THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Asian and African studies blog

28 posts categorized "East Asia"

25 May 2018

Classes and costumes in traditional Vietnamese society

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In traditional Vietnamese society people were divided into four classes, similar to those found in Chinese and other East Asian Confucian societies. The tứ dân, or four social hierarchical classes, were scholars (sĩ), farmers (nông), craftsmen (công) and merchants (thương).

At the top of the social hierarchy were the scholars or intellectuals, who led relatively comfortable lives in respected occupations such as doctors, mandarins and teachers. Commoners who were not born into this class but wanted to climb the social ladder to enter it were able to do so by studying very hard and sitting civil service examinations, supported financially by their own families. If they were successful, they brought great honour upon themselves and their families, and even their villages, and they might be welcomed back to their villages with parties paid for by their neighbours (Woodside: 1981, p.170). The royal court would award them special costumes which distinguished them from common folk, and they could even be appointed as local mandarins.

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Costume of the first grade military mandarin, adorned with the ‘four mythical creatures’ pattern (Trần Đinh Sơn 2013: 127). British Library OIJ 391.009597.

Vietnamese mandarins, both civil and military, were divided into nine grades and each grade was further subdivided into senior and junior levels. High ranking mandarins were distinguished by their official robes in purple or red, colours reserved for their class, while lower ranking officials wore blue robes. Commoners could only wear black, brown or white dyed costumes, as Harry A. Franck, an American travel writer, observed in Tonkin in 1923: “the Tonkinese were dressed in a cinnamon or tobacco-juice colour that suddenly became as universal as black had been further south … the country women, then their men, and finally all the hand-labouring class, took to wearing long cotton cloaks of this reddish brown hue” (Franck 1926: 191).

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A mandarin accompanied by his servants; only the mandarin wears shoes. Oger [1909]: f. 4. British Library, Or. TC 4

Below the class of scholars was the largest social grouping in Vietnamese society: farmers, primarily rice farmers, who could be further sub-divided into three different groups according to land ownership: trung nông, bần nông and cố nông. Trung nông were farmers who owned land and farming tools. This was the most well-off group economically and socially, as they could produce enough rice or other agricultural products to support themselves, and therefore did not have to labour for the state in lieu of taxation. Bần nông were farmers who owned a small amount of land, albeit not large enough to yield sufficient rice to support their families. They therefore had to work on land belonging to landlords, and also had to rent their farming tools. Cố nông or tenants were farmers who owned no land or farming tools at all and had to till the land for landlords to earn their living. They were the poorest people in the society and were frequently subject to exploitation.

The third class was craftsmen, whose numbers were relatively small compared to farmers. Some were actually farmers who had developed skills in crafts such as carpentry, weaving or blacksmithing. At the village level their scale of production was very small and did not have significant economic impact, but in larger towns they formed their own guilds to protect their interests and to support each other. Those who were highly skilled could be recruited to work for the court, but the court did not support them to develop their production into an industrial scale.

At the bottom of the social hieracy were merchants. From a modern perspective it may come as a surprise to find that in a traditional self-sufficient economy merchants actually played a very insignificant role, since farmers were able to produce most of their daily necessities and could barter goods with each other, rather than relying on tradesmen. Traditional Confucian society also disapproved of the mercantile practice of “buying cheap, selling dear”.

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A peasant farmer in his raincoat made of grass. Oger [1909]: f. 302. British Library, Or. TC 4

Towards the end of the 19th century, Vietnamese hierachical society was still very much intact. Even though French colonial rule brought about some social and economic changes, these were not powerful enough to uproot entirely the traditional system of four social classes. Newly emerging social groups, such as the French-educated literati or colonial employees, still fitted into the scholar class (sĩ) despite the different ideological basis. The number of poor farmers and landless peasants increased, and their plight may even have been exacerbated through colonial land ownership and tax policies.

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A bride in a western-style costume. Oger [1909]: f. 315. British Library, Or. TC 4

Traditionally, Vietnamese women wore both skirts and trousers. In the 17th century Emperor Lê Hyuền Tông issued a decree forbidding women to wear trousers, but this decision was reversed during the reign of Emperor Minh Mang (r.1820-1841) who instead forbade the wearing of skirts (Ngô Đức Thịnh 2009: 2). In the 1820s, George Finlayson wrote of the Vietnamese: “…though living not only in a mild, but warm climate, the partiality for dress is universal. There is no one, however mean, but is clothed at least from head to the knee, and if their dress is not always of the smartest, it is owing more to their poverty than to their want of taste … the principal and most expensive article in their dress is the turban ... A loose jacket, somewhat resembling a large shirt, but with wide sleeves, reaching nearly to the knee, and buttoning on the right side, constitutes the principal covering of the body. Two of these, the under one of the white silk, are generally worn, and they increase the number according to their circumstances and the state of the weather. Women wear a dress but little different from this, though lighter, and both wear a pair of wide pantaloons, of various colours. The dress of the poorer class is made of coarse cotton, but this not very common, coarse silks being more in vogue. Those of China or Tonquin are worn by the more opulent classes. Shoes are also worn only by the wealthy, and of Chinese manufacture, clogs, in fact, rather than shoes” (Finlayson 1988: 378-9).

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A Vietnamese gentleman wearing a western-style cap rather than a traditional turban. Oger [1909]: f. 32. British Library, Or. TC 4

Almost a century after Finlayson’s account, almost no major changes in the costumes of Vietnamese commoners could be observed. Henri Oger’s pictorial records of daily life in and around Hanoi at the turn of the nineteenth century illustrate the slow rate of change in social class in this French colony. One might argue that some changes in fashion can be noticed reflecting western influence, but these mainly affect the elite and wealthy classes. As for the poor, Oger’s drawings suggest that they barely benefitted from the social and economic changes brought about by the new ruler.

