Asian and African studies blog

10 posts from May 2014

29 May 2014

British Library releases over 200 Japanese and Chinese prints into Public Domain

The Sino-Japanese War of 1894-1895: as seen in prints and archives

A collection of Japanese and Chinese prints of the Sino-Japanese War, held in Asian & African Studies, is featured in a new web exhibition jointly created by the British Library and the Japan Center for Asian Historical Records (JACAR) in Tokyo.  The exhibition is bilingual and is available on JACAR’s website in English and Japanese versions. The images of the 235 British Library prints are being made available in the Public Domain for the first time.

16126.d.4 (13)_B20102-36
The Chinese using lanterns mounted on cattle during a night battle. Artist unknown
高麗月夜大戦牛陣得勝全圖 Gaoli yue ye da zhan niu zhen de sheng quan tu, China, 1894. BL 16126.d.4(13)

The Sino-Japanese War was fought from 1 August 1894 to 17 April 1895 between Qing China and Meiji Japan, primarily over control of the Korean peninsula.  The online exhibition entitled The Sino-Japanese War of 1894-1895: as seen in prints and archives brings together digital images depicting the Sino-Japanese War and related Japanese archival documents, digitised by JACAR, to show how the events of the war were depicted and recorded by people of the time.

Of the total collection of 235 prints, 179 were produced in Japan and 56 in China.  All but one [1] were acquired by the British Museum between April and October 1895 from Dulau & Company, Foreign and English Booksellers of 37 Soho Square, London for a total of £23 11s [equivalent to approximately £2300 today].  The overwhelming majority of the prints were produced using traditional woodblock technology but there are also a handful of lithographs among them.

16126.d.1 (39)_B20107-43
Japanese print showing negotiations between the Japanese, Chinese and Korean to end the Sino-Japanese War. Artist: Yōsai (Watanabe) Nobukazu
日清韓談判之図 Nisshinkan danpan no zu, Japan, August 1894. BL 16126.d.1(39)

It is likely that these prints were acquired as a record of current events rather than for their artistic merit and so were never added to the other thousands of Japanese and Chinese prints in the British Museum.  Instead they were put into portfolios and included in the Japanese printed books sequence.  In 1973 when the British Library was established, the collections of the British Museum Library, including East Asian material, were divided between the two institutions. It seems that the war prints were overlooked and were not transferred with the rest of the Museum’s Japanese and Chinese prints to what was then called the Department of Oriental Antiquities and is now the Department of Asia.

16126.d.2 (71)_B20106-38
Japanese print showing a night-time attack on Pyongyang. Artist: Toshimitsu
平壌夜戦我兵大勝利 Heijō yasen waga hei daishōri, Japan, September 1894. BL 16126.d.2(71)

At the time of the war the prints served the role of modern news photographs, offering the Japanese and Chinese publics a visual impression of events as they unfolded.  They were produced quickly and in large numbers and vary greatly in artistic style and quality.  Examples survive today in many locations in Japan and overseas but a collection of this size is very rare.  Above all it is the presence of so many Chinese prints which makes the British Library’s holdings significant and one of the key aspects of the web exhibition is that it allows the events to be shown from both the Japanese and Chinese perspectives, albeit in very different ways.  The prints were also intended as domestic propaganda so it is instructive to be able to compare side by side images produced by both nations.  At the same time sensitive treatment and careful explanation of context is important for a modern audience.

16126.d.4 (30)_B20102-53
Chinese print showing a night-time attack on Pyongyang. Artist unknown
平壌夜戦 Pingrang ye zhan, China, 1894. BL 16126.d.4(30)

To provide a historical context and to enhance the research value of the exhibition, the staff of JACAR have selected relevant archival material on a range of topics including naval records from Japan’s National Institute for Defense Studies and documents from the Diplomatic Archives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs which are presented on a thematic basis together with the visual material.  The website, which will be developed further over the coming months, also has maps and a chronology of the key events of the war, a select bibliography and a gallery providing Public Domain images of the 235 prints and bibliographic details for each.

Hamish Todd, Asian and African Studies

[1] One additional Japanese triptych print (ORB.40/1008) was acquired in 2013.


27 May 2014

John Crawfurd and Malay studies

In a widely-read recent blog post, Digitisation’s most wanted, Melissa Terras – Professor of Digital Humanities at University College London – investigated the most frequently downloaded or accessed items in various digital libraries.  Her blog opened with a ‘surprising’ fact: the most popular item in the National Library of Scotland’s digital collection is not the last letter of Mary Queens of Scots, not the collections of original material relating to famous Scottish writers such as Robert Burns, Robert Louis Stevenson and even J.K. Rowling, but:  A grammar and dictionary of the Malay language : with a preliminary dissertation, by John Crawfurd, published in 1852, which is accessed by hundreds of people every month, mainly from Malaysia.  True, surprising to many people – but not to scholars of Malay, who know Crawfurd well not only for his grammar and dictionary and the Descriptive dictionary of the Indian islands of 1856, but also for his invaluable collection of Malay, Javanese and Bugis manuscripts which he sold to the British Museum in 1842, and which are now held in the British Library.  
John Crawfurd.  Source of image: Wikipedia  noc

John Crawfurd (1783-1868) was a Scottish physician who joined the East India Company in 1803.  In 1808 he arrived in Penang, where he began his studies of Malay, and in 1811 he accompanied Lord Minto and Thomas Stamford Raffles on the British invasion of Java, where he served as Resident of Yogyakarta until the British withdrawal in 1816.  He later became the second Resident of Singapore from 1823 to 1826, and also led diplomatic missions to Siam, Indochina and Burma. After his final return to London in 1827 Crawfurd lived a long life, during which time he published the work which has become such a hit in the digital age.

