Asian and African studies blog

54 posts categorized "China"

07 December 2015

The Chinese collections and the Library’s growing links with Chinese partners

The Chinese collections at the British Library contain more than 100,000 printed books and 2,500 periodical titles. The earliest acquisitions of Chinese material were from the collection of Sir Hans Sloane, founder of the British Museum. The collection includes notable printed pieces from the Ming and Qing dynasties, the Diamond Sutra (Jingang jing), as well as 24 volumes (corresponding to 49 chapters) of the Yongle Dadian. The Chinese collection at the British Library also includes a unique series of more than 450 pieces of oracle bones (jia gu). They are dated between 1600 and 1050 BC (Shang dynasty), and this makes them the oldest items in the Library.

The earliest Chinese script: Shang dynasty characters on fragments of an oracle bone dating between 1600 and 1050 BC. British Library, Or.7694/1516
The earliest Chinese script: Shang dynasty characters on fragments of an oracle bone dating between 1600 and 1050 BC. British Library, Or.7694/1516 Noc

The Library has always engaged strongly with international partners and researchers, including many institutions in East Asia. The International Dunhuang Project (IDP) was founded in 1994 as a collaborative project with the National Library of China as a founder member. Its remit is the conservation, cataloguing, research and digitisation of the material from Dunhuang and Chinese Central Asia now held in institutions worldwide. The Library’s collaboration with the National Library of China goes back to the 1980s when the BL and the NLC first started consulting together on this material. IDP now includes eight partners around the world, as well as several other collaborating institutions.

Our international cooperation activities with Chinese partners cover the following main areas: the conversion of the Library’s Chinese collection catalogues from microfiche and card formats to electronic records, the digitisation of selected items, the production of facsimile copies of Chinese rare items for distribution in China and worldwide, and the exchange of expertise and skills in different areas. These activities aim at enhancing access to the Chinese collections, within the broader framework of Living Knowledge and our aim of making the Library’s collections “accessible to everyone, for research, inspiration and enjoyment”.

Caroline Brazier, Chief Librarian, signs a Memorandum of Understanding with the Director of Shandong University Zhang Rong in London on 3 December 2014.
Caroline Brazier, Chief Librarian, signs a Memorandum of Understanding with the Director of Shandong University Zhang Rong in London on 3 December 2014.

2015 has been a remarkable year for the Library’s engagement with China: five agreements have been signed with three Chinese institutions (the National Library of China, the National Library of China Press, and Shandong University) and two digitisation projects were completed (the Yongle Dadian collection and the oracle bones collection). Furthermore, IDP signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Ningxia Archives for a collaborative project to conserve and digitise the Tangut manuscripts and block prints in the Library.

This year, the Library also received £62,500 from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport for a project involving the digitisation and the conservation of the oracle bones collection, working in partnership with the National Library of China. The Treasures Gallery free exhibition Beyond Paper: 3000 Years of Chinese Writing opened in September, and the crowdsourcing platform LibCrowds has been launched in cooperation with BL Labs. We are already receiving contributions from China, and we hope to be able to increase the number.

Beyond Paper: 3000 Years of Chinese Writing will be open until 17 January 2016 (photo by Tony Antoniou)
Beyond Paper: 3000 Years of Chinese Writing will be open until 17 January 2016 (photo by Tony Antoniou)

The latest exciting project was announced on 21 September 2015 on the occasion of Chancellor George Osborne’s recent visit to China, during an event at the National Theatre in Beijing hosted by the British Council, attended by the Library’s Chief Executive Roly Keating together with other leaders from prominent institutions in the UK’s cultural sector. For the first time, ten manuscripts and early editions from the Library’s collection by some of the best-known British authors of all time, including William Shakespeare and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, will star in exhibitions across China between 2016 and 2019. As part of the same project, the Library’s learning website Discovering Literature will be translated into Mandarin, giving unprecedented exposure to the Library’s collections for new audiences.

Shakespeare’s First Folio, 1623. British Library, G.11631
Shakespeare’s First Folio, 1623. British Library, G.11631 Noc

All the projects supported by the government aiming to take the best of British culture to Chinese audiences are listed on this HM Treasury page.