Harry A. Franck reports on the clothing of the period: “Among the coolie class these overcoats of both sexes were of thin cotton. The well-to-do men in towns and in autobuses wore jet-black ones, thin as gauze … with flowered designs of the same hue woven in them, … and fastened together down the side with little gold buttons … A black cloth carelessly wound about the head distinguished most coolies, but all men above that class wore the most unique item of the Annamese costume, a black band-turban permanently arranged in many little folds … At least along this main route of the French railway and autobus highway both men and women of the well-to-do class wore gold and other valuable ornaments openly. Long necklaces of grains of gold of the size of peas are the favourite adornment”(Franck 1926: 106).

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Westerners mingling with locals during the colonial era. Oger [1909]: f. 263. British Library, Or. TC 4

Further reading:

George Finlayson. The mission to Siam, and Hué, the capital of Cochin China, in the years 1821-2. Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1988.
Harry A. Franck. East of Siam: Ramblings in the five divisions of French Indo-China. London: T. Fisher Unwin, ltd., 1926.
Ngô Đức Thịnh. Traditional costumes of Viet Nam. Thế giới, 2009.
Henri Oger. Introduction générale a l’étude de la technique du peuple annamite. Paris: Geuthner Librarie-Éditeur, [1909].
Trần Đinh Sơn. Đại lễ phục Việt Nam thaời Nguyễn 1802-1945. Hà Nội : Nhà xuất bản hồng Đức, 2013.
A.B. Woodside. Vietnam and the Chinese model. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1971.

Sud Chonchirdsin, Curator for Vietnamese

21 May 2018

From the Page Up: The Peking Gazette and the Histories of Everyday Print in East Asia (2)

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A follow up on the history of printing in China by guest blogger Emily Mokros, Assistant Professor of History at the University of Kentucky and Postdoctoral Fellow at the Center for Chinese Studies, University of California, Berkeley.

One of the highlights of the British Library collection is that it includes many examples of gazettes published outside of Beijing. At provincial capitals, gazette publishers typically used capital editions supplied by couriers to reprint runs of the gazette on local paper. Before the Treaty of Tianjin in 1858, which allowed representatives of Western countries access to the imperial capital, most British trade and diplomatic activity happened in port cities, especially Guangzhou (Canton) and the treaty ports that had been opened in 1842. For this reason, many of the British Library Peking Gazettes dating to earlier than 1860 are in fact reprints, mainly originating from Canton and Suzhou, a city not far from Shanghai.

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A page from an 1853 Suzhou gazette reprint (British Library 15440 – 1853, 2nd month pt. 2)
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Provincial reprints are not identical to their capital cousins, and they have much to tell us about the material culture of publishing in nineteenth-century China. Most Suzhou reprints appeared in pamphlets of a standard size, typically eight columns in width and twenty columns in length. These were roughly the same proportions as a compact book. This format may have appealed to subscribers who obtained gazettes in monthly packets (and thus easily bound into a book format), rather than the daily pamphlets available in the capital.

Canton reprints and manuscript editions evoke the commercial networks that supported print culture in South China and maritime Southeast Asia. Canton was a major urban market for the rural papermaking enterprises located in hinterland Guangdong and especially in its provincial neighbor, Fujian. In Canton, paper firms (zhihang 紙行) controlled by natives of nearby Foshan sold a wide range of paper products transported by waterways from the mountainous interior. Through the entrepreneurship of Foshan merchants, southern paper was sold and used throughout the Qing Empire. Both papermakers and these intermediate suppliers often left their mark on the page, in the form of stamps that served advertising and branding purposes, and some gazettes bear theses stamps.

The print quality of these reprints is strikingly different from the movable type editions produced in Beijing later in the 19th century. By contrast with the fairly wobbly columns of movable type in the Beijing editions, the columns of Suzhou reprints are far more uniform. There are still markers of individual types (see the last three characters of the second column from the right on the below page, where the borders of the individual characters are clearly visible). On the whole, this page – and other Suzhou reprints – exhibits a smudgy quality, which suggests that local gazette publishers went about the printing process in a different manner than their capital counterparts, in ways that we still do not fully understand. One working hypothesis is that they may have used an intermediate medium, perhaps a wax mixture, to create a stereotype as the basis for an imprint, rather than printing directly from the assembled wooden blocks.

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Papermakers’ stamps on Canton gazette copies (British Library 15440 – Left: 1832, 3rd month. Right: 1846, 3rd month)
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The stamps that I found on gazettes in the British Library collection include the name of the craftsman or brand, and advertise the quality and characteristics of the paper. While many book publishers likely trimmed off the margins and stamps, gazette purveyors were evidently less discerning. Notably, all of the stamped gazettes are manuscript editions, and may have been copied by scribes on paper purchased separately from paper suppliers.

Another tiny stamp, this one found on an 1849 gazette reprint tells that it was sold from the Jinyu lu shop (金裕祿全堂), located on Datang street. Datang street was the site of the local administrative offices and civil examination yards, and was therefore the center of government life in Canton. Both local administration and the imperial examinations were important markets for local printers and paper suppliers.

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Jinyu lu shop stamp on the cover of Jingbao (British Library 15440, 1849 vol. 2, daily edition)

The port city of Canton served as the hub of a maritime trade in paper that extended far beyond its shores. The paper trade left its marks on the city streets. Even today, there is a ‘Paper Merchants’ Street’ (zhihang lu 紙行路) in central Guangzhou. The antecedent of this street can be found on 19th century maps of the city, as seen below. A previous contribution to this blog, Malay Manuscripts on Chinese Paper (February 2014), describes the seal of a Chinese paper supplier, based outside the Taiping Gate in Canton (not far from that street), found on a Javanese manuscript from the early 19th century. Chinese merchant seals have also been found on texts in the Philippines and Japan (see examples collected by Devin Fitzgerald and Guillermo Ruiz-Stovel, highlighted in Devin Fitzgerald’s blog entry).