Hikayat Carang Kulina which begins by setting out its literary credentials: 'This is a Javanese tale named Carang Kulina, a beautiful story of the type called kakawin in Javanese, canda in India, rakat in Chinese, and hikayat when rendered into Malay', Al-kisah. Inilah hikayat Jawa yang bernama Carang Kulina yang terlalu amat indah2 perkataan daripada bahasa Jawa kakawin namanya, dan kepada bahasa Keling canda namanya, kepada bahasa Cina rakat namanya, diubahkan kepada bahasa Melayu hikayat namanya. British Library, Add. 12383, ff.1v-2r  noc

The 25 Malay manuscripts from the Crawfurd collection (Add. 12376-12399) have now all been digitised and are fully accessible online on the British Library's Digitised Manuscripts site.  They were collected by Crawfurd during his service in Southeast Asia, in Penang, Java and Singapore. The collection is rich in literary works, and many of the Malay manuscripts from Java are translations of Javanese stories, as are the two manuscripts shown here. We know that Crawfurd read and used his own Malay manuscripts because of a charming drawing evidently sketched to amuse his little daughter Flora in the margin of a Malay manuscript of  Hikayat Dewa Mandu now in the Staatsbibliothek in Berlin. The Malay manuscripts in the British Library certainly provided material for many of the examples of Malay reproduced in Crawfurd’s Grammar.  

A passage in the Hikayat Carang Kulina telling the story of the prince Radin Inu: sebermula maka tersebutlah perkataan Raden Inu Kertapati.  British Library, Add. 12383, f.12v  noc

A page from Crawfurd’s Grammar (1852), p. 80, with quotations from a Malay text about Raden Inu.  National Library of Scotland.  noc

Hikayat Naya Kusuma, beginning in time-honoured fashion: ‘This is a tale translated from Javanese into Malay, a beautiful story composed by its wise and sagacious owner, to soothe troubled and aching hearts, ' Bahwa ini suatu hikayat daripada bahasa Jawa dipindahkan kepada bahasa Melayu terlalu indah2 ceteranya dikarang oleh orang yang empunya cetera yang arif bijaksana dapat akan mengibur hati yang dendam berahi. British Library, Add. 12391, f.1v  noc

In Melissa Terras’s blog she explored the various social media sites by which people accessed digital items.  And what about the digitised Malay manuscripts in the British Library?  Here too we know that Twitter and Facebook play a significant role, as does our blog – the post of 18 November 2013 about our digitised manuscript of Hikayat Raja Babi, ‘The Malay story of the Pig King’ has had over 5,000 views so far.  Which is YOUR favourite digitised Malay manuscript, and why?  Please let me know!

Annabel Teh Gallop, Lead Curator, Southeast Asia

24 May 2014

The Death of Queen Victoria: the Politics of Mourning and Memorialisation in the British Persian Gulf

This blog post marks the 195 anniversary of Queen Victoria’s birth on 24 May 1819.

On the afternoon of 22 January 1901, Queen Victoria died at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight. In the United Kingdom, as well as many thousands of miles away around the Empire, reactions ‘were immediate and tangible’ with ‘sombre mood and suspension of normal activity’ (Wolffe, p. 224).

Hafiz Abdul Karim; Queen Victoria by Hills & Saunders carbon print, July 1893 (National Portrait Gallery, London, NPG P51).

This atmosphere is reflected in the customs of mourning and commemoration, some of which the late queen was associated with in her lifetime. However, particularly in the context of the British Empire - over which Victoria had been ‘proclaimed’ Empress of India (Kaisar-i-Hind) in 1877 and whose image was ubiquitous on currency, postage stamps, portraits and statues - mourning and memorialising the dead queen-empress was a way of performing and solidifying imperial hierarchies and authority.

Mourning: Instructions to a Native Agent
Once news of the monarch’s death had reached Britain’s Persian Gulf administrative headquarters at Bushire, details were transmitted to its network of native agents on both the Arab and Persian littorals, including Khan Bahadur ‘Abd al-Latif, Britain’s Residency Agent at Sharjah, in modern-day United Arab Emirates:

It is with profound regret that the Political Resident and Consul General has directed me to announce to you the death [قد انتقلت من دار الفناء الى دار البقاء] on the 22 of January 1901 of Her Most Gracious Majesty Queen Victoria, Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and Empress of India.

Letter No. 24 from W. S. Davis, First Assistant to the Political Resident at Bushire, to Khan Bahadur 'Abd al-Latif, Residency Agent at Sharjah, dated 26 January 1901 / 5 Shawwal 1318 (BL IOR/R/15/1/753, f. 116 recto and verso).

