồng or 'dragon throne', while the throne hall in the palace where the emperor granted public audiences or worked, such as that in the former imperial capital city of Huế, was also decorated with dragons. Imperial attire and accessories were also related to the dragon; for example, the imperial gown was called a long bào and his hat was called a long quân. The dragon with five claws was reserved for imperial use, while one with four claws was for the use of royal dignitaries and high ranking court officials. For commoners, their dragons could only have three claws.

From a geographical aspect, the shape of Vietnam, which resembles a letter S, also enhances the dragon myth. The Vietnamese consider the shape of their homeland to be similar to a winding dragon: the northern part is its tail, central Vietnam is its body with the Trường Sơn mountain range (the Annamite Range) as its back and spine, and the dragon’s head lies in the southern part, with its open mouth spraying water into the South China Sea. It should be noted that when the Mekong River reaches the south of Vietnam and branches into nine tributaries in the Mekong River Delta, it is called Sông Cửu Long or the 'Nine Dragon River'.

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Gilt dragon on the Imperial edict of Emperor Khải Đinh,  25 July, 1917. British Library, Or.14631 Noc

Dragons also appear in many other aspects of Vietnamese life and culture. On auspicious occasions such as the Vietnamese New Year, a dragon dance will be organised. The Nguyễn court (A.D. 1802-1945) also declared the Dragon Boat Day, originating from Chinese traditions, as one of the 'three great holidays' in Vietnam along with the lunar New Year (Tết Nguyên Đán) and the emperor’s birthday. The boat race festival was celebrated on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month by peasants in South China and Vietnam, to ward off poisonous spirits (Woodside 1988: 36-37). Many Vietnamese proverbs and children's plays relate to dragons, and many place names in Vietnam also contain the word “Long”, or 'Dragon'.

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Dragon Boat Race, Thiếu nhi vẽ.  Hà Nội: Văn hóa, 1977, [21]. British Library, SEA.1986.a.4004

In Hồ Chí Minh City (formerly Sài Gòn), there is an historic building called Nhà Rồng, or the Dragon House, located at the old port of Saigon. The house was built by the French in 1862-1863 in a French colonial style, but on the roof top there were two symmetrical ceramic dragons facing each other and looking at the moon, hence the name Nhà Rồng. It was from here that the young Hồ Chí Minh embarked on a ship to sail to France in June 1911, on his search to find methods to fight French colonialism and seek independence for his motherland. Symbolically, dragons seem to appear in some critical junctures in Vietnamese history.

Further reading:
A.B. Woodside. Vietnam and the Chinese model. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University press, 1988.
Joseph Buttinger. A Dragon Defiant. Newton Abbot, Devon: David and Charles, 1983.
Phùng Hồng. ‘Rồng trong đời sống Việt Nam’  in  Hồn Việt vol.25, no.196/197, January-February 2000; pp. 63-66. (BL shelfmark: 16641.e.5)
Zeng Zen. ‘Năm thìn bàn chuyện rồng’ in Hồn Việt vol.25, no.196/197, January-February 2000; pp.45-48. (BL shelfmark: 16641.e.5)

Sud Chonchirdsin, curator for Vietnamese Ccownwork

21 February 2017

Knowledge Exchange visit to the National Library of China

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As part of “The British Library in China Project, the Library recently set up a series of Knowledge Exchange programmes with partners across mainland China and Hong Kong. Gemma Renshaw, Loans Coordinator at the Library, and Robert Davies, Editorial and Rights Manager of the Library’s Publishing team, were the two colleagues selected to visit the National Library of China (NLC) in Beijing in December. The aim of the trip was to learn from the host institution and to explore new terrain for future skills-sharing activities and collaboration.

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Robert Davies and Gemma Renshaw on the first day of their visit to the National Museum of Classical Books at the National Library of China. © British Library in China

The British Library in China Project is a UK government-funded, three-year project designed to strengthen cultural ties between the two countries. The first of a series of exhibitions will be held at the NLC from April 2017 and will feature 11 iconic items from the British Library collections, including an early edition of the works of Shakespeare and Arthur Conan Doyle’s manuscripts. As part of this project, the Library is also developing a Chinese-language website based on the successful “Discovering Literature” platform, to introduce English literature authors and themes to the Chinese public.