Photo 10 East Asia Library_2000
Map of central Guangzhou (Canton) with sites including Taiping Gate, Zhihang jie, and Datang jie. From: Guangzhou fu zhi [Guangzhou Prefecture Gazetteer] (Guangzhou: Yuexiu shuyuan, 1879, juan 8). Image courtesy of the C. V. Starr East Asian Library, University of California, Berkeley

Details like flipped and smudgy characters and incidental stamps may seem like trivial matters in the history of Chinese print culture, and indeed in the history of the Peking Gazette. However, our knowledge of Chinese book history is so dominated by elite tastes and collecting practices that these elements of commercial production and exchange remain virtually unknown. These fragmentary impressions on the page are hints at a complex history that encompassed a larger variety of materials, techniques, and geographical spaces than we previously thought possible.

Further Reading
Rutherford Alcock, “The Peking Gazette,” Fraser’s Magazine (1873): 245-256; 341-357.
Devin Fitzgerald, “Chinese Paper Stamps,” Books and the Early Modern World blog post, 26 March 2017.
David Helliwell, “Papermarks,” Serica blogpost, 26 April 2017.



Thank you to Devin Fitzgerald and Guillermo Ruiz-Stovel for sharing their research in Chinese paper stamps.

Emily Mokros, Assistant Professor of History at the University of Kentucky and Postdoctoral Fellow at the Center for Chinese Studies, University of California, Berkeley
emilymokros@uky.edu

 

15 May 2018

From the Page Up: The Peking Gazette and the Histories of Everyday Print in East Asia (1)

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Today we  welcome back guest blogger Emily Mokros, Assistant Professor of History at the University of Kentucky and Postdoctoral Fellow at the Center for Chinese Studies, University of California, Berkeley. This is the first of two posts on printing and moveable type in East Asia.

image from upload.wikimedia.org
Representation of movable type at the Beijing Olympics Opening Ceremony. Wikimedia Commons

In 2008, the Beijing Olympics opened with a demonstration of four great inventions from China’s long history: the compass, gunpowder, paper, and printing. In particular, you might remember the dramatic representation of movable type: 897 performers manipulated movable type blocks representing the character he (harmony) in a series of historical script styles. The display spoke to the important role that this innovation played in Chinese, and indeed world, history. Readers with a knowledge of Chinese book history, however, are probably more familiar with books printed with solid woodblocks rather than movable type.

The British Library is home to a significant collection of texts printed using wooden movable type – this is the Peking Gazette collection. The Peking Gazette was a periodical record of government communications for the Qing dynasty (1644-1911) in China. The British Library collection includes a wide variety of editions from the nineteenth century. In my last post I described the significance of the Peking Gazette as a source for understanding the political and diplomatic history of China in the nineteenth century. In this, the first of two posts, I’ll highlight the ways these material sources shed light on little known aspects of the history of print in China. Peking Gazettes contain valuable clues as to the everyday applications of wooden movable type, the diversity of premodern print techniques employed by urban publishers, and even the routes by which print and paper were made, bought, and distributed in Qing China and maritime East Asia.

Xylography, or printing from wood, enabled a vibrant print culture to emerge in premodern Chinese empires. The fine detail of the British Library’s Diamond Sutra from AD 868, the oldest dated woodblock print example, makes it clear that woodblock carving and printing techniques were already very sophisticated in the Tang Dynasty (618-907). In later centuries, woodblock printed books became increasingly common, especially after an explosion of commercial publishing activity in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. To print books from woodblocks, manuscript pages were commonly laid onto prepared blocks of hardwood, on which a block-cutter carved the text, columns, and other features in relief. After carving, a printer applied ink to the block, laid paper on the surface, and pounded the paper evenly with a special brush, producing an imprint. Depending on the quality of the block, thousands of imprints could be taken from a single woodblock before it required repair. The flexibility of this technology was a key factor in the flourishing book culture of early modern China.

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The woodblock is darkened by the use of black ink for printing. On the upper right side, the original colour of the wood is visible in a hole made for replacing a character (British Library Or. 14251)
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Despite its apparent rarity, movable type came into use quite early in the history of print in East Asia. In the eleventh century, the polymath scholar Shen Kuo wrote of a contemporary named Bi Sheng, who had invented an ingenious method of using fired clay to form movable types (huo zi 活字) for printing. According to Shen, Bi laid the clay type into a frame, the bottom of which had been painted with a mixture of ash and wax. After laying the type, the bottom of the frame was heated to fix the type in place, allowing the printing process to proceed in the same way as in traditional xylography. According to surviving descriptions, movable types of fired clay, wood, and metal (predominantly copper) were used in succeeding centuries to print both Chinese and non-Chinese script. Such editions are extremely rare today.

Today, the most prevalent examples of premodern wooden movable type printing in China come from two commercial enterprises: the printing of lineage genealogies, and of government gazettes. In genealogical printing, traveling printers carried a type supply and carved new types on a per-job basis. By contrast, gazette printing took place in cities, typically adjacent to government offices or the examination yards. Still, on the level of texts, these two seemingly disparate industries shared some important qualities. Both used a limited subset of the vast corpus of characters in the Chinese written language. Genealogies used a fairly circumscribed vocabulary, focusing on names, generational and familial terms (which could be recycled between jobs); gazettes contained summaries of official correspondence and employed the constrained vocabulary of bureaucratic language. In both cases, the producers did not have any use for retaining stores of carved woodblocks—instead, they wanted to produce a fixed and limited set of copies on a quick basis. In addition, while block-cutting labor was growing increasingly cheaper in early modern China, natural resources were limited. In particular, the durable and large-format hardwoods used for woodblock printing grew increasingly rare with the pressures of population expansion, urbanization, and wartime destruction. By using movable types, often carved from relatively soft woods, printers minimized their expenses. As a result, gazettes were cheaply available in urban markets.