Instructions for mourning appeared in the same letter: ‘The flag at the Agency should be hoisted half-mast high [ان علم الوكالة لازم تنشره بالنصف من الحطبة] until further notice’. Subsequently, as directed by a Gazette Extraordinary, further instructions were sent to ‘Abd al-Latif and summarised in Arabic: ‘All persons will remain in deep mourning [الثياب السواد] up to March 6 inclusive and in half mourning [نصف الثياب سواد] up to April 17 inclusive’. In addition, ‘Officers of His Majesty’s Civil, Military and Marine services will when in uniform wear a band of crape on the left arm [يشدون على عضدهم قطعة سوداء التي تسمي كريب] up to July 24 inclusive’.

Letter No. 39 from W. S. Davis, First Assistant to the Political Resident at Bushire, to Khan Bahadur 'Abd al-Latif, Residency Agent at Sharjah, dated 4 February 1901 / 14 Shawwal 1318, enclosing telegrams from the Government of India to the Political Residency (BL IOR/R/15/1/753, f. 117 and 118).

Another common mourning practice was issued to ‘Abd al-Latif on 1 March when the Residency forwarded to him ‘[two] quires of black-edged foolscap paper [كوير اثنى قراطيس مخصوص العزاء]’, informing him that ‘it should be used in all your official correspondence up to the 24 July 1901’.

Left: Letter No. 99 on black-edged mourning paper from W. S. Davis, First Assistant to the Political Resident at Bushire, to Khan Bahadur 'Abd al-Latif, Residency Agent at Sharjah, dated 1 April 1901 / 11 Dhu al-Hijjah 1318 (BL IOR/R/15/1/753, f. 46).
Right: Letter 29 from Khan Bahadur 'Abd al-Latif, Residency Agent at Sharjah, to the Political Resident at Bushire, dated 27 April 1901 / 5 Muharram 1319 (BL IOR/R/15/1/242, f. 89).

Some of these customs must have been lost in their ambiguous translation into Arabic or appeared culturally obscure on the Trucial Coast at the turn of the century. Yet, adherence to such practices constituted a ‘ritual idiom’, performed to express, make manifest and compelling Britain’s construction of colonial authority (Cohn, p. 208). Such rituals helped to locate both colonial administrators in the Bushire Residency and native agents like ‘Abd al-Latif in an imperial hierarchy of power presided over by the monarch-emperor. It is impossible to know exactly how and to what extent ‘Abd al-Latif performed these mourning practices, but we do have a letter from him to the Resident, dated 27 April 1901 / 5 Muharram 1319, written on the black-edged mourning paper provided by the Residency.

Memorialisation: A Hospital Fit for a Queen?
In November 1901, once the official period of mourning for Queen Victoria had passed, Gangaram Tikamdas and the other leading British Indian merchants of Bahrain offered 5000 rupees for the erection of a hospital to ‘perpetuate the memory of her late Majesty’. This donation was given in appreciation of ‘the blessings of free trade and peace they had enjoyed under British protection during the reign of the Queen’ (Saldanha, p. 126).

The Government of India acknowledged the merchants’ ‘loyalty and public spirit’. However, they were reluctant to support such a financially costly scheme unless some ‘political advantage’ would arise from it. The Political Agent at Bahrain, John Calcott Gaskin, managed to persuade his superiors that the hospital’s construction would be highly appreciated by the ‘natives’ and would serve as a ‘likely means to ingratiate ourselves to them’. It would also divert the sick from American missionary doctors operating in the Persian Gulf, thus bringing the inhabitants of Bahrain, and also the mainland of Eastern Arabia, under British influence. ‘For this reason principally’, he wrote, ‘the matter should be given favourably consideration by Government’.

While the bulk of the construction costs were met by subscriptions from among the Hindu community of Bahrain, as well as leading Arab and Persian merchants, such as Haji Muqbil al-Dhukayr and ‘Abd al-Nabi Kazruni (Fuccaro: p. 102), the Government of India undertook to finance the future maintenance of the hospital. In 1905 the Victoria Memorial Hospital, as it was named, opened its doors.

'Plan of the Bahrain Political Agency' (c. 1910) with the Victoria Memorial Hospital in the top right corner (BL IOR/R/15/2/52, f. 96).

However, the myopic fixation with ‘political influence’, rather than public health, soon became apparent. Emily Overend Lorimer, wife of the Political Agent at Bahrain (1911-1912), wrote in a letter home to her mother that the Victoria Memorial Hospital was built without proper consideration of the costs. It was, she wrote, a ‘fine large hospital’ but with insufficient income. ‘When really bad cases come’, she noted, ‘we have to ask the Mission Hospital to take them in’ (Tuson: p. 107). Five years later, the poor state of the hospital was confirmed in a note written by G. H. K. Monani, the Agency surgeon: ‘The Hospital is very badly handicapped for want of funds’. The hospital was short of essential equipment and the surgical instruments it did have were outdated and incapable of being rendered thoroughly antiseptic. ‘We can’t buy them’, he wrote, ‘because they are costly’. The Government of India’s allotment for the hospital was inadequate causing it to be ‘absolutely impossible for me to cope with the number of patients’.

