THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Asian and African studies blog

17 posts categorized "East Asia"

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.

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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.
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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

20 May 2016

Can’t judge a book by its cover? Perhaps you can!

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If you look at how museums choose to digitally engage with their audiences, especially in the past few years, it is evident that 3D technologies have become standard practice within their larger digital outreach. There is an increasing tendency to utilise 3D models and prints to enhance online resources featuring collection items, or as exhibition materials in galleries. Some museums still have limited experience of utilising 3D technologies, while others do it on a large-scale and on a regular basis. Overall, the 3D trend has already had a great impact on the cultural heritage sector as a whole. However, while a museum is more of a usual suspect for these novel technologies, libraries are perhaps less so. They are perceived to hold books, manuscripts, documents, or in short – compilations of two-dimensional text. But nothing physical that a library holds is in fact two-dimensional, and some items kept in libraries may be of unanticipated nature. Libraries have more potential to engage with 3D modelling and printing than one would expect. In the following examples, move your mouse over the object to see the item in 3D.

 Silk mantle (textile cover) for a Torah scroll, date unknown (British Library Or 13027)

What does it actually mean, to 3D model and print items? A 3D model is a full representation of an object that can be viewed and manipulated by a user in a digital space. There are two main ways to digitise and present real world objects: 3D scanning (or laser scanning) and photogrammetry – image based modelling. While the former method is more expensive and requires expert knowledge, the latter is affordable and easy to implement. If 3D modelling takes an object from the physical into the digital world, 3D printing takes it back into the physical. 3D printing is the process of using a 3D model to create a physical object via a variety of printing methods, such extrusion of plastics, resins, and other materials. One of the ways a 3D printer works is actually similar to how an inkjet printer works, but instead of using ink it uses a filament – laying the filament down and slowly building up a 3D structure.

3D technologies used in the cultural sector have many benefits. 3D models and prints can be supplemental tools for visualisation, enhancing the experience of viewing an object. They can be used in physical as well as virtual exhibitions online, as well as enhance a 2D collection catalogue hosted online or feature in other online content. In this way, curators and educators can use 3D data to tell a story, online visitors can explore the collections in a new and stimulating way, and there is a potential to engage the larger, international public. 3D prints can be displayed at touring locations, used in education systems as sustainable objects for teaching and training (instead of the real items), and used as event giveaways. There is also a commercial potential for prints, as replicas of objects can be sold, full scale or in miniature and in different materials and colours. In short, 3D technologies change how people access and engage with cultural resources.

All this is hardly news for the museum sector. What’s innovative here is that the British Library is joining the game too. It makes perfect sense for such a large library to re-examine its traditional approach to the delivery of information and to keep seeking novel means of public and scholarly engagement – especially in light of the huge variety of items it holds. Aside from the more predictable formats (books, newspapers, documents, maps), the Library’s physical collection spans from inscribed bones, seals, scrolls, wooden cases, fine textiles, and folding books with covers embellished with gold and jewels, to wooden cabinets, chests, ship models and even rifles! Some collection items such as manuscript chests cannot be called up by readers from the Library’s basement – they are too heavy and too fragile. And as most of the Library’s collection items are not on display in one of its galleries, 3D digitisation affords the opportunity to bring these items into the virtual light.

In the past year I’ve been involved in creating several 3D models for two British Library projects: the Hebrew Manuscripts and the Oracle Bones digitisation projects. The former digitised 1,300 Hebrew manuscripts – codices (manuscripts in book format), scrolls, charters and loose folios spanning 1,000 years from the 10th to the 20th century CE, mainly from Europe and the Middle East. This rare collection of manuscripts represents all the areas of Jewish knowledge, whether religious or secular.

Pentateuch from Italy, dated to 1486 CE (British Library Add MS 4709)

The latter project digitised more than 480 Chinese ‘oracle bones’, dating between 1600 and 1050 BCE (Shang Dynasty). These are the oldest objects in the Library, including mainly shoulder animal bones and some tortoise shells’ fragments, bearing the earliest known examples of Chinese writing. Used in divination rituals, the bones were inscribed with questions posed to ancestors, the answers to which were interpreted from cracks formed in the bones when heated. The digitised Hebrew manuscripts and oracle bones can be viewed on the British Library’s Digitised Manuscripts website. 