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Jingbao pages printed in movable type (British Library 15440 – 1872 vol.1, pt. 1)
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These gazettes exhibit the visual markers of movable type printing. A low “shoulder” on carved wooden types allows us to see the imprint of square borders around characters. The occasional mistake in type-setting resulted in a flipped character. Most types were of individual characters, but printers also produced “double characters,” that held common two-character combinations. Daily gazettes typically numbered about ten leaves of paper (thus twenty pages), each containing up to seven columns of text. However, movable-type techniques freed the printer to create a wider page if needed. In the case of a long memorial, printers could fill a wider page and simply fold the page within the gazette.

Beijing, as the seat of the imperial government, was naturally the main hub for gazette publishing. At least ten publishers operated in late Qing (1860-1911) Beijing, clustering in the southern commercial districts of the city, close to Liulichang, Beijing’s lively market for books and antiques. Together, the publishers produced between one and two thousand gazettes per day. Of these, about two hundred were carried by government couriers to officeholders around the empire, but the majority were sold to capital residents. Rutherford Alcock (1809-1897) called this district “the Paternoster Row of the capital” (Alcock, p. 252), in reference to London’s news district, and described the cabinets of wooden type that lined the walls of the shops in a widely reprinted account in the English periodical press. Wang Zhonglin (1818-1878), a Chinese minor official, once wrote in his diary about an idle afternoon spent watching printers “hunting for characters to fill their blocks.”[1]

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Jingbao daily edition covers, in long octavo format , showing shop names on the lower part of the page. (British Library 15440,  1861 1st to 4th month)
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The publishers typically included their shop names on an opening page or the issue cover. The names of some of these publishers and these names attest to the use of movable types (as in juxing 聚興 “assembled prosperity,” in which the use of the character ju 聚 often refers to assembled types); more commonly they simply summoned auspicious themes, with recurring terms as in the recurrence of terms like “prosperity,” (xing 興) “advance,” (sheng 升), and “success” (cheng 成).

In my next post I'll be writing about some provincial gazettes published outside the capital.

Further Reading
Rutherford Alcock, “The Peking Gazette,” Fraser’s Magazine (1873): 245-256; 341-357.
Devin Fitzgerald, “Chinese Paper Stamps,” Books and the Early Modern World blog post, 26 March 2017.
David Helliwell, “Papermarks,” Serica blogpost, 26 April 2017.


Thank you to Devin Fitzgerald and Guillermo Ruiz-Stovel for sharing their research in Chinese paper stamps.

Emily Mokros, Assistant Professor of History at the University of Kentucky and Postdoctoral Fellow at the Center for Chinese Studies, University of California, Berkeley
emilymokros@uky.edu
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[1] Wang Zhonglin riji 王鍾霖日記, in Lidai riji congchao (Beijing: Xueyuan chubanshe, 2006), vol. 59: 483.

07 March 2018

Introducing the Lotus Sutra Project

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Conserving and digitising the Stein Collection's Chinese copies of the Lotus Sutra at the British Library

The Lotus Sūtra, whose earliest known Sanskrit title is the Saddharma Puṇḍarīka Sūtra and means “Sūtra on the White Lotus of the Sublime Dharma,” was possibly composed between the first century BCE and the second century CE. It is thought to contain the Buddha’s final teaching, complete and sufficient for salvation. Through the medium of parables and short stories, it delivers the message that all sentient beings have the potential to attain Buddhahood. As such, it is one of the most influential scriptures of the Mahayana branch of Buddhism, and it is highly regarded in a number of Asian countries, including China, Korea and Japan, where it has been traditionally practised.

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Frontispiece of Chapter 5 of the Lotus Sūtra, "The Parable of the Medicinal Herbs" (British Library Or.8210/S.1511)    noc

The most prevalent versions of this Sūtra in Chinese are the Zheng fahua jing (徵法華經 “Sūtra of the Lotus Flower of the Correct law”), translated by the monk Dharmarakṣa between 286 and 288, and the Miaofa lianhua jing, (妙法蓮華經 “Sūtra of the Lotus Flower of the Wonderful Law”), translated by Kumarajiva over a century later, in 406. There is also an alternative version called the Tianpin Miaofa lianhua jing (添品妙法蓮華經 “Supplemented Sūtra of the Lotus Flower of the Wonderful Law"), compiled in 601 by the masters Jñānagupta and Dharmagupta.

Images and scenes inspired by the Lotus Sūtra can be seen in the murals adorning the caves of the Mogao Buddhist complex, near the oasis-town of Dunhuang, Gansu. An estimated 4,000 copies of the Lotus Sūtra were also found in one of the caves, commonly called the Library Cave or Cave 17. They are now dispersed across various institutions in Beijing, Paris, St Petersburg and London. In the British Library's collection, the Lotus Sūtra outnumbers all the other Chinese Buddhist texts brought back by Sir Aurel Stein during his second expedition to Central Asia (1906-1908). There are over a thousand manuscripts, some of which are scrolls measuring up to 13 metres long.

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End piece of Or.8210/S.54, with wooden roller  (British Library Or.8210/S.54)    noc

If a few have already been digitised and are now accessible via the International Dunhuang Project (IDP) website, a large proportion has remained practically untouched since their discovery in 1907 and is currently unavailable online. Thanks to a generous grant from the Bei Shan Tang Foundation, in Hong Kong, work is now underway to address this issue. The aim of this four-year project is to conserve and digitise nearly 800 copies of the Lotus Sūtra in Chinese, with a view to make images and information about them freely accessible on the Internet.