Although the construction of the Victoria Memorial Hospital was an expression of gratitude towards the late monarch, the funding of memorials such as these was a way for imperial subjects to perform and make concrete their loyalty and allegiance. Ultimately, these initiatives were politically advantageous for British colonial administrators since they helped to locate their subjects, such as the British Indian and merchant communities of Bahrain, in a system of imperial subordination, and to provide ‘material proof’ of British authority.


Primary Sources:
British Library, India Office Records and Private Papers; ‘File 14/21 Correspondence re Zaora’ IOR/R/15/1/243; ‘Arabic/English File No. 7’ IOR/R/15/1/753; ‘Victoria Memorial Hospital’ IOR/R/15/2/960; ‘Letters from Emily O. Lorimer to her family from Bahrein’ Mss Eur F177/6.

Further Reading:
Bernard  S. Cohn, ‘Representing Authority in Victorian India’ in The Invention of Tradition by Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger (Cambridge, 1983).
Nelida Fuccaro, Histories of City and State in the Persian Gulf: Manama since 1800 (Cambridge, 2009).
J. A. Saldanha, ‘Volume IV: Bahrein Affairs – Katar Affairs’, The Persian Gulf Precis (Cambridge, 1986).
Penelope Tuson, Playing the Game: Western Women in Arabia (London, 2003).
John Wolffe, Great Deaths: Grieving, Religion, and Nationhood in Victorian and Edwardian Britain (Oxford, 2000).


Daniel Lowe, Arabic and Gulf History Specialist

Twitter: @dan_a_lowe

22 May 2014

Some recent Japanese acquisitions

The Japanese section of Asian & African Studies has recently received two award-winning artworks of Sho (書 = calligraphy) by Saitō Shōen (斉藤昭苑), which make an exciting addition to the existing collection of approximately 100 pieces of modern Japanese calligraphy. Saitō Shōen is an active member of the Sōgen school of calligraphy(創玄会), and was awarded the 2010 Japan Fine Arts Exhibition prize (for Or.16906) and the 2012 Mainichi Exhibition Prize (for Or.16907).

Calligraphy in the Far East is more than words written in black ink with brushes on paper, representing a highly sophisticated art form created with relatively simple equipment. Artists carefully choose the size and materials of both paper and brushes as well as the tone of ink, selecting a font from a myriad of styles. The strength and velocity of the brush strokes also play a key role in conveying the ultimate expression of beauty.

The unique approach of the artists of the Sōgen School is based on creating artworks which are accessible to everyone. They believe that calligraphic art resonates more with our daily lives if it is easier to understand what it says. In addition to this concept, the themes of their works are often based on popular literature such as poems, haiku and excerpts from Japanese classics that bring art much closer to real life.

Saitō Shōen has said that her works usually start with her finding poems which inspire her, and then she keeps on experimenting to seek the best way to express her creativity. She tries many different sizes and types of paper, changing the brushes and her writing style, until finally the theme is perfectly reflected in the ink tone, brush stroke and the space on the paper. Her quest for the perfect harmony of beauty never ends.
Or. 16906 © Saitō Shōen

English translation: 'Framed by the perfect halo of the evening primroses’ blooming tone, the last surviving ant sings low'.

This first poem (Or.16906), by Satō Setsuko, has a lyrical and nostalgic flavour. When Saitō Shōen came across it, she visualised her work on a huge sheet of paper. She also decided on the choice of a combination of delicate brush strokes and pale ink as the best way to express the world of the poem. After a lengthy process of trial and error she finally reached the moment when she was satisfied with the transformation of the original poem into a calligraphic artwork.

Or. 16907 © Saitō Shōen

宇宙の断崖 近道を帰る
English translation: 'At the cliff edge of space, take the short cut home'

This second poem (Or. 16907), also by Satō Setsuko, has a dynamic science fiction atmosphere. Shōen was moved by the poem's energy. In line with the dramatic scale of the poem, she chose a strong brush with powerful and lively strokes using splashes of dark ink.

The Japanese section also has a work by Shōen’s daughter, Saitō Aya (さいとう あや).  Aya is not a calligrapher; however, she has inherited the creative gene from her mother. She has donated to us  her self-published picture book Nebukuro-kun  ネブクロくん ('The Sleeping-Bag Boy') (ORB.30/4556).

ORB.30/4556: Nebukuro-kun ネブクロくん © Saitō Aya

Her charming little book is bound in a very interesting way. It is the story of a boy in a sleeping-bag, which is his security blanket against the world. The book itself is protected by its own sleeping-bag as if to represent his unique personality. Aya's original idea was to visualise the essence of the story, using the motif of the sleeping-bag both inside and outside the book. It always attracts art students in the UK and inspires them by showing what can be done with the form of book as an artefact.

We are delighted to have these artworks by this creative mother-and-daughter duo in our collections.


Yasuyo Ohtsuka, Asian and African Studies

18 May 2014

The Khamsah of Nizami: A Timurid Masterpiece

One of the best loved of the illustrated Persian manuscripts in the British Library is the Khamsah of Nizami Or. 6810. Made in Herat during the reign of Sultan Husayn Bayqara, and with one picture dated 900/1494-95, it contains some of the finest late 15th-century painting. The glorious colour and meticulous drawing of its illustrations strike the viewer immediately, while the depth and complexity of their meaning is endlessly fascinating. In addition the manuscript poses interesting problems of artistic attribution and patronage.