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Ms Guo Ni from the NLC International Office welcomed the Library colleagues. From left to right: Robert Davies, Gemma Renshaw, Guo Ni and Tan Wang-Ward. © British Library in China

While working closely together to develop a large-scale, joint exhibition, the Library and the NLC are now collaborating in new and exciting ways. The preparation of the joint exhibition has involved several months of fruitful interactions, including video conference calls between teams in London and Beijing. These regular conversations have increased mutual understanding, which helps tremendously when two organisations have different working methods and operating languages.

For Gemma, one of the important objectives of this trip was directly related to the upcoming exhibition. She hoped to find out more details about the exhibition hall facilities and conditions, as well as to finally meet the colleagues in Beijing with whom she had remotely worked for so many months! Gemma writes:

(On the first day of visit) we arrived early at the NLC and were introduced to the Exhibitions and Property Management teams. They showed us around the gallery that we’ll be displaying our objects in and we talked about the display cases, the types of objects they usually show, how the exhibition hall can be laid out for our joint exhibition and how practical work is divided between the two teams. It was really helpful for me to talk to both teams because they split the work that is done by my department at the Library between them. Also, seeing for myself what the gallery and the store room were like allowed me to get answers to important questions regarding security and exhibition hall environment, which otherwise would require a lot of email exchanges and translation help from my Chinese-speaking colleagues at the Library.

Robert paid a visit to the National Library of China Press. This trip provided a valuable opportunity for Robert to build direct contact with the NLC Press. As Robert says:

The visit to the National Library of China Press was a fascinating glimpse into the very different context of museum and library publishing in China. Our counterparts at the NLC Press have a large staff (over 100!) and publish many deeply scholarly books, curating and preserving China’s traditional literary culture for a highly specialist audience. Compared to the BL press, the NLC press focuses much more strictly on its own collection and on Chinese books.

The British Library has longstanding relationships with NLC Press for key projects – works about the Diamond Sutra, for example – but we have never had direct publisher-to-publisher contact in the past. There are clear opportunities for strengthening our partnership in future years – for example, facsimiles of ancient Chinese books and manuscripts as well as the on-going project on the retro-conversion in electronic format of the catalogues of our exceptional holdings of Chinese material from the early republican period.

This visit gave me a unique chance to see these projects from the other side and to build direct contact with editors and publishers – who were generous with their time in showing me their neighbourhood near the beautiful lakes of Beihai Park in central Beijing and provided an extremely delicious Peking duck lunch….

In addition to the NLC press, Robert also visited one of the most popular local bookstores – San Lian Bookstore, which is open 24/7 and is so vast that it spreads over three floors in the central area of Beijing:

Visiting a flagship Chinese bookshop was a great opportunity to find out more about the market for books in China – how they are priced, what cover designs and binding styles are used, and how translated Western books are categorised and sold among Chinese original works. It was also surprising (and inspiring) to see a very traditional bookshop – no café, and no gift products – busy with customers, late into the evening.


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Gemma Renshaw and Robert Davies with Mr Lei Qiang from the Exhibition Department of the NLC. © British Library in China

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A corner for audience participation at an NLC exhibition dedicated to the guqin, a traditional Chinese musical instrument that was often associated with scholarly life. © British Library in China

The exhibitions on display at the National Museum of Classical Books of the NLC were particularly interesting and informative: new media and interactive technologies have found their way into the NLC exhibition displays and narratives. For Robert, the highlight of visiting the exhibitions was a guided tour of the oracle bones gallery, which has an immersive set-up supported by multi-media projection and ambient sound effect. The way that the exhibition curator had made a complex and specialist subject into an accessible, interesting and hands-on gallery was very impressive.

Other activities of the Knowledge Exchange visit to the NLC included a tour of the book conservation studio and of the Ancient Rubbings and Epigraphy department. In the conservation studio, the traditional Chinese way of master-apprentice knowledge transmission is still very prominent, demonstrated by the way the room is arranged: the master conservators’ desks are positioned in the central area of the room while apprentices’ desks are on the right side of the room by the windows.

While we were there a conservator was working on her research on paper colouration. She was using Chinese brush and mineral paints and experimented combining the paint with a wide range of materials to see which combination would better match with that of an aged page from an old book. This type of approach to paper is rooted in the long history of bookbinding and book conservation in China.