For the past six months, I have been busy checking the condition of all these manuscripts in order to plan both the conservation and digitisation workflows for the years to come. I have been extremely lucky to be joined in this task by three colleagues from the British Library Conservation department, who have volunteered some of their precious time to assess the collection with me. Together, we have been writing up detailed condition status reports to facilitate future conservation treatment and handling during photography. Another important part of my curatorial role has also been to enhance information on each of the corresponding catalogue recor

Meanwhile, Vania Assis, full-time conservator for the project, has started conserving the scrolls. Although an initial estimate based on a sample of manuscripts had established that between 200 and 300 items would need to be conserved, the ongoing assessment of the scrolls has so far revealed that most of them require some level of intervention. They are extremely fragile: they present tears, missing areas, creases and other damage that make photographing them in their current state inadvisable. Vania has already completed treatment of more than 50 items and will tell you about her amazing work in a separate post.

The project's team should soon include two senior imaging technicians, who will be ensuring the digitisation of the Lotus Sūtra copies. We will let you know how the project progresses and will post updates as regularly as possible, so watch this space!

Mélodie Doumy, Curator, Chinese collections
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15 February 2018

Happy Chinese New Year: Year of the Dog!

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Fig. 1 puppy
Puppy. From Seihō ippinshū by Takeuchi Seihō. 1938 (British Library ORB. 99/68 ser. 1 pt. 10)

The lunisolar calendar is used traditionally in China and other East Asian and South East Asian countries. According to it, on the 16th of February we celebrate the arrival of a New Year: the Year of the Earth Dog. In fact, the lunisolar calendar consists of 12 cycles associated with 12 zodiac animals, which are combined with one of the Five Elements of traditional Chinese cosmology (Wu xing: Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water), together forming cycles of 60 years. This is why the upcoming Chinese New Year is the year of the “Earth Dog”.

Fig. 2 Chinese almanac
Detail from a Chinese Almanac dating from c. 956 by Zhai Fengda (British Library Or 8210/s.95). The item has been fully digitised by the International Dunhuang Project and can be discovered here

According to the Chinese horoscope, people born in the year of the Dog are responsible, practical and faithful. They show persistence and loyalty.

Fig. 3 Dog Sloane
Illustration of a dog from the album “Coloured Drawings of Chinese Flora and Fauna”, 18th century, China (British Library Add. 15503)

Many Chinese Emperors kept dogs as pets and treated them as if they were members of the imperial family! Emperor Qianlong even commissioned a series of paintings of his “Ten Prized Dogs” (Shijun quan十駿犬) from the Italian missionary and artist Giuseppe Castiglione (1688-1766).

Fig. 4 Ten Prized Dogs
Picture of Shanxing Wolf (睒星狼), a Chinese greyhound, from Ten Prized Dogs Album by Giuseppe Castiglione. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Fig. 5 Philatelic 1  Fig. 6 Philatelic 2
Hong Kong stamps for “Year of the Dog” 1970 designed by R. Granger Barrett. Both the 10c and $1.30 stamps depict a Chow. (British Library Philatelic Collections: FCO Collections, vol. 6, Hong Kong)

The Year of the Dog in Japan

Fig. 7 Inudoshi_Oyo manga
Zodiac symbol for the year of the Dog from Ōyō manga by Ogino Issui, 1903 (British Library ORB.30/6167)

In Japan, dogs are traditionally regarded as symbols of loyalty and protection. They are entertaining playmates and faithful companions.

Fig. 8 Seiro bijin awase
Courtesan playing with a pet dog. From Seirō bijin awase, 1770 (British Library Or.75.g.34 v.1 fol. 11r)

Dogs are also traditionally associated with easy childbirth and the protection of pregnant mothers and young children. This can be seen in the ritual of ‘obi-iwai’ in which on the first ‘Day of the Dog’ of the fifth month of a woman’s pregnancy a cotton belt (obi) is tied around her abdomen to protect the baby and ensure a safe delivery. Small dog figurines called ‘inu hariko’, often made of papier-mâché, are sold at many shrines and temples and are given to young children to protect them from ill health and bad luck.

 Fig. 9 Ema Dog
A votive plaque (ema) showing a papier-mâché dog or ‘inu hariko’. Detail from Shokoku emashū, edited by Nishizawa Tekiho 1918 (British Library ORB.30/8097 vol. 1)

At the Sumiyoshi Grand Shrine in Osaka worshippers often purchase clay figures of two entwined dogs as amulets to ensure marital harmony, fertility or easy childbirth.
Fig. 10 Sumiyoshi_dogs
Mutsumi-inu
from Unai no tomo, a compendium of Japanese toys, by Shimizu Seifū. 1917 (British Library ORB.30/8075 vol. 7)

Fig. 11 Seiho junishi
A dog playing with a straw sandal. From Seihō gahakuhitsu junishi-jō, an album of 12 images, one for each of the zodiac animals, by Takeuchi Seihō. Ca. 1900-10 (British Library ORB.40/710)


The Year of the Dog in Thailand

Year of Dog Thai OR_3593_f011v
Folio of a Thai Phrommachāt manuscript dealing with predictions for people born in the Year of the Dog. Dated 1885 A.D. (British Library, Or.3593 f.22). This item has been digitized and can be discovered here.

In the Thai tradition the Chinese zodiac was adopted for the purpose of divination and horoscope making, laid down in manuscripts called Phrommachāt. For each year, certain predictions are associated with the animal of the zodiac in combination with the constellations of planets, sun and moon.