Harun al-Rashid and the barber. Ascribed in notes to Bihzad and to Mirak (BL Or.6810, f. 27v).

Illustrating a parable in Makhzan al-Asrar (‘Treasury of Secrets’), the first of the five books of the Khamsah, ‘Harun al-Rashid and the barber’ takes us inside a hammam (‘bathhouse’). We are well and truly inside since the plain doorway in the right marks the entry to an area of privacy, or relative privacy.  In its main saloon, men, with their gaze politely directed away from each other, are dressing or undressing with proper decorum. To the left is a more private space, its status is expressed in a more stately architecture: this is for the moment reserved for caliphal use. In it Harun al-Rashid is the direct object of attention of two attendants, and appears to have engrossed the activity of two more. This space is the focus of the narrative: the viewer’s eye has been led towards it from right to left, according to the reading direction of the Persian script. The text tells us that when Harun visits the hammam the barber who shaves his head asks for the hand of his daughter in marriage. Harun is incensed by this impertinence, which is, moreover, repeated on his subsequent visits.  Harun puts this problem to his vizier, remarking that it seems unwise to subject oneself to the double threat of an actual razor and a dagger-like word. The vizier speculates that the barber’s presumption might result from his standing over a treasure: the caliph should order him to move his position. Harun acts accordingly; standing on a different spot, the barber no longer feels himself the caliph’s equal; excavation reveals the treasure over which had been beneath his feet. 

Over and above the requirements of the narrative, the depiction of the hammam is the gift that the artist makes to the viewer. There are minutely observed practical details such as the soot deposited on the walls by the lamps in the private room, or the precise position of hands that wring a wet towel in the public space; and there is the symbolic detail that the caliph’s robes and crown are temporarily laid aside, so that in a sense he becomes a vulnerable man on a level with the others. There is careful observation and judgement in the use of colour: the dark buff tiles of the floor are evidently not glazed, so that even when wet they will not be slippery; their colour is beautifully set off by the array of blue towels of varying stripe that blazon the function of the establishment, and that are secured into the main composition by the rod that lifts them to or from the drying line.

Is this picture the work of the great painter Bihzad? The names of both Mirak, the older master, and of Bihzad have been written underneath it at an unknown date, but the majority of scholars would attribute it to Bihzad. Writing in 1605, the Mughal emperor Jahangir, then in possession of the manuscript and priding himself on his connoisseurship, asserted that 16 of its pictures were by Bihzad, five by Mirak, and one by ʿAbd al-Razzaq, though he did not specify which (See earlier post: ‘A Jewel in the Crown’).

The Prophet mounted on the Buraq and escorted by angels passing over the Kaʻbah (BL Or.6810, f. 5v).

One of the pictures to which no notes of attribution have been added is the ‘Miʿraj’ (‘ascent’), the picture of the Prophet Muhammad carried up into the heavens on the back of the Buraq, a mount with a human face—the Buraq’s face suggests the work of Mirak, the other faces less so. The Prophet is seen in a swirl of golden clouds and surrounded by angels, against a night sky. He is above the black-draped Kaʿbah, with the town of Mecca around it treated in fascinating detail, albeit in a rather persianate architecture replete with blue and turquoise tiling. The picture follows the type of one produced some 80 years earlier in the Miscellany for Iskandar Sultan BL Add. 27261 of 1410-11 (see earlier post: ‘The Miscellany of Iskandar Sultan’). The later picture has, however, two brilliant innovations. The Prophet is here looking around him in wonder, and the precinct of the Kaʿbah contains two human figures that are so tiny that the viewer seems to look down on them from an immense height.

Iskandar, in the likeness of Husayn Bayqara, with the seven sages. An inscription in the arch of the window is dated AH 900 (1494/95). (BL Or.6810, f. 214r).

This magnificent manuscript clearly draws upon the talents of artists of the royal workshop, but it does not display the name of Sultan Husayn Bayqara, who ruled Herat from 1469 to 1506, as patron, instead a line on one of the arches of Shirin’s palace (f. 62v) says that it was made for the Amir ʿAli Farsi Barlas, and it seems that he is depicted in the frontispiece. Nevertheless, it is beyond doubt that it is Sultan Husayn Bayqara who appears, in proxy portraiture, in illustrations to the story of Iskandar (Alexander the Great), as an ideal king, surrounded by philosophers (above) or showing respect for a holy man (below).

Iskandar, in the likeness of Husayn Bayqara, visiting the wise man in a cave. Ascribed to Bihzad underneath, but to Qasim ʻAli in the text panel. (BL Or.6810, f. 273r).

Thanks to the generosity of the Barakat Trust this manuscript has been fully digitised and can be viewed in our digitised manuscripts viewer (click here Or.6810). Follow this link for a detailed catalogue description with links to all of the miniatures.