Sara Chiesura, Asian and African Studies Ccownwork

12 November 2015

BICC Cultural Engagement Partnership: Maoist posters at the British Library

Today's guest post is by Dr Amy Jane Barnes, a post-doctoral researcher who is carrying out a study on the British Library collection of Chinese propaganda posters, as part of a Cultural Engagement Partnership with BICC, the British Inter-University China Centre. During the course of this project, she will assist the curators in cataloguing the Library’s collection of Chinese propaganda posters, as well as investigate opportunities for its digitisation and display.

Dr Barnes has a background in Asian Art History and her doctoral research looked at the collection, interpretation and display of the visual culture of the Chinese Cultural Revolution in British museums. She is the author of Museum Representations of Maoist China (Ashgate, 2014).

(Sara Chiesura, East Asian Collections)

Dr Barnes working in the Chinese section of the Library
Dr Barnes working in the Chinese section of the Library

During my three months at the British Library I aim to catalogue the Library’s collection of Chinese propaganda posters from the 1950s to 1980s and research several academic papers, as well as investigate the possibilities for digitising and making the collection more accessible to a wider audience. The project also gives me the opportunity to develop my Chinese language skills, albeit a very specialist vocabulary relating to revolutionary ideology!

The first week of the project was predominantly taken up with induction-related activities, sorting out IT access, getting to grips with collections procedures, meeting my new colleagues and investigating the collection in the British Library stores with curator Emma Goodliffe – we found lots of things we were expecting, but a few we weren’t, including an exquisite set of revolutionary nian hua (年画, “New Year’s prints”) dating from 1950. From an initial estimate of around 40 posters, we eventually located over 70. And there are many plan chest drawers still to investigate, so we may yet turn up even more!

With the formalities out of the way, towards the end of the week I started to photograph, research and catalogue the collection. The posters may be organised thematically – there are examples of public information posters, posters relating to the Mao cult, nian hua ‘catalogue’ posters, so-called ‘chubby baby’ posters and a fair number of anti-Gang of Four cartoons and caricatures. But I have begun with a group of posters which depict scenes from feature films and model operas.

For example, one of the posters in the collection, which was published by the Shanghai Revolutionary Press (Shanghai fu chu ban ge ming zu chu ban, 上海巿出版革命组出版) in 1970, depicts, in dynamic pose, the ‘proletarian hero’ Li Yuhe from the revolutionary opera Hong deng ji (红灯记) (“Legend of the Red Lantern”), one of the eight “model works” (yang ban xi 样板戏) performed in China during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) (British Library ORB.99/174).

And in another, stills from the 1975 film Feng huo shao nian (烽火少年) (“Beacon of Youth”), produced by the Beijing Film Studio (Beijing dian ying zhi pian chang she zhi, 北京电影制片厂摄制), are accompanied by a synopsis of the plot (British Library ORB.99/171).

The brightly coloured and attractive poster below, for the romantic film Wu duo jin hua (五朵金花) (“Five Golden Flowers”) (1959), was quite tricky to identify at first, given its use of a highly stylised script that barely looks, but I am assured is, Chinese! This style reflects the emphasis on ethnic minority culture in the film’s plot, in which the hero tries to find a girl called Jinhua whom he had met at the same festival the previous year.In the course of the film he meets four other girls called Jinhua (See the plot summary here). Together, they are the “Five Golden Flowers” of the film’s title and are represented, on the poster, in the four roses and the flower held by the original Jinhua, who is seated on a rock at the centre of the scene. At first glance, it may not appear that film has overtly propagandist intent, but commenters have noted that the narrative supports the Great Leap Forward (1958-1961) – a programme of industrialisation and agricultural collectivisation.
Poster for the 1959 film Wu duo jin hua (五朵金花) (“Five Golden Flowers”) produced by the Changchun Film Studio (Dian ying zhi pian chang she zhi, 长春电影制片厂摄制). Poster published by the China Film Corporation (Zhongguo dian ying gong si fa xing, 中国电影公司发行). (British Library ORB.99/172).
Poster for the 1959 film Wu duo jin hua (五朵金花) (“Five Golden Flowers”) produced by the Changchun Film Studio (Dian ying zhi pian chang she zhi, 长春电影制片厂摄制). Poster published by the China Film Corporation (Zhongguo dian ying gong si fa xing, 中国电影公司发行). (British Library ORB.99/172).