For the Year of the Dog, the following predictions were made:  

‘A yakkhini [female ogre, demon] rides the Dog, and the element is Earth. The khvan [life essence, soul] lives in wild almond trees or in royal lotus. Mercury is the mouth, which cannot speak pleasantly, except to serve its own ends. Venus is the heart: brave-spirited and would like to serve the rulers, enjoying scenes of battle, but will be handicapped by bodily weakness. Moon is the loins: weak sensuous desires. Jupiter and Saturn are the hands: skilful and expert in crafts. Sun and Mars are the feet: no desire for travel. Liable to facial sores and to indigestion. Will have adequate wealth and enough slaves. Garden cultivation would be profitable. Will have a son as a support.’
(Wales, H. G. Quaritch, Divination in Thailand. The Hopes and Fears of a Southeast Asian People. London/Dublin: Curzon Press, 1983, p. 17).

Year of Dog Thai or_16799_f025r
Various types of dogs illustrated in a 19th century Thai medical treatise (tamrā phāēt). This medical treatise contains illustrations of animals that are believed to have a certain influence on peoples’ health and wellbeing. (British Library Or 16799, f025r). This item is fully digitised and can be discovered here

We wish all our readers a wonderful Year of the Dog!

Curators of East Asian and South East Asian Collections
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09 February 2018

Introducing Doctoral Students to the Asian and African Collections at the British Library

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Curators of the Asian and African Collections recently welcomed 45 eager doctoral students to a training day at the British Library. The session, for students in the first year of their PhDs, provided an introduction to the research materials on offer at the BL. Students came from universities throughout the UK, including Glasgow, Strathclyde and Newcastle.

OR 13692 2  Johnson 59
On display at the doctoral open day: (left) Ganjifa card set featuring the avatars of Vishnu from 19th-century Orissa, India (BL Or 13,692); (right) illustration of animals, probably for a board game. Commissioned by Richard Johnson, Lucknow, c. 1780-82 (BL Johnson Album 5,9)

We know that our vast and wide-ranging collections may be a little daunting when starting out on research. The annual doctoral open day aims to give students an understanding of the overall picture, as well as helping them to start navigating the collections in the best way for their own research.

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(Left) a comic from the British Library’s Arabic collections: Skefkef, issue 3, published in Morocco; (right) section of Qur’an board, probably from Somalia, used for learning the Qur’an (BL Or. 16442)

The day began with a talk on research at the British Library, and an overview of the Asian and African Collections ­from the Head of Department, Dr Luisa Mengoni. Curators then gave introductions to our holdings on and from:

There were also presentations on the India Office Records and from our Digital Research team. The British Library’s materials are in many formats – books, serials, newspapers, electronic resources, manuscripts and archives, maps, audio-visual items and philatelic material. The Asian and African Collections have material in all the major languages of Asia and Africa, and in many less widely spoken languages too.

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A wide range of exhibits on display at the doctoral open day

After this glimpse of what’s available, students received practical help in using the catalogues as well as an opportunity to see displays of richly illuminated manuscripts, books, and other treasures from our collections. There was plenty of time to interact with curators and gain advice on individual research projects.

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The Turkish and Turkic stand

The afternoon finished with a talk by Dr Richard Williams, Lecturer in Ethnomusicology at SOAS, University of London, who shared his experiences of using the British Library’s collections and provided plentiful tips for life after the PhD.

The day brought together students with a huge range of research interests, from women’s translations of the Qur’an to the medical history of refugee camps, and provided opportunities to get to know other doctoral researchers in similar or different disciplines.

95% of those completing feedback forms rated the day ‘excellent’ or ‘very good’. Most important, students’ confidence in their ability to do their research at the BL vastly increased. The proportion of those ‘confident’ or ‘very confident’ in using our collections rose from 27% beforehand to 100% at the end of the day. ‘Very useful & good day,’ one student commented. ‘Staff were very helpful and approachable.’

What next? The next Asian and African doctoral open day will be held early in 2019, for students starting their PhDs in autumn 2018.

In the meantime, current PhD students are invited to apply for a range of 3-month PhD research placements at the British Library.

These projects include:

The closing date for applications is 19 February 2018.

Marion Wallace, Lead Curator, African Collections, with thanks to colleagues for the wide range of photographs
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08 January 2018

The script of the Naxi, their religious literature and early translation attempts

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This week’s guest blog post is by Dr Duncan Poupard, Assistant Professor (Translation) at The Chinese University of Hong Kong and Naxiologist. He sheds light on some of the most extraordinary, mysterious and visually interesting manuscripts we hold in the Chinese section of the Library: the Naxi dongba manuscripts, commenting also on some of their early translations in the Library

The British Library holds a modest but important collection of religious texts from a lesser-known people: the Naxi of the Himalayan foothills in southwest China. Among China's officially-recognised ethnic minorities, the Naxi are a relatively small group, especially when compared to their more populous neighbours to the north, the Tibetans. But the Naxi are nevertheless significant, not least for the unique way in which they record their religious literature: the dongba script.

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Example of Naxi script, from the British Library volume containing Or.11417A to Or.11426A
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This script can probably be dated to at least as early as the Mongol period (1253 -1382). The Naxi ritual texts, hand-written in books and read from left to right, form the basis for what we know about the culture and beliefs of the Naxi people. The dongba script is often touted as the world's last living pictographic script, although this classification is problematic as they are not really in active use, and are not strictly pictographic either.

The graphs can be seen in and around the city of Lijiang (centre of the Naxi population in Yunnan province), on shop fronts and road signs, but as the general populace cannot read or write the script, these signs are mostly for show.

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Starbucks Coffee shopfront, Lijiang old town. Intercultural globalisation in action
© the author

In this picture, the Naxi (top) and Chinese (bottom) names for 'Starbucks' can be seen on the board above the English lettering. In Naxi, 'Starbucks' is translated as 'gee bbaq kee'.

