THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Asian and African studies blog

19 posts categorized "East Asia"

08 May 2017

Okinawan manuscripts digitised

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

Or_40_f002r_preface
Dedication from Bettelheim’s Dictionary (BL Or.40 f.2r)  noc:

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

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

Bettelheim port
Bernard Jean Bettelheim (Okinawa Prefectural Museum)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or_41_f001r_titlepage
Title page of Bettelheim’s Okinawan grammar (BL Or.41 f.1r)

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

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

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

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

Or_41_f003v katakana
‘On the Japanese Letters’ – katakana as used to write Okinawan (BL Or.41 f.3v)

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

Or_40_f626v_zoology
The last page of Bettelheim’s dictionary – ‘Zone’ and ‘Zoology’: ‘Through the help of God finished Christmas Day 1851’ (BL Or.40 f. 626v)

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

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

16011.a.12 Romans t.p 16011.a.9 Acts
Bettelheim’s Okinawan translations of St Paul’s Letter to the Romans (left) and Acts of the Apostles (right) (BL. 16011.a.12 & 16011.a.9)  noc

16011.a.12 Romans_ch1
First chapter of Bettelheim’s Okinawan translation of St Paul’s Letter to the Romans (BL. 16011.a.12)  noc

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


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

Hamish Todd, Asian and African Collections
 CC-BY-SA

___________

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

03 March 2017

Vietnam and Dragons

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

Fig 1
Gilded dragon on the reverse of an Imperial edict of Emperor Khải Đinh, 1924. British Library, Or.14665 Noc

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

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

Or_14844_ffront cover-red  Or_14844_fback cover-red
The Imperial dragon depicted on the yellow silk front and back covers of a manuscript of KimVăn Kiều, 19th c. British Library, Or.14844 Noc

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

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

Fig 4
Gilt dragon on the Imperial edict of Emperor Khải Đinh,  25 July, 1917. British Library, Or.14631 Noc

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

DSCN0684
Dragon Boat Race, Thiếu nhi vẽ.  Hà Nội: Văn hóa, 1977, [21]. British Library, SEA.1986.a.4004

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

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

Sud Chonchirdsin, curator for Vietnamese Ccownwork

21 February 2017

Knowledge Exchange visit to the National Library of China

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

01 Rob D and Gemma R in front of NLC_2000
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.

02 Guoni welcoming BL staff_2000
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.


03 NLC exhibition with Lei Qiang_2000
Gemma Renshaw and Robert Davies with Mr Lei Qiang from the Exhibition Department of the NLC. © British Library in China

04 audience participation corner_2000
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.

05 Visit to the conservation studio_2000
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.

06 expert at rubbings department_2000
An expert at the NLC showing how to make a rubbing out of the ink-stone engraved with a plum blossom pattern. © British Library in China

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

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

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


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

Image01
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.

Image02
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.

Image03
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.

Image04
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.
 
Image05
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.

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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

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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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