In order to catalogue the items, I am making a record of materials, measurements and content, as well as noting down the condition of each poster and highlighting those that might need the attention of a conservator. I have also been making rough translations of the text that appears on the posters – the types of information we need in order to determine the identity of potential copyright holders, such as publishing houses and distribution companies. My knowledge of Chinese (and set of Pleco flashcards) is expanding exponentially.

Over the next few weeks I intend to continue to photograph and catalogue each item in the collection. Then begins the exciting work of researching them in depth.

Amy Jane Barnes, BICC Post-doctoral Researcher
 CC-BY-SA

 

26 October 2015

Oracle bones: genuine and fake

Today's guest post is by Sarah Allan, Burlington Northern Foundation Professor of Asian Studies at Dartmouth College, Chair of the Society for the Study of Early China and Editor of the Society’s journal, Early China. Professor Allan worked extensively on the Couling-Chalfant collection of oracle bones at the British Library and, together with Li Xueqin and Qi Wenxin, compiled a catalogue of the oracle bones collections in Great Britain.

Some oracle bones from the Couling-Chalfant collection are now on display in the Library’s Treasures Gallery until January, as part of the exhibit Beyond Paper: 3000 Years of Chinese Writing.

(Sara Chiesura, East Asian Collections)


The Couling-Chalfant collection or oracle bones and its fakes

In 1899, a Chinese scholar, Wang Yirong 王懿荣 was examining the “dragon bones” in his medical prescription before they were pounded into powder and noticed that they had what seemed to be an ancient form of writing on them. Within a few years, a few Chinese scholars had begun to collect these inscribed bones. By 1904, the Western missionaries, Frank Chalfant (1862-1914), and Samuel Couling (1859-1922) began to collect them too. The sellers refused to divulge where the bones were found, but in 1914, the source was traced to Yinxu 殷墟, “the Remains of Yin,” near Anyang in Henan Province. Yin is another name for Shang, an ancient Chinese dynasty, and when the site was finally excavated in 1928, the last capital of that dynasty was discovered. Current archaeological evidence suggests that the Shang ruled from this site from about 1300 to 1050 BC, so the name of the site reflected a cultural memory that had lasted some 3,000 years.

The inscribed “dragon bones” include turtle shells (primarily the undershells) as well as bones (primarily ox scapula), as the Chinese name, jiagu 甲骨denotes. The English popular name, “oracle bones” reflects the fact that they are primarily divinations intended to ensure that the ancestors were satisfied by the offerings made by the Shang king and would favor the activities of him and his people. The writing is the direct antecedent of modern Chinese characters and it was already a fully developed system, using the same principles of character formation as later characters. Nevertheless, it was not easy to decipher.

Oracle bone (turtle plastron) from the Couling-Chalfant collection. All characters appear to be genuine (British Library Or. 7964/1509 recto and verso, Ying 597) Oracle bone (turtle plastron) from the Couling-Chalfant collection. All characters appear to be genuine (British Library Or. 7964/1509 recto and verso, Ying 597)
Oracle bone (turtle plastron) from the Couling-Chalfant collection. All characters appear to be genuine (British Library Or. 7964/1509 recto and verso, Ying 597)
 noc

The divinations usually start with two characters that denote a day in a cycle of sixty. This cycle is made up by correlating a cycle of ten characters, later known as “heavenly stems” and a cycle of twelve characters, later called “earthly branches.” I have hypothesized that these were the names of the ten suns and twelve moons in Shang mythology. The names used to designate the royal ancestors also included one of the ten sun-names and offerings were made to them on the corresponding day, with the most ancient ancestor listed first. Thus, once these characters were deciphered, it was possible to establish a genealogy of the royal ancestors and these ancestors corresponded generally to the list of Shang kings found in the transmitted histories.

Part of the Couling-Chalfant collection was acquired by the British Library in 1911. At that time, the writing was still in the early stages of decipherment. Fake inscriptions began to be produced very soon after people began to purchase the bones. About 90% of Shang oracle bones are blanks: a divination was made by applying a hot poker to a prepared hollow, which produced a crack on the opposite side, but no writing was engraved on the shell or bone. Other bones had empty spaces. Since the price was calculated by the number of characters, the peasant who found it or seller often added characters. An example, is Or.7694/1517 (Ying 英 600). This bone has at least two genuine characters that are written very faintly, a common notation on cracked bones that is not well understood but means something like “two reports” (er gao 二告). It also has one line that makes sense and may be genuine. This is the fifth line from the left in the main block of characters. It says, “if the king goes to inspect the region of (name), he will receive [divine favour]. The other characters are copies of ones found on genuine oracle bones, but because the forgers did not understand the script, they don’t make sense.