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The first character above means 'star' (gee, depicted as three stars), the second and third graphs being phonetic loans, the flower (bbaq) and the dog (kee) together approximating the sound of the English 'bucks'; it is a combination of literal and phonetic translation.

In fact, the script was historically reserved for the dongba religious practitioners and was primarily used for ritual, not secular (or Starbucks-related!) purposes. The books are recited by a dongba during the performance of religious ceremonies such as funerary rites, or when appeasing a vast pantheon of gods and spirits. Looking at the Naxi manuscripts themselves, which are written on specially made paper, and knowledge of which was historically only passed down the male family line, we would be forgiven for thinking they looked like comic strips: especially as they are separated into clearly marked rectangular sections. Of course, however, there's a lot more to this writing than meets the eye.
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Detail from the opening page of British Library Or.11417A
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The image above is from a manuscript titled Ssee zhul: El-miq Rherq Zhail (Increasing longevity: calling upon the power of great dongba El-miq), recited at a ceremony held after a funeral to prolong the life of the surviving members of the family. This particular book is a call to a powerful dongba from Naxi history, El-miq, entreating him to aid the dongba who is conducting the ritual by investing him with power. In the first section on the top left, after the page decoration on the left, there are a total of ten graphs.

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Here we have the character for the sky, beneath it three stars (just as in the Starbucks sign), beneath the middle star a piece of jade, to its right a svastika (a symbol of good luck in Naxi culture that was likely borrowed from Tibetan Buddhism), then an image that looks like a cross on a triangle that originally meant 'to hang (as an object hanging off a cross)', and below it the earth, sprouting tufts of luxuriant grass. To the right we have the more easily identifiable sun, above a person pointing to their left (but our right) and the moon above someone pointing to their right (our left). Lines emanating from the celestial bodies indicate light being cast (and for the sun, by extension, warmth).

This first section is an opening benediction, an incantation that is supposed to bring about good fortune for the ceremony to come, but also contains much of the cosmological wisdom of the Naxi people. These ten characters, when read out during a performance of this text (for all such ritual texts are to be orally performed, not read silently), will become 40 spoken Naxi words. How can this be so? Simply because the relationship between what is written and what is said follows no clearly defined rules. The characters are often called in to use more than once, and much of what is said is not actually written. Despite this, every dongba would be able to recite this section without any problems. An English translation might read,

The stars shine bright in the sky
And today they shine brightest
The grass grows green on the earth
And today it grows greenest
The sun comes from the left, giving off its warmth
The moon comes from the right, giving off its light

One may wonder why the sun is on the left and the moon is on the right. The Naxi have a creation myth that tells the story of how, after the heavens and the earth were separated, the people all came together to build the holy mountain Jjuqnalsheel’loq, which acted as an axis mundi, propping up the heavens. Once the mountain was completed, they used a giant iron chain to tie the sun to the left of the mountain and the moon to its right. Thus, in the Naxi cosmogony, the sun and moon rotate around the holy mountain, in between the sky and the earth, and these opening lines are a microcosm of the Naxi cosmogony.

Alongside 107 dongba manuscripts, the British Library holds a number of Chinese and English translations of several of the texts: these were in fact the first Chinese and English translations of Naxi manuscripts to be completed, making them especially important to the history of Naxi studies. The Library's translations were commissioned by the British Foreign Office after a recommendation by S Wyatt Smith (1887-1958). They were acquired by a Pentecostal missionary (probably James Andrews, a British missionary in Lijiang during the 1920s and 30s) on the consul's behalf, and translated into Chinese, with the help of a Naxi to read the manuscripts and a Chinese translator to translate them. Some of the manuscripts were subsequently translated into English at the consulate. As is the case in much of translation history, the translators remain invisible, as the identities of the Naxi, Chinese and English translators have, it seems, been lost to history. The translation work stopped in 1931 as it presumably became prohibitively expensive: three translators were required to get the final English translation, and prices of the original manuscripts in Lijiang were rising as Joseph Rock, the Austro-American explorer and Naxiologist, began to make bulk purchases in the region.

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First page of Or.11417C, containing an early Chinese translation of Or.11417A
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In 1934 the collection was given to the British Museum and the India Office. The 1930s were an exciting time for translations of Naxi manuscripts: many of the English versions that we have today were completed in this decade. There was a serious popular interest in the Naxi during this period, fostered by Joseph Rock's National Geographic articles on the region which highlighted this ‘strange tribe’. Joseph Rock began seriously translating and publishing his work on the Naxi in the 1930s, and he eventually went on to monopolise the field, with a somewhat unassailable combination of exhaustive (some may say pedantic) scholarship, a knack for self-promotion, and deep pockets.

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Provenance note on the first page of Or.11417C to 11426C, containing the Chinese translations of the correspondent “A” volumes in Naxi
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Rock is dismissive of the Library's translations, writing that they have ‘totally wrong titles and explanations in Chinese’. This is, I believe, an unfair assessment. Even a preliminary look at the translation of this first manuscript shows a quite accurate rendition, with the title, Si Chong, being the correct name of the ceremony in romanisation. Perhaps Rock was unhappy as to the nature of the Library collection's acquisition: some fifty Ssee Zhul texts were acquired by the missionary acting on behalf of the Foreign Office from the officiating dongba after the Ssee Zhul ceremony had been performed for Rock. This was a purchase that transpired without Rock's knowledge.

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Cover page of British Library manuscript Or.11417A
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The British Foreign Office's translations were pioneering, despite being somewhat unilluminating. They are presented without introduction and without any exegesis, which, combined with the large number of proper names present in the texts, makes for slow and mystifying reading for the uninitiated.