The NLC conservation studio is equipped with very advanced technology machinery, including two labs for paper testing and analysis and a newly established Western Books conservation lab, which the studio manager very kindly introduced to us. This new lab is led by Xiao Yu, a young conservator who studied at the Camberwell College of Arts and has a remarkable knowledge base of both Chinese and Western book bindings and materials.

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Visit to the conservation studio at the NLC. © British Library in China

At the Department of Ancient Rubbings and Epigraphy we were given a fascinating insight into the large collection of Chinese rubbings. Chinese rubbings are paper copies of the surface of engraved items or reliefs. As a technique, rubbings enjoy a long history of more than 1,500 years in China and East Asian countries. As objects, rubbings represent an invaluable medium for preserving the history and culture contained within important stone stele, bronze vessels and objects in other material such as brick and jade. We were shown how to make rubbings out of a beautiful ink-stone engraved with plum blossoms: a piece of traditional Chinese rice paper was laid flat on the ink-stone and carefully moistened with sprayed water. After the paper dried but remained stuck to the ink-stone, an inkpad with some ink was carefully and lightly pressed on the paper, leaving an ink impression of the plum blossoms image as the carved parts of the engravings were left white on the paper.

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An expert at the NLC showing how to make a rubbing out of the ink-stone engraved with a plum blossom pattern. © British Library in China

Creating a Chinese rubbing is a delicate task: it requires extensive experience to balance the level of the moisture in the paper, the quantity of ink and the correct pressure. The British Library’s Chinese collection hosts a collection of Chinese rubbings, and the Curators of the Chinese section hope to work together with the NLC in future to gain specialist knowledge on how to better conserve, catalogue, store and digitise them.

07 group photo at rubbings department
Experts of the Department of Ancient Rubbings and Epigraphy at the NLC welcomed Library staff Gemma Renshaw and Tan Wang-Ward. © British Library in China

The Knowledge Exchange programme will continue alongside the three-year exhibitions project in China and will consist of a series of reciprocal visits between staff members of different areas and departments of the British Library and the Chinese partner institutions, including Shanghai Library and Mu Xin Art Museum in Wuzhen.


Tan Wang-Ward, Project Assistant to “British Library in China” Project, with thanks to Gemma Renshaw and Robert Davies for their contributions.
 CC-BY-SA

11 November 2016

Daikoku and Ebisu: two Japanese deities of good fortune

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The British Library holds a five-volume set of Ofuda [amulet] albums from which we have been introducing some selected items in our previous AAS blog posts. One of these featured an image which happened to be of Daikoku, and caught the attention of the East Asian Money Curator at the British Museum. She drew our attention to some fascinating coin-shaped charms with images of Daikoku and Ebisu.

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Daikoku (left) and Ebisu (right), two coin-shaped charms. British Museum 1887,0511.21  and 1984,1222.13

Daikoku and Ebisu are not only two of the Seven Deities of Good Fortune in Japan, they have also been major votive gods for bringing good luck in answer to the prayers of Japanese since time immemorial. They are considered to be the guardians of the natural produce of land and sea, and while one hosts the annual meeting of eight million gods, the other keeps guard over their vacant shrines. They can sometimes be thought of as father and son, but there are also various other reasons why Daikoku and Ebisu are paired together.

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Daikoku (left) and Ebisu (right) on a coin-shaped charm. British Museum 1908,0605.8 

Daikoku is the tutelary god of farming and Ebisu is the deity associated with marine products. This combination covers almost all possible sources of food, one of the fundamental drivers for the development of human society. Japan has always been a country of agriculture (rice) and fishing, and so praying for bountiful harvests of rice and good catches of fish was deeply embedded in people’s daily life and attitudes.

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Two Ofuda of Daikoku, shown riding on rice bags. Ofuda harikomichō : Daiei Toshokanzō  お札貼込帳 : 大英図書館蔵]. British Library, 16007.d.1(5), 74-80 Noc

Daikoku is depicted riding on rice bags and Ebisu carries a fishing rod and a big fish, and these associated images directly symbolise their roles: promising a good harvest and a plentiful catch of fish. However these were not their only roles. If we trace the origins of Daikoku and Ebisu back through ancient legends, we learn that their existence itself is a story of constant transformation.