Blog 3
Oracle bone from the Couling-Chalfant collection with both genuine and fake inscriptions (British Library Or. 7964/1517recto, Ying 600)
 noc

Another example of oracle bone from the Couling-Chalfant collection with both genuine (at the top) and fake (at the bottom) inscriptions (British Library Or. 7964/1759 recto, Ying 1861)
Another example of oracle bone from the Couling-Chalfant collection with both genuine (at the top) and fake (at the bottom) inscriptions (British Library Or. 7964/1759 recto, Ying 1861)
 noc


Further reading:

Sarah Allan, The Shape of the Turtle: Myth, Art and Cosmos in Early China (State University of New York Press, Albany, NY, 1991)
Sarah Allan (Ai Lan 艾兰), Li Xueqin 李學勤, and Qi Wenxin齊文心Oracle Bone Collections in Great Britain (Chinese title: Yingguo suocang jiagu ji  英國所藏甲骨集), Zhonghua shuju, Beijing, 1985 (Part I, 2 volumes) and 1991 (Part II, 2 volumes).   

Sarah Allan, Dartmouth College
 CC-BY-SA

03 September 2015

Yongle Dadian on display in our Treasures Gallery

Beyond Paper: 3000 Years of Chinese Writing

纸张之外:汉字书写3000年
An exhibit in Sir John Ritblat Treasures of the British Library Gallery
8 September 2015 to 17 January 2016
Free Entry

The British Library display Beyond Paper: 3000 Years of Chinese Writing, opening on 8th September, consists of four cases of material from China, showing different media used for Chinese writing and different forms of script. The cases show oracle bones, woodslips, silk manuscripts and paper books respectively. The descriptions below have been given in English followed by Chinese translation to make them more accessible.

Case 4: Paper

Paper was invented in China by the first century BC and largely replaced silk, wood and bamboo. Made from fibres — from the paper mulberry tree, hemp and other plants — it was light, strong and flexible.

The scroll remained the main format for books in China throughout the first millennium AD but then started to be replaced by the booklet. These developed into larger bound volumes, such as those which form the Great Canon of the Yongle Reign. These handwritten volumes, comprising 22,877 chapters, were the largest literary compilation in the world when they were imperially commissioned in 1402.

第四展柜: 纸张

纸张至公元前一世纪已被中国人发明,并且很大程度上代替了丝绸、木简和竹简。纸张由构树、大麻等植物纤维制成,其质地既轻薄又柔韧。

整个公元后第一个千年,卷轴都是中国书籍的主要形式,但后来开始被册页形式取代。它们后来发展成为更大部头的装订书籍,正如后来的《永乐大典》。当1402年朝廷下令编修时,这部总共28877章的手抄书籍是当时世界上最大的文字汇编。

Writing styles of the character ‘soldier’ Yongle dadian , chapters 8628 and 8629 Ink on paper, silk on the cover, Jiajing to Longqing period (1562-72) Or.11273, f.1v
Writing styles of the character ‘soldier’
Yongle dadian
, chapters 8628 and 8629
Ink on paper, silk on the cover
, Jiajing to Longqing period (1562-72)
Or.11273, f.1v
 noc

The content of the Great Canon of the Yongle Reign covers all aspects of traditional Confucian knowledge and contains the most prominent literature available at that time, ranging from history and drama to farming techniques. It comprises large sections of historical documents and other sources, transcribed character for character, with the name of the author or the source in red.  Here we see the character 兵 (bing), which means soldier, written in many different styles of calligraphy, ranging from seal script (which developed from characters found on oracle bones) on the right side, to cursive variants on the left.