Inscribed oracle bone, dating to the Shang Dynasty (c. 1600-1050 BCE; British Library Or 7694/1595)

The method that we use for 3D modelling at the Library is photogrammetry – creating a 3D structure from a series of overlapping 2D images. Before the imaging started, the items were called up from the Library’s storage facility, which closely monitors temperature and humidity levels. We benefited from the Imaging Studio’s advanced photography and lighting equipment and our only further investment in equipment was a £6 turntable. In the case of the oracle bones, which are mostly rather flat objects, conservator Karen Bradford created stands for them to be placed on securely, in a way that would allow for optimised photo capture but also protect the bones. Karen was present throughout the imaging process, to make sure the bones were safely handled.

Fig1
British Library conservator Karen Bradford stabilising an oracle bone in a foam stand before imaging

The imaging process began with taking photographs of each item from different angles, with sufficient overlap. In order to do that, each object was placed on a turntable and the camera was mounted on a tripod. We rotated the turntable at roughly 5-10 degrees with a photo taken at each position. After completing a 360-degree circle the item was turned to its reverse side and the process was repeated. Once enough photos had been taken, the images were white balanced and then masked ready for the modelling process in Agisoft PhotoScan. When the models were complete, they were published to Sketchfab. The oracle bones were also printed by the 3D expert ThinkSee3D, who made sure the Chinese writing remains as legible as possible.

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British Library senior imaging technician Neil McCowlen imaging oracle bone Or 7694/1595

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Neil made sure the bones were in focus and the script was sharp and clear

Fig4
ThinkSee3D founder Steven Dey holding the print of oracle bone Or 7694/1595
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3D modelling at the British Library is still in its early stages, but the potential is immense. It suffices to make your way to Asian and African Studies on the third floor in the British Library building at St Pancras, and look at the current exhibition outside of the Reading Room, called ‘More than a Book’. Southeast Asian manuscripts come in different shapes and forms, such as an Indonesian divination manuscript inscribed on a bamboo container, or 19th-century wooden or bamboo Thai title indicators, which helped identify and retrieve manuscripts stored in large numbers in wooden cabinets in temple libraries (see for example Or 16555). Thai manuscripts were stored in boxes, chests or cabinets placed in Buddhist temple libraries or in palaces, and often decorated in red and gold and carved with beautiful designs. The Library holds six such magnificent items from the 19th century, some of which are displayed inside and outside the Asian and African Studies Reading Room, and others – in the basement (e.g. Foster 1057 – weighing over half a ton!).

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Divination manuscript inscribed in Karo Batak on a bamboo container, Indonesia (British Library Or 16736)
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19th century Northern Thai manuscript wooden box, decorated with gilt and lacquer (Foster 1056), displayed in the Asian & African Studies Reading Room
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The Southeast Asian exhibition offers just a small taste to what the department of Asian and African Studies has to offer to 3D enthusiasts. The department has three tiny printed Qur’ans. Due to their very small size, the text is almost illegible which indicates that these Qur'ans were probably not intended to be read. They may have been owned as protective talismans (hama'il) since one comes with a locket to be worn around the neck. Another possibility is that they were ornamental, much like a similar example found in Queen Mary’s Doll House in the Royal Collection.

Opening up these tiny books and turning their pages in order to digitise their text could put pressure on their bindings and would therefore be harmful from a conservation point of view. Modelling these delicate Qur’ans may present a safer way to display these online – and to some extent a more engaging one. Other interesting three-dimensional items from the Arabic collections are three ox bones bearing magic Arabic inscriptions. These have undergone multispectral imaging by Imaging Scientist Christina Duffy, and have an unmistakable potential to be viewed in 3D. And when going back to the collection that initially inspired us to do 3D modelling – the collection of Hebrew manuscripts – there are so many more candidates: codices with interesting bindings, or intriguing scrolls such as Scrolls of Esther, telling the story of rescuing the Jews of Persia from an annihilation plot.

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Two tiny Qur’ans, one from 1882 Delhi (left, British Library O.R.70.a.4), the other from 1889 Istanbul (right, British Library O.R.70.a.3)
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Ox bones with Arabic inscriptions (British Library Or 9667)
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15th-century liturgy from Italy in pre-1600 CE binding, made with red velvet and clasps (British Library Add MS 16577)|
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16-17th-century Scrolls of Esther: with wooden roller and silk cover (British Library Add MS 11834; top); made of leather, wooden core with carved ivory roller mounted with brass, from Italy (British Library Or 1086; bottom)
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These examples are just the tip of the iceberg of what the British Library has to offer, 3D-wise. Some of its most famous and unique items (outside of Asian and African Studies) which would be wonderful to view in 3D include Elizabeth I prayer book, a rare item with its original 16th-century binding and embroidery, and the 8th-century St Cuthbert Gospel, the oldest intact European book. I’m very hopeful that the existing models and prints will inspire an increased use of 3D technologies at the British Library as well as other libraries worldwide.