Further Reading

Ebadollah Bahari, Bihzad: Master of Persian Painting, London and New York, 1996.
Basil Gray, Persian Painting, Geneva, 1961.
Thomas W. Lentz and Glenn D. Lowry, Timur and the Princely Vision, Los Angeles, 1989.
John Seyller, ‘Inspection and valuation of manuscripts in the Imperial Mughal Library’, Artibus Asiae, LVII, 3/4 (1997), pp. 243-349.
Ivan Stchoukine, Les peintures des manuscrits Tîmûrides, Paris, 1954.


Barbara Brend, Independent scholar


15 May 2014

The Ramayana in Southeast Asia: (4) Indonesia and Malaysia

The final installment of our survey of the Ramayana epic in Southeast looks at its dissemination in the island world. That the Ramayana was already well known in Java by the end of the ninth century is evident from the magnificent series of reliefs carved into the walls of the temples of Prambanan in central Java around 900 AD.  However, the the first literary version in Old Javanese, the Ramayana Kakawin, appears to date from a century later. It is based not directly on Valmiki’s Ramayana but on a later Indian poetical version, the so-called Bhattikavya, a Sanskrit poem written by Bhatti (6/7th century), which both tells the story and illustrates the rules of Sanskrit grammar.  The first five cantos are a fairly exact translation, while the remainder is a much freer version.

The abduction of Sita by Ravana, depicted in stone reliefs at Prambanan temple, central Java, ca. 900.  Photograph by W.G.N. van der Sleen, 1929. Tropenmuseum.  noc

With the spread of Islam across Java from the fifteenth century onwards, the strongly Indianised Old Javanese culture and traditions retreated eastwards to the island of Bali, which today remains the only majority Hindu region outside India.  Nearly all Old Javanese literary compositions or kakawin survived only in Bali, although their stories continued to be known in Java through the shadow-puppet tradition. The late 18th-century renaissance of literature at the central Javanese courts of Surakarta and Yogyakarta saw the rewriting of the Ramayana Kakawin in modern Javanese.  In Bali, the story of Rama still plays a central part in the religious and cultural life of the island, and in the twentieth century became a popular subject for illustrated palm-leaf manuscripts.

Serat Rama Keling, a modern Javanese version of the Ramayana, illuminated manuscript dated 1814.  British Library,  Add.12284, ff.1v-2r  noc


Or.14022-Sita offering water
Two scenes from a Balinese palm leaf manuscript of the Ramayana, written and illustrated by Ida Bagus Adnyana of Geriya Gunung Sari, Pliatan, Bali, c. 1975. (Top) Sita sees the golden deer and urges Rama to catch it; (bottom) Ravana in the guise of an old hermit lures Sita out of the safety of her magic circle. British Library, Or.14022  noc

The tradition of shadow-puppet theatre seems to have been in existence in Java for at least a thousand years, and the stories which are used in the wayang kulit shadow puppet theatre are taken from the Indian epics of the Ramayana and Mahabharata. While the characters and the plots remain basically Indian, the way the stories have been developed over the past 1000 years in the oral dramatic tradition reflects Javanese culture rather than Indian. The iconography of the shadow puppet theatre – with heads in profile, angular shoulders, slim torsos and pivoted limbs – has strongly influenced Javanese manuscript illustration.  

Or.9333, ff.8v-9r
Hanuman (left) and Hanuman Tugangga, one of Hanuman’s sons by the Fish Princess (right). From an album of Javanese wayang characters, Java, 19th century. British Library, Or.9333, ff 8v-9r  noc

In the Malay Muslim courts of the archipelago, literary traditions now transmitted using Arabic script continued to reflect deep-seated Hindu-Buddhist roots.  The Malay version of the Ramayana, Hikayat Seri Rama, is believed to have been committed to writing between the 13th and 15th centuries.  One of the oldest Malay manuscripts in this country – and probably the oldest known illuminated Malay manuscript – is a copy of the Hikayat Seri Rama now held in the Bodleian Library, Oxford, which was in the possession of Archbishop Laud in 1635.  The Malay version originated not from the classical Ramayana of Valmiki, but from popular oral versions widely spread over southern India.  

As attested to in media ranging from the great 7th-century Ramayana stone pedestal in the Cham temple at Tra Kieu in Vietnam, to 20th-century performances of the Ceritera Seri Rama in the wayang Siam shadow puppet theatre of Kelantan and 21st-century Indonesian comics, the Ramayana has retained its position as a literary classic in Southeast Asia through the centuries.

Further reading

On the Ramayana in Javanese and Old Javanese:
P.J. Zoetmulder, Kalangwan: a survey of Old Javanese literature.  The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1974; pp. 217-233.
Theodore G. Th. Pigeaud, Literature of Java.  Catalogue raisonné of Javanese manuscripts in the Library of the University of Leiden and other public collections in the Netherlands.  The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1968. 4 vols.  

On the Ramayana in Malay:
V.I. Braginsky, The heritage of traditional Malay literature: a historical survey of genres, writings and literary views.  Leiden: KITLV, 2004; pp. 66-71.
Achadiati Ikram, Hikayat Sri Rama: suntingan naskah disertai telaah amanat dan struktur.  Jakarta: Penerbit Universitas Indonesia, 1980.