Anthony Jackson has suggested that a dictionary (as yet undiscovered) was compiled from this translation work, which would have been used to translate more of the texts without going through a Naxi intermediary. This was probably wishful thinking; to this day, Naxi dongba are required to give a reading of a book before it can be translated. This is because the texts are fluid: there is so much that is not written, there are graphs that are written and not read, and there are incantations that are recorded in a phonetic system separate to the picture-based graphs.

Translation of the Naxi texts is a practice that has all but died out in the modern era, as the remaining dongba grow fewer in number and their traditions become less relevant to modern life in Lijiang. This makes the library's collection all the more invaluable, for there will come a time when such translations will be all but impossible to carry out.

 

Further reading:
Jackson, Anthony. 1966. “Mo-So Magical Texts,” Bulletin of the John Rylands Library 48: 141-74.
Poupard, Duncan. 2015. “Beyond the pictogram: echoes of the Naxi in Ezra Pound’s Cantos”. Neohelicon 43 (1): 233–249.
Rock, Joseph F. 1963. A Na-Khi - English encyclopedic dictionary. Rome: Istituto Italiano per il Medio ed Estremo Oriente.


Duncan Poupard, The Chinese University of Hong Kong
duncan@arts.cuhk.edu.hk
 CC-BY-SA

 

17 August 2017

Illumination and decoration in Chinese Qur'ans

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A seventeenth-century Qur’an from China in the British Library recently attracted much interest in a belated Eid show-and-tell arranged for the local community. This provides an ideal opportunity to go into more detail about the British Library’s collection of Chinese Qur’ans.

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The opening leaves of a seventeenth-century Qur'an written in ṣīnī (‘Chinese’) script, part five of a set originally in thirty volumes (BL Or.15604, ff. 1v-2r)
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Visitors are always surprised when we show them a Chinese Qur’an, as they don’t automatically associate Islam with China. But in the eighth century, Muslim merchants were already trading in China and a community is known to have been established in Xi'an, where a mosque was built in 742. The impact of Islam in China was, however, not strongly felt until several centuries later during the Song and Yuan dynasties: the network of routes, known as the Silk Road, became the conduit for the spread of religious and cultural influences as well as for goods and merchandise.

Chinese Qur’ans were often produced in thirty-volume sets rather than in a single-volume codex, and many of our Chinese Qur’ans are sections (juz’) from a number of different thirty-volume sets. The script used was a variation of muḥaqqaq and penned in a way which suggests that the pen strokes were influenced by Chinese calligraphy. This is often referred to as ṣīnī (‘Chinese’) Arabic. A central panel is a prominent feature of Chinese Qur’ans on their decorated pages, which usually contain as few as three lines of text, with only a few words on each.
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The beginning of a late seventeenth-century Qur'an written in ṣīnī script. This volume is the third of an original thirty-volume set (BL Or.15571, f. 1v)
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The assimilation of local traditions in Islamic manuscripts produced in areas not normally associated with the art of Islamic calligraphy and illumination is evident in Chinese Qur’ans. While the illumination and decoration have the same function in all Qur’ans, the influence of local style and culture is manifest, without infringing Islamic practice in sacred art. The adaptation of symbols common to Chinese art and culture is therefore felt very strongly. In the final opening of a seventeen-century Qur’an, a lantern motif has become the visual vehicle for the text in the diamond design in the centre of the lantern. The impression of a Chinese lantern is further reinforced by pendulous tassels attached to the hooks on the outer side of the structure.

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The decorated final text opening with lantern motif from a seventeenth-century Qur'an (BL Or.15256/1, ff. 55v-56r)
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In the same Qur’an a decorative leaf, exemplifying the use of local flora, functions as a section marker indicating the halfway point in part six of a thirty-volume set.

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A decorative leaf serving as a section marker (BL Or.15256/1, f. 30v)
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Chinese Qur’ans often incorporate vibrant colours and gold for typical motifs such as crescents and banners. The impression of petals in the shamsah (sunburst) illumination below is produced by the intricate design of overlapping circles.

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A shamsah medallion placed before the beginning of the text (BL Or.15604, f. 1r)
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Chinese influence is also visible in the swirling lettering of the basmalah inscription in this shamsah medallion occurring in an eighteenth-century Qur'an, Or.14758, part ten of a thirty-volume set.

Or14758_2r copy Or14758_binding copy
Left: The shamsah containing the basmalah, and right: the same design used as part of the design of the binding (BL Or.14758, f. 2r and front binding)
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An  unusual Qur’an is a nineteenth-century volume of selections accompanied by a Chinese translation (IO Islamic 3440). The Chinese translations are placed sometimes at the beginning, sometimes at the end, sometimes in the middle of the lines and occasionally between them.

IO Isl 3440_f13-14 copy
The beginning of Sūrah 36, Yasin from a nineteenth-century Qur'an with Chinese translation, formerly belonging to the presumably Muslim Admiral at Amoy (BL IO Islamic 3440, f. 13v-14r)
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This Qur’an has an interesting history. It was presented to the India Office Library in 1883 by Hugh W. Gabbett, whose father Lt. (later Major General) William. M. Gabbett of the Madras Horse Artillery was Lord Gough’s aidedecamp when Amoy (Xiamen) was taken in 1841 during the First Opium War. A faded note in pencil on folio 1r by William Gabbett describes it as “A Koran found by me at Amoy found in the Admiral’s House. W. M. Gabbett” and “The most valuable Book yet found in China. W. M. G.”

Further reading
Colin F. Baker, Qur'an manuscripts: calligraphy, illumination, design. London: British Library, 2007.
Annabel Teh Gallop, “Was the mousedeer Peranakan?: In search of Chinese Islamic influences in Malay manuscript art”, in Jan van der Putten and Mary Kilcline Cody, Lost Times and Untold Tales of the Malay World. Singapore: NUS Press, 2009: pp. 319-339.

Colin F. Baker and Ursula Sims-Williams, Asian and African Collections
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