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Ebisu carries a fishing rod and a big fish. Ofuda harikomichō : Daiei Toshokanzō  お札貼込帳 : 大英図書館蔵]. British Library, 16007.d.1(4), 12-17 Noc

In fact, Daikoku is a mixture of the Japanese Shinto God Ōkuninushi 大国主 and the deity Shiva, one of the principal deities of Hinduism. How did Shiva ‘The Destroyer’ come to be transformed into this jolly happy figure carrying a big bag of presents on his back?

The answer is linked with the spread of Buddhism into East Asia.  When Chinese monks travelled to India as the birth place of Buddhism to learn about the origin of the Buddha’s doctrines, they translated many sutras into Chinese. Chinese is an ideographic language without phonetic symbols so the early Chinese scholars had to match up every uncommon foreign word with the closest equivalent to their own Chinese ideographs.

Shiva was absorbed into Tantric Buddhism as one of the deities guarding the Buddha. Shiva has as his avatar Mahākāla, literally meaning “great” + “darkness or blackness”, which correspond to the Chinese ideographs 大 + 黑 (Dà hēi). In the Buddhist pantheon, Shiva was thus transformed into Dàhēi tiān大黑天, a brave protector of Buddhism from all demons against the virtues of Buddha.

Eventually, when Shiva =  Dàhēi 大黑reached Japan he was not only accepted as one of the Buddhist Devas, but also merged with a Japanese god. The Japanese Shinto god Ōkuninushi 大国主, could be read phonetically as Daikokunushi, very similar to the sound of Dàhēi 大黑 in the Japanese phonetic reading 'Daikoku'. In Japan Buddhism and Shinto belief are closely connected and over time have influenced each other, becoming mixed together.  Thus Daikoku大黒 can be both a Buddhist Deva and an avatar of Ōkuninushi.
 
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Daikoku (left) as a young god shows that he keeps a touch of his past as Mahākāla. Daikoku (right) in one of his most popular manifestations.  Ofuda harikomichō : Daiei Toshokanzō  お札貼込帳 : 大英図書館蔵]. British Library, 16007.d.1(2), 41-44 and 16007.d.1(5), 74-80 Noc

Ōkuninushi is the god of the completed construction of the world situated between heaven and hell, known in Japanese as the ’Ashihara no Nakatsukuni 葦原中国’, which literally means “The middle country of reed beds”, and which represents the physical land of Japan. Ōkuninushi builds the land mass and the villages, introduces farming and treats the sick. He blesses all good relationships and lives in Izumo. Once a year, all Japanese gods assemble at his great shrine and have an annual meeting to report to each other – a sort of divine summit meeting!

However, there are a few exceptions, such as Ebisu 恵比寿. He stays at his own shrines to keep his eyes on people who are praying, as well as to watch over the vacant shrines whose gods have departed to attend the great shrine in Izumo.

Ebisu is an indigenous Japanese Shinto god, who has not been combined with other religious figures. Japan is surrounded by seas so it is natural for the ancient Japanese to worship the sea.  Ebisu is often symbolised by marine flotsam. He represents visitors from across the sea and is the god of what the sea brings forth. Ebisu is often associated with Hiruko 蛭子.

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Ebisu (top) and Daikoku (bottom). Illustrated by Ogino Issui 荻野一水.Zuan hyakudai 圖案百題. Kyoto: Unsōdō 京都 : 芸艸堂, 1910. British Library ORB.30/788 Noc

Hiruko was born as the imperfectly formed child of Izanagi and Izanami as they were trying to form the land of Japan. Hiruko did not have a firm enough body to become an island such as Awaji island or Shikoku island. He was placed in a tiny boat and abandoned to the sea. Hiruko survived this trial and was eventually washed ashore. This legend led to Hiruko being linked to visitors from the sea bringing forth sea resources, and eventually Ebisu was identified as Hiruko.

Ebisu is also associated with Kotoshironushi 事代主, one of the sons of Ōkuninushi大国主, who loves fishing and is deeply connected with the sea.  Kotoshironushi was the key deity in Ōkuninushi’s negotiations with Upper Heaven (Takamagahara 高天原), to reach agreement to pass on the role of rule of Japan to the descendants of the Sun Goddess.  In return Ōkuninushi insisted that a great shrine be built for him in Izumo. Therefore Ebisu, who is associated with Kotoshironushi, plays an important role in patrolling while all the other gods are meeting at his father’s shrine.