的不同字体
大典》,86288629
纸本,丝质封面,嘉靖至隆庆年间(
1562-1572
Or.11273, f.1v

《永乐大典》的内容包含了传统儒家文化的方方面面,并囊括了当时最重要的文献,从历史、戏剧到农术。它还包括了大量历史文献和其他资料,一字一句抄录而成,原作者的姓名或出处由红字写成。这里我们可以看到汉字“兵”的不同字体,从右侧的篆书(由甲骨文发展而来),直到左侧的草书。

Architectural Methods Yongle dadian Chapters 18244 and 18245. Ink on paper, silk on the cover, Jiajing to Longqing period (1562-72) Or.11274, ff.10v-11r Architectural Methods Yongle dadian Chapters 18244 and 18245. Ink on paper, silk on the cover, Jiajing to Longqing period (1562-72) Or.11274, ff.10v-11r
Architectural Methods
Yongle dadian
Chapters 18244 and 18245.
Ink on paper, silk on the cover, Jiajing to Longqing period (1562-72)
Or.11274, ff.10v-11r
 noc

The Great Canon of the Yongle Reign is easily recognisable from its distinctive physical appearance – paper with dark red rulings, ‘wrapped-back’ binding, and a yellow silk cover.  The first edition (1408) was destroyed or dispersed and is no longer extant. Nowadays, fewer than 400 juan of the second manuscript edition remain, constituting just 3% of the original. The British Library holds 24 volumes, corresponding to 49 chapters, and is the largest collection in Europe. The volume shown contains excerpts from the Yingzao fashi, a Song dynasty technical treatise on architecture and craftsmanship.

建筑法式
《永乐大典》第
1824418245
纸本,丝质封面,嘉靖至隆庆年间(
1562-1572
Or.11274, ff. 10v-11r

人们可以通过其外貌轻易辨认出《永乐大典》—— 带有深红栏线的册页,‘包背装’的装帧,以及典型的黄色丝绸封面。第一版《永乐大典》(1408)已经损毁散佚。今天,不到400卷的第二版手抄本被保存下来,而这些只有原篇幅的3%。大英图书馆现藏有24卷,共49章《永乐大典》,是欧洲最大的收藏。这里展出的一卷含有《营造法式》中的摘录,这是一部宋代讲授建筑及手工技术的论著。

 

Related events

Michael Wood: The Story of China
Fri 23 Oct 2015, 18:30 - 20:00
British Library Conference Centre

Too big to print: the story of Yongle Dadian
Mon 23 Nov 2015, 18:45 - 20:15
British Library Conference Centre

 

Sara Chiesura and Emma Goodliffe, Curators, Chinese collections
in cooperation with Susan Whitfield, Director, International Dunhuang Project

With thanks to Gao Feichi for the Chinese translation
 CC-BY-SA


 

Oracle bones on display in our Treasures Gallery

Beyond Paper: 3000 Years of Chinese Writing

纸张之外:汉字书写3000年
An exhibit in Sir John Ritblat Treasures of the British Library Gallery
8 September 2015 to 17 January 2016
Free Entry


The British Library display Beyond Paper: 3000 Years of Chinese Writing, opening on 8th September, consists of four cases of material from China, showing different media used for Chinese writing and different forms of script. The cases show oracle bones, woodslips, silk manuscripts and paper books respectively. The descriptions below have been given in English followed by Chinese translation to make them more accessible.


Case 1: Oracle bones

Oracle bones were used for divination over three thousand years ago in ancient China. Questions about crops, the weather, battles, and the ruling family were engraved on the bone and heat was then applied with metal sticks. The heat caused the bones to crack and the diviners interpreted the patterns of the fractures to determine the answer to the question posed.

Oracle bones such as these show the earliest extant Chinese writing and they are essential for understanding the origins and development of the Chinese script.

第一展柜: 甲骨

在三千多年前的古代中国,龟甲和兽骨被用于占卜吉凶。与收成,气候,战争,王室等有关的问题被刻在甲骨上,然后用金属棒进行加热。甲骨在热量的作用下开裂,而后巫师通过解读裂纹的形状决定如何回答求卜者的提问。

这些甲骨展示了现存最早的中国文字,它们对于理解汉字的起源和发展具有重要意义。

Shang dynasty oracle bone, c.1600 to 1050 BC Or.7694/1517
Shang dynasty oracle bone, c.1600 to 1050 BC
Or.7694/1517
CCO_PD

The Chinese collection of the British Library includes a unique series of more than 450 oracle bones (jia gu 甲骨). They date from between 1600 and 1050 BC, making them the oldest items in the British Library. New technologies are being applied to the bones’ conservation and storage and a project to digitise them is currently underway.

商代甲骨,约