 

Thank you Annabel Gallop, Christina Duffy, Daniel Lowe, Emma Goodliffe, Jana Igunma, and Steven Dey for providing materials for this blog post.

Adi Keinan-Schoonbaert, Digital Curator (Polonsky Fellow) for the Hebrew Manuscripts Digitisation Project 
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19 February 2016

Kaempfer’s cat

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And Did Those Feet In Ancient Times…?

Recent ultraviolet photography of a 17th century map of the Japanese port city of Nagasaki has revealed the unsuspected paw prints of a cat.

UV image
Ultraviolet photography revealing cat paw prints on Nagasaki ezu. (Photo: Christina Duffy, British Library)

The untitled map – traditionally referred to as Nagasaki ezu 長崎絵図 (‘Illustrated Map of Nagasaki’, BL shelfmark Or.75.g.25) – is part of the collection acquired by Sir Hans Sloane, ‘father’ of the British Museum, from the family of the German physician and naturalist Engelbert Kaempfer (1651-1716). Kaempfer was the author of The History of Japan, published posthumously in 1727, one of the most influential early works introducing Japan to a Western audience. Employed by the Dutch East India Company, Kaempfer stayed in Japan from 1690-1692. He served as medical officer in the Dutch trading factory on Deshima, the artificial island in Nagasaki Bay constructed by the Japanese authorities to house the small number of Western merchants permitted to trade. During his time in Japan Kaempfer amassed a large number of books, manuscripts, paintings, botanical drawings and artefacts which he used as sources for his writings on his return to Europe, However his work on Japan remained unpublished at his death in 1716 and between 1723 and 1725 the draft manuscript along with his collections were acquired by Sloane. It was Sloane who arranged for its translation into English and publication. Of the sixty items listed as being bought by Sloane forty-five have so far been identified. They are chiefly maps, dictionaries, travel guides, chronologies, directories and popular literature – all typical of the printed material that would have been readily available at the time. Although the individual items were not remarkable when first published, this small collection is now one of the earliest, if not the earliest to survive in Europe.

Whole map
Nagasaki ezu
‘An illustrated map of Nagasaki’. Printed c.1680 (British Library Or.75.g.25)   noc

The Nagasaki ezu was printed using woodblocks and then hand-coloured. It is undated but shows bridges over the River Nakashima which were constructed before 1681. It was clearly already out of date by the time Kaempfer acquired it because he made amendments -such as adding the Chinese merchants’ settlement (Tōjin yashiki 唐人屋敷) built in 1689 - when he copied the map in his manuscript. A version of this appears in The History of Japan as ‘Urbs Nangasaki’. The Nagasaki ezu shows in detail the city and harbour with the fan-shaped Deshima island near the centre and is decorated with depictions of Dutch and Chinese ships and of “exotic” foreigners including a Dutch man and woman.

Kaempfer History of Japan_Nagasaki map(2)_2000
‘Urbs Nangasaki’ in The History of Japan was based on Kaempfer’s Nagasaki ezu – without the paw prints! (British Library 150.k.9-10)   noc

Colour composite UV photography revealed a pair of feline paw prints just below Deshima island, near where the river enters the harbour. Sadly, the identity of the mystery moggy will never be known nor when or under what circumstances it sauntered across the map. No doubt there were cats on Deshima - as well as dogs, cattle, pigs, goats, chickens, parrots, monkeys and even a porcupine and a cassowary which all appear in paintings of the Dutch factory. Kaempfer certainly wrote about Japanese cats in The History of Japan, “They have a particular beautiful kind of cats [sic] which is a domestick animal with them, as with us. They are of a whitish colour, with large yellow and black spots, and a very short tail, as if it has been purposely cut off. They don’t care for mousing, but love mightily to be carried out, and carress’d, chiefly by women” (The History of Japan. Book I Chapter X)

SLoaneMs3060_f501 Japanese_Bobtail_Cat,_Japan
Left: Self-portrait of Engelbert Kaempfer from a drawing of the Dutch merchants’ official journey to Edo. (British Library Sloane Ms 3060 fol. 501)   noc
Right: Japanese tricolour mikeneko. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

So it is appealing to imagine it was Kaempfer’s cat that stepped on the map, trying to distract its master from his studies – in a way familiar to any cat owner.

Or perhaps Sir Hans Sloane had a cat which ventured into his cabinet of curiosities when the map was lying open.

A third possibility, albeit more worrying from a ‘collection security’ point of view, is that the paw prints were left by one of succession of cats which patrolled the British Museum keeping the mice in check (more on this at ʻBlack Jack, Mike and the British Museumʼ). The most famous of these was Mike who lived at the Museum for twenty years and whose death in 1929 was marked by a memorial poem and an obituary in the Evening Standard!
 

Further reading

Kenneth B Gardner, Descriptive Catalogue of Japanese Books in the British Library Printed before 1700. London: The British Library, 1993.  Contains detailed descriptions of all Japanese books in the Kaempfer collection

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.  On Sloane’s acquisition of the collection


Hamish Todd, Head of East Asian Collections, with thanks to Christina Duffy, Conservation
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25 January 2016

The British Library’s Collection of Chinese Propaganda Posters: An Overview

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And so my three months are up and I have completed the project: to compile and research a catalogue of the British Library’s Chinese propaganda posters. So what have I found out? Well, in the collection there are 90 individual items, considerably more than we believed there would be at the outset. The posters date from between 1950 and 1982, with the vast majority having been published in the mid-1960s, just before the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), largely thanks to a couple of sets of what I have loosely described as ‘public information’ posters, dating from 1965. One set deals with what to do in the event of an enemy air raid, and the other with meteorological and agricultural observations.

IMG_0273 - Copy
A detail from Qiang jiu shou shang ren yuan (抢救受伤人员), ‘Rescuing injured personnel’, from a set of wall charts (Ren min fang kong chang shi gua tu, 人民防空常识挂图, ‘People's Air Defence General Knowledge Wall Charts’), compiled by Tianjin shi ren min fang kong wei yuan hui (天津市人民防空委员会), the Tianjin People's Air Defence Committee, and published by Tianjin mei shu chu ban she (天津美术出版社), the Tianjin Fine Art Publishing House, in July 1965. British Library, ORB.99/79 (14).

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A detail from Qi xiang zhi shi (si). Yu qing he shang qing (气象知识 (四). 雨情和商情), ‘Meteorological knowledge 4. Rainfall and soil moisture content’, from a set of wall charts (Qi xiang zhi shi gua tu (gong xiao xing zhan lan), 氣象知識挂图 (供小型展览), Wall chart of meteorological knowledge (for small scale exhibitions)’, compiled and published by Tianjin shi ke xue pu ji xing xiang zi liao she (天津市科学普及形象资料社), ‘Tianjin popular science image resource group’, in February 1965. British Library, ORB.99/87 (4).

Overall the poster collection covers a range of genres, from new nian hua and revolutionary romanticism – a fusion of socialist realism and guo hua brush and ink painting – to photographic portraits. I have categorised them according to a number of different themes:

•    Posters related to the Mao cult, including colourised and heavily airbrushed photographic portraits of Mao Zedong dating from the late 1960s, and several examples of his calligraphy (and poetry).
•    A series of posters featuring chubby babies and children, dating to the late 1970s and early 1980s, several of which promote the one child policy.
•    Revolutionary nian hua prints, dating from the early years of the People’s Republic, and which I looked at in depth in my last blogpost.
•    A set of posters featuring the ubiquitous and (probably) semi-mythical soldier-hero Lei Feng (雷锋) and which eulogise the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).
•    A fairly rare set of posters featuring satirical caricatures of the ‘Gang of Four’ (si ren bang, 四人邦), the group headed by Mao’s wife, Jiang Qing, and which was blamed for the worse excesses of the Cultural Revolution in the wake of Mao’s death in 1976.
•    The aforementioned sets of public information posters dating from 1965.
•    Documentary and feature film posters - the Library’s collection seems fairly unique in this respect; these are not something I’ve seen in large quantities in other collections.
•    Posters featuring scenes taken from the revolutionary model works (yang ban xi, 样板戏), including ‘The White Haired Girl’ (Bai mao nü, 白毛女), ‘The Legend of the Red Lantern’ (Hong deng ji, 红灯记) and ‘The Red Detachment of Women’ (Hong se niang zi jun, 红色娘子军).

While copyright implications have stymied the original plan to digitise the collection and make it publically accessible online, the catalogue – minus images – will shortly be available to download as a PDF from the new Chinese collection webpages.

Over the last three months I have had an absolutely fantastic time. It’s been a great experience to work at the Library and I was made to feel very welcome. The project has provided me with plenty of research material for the future, and what a privilege it was to get hands-on with the collection!
All that remains is for me to thank Professor Robert Bickers and BICC for funding the project and Sara Chiesura and Emma Goodliffe, curators of the Chinese collection at the British Library for hosting me.

Amy Jane Barnes, BICC Post-doctoral researcher  Ccownwork