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Ebisu fishing. Coin-shaped charm. British Museum 1884,0511.2414

Daikoku and Ebisu continued to develop and build up Japan, bringing a rich variety of produce from land and sea which led to the accumulation of wealth and the evolution of society.  It therefore makes sense to the Japanese - and those interested in Japan and its culture - that Daikoku and Ebisu, the chief guardian deities of happiness and good fortune, should constantly turn up in the shape of charms or amulets.

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Daikoku as Ōkuninushi (right) and Ebisu as Kotoshironushi (left). Ofuda harikomichō : Daiei Toshokanzō  お札貼込帳 : 大英図書館蔵]. British Library, 16007.d.1(5), 64-70  Noc

Previous blog posts on Ofuda:

Ofuda: in with the good, out with the bad (Part 1), 27 May 2016

Ofuda: in with the good, out with the bad (Part 2), 10 June 2016

Yasuyo Ohtsuka Curator, Japanese Collections Ccownwork

10 June 2016

Ofuda: in with the good, out with the bad (Part 2)

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In the previous Ofuda blog, we gave a brief introduction to Japanese amulets (Ofuda) which have always reflected the fundamental curiosity of people about the uncertainties of life.
 
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Ee ja nai ka ええじゃないかwas a convergence of carnival-like religious celebrations which coincided with a rumour that the Ofuda of Ise Shrine would fall down from heaven. Japan, between June 1867 and May 1868. Kawanabe Kyōsai 河鍋 暁斎. ‘Keiō Hōnen odori no zu 慶應四豊年踊之圖’ from the series Egoyomi Harikomichō  [絵暦貼込帳] 1792-1870. National Diet Library

Lafcadio Hearn was a Japanologist who was fascinated by Ofuda. Hearn was born on Lefkada, in the Greek Ionian islands, in 1850 during the British occupation.  He was the son of an Irish soldier and a Greek mother, and moved to Ireland when he was still an infant. He later worked as a journalist in the USA and eventually settled in Japan in 1890 where he married a Japanese woman the following year, and in 1896 obtained Japanese citizenship and took the Japanese name of Koizumi Yakumo 小泉八雲.

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Lafcadio Hearn and Bruce Rogers. The Romance of the Milky Way, and Other Studies & Stories. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1905. British Library, 12355.aa.26

Lafcadio Hearn's last book, The Romance of the Milky Way, and Other Studies & Stories, is an anthology of seven different short studies and stories. One of these is ‘Goblin Poetry’, Hearn’s selected translations taken from the Kyōka hyaku monogatari  狂歌百物語. Hearn owned a copy of the original work, which was compiled by Tenmei Rōjin 天明老人 , illustrated by Ryūsai Kanjin 竜斎閑人 and published in 1853 (Kaei嘉永6).  Together with the majority of Hearn's private book collection, it was purchased by Toyama High School (est. 1924), which later became Toyama University, where The Lafcadio Hearn Library is now held. Kyōka hyaku monogatari was listed on p.117 in the Catalogue of the Lafcadio Hearn Library in Toyama High School (1927).

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The cover of the first volume, and (in the centre) Fuda Hegashi 札へがし. Poems on One Hundred Ghost Stories (Kyōka hyaku monogatari 狂歌百物語), woodblock print, 1853 (Kaei 6).  Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Department of Asian Art (Rogers Fund, 1918) JIB27_001, JIB27_136

In ‘Goblin Poetry’, Hearn wrote an explanation of the Japanese title as follows: 'The Hyaku monogatari or “Hundred Tales” is a famous book of ghost stories, Kyōka is written with a Chinese character signifying “insane” or “crazy” and it means a particular and extraordinary variety of comic poetry' (Hearn & Rogers 1905: 53-54).

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The chapter on Fuda Hegashi 札へがし in ‘Goblin Poetry’. Lafcadio Hearn and Bruce Rogers, The Romance of the Milky Way, and Other Studies & Stories. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1905. British Library 12355.aa.26

In his footnote to poem 'XII, FUDA-HÉGASHI', which he explains as “Make-peel-off-august-charm Ghost”, Hearn also refers to his other book Ghostly Japan in which the reader can find a good Japanese story about a Fuda-hégashi (Hearn & Rogers 1905: 92-93).  This is the story ‘A Passion of Karma’, the English translation of Botandōrō 牡丹灯籠.