Annabel Teh Gallop, Lead Curator, Southeast Asia

12 May 2014

The New Age (Ruzgar-i naw): World War II cultural propaganda in Persian

Though Iran was officially neutral when war broke out in 1939, many Iranians were sympathetic towards Germany which, they hoped, might liberate them from years of British and Russian oppression. An increasing German presence combined with British concern for continued supplies of Iranian oil led to Operation Countenance, an Allied invasion launched on 25 August 1941. As a result Reza Shah was deposed and replaced by his son Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. Iran was forced to abandon its neutral position though it did not actually declare war against Germany until September 1943. From 1941 onwards, British propaganda, published by the Ministry of Information (MOI), played a crucial role. Favouring a cultural approach, the MOI produced items such as the Shāhnāmah cartoons by the artist Kem (see our post ‘The Shahnameh as propaganda for World War II’) and the magazine Rūzgār-i naw, or The New Age which was published quarterly in Persian between 1941 and 1946.

First and last issues
The first and last issues of Rūzgār-i naw dated summer 1941 and spring 1946

Rūzgār-i naw was published by Hodder & Stoughton in London and Doubleday Doran in New York on behalf of the MOI. It was primarily a cultural and literary magazine. The editor was A.J. Arberry (1905-1969) who had been Assistant Librarian at the India Office from 1934 until war broke out when he was seconded to Postal Censorship for a short period before being transferred to the Ministry of Information. Arberry left the Ministry in 1944 to become Professor of Persian at the School of Oriental and African Studies, but the magazine continued to be published until 1946 when the MOI was dissolved.

Arberry worked closely with a team of specialists drawn from his colleagues at the India Office and the British Museum together with Iranians such as the distinguished scholar Mojtaba Minovi who was working for the BBC Persian Service. Articles covered general cultural topics with a focus on the British contribution to Persian studies and Persian and English literature. Articles on science and technology were also included but nothing on religion or any other subjects which might be regarded as potentially controversial.

Indi Office Reading Room
The Reading Room at the India Office Library. William Hodgesʼ painting ʻA Group of Temples at Deogarh, Santal Parganas, Biharʼ hangs above the fireplace with a poster on the mantelpiece urging readers to save for victory. Note that at 11.35 am. the reading room seems to be quite empty!

BM reading room
The Reading Room at the British Museum.

The contents of the first issue were fairly typical of subsequent numbers, containing the following articles: ʻIllustrations to the Khamsah of Nizami in the British Museumʼ, by Lawrence Binyon; ʻThe biggest cities in the worldʼ; ʻNizami: life, work and ethicsʼ; ʻIranian metal-workʼ, by Basil Gray; ʻBibliography of Nizamiʼ, by C.A. Storey; Persian translation by Mojtaba Minovi of the ‘Hound of Heaven’ by the English poet Francis Thompson (1859-1907); ʻThe English constitution part 1: historical introductionʼ; ʻThe India Office Libraryʼ, by A.J. Arberry; ʻThe world of printʼ; ʻBritish wartime exportsʼ; and ʻEnglish successes in industrial researchʼ. Subsequent issues contained a series of English translations of modern Persian poets, Persian translations of modern English poets, descriptions of libraries, articles on China by Lionel Giles as well as one-offs such as ʻPersian language roots in Malay literatureʼ, by Sir Richard Winstedt and ʻThe land of Khotanʼ, by H.W. Bailey.

The mint Khotan
From ‘The land of Khotan’ by H.W. Bailey. This photograph of the Mint in Khotan shows newly printed banknotes spread out on the ground to dry in the sun before being put into use.

The covers always included coloured photographs, usually of miniatures in the British Museum, copies of which could be obtained free of charge. Apparently (Holman 2005, p. 218), the original photographic blocks were destroyed in the Blitz so copies had to be made from colour postcards. Nevertheless the quality of the paper and printing was good. One of the considerable merits was the large number (about 70 per issue) of black and white photographs (particularly portraits of British orientalists) and art work each issue contained – though attributions were unfortunately hardly ever included.  The first issue had in addition 4 colour plates.

Famous members of the Royal Asiatic Society: 1. Lord Reay, president 1893–1921; 2. Sir George Staunton; 3. Sir Charles James Lyall; 4. Henry Thomas Colebrooke, director and founder 1823–37 ; 5. Sir Monier Monier Williams; 6. Horace Hyman Wilson, president 1855–59; 7. Sir Henry Rawlinson.

Illustrated books
An article on contemporary illustrated English books.

The MOI was concerned that its magazines should appear as commercial publications, hence the price of 1 shilling or 20 cents and the inclusion of advertising. It particularly favoured advertisements which ‘will advance British industrial and commercial prestige’ (Holman 2005, p. 217).

Ruzgar-i naw ads_1000
Some advertisements were especially tailored to the Iranian market, e.g. Michelin tyres advertising new style magic carpets (left) and Columbia recordings of ethnic music (right).

The magazine was judged sufficiently successful for the Ministry of Information to launch a companion magazine in Arabic in 1943. With the title al-Adab wa al-Fann, it was also published by Hodder & Stoughton who were proud to be associated with it (Holman 2005, p. 217). 15,000 copies of the Arabic magazine were distributed in the Middle East and North Africa and in India and Brazil. In Egypt, the Director-General of the Egyptian State Library in Cairo wrote in Sept 1944 that crowds of readers had been coming to read ‘this valuable magazine’ (Holman 2005, p. 218). It is possible that comparable data for Rūzgār-i naw may be available in the National Archives Kew. At any rate if the MOI was successful in winning over Iranian hearts, they must have been disillusioned a few years later when Britain’s involvement in the coup of 1953 toppled Iran’s democratically elected government and re-instated the Pahlavi regime. Nevertheless, Rūzgār-i naw testifies to a little known phase of Anglo-Iranian history besides being a wonderful resource for photographs of British orientalists.