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In Ghostly Japan is a collection of 14 mysterious Japanese short stories. Story No 6  is  ‘A Passion of Karma’. Lafcadio Hearn, In Ghostly Japan. London: Sampson Low, Marston and Co, 1899. British Library, 08631.F.6

In 1934, Hearn’s family published an extremely valuable book on the thirtieth anniversary of his death. It was an endeavour in which his whole family was heavily involved: his eldest son was the editor, his grandson wrote the Daisen題簽 (the book title slip), and the design of the cover cloth was inspired by Hearn’s favourite bedcover.  Yōma shiwa 妖魔詩話 assembled together three elements in one  book: the original Japanese text of the Kyōka hyaku monogatari; ‘Goblin Poetry’, which was Hearn’s published English translation; and Hearn’s own draft notes for the preparation of his publication. For an introduction to the book, and the background to its publication in 1934, see 小泉八雲秘稿画本「妖魔詩話 」/ 寺田寅彦 著

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This is the page on Fuda Hegashi 札へがし. At top left is a facsimile of Hearn’s manuscript with his original illustration; at bottom left is a modern Japanese transcription of Edo Kyōka poems and explanations in Japanese, based on Hearn’s English translation edited by his eldest son Kazuo Koizumi; while on the right page is the main text of ‘Goblin Poetry’. Lafcadio Hearn and Kazuo Koizumi小泉一雄. Yoma Shiwa: Koizumi Yakumo Hiko Gahon妖魔詩話 : 小泉八雲秘稿畫本. Tōkyō: Hakubunkan Shinsha 東京 : 博文館新社, 2002. British Library, ORB.99/236.  Image courtesy of Hakubunkan Shinsha博文館新社.

The British Library has recently acquired a deluxe facsimile published in 2002 of Yōma shiwa 妖魔詩話, which was originally published in 1934 by Oyama Shoten 小山書店, which affords us a rare opportunity of seeing Hearn’s handwriting.  Although the footnotes for ‘Goblin Poetry’ were omitted in Yōma shiwa, nevertheless, we are still aware of Hearn’s clear intention to link Fuda Hegashi and the well-known episode of Ofuda-hagashi お札はがし in ‘A Passion of Karma’ in his two books, The Romance of the Milky Way, and Other Studies & Stories and In Ghostly Japan.

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From a collection of c.330 Japanese amulets printed up to the 1880's mounted in 5 albums. [Ofuda harikomichō : Daiei Toshokanzō お札貼込帳 : 大英図書館蔵] British Library, 16007.d.1(1)71-73

Further reading:

Chronology of Lafcadio Hearn. Sanin Japan-Ireland Association.

Yasuyo Ohtsuka
Curator, Japanese Collections Ccownwork

27 May 2016

Ofuda: in with the good, out with the bad (Part 1)

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In a previous blog post, ‘Till death us do part – or not?’, we introduced the well-known episode of Ofuda-hagashi お札はがし(‘removing the ofuda’) in the story of the ghostly lover, Botandōrō 牡丹灯籠.  Ofuda-hagashi is one of the most thrilling scenes in the story where the servant betrays his master by removing the protective ofuda (paper amulets), allowing the ghosts to slip into the house where the hero is barricading himself from his ghost lover.

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A sample page from the BL Ofuda collection. From left to right, Buddha, possibly in the Western Paradise; the figure of a high-ranking Buddhist monk; and the back of a mirror dedicated to the Sun goddess Amaterasu. From a collection of c.330 Japanese amulets printed up to the 1880s, mounted in 5 albums. Ofuda harikomichō : Daiei Toshokanzō  お札貼込帳 : 大英図書館蔵]. British Library, 16007.d.1(5) 71-73r Noc

What are Ofuda? It is hard to give a quick and easy definition of these paper amulets, because there are so many varieties with different functions. If we attempt to give a general description of Ofuda for readers who have never come across them, we could say that an Ofuda is usually a piece of paper or a wooden amulet, on which is written or printed religious material such as figures of Shinto deities, Buddhas, high-ranking monks, Buddhist sutras, etc.  In the majority of cases, they are issued by Japanese religious bodies such as temples and shrines for their followers. Then, the owner of Ofuda can make devotional visits to the places from which they received their Ofuda to pray and renew them on a regular basis. In general, we can distinguish at least two types of Ofuda: one to give protection from bad spirits, and the other to bring good luck to the owners.

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An Ofuda of Tsuno Daishi角大師, which featured in the previous blog postOfuda harikomichō : Daiei Toshokanzō お札貼込帳 : 大英図書館蔵. British Library, 16007.d.1 (2) 15-19r Noc

Shown above is an example of a protective Ofuda. In the story of Botandōrō, as long as the hero stays inside his house with the protection of the Ofuda, he is safe. But later in the story the Ofuda is secretly removed by someone else, allowing the ghost to slip into the house and take his life. From this story line, we can guess that the Ofuda which were put up to prevent ghosts from entering the house might be similar to Tsuno Daishi which is typically placed outside entrances to houses.

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Daikoku 大黒, a god of wealth. One of the Seven Deities of Good Fortune in Japan. Ofuda harikomichō : Daiei Toshokanzō お札貼込帳 : 大英図書館蔵. British Library, 16007.d.1 (1) 3-6 Noc

And shown above is an example of an Ofuda as a good luck amulet. Daikoku 大黒, who is known as Mahākāla in the original Hindu pantheon, became Maheśvara in the Buddhist pantheon with the spread of Buddhism into East Asia. Eventually when he reached Japan, he was not only accepted as one of the Buddhist Devas, but also merged with Japanese god Ōkuninushi 大国主 and transformed into the god of wealth.

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Daikoku with the Seven Deities of Good Fortune in Japan. [Ofuda harikomichō : Daiei Toshokanzō  お札貼込帳 : 大英図書館蔵]. British Library 16007.d.1 (2) 21-25r Noc

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Kosazuke Kishimojin 子授鬼子母神, who is the guardian of women who wish to become pregnant, as well as the protector of childbirth and children. [Ofuda harikomichō : Daiei Toshokanzō  お札貼込帳 : 大英図書館蔵]. British Library 16007.d.1(4)40-44r Noc

Items such as Ofuda and other types of talismans and amulets reflect fundamental human concerns about the uncertainties of life. The Kansai-kan of the National Diet Library, Japan, recently held a display of items from their collections showing how people prayed for good things, what they were afraid of, and how their wishes were transformed into objects, such as amulets, talismans and incantation spells.

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Osore to inori : majinai no katachi おそれと祈り : まじないのかたち, "Awe and prayer – the forms of incantation," The 19th Small Exhibition at the Kansai-Kan of National Diet Library, 18 February – 15 March 2016.
    
Incidentally, it was Lafcadio Hearn (1850–1904), the author of ‘Kwaidan: stories and studies of strange things’ who translated Botandōrō into English as ‘A Passion of Karma’ and collected Japanese Ofuda himself. Many of his Ofuda are now kept at the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford.

In the second part of this blog post, we will explore further Hearn’s ‘A Passion of Karma’ and his other work ‘Goblin Poetry’ in which he described ofuda-hagashi, and introduce a newly acquired deluxe facsimile version of Goblin Poetry, Yōma shiwa 妖魔詩話, published in 2002.

Further reading:
Josef A. Kyburz, Ofuda: amulettes et talismans du Japon : actes du colloque international, Ofuda-images pieuses du Japon, Fondation Hugot, 1-2 mars 2012 = on Japanese charms.  Paris : Collège de France, Institut des hautes études japonaises, 2014. British Library JPN.2014.b.73
Josef A. Kyburz, ヨーロッパに来ている日本のお札 – その三つのコレクション
The Seven Deities of Good Fortune

Yasuyo Ohtsuka, Curator, Japanese Collections Ccownwork

24 May 2016

Tang Xianzu, the great Ming dynasty playwright

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This year the Library celebrates one of the greatest literary figures of all time, William Shakespeare (1564–1616), with a major exhibition and a rich series of events and on-line resources. Coincidently, two other world-famous writers died in the same year: Miguel de Cervantes (1547–1616), and the Chinese playwright Tang Xianzu 湯顯祖(1550–1616). To commemorate these two writers, the Library recently presented in its permanent free exhibition space, the Sir John Ritblat Treasures Gallery, the display Imagining Don Quixote, and is currently showing a selection of woodblock printed editions from Tang Xiangzu’s work. For those who cannot visit the British Library to see the display on Tang in person, this blog post presents some information on the exhibits.

Tang Xianzu is one of the greatest Chinese playwrights. He was a native of Linchuan, Jiangxi province, and worked as an official during the reign of the Wanli Emperor (1572–1620) of the Ming dynasty. Tang Xianzu’s masterpiece is called the ‘Peony Pavilion’ (牡丹亭 Mudan ting). The ‘Peony Pavilion’ was written and staged for the first time in 1598 and performed at the Pavilion of Prince Teng, one of the great Chinese towers in Southern China. It is still one of the most beloved and famous Chinese traditional operas today.

Tang blog 1 by Sara
Xu xiang mudan ting, 繡像牡丹亭, ‘Illustrated Peony Pavilion’ in 8 chapters, c. 1840, woodblock printed edition. In this illustration from a Qing dynasty edition of the text, we can see the opening scene, when the sixteen-year-old Du Liniang falls asleep in the garden and starts dreaming. British Library, 15327.b.15 Noc

The term ‘opera’ is often used in reference to Chinese theatre as it was common for dramatic performances to be highly choreographed and punctuated by singing and musical accompaniment. There are many forms of Chinese opera, but the ‘Peony Pavilion’ is traditionally performed as a kunqu or ‘Kun opera’, a style developed in the early Ming period, which combines spoken parts with singing and dance movements.

Tang blog 2 by Sara
The Peony Pavilion performed in Venice on 15th of June 2010 (photo by the author). The original version of the Peony Pavilion runs for 20 hours, and comprises a total of 55 scenes, but it is now usually performed in shorter adaptations.

The ‘Peony Pavilion’ is sometimes referred to as ‘A Ghost Story’, because part of it takes place in the underworld and the protagonist returns from the afterlife. It narrates the love story between a girl from a wealthy family, Du Liniang, and the scholar Liu Mengmei. After seeing Liu in a dream and falling in love with him, Du dies of sorrow. Her spirit keeps looking for the young scholar and the Judge of the Underworld promises to resurrect her so that she can see him again. After appearing in Liu’s dreams as a ghost, her body is exhumed by Liu and the couple live happily thereafter.

Tang blog 3 by Sara
Xu xiang mudan ting, 繡像牡丹亭, ‘Illustrated Peony Pavilion’ in 8 chapters, c. 1840, woodblock printed edition. British Library 15327.b.16, another copy of the same edition of the work as in 15327.b.15. Noc

The ‘Peony Pavilion’ is one of the so-called ‘Four Dreams’ (Lin chuan si meng), four of Tang’s most important plays in which dreams play a significant part in the story. They include also ‘The Purple Hairpin’, ‘The Dream of Handan’ and ‘The Dream of the Southern Bough’. The latter two in particular contain themes of rejection of traditional feudal values and the possibility of escape through love and compassion in order to achieve happiness.

Tang Blog 4 by Sara
The ‘Dream of Southern Bough’, in the collection Shi er zhong qu十二種曲, ‘Twelve operas’, by Li Yu, 1785, woodblock printed edition. British Library, 15327.a.3 Noc

The ‘Peony Pavilion’ has been translated into many languages and adapted several times for television and theatre productions such as contemporary opera, ballet and musical performances, both in China and abroad. The escape from the conventions of feudal society, the power of true love to conquer even death, and the cathartic role of dreams are central themes of the ‘Peony Pavilion’. Together they created a story that is universal and beloved by students, readers and audiences around the world.

Tang blog 5 by Sara
‘Die Rückkehr der Seele’ (The Return of the Soul), translated by Vincenz Hundhausen. Zürich/Leipzig, 1937. This edition of the ‘Peony Pavilion’, translated and edited by Vincenz Hundhausen, is accompanied by forty reproductions of Chinese woodcuts from the Ming period. British Library, 11101.f.28

Further reading:
Tan, Tian Yuan and Santangelo, Paolo 'Passion, Romance, and Qing: The World of Emotions and States of Mind in Peony Pavilion' (3 vols.),  in Emotions and States of Mind in East Asia, Vol. 4. Leiden: Brill, 2015.
Tan, Tian Yuan, Edmondson, Paul and Wang, Shih-pe, 1616: Shakespeare and Tang Xianzu's China. London: Bloomsbury Arden Shakespeare, 2016.


Sara Chiesura, East Asian collections Ccownwork