Further reading

Valerie Holman, ‘Carefully Concealed Connections: The Ministry of Information and British Publishing, 1939- 1946ʼ, Book History, vol. 8 (2005), pp. 197-226.
Valerie Holman, ʻKem's Cartoons in the Second World Warʼ, History Today, vol. 52.3  (March 2002), pp. 21-7.
A. Wynn, ‘The Shāh-nāme and British propaganda in Irān in World War IIʼ, Manuscripta orientalia 16/1 (June 2010), pp. 3-5 + back cover.
A.J. Arberry. ʻThe disciple: A. J. Arberryʼ, in Oriental Essays: Portraits of Seven Scholars, London: George Allen & Unwin, 1960,  pp. 233-56.
Encyclopaedia Iranica ‘Anglo-Iranian relations iii: the Pahlavi period’, by R.W. Ferrier; ‘Russia ii: Iranian-Soviet relations (1917-1991)’ by N. M. Mamedova; Great Britain xiii. The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), by F. Safiri and H. Shahidi.

On the Ministry of Information, see  ‘Make Do and Mend’: A Publishing and Communications History of the Ministry of Information, 1939-45 a research project at the Institute of English Studies, School of Advanced Studies, University of London.

On 2nd World War German propaganda, see ʻGerman propaganda in Sharjahʼ, by Louis Allday, Gulf History/Arabic Specialist, British Library/Qatar Foundation Partnership.

For a pdf of the contents of each issue click here


Louis Allday, Gulf History/Arabic Specialist, British Library/Qatar Foundation Partnership - See more at:

Ursula Sims-Williams, Asian and African Studies

08 May 2014

Manga, comics and an alternative view of the British Library

With the opening last week of the British Library's new exhibition ʻComics unmaskedʼ, it seemed a good opportunity to write something about Japanese Manga. Manga had its origins in the practice of drawing stories in 12th century Japan. However, the first time Manga was actually used as a descriptive term concerned a book of sketches by Katsushika Hokusai published in 1814. Modern Manga derives not only from the historic roots of visual story telling in Japan, but also significantly from the juxtaposition of Japanese Manga with the rich tradition of American comics in post war Japanese society following the involvement of the United States in the revivification of the Japanese economy after 1946 – though in the nineteen thirties Manga had been published extensively in newspapers in short strip stories. Arguably the Father of modern Manga was Osamu Tezuka whose mother had read to him American comics. He combined Japanese tradition with an inspiration drawn from Walt Disney’s animation, a style that has been widely copied.

Images of people at leisure from Hokusai manga (Random Drawings by Hokusai) vol. 8, illustrated by Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849) (BL Or.65.a.43).

Today Manga publications make up over 40% of the total sales of books and magazines in Japan, an impact that goes far beyond the role of comic books in western countries. Manga seeks to entertain but it also has a mission to educate in a positive spirit. You can find an almost unlimited range of Manga books on different subjects: adventure, samurai, sake wine, romance, history, music, sushi, basketball, board games, tennis, cars, medical, religion… In fact any subject in which there is a necessity to be informed is within the scope of Manga set within imaginative story lines. Manga is a subculture.

It is interesting to note that there is one series of Manga novels that refer explicitly to the British Library. This is a series entitled Read or Die, written by Hideyuki Kurata and illustrated by Shutaro Yamada. The novels concern the adventures and character of Yomiko Readman, code name 'the Paper'. Yomiko Readman is an employee of the British Library — an alternative British Library with an alternative Library history!

Vol. 4 of Read or Die by Hideyuki Kurata, art by Shutaro Yamada. Cover girl is Yomiko Readman, the 19th British Library agent to earn the codename ʻThe Paperʼ. Yomiko is wearing her British Library uniform consisting of a red tie, white blouse, brown waistcoat, and a brown skirt.

ʻMr Gentlemanʼ of the British Library, Chief Executive Roly Keating at work in his office.

The purpose of the British Library expressed in the novels is to promote the literacy and greater glory of the British Empire. What value does the idea of empire, the British Empire in particular, have in Japanese consciousness? Unlike the real British Library, a national research and cultural institution, the British Library in Read or Die is a powerful political organization with many branches all over the world. Unlike the real British Library that is led by the Chairman, the Chief Executive and the British Library Board, the British Library in Read or Die is presided over by ʻMr. Gentlemanʼ and is unique in this alternative Library world for having at its heart the British Library Special Operations Division that in reality does not exist. Unless you know different?

Matthew Neill, Asian and African Studies


Hokusai manga 北斎漫画 [Random Drawings by Hokusai] vol 8; illustrated by Katsushika Hokusai 葛飾北斎, Nagoya, Japan: Eirakuya Tōshirō 永楽屋東四郎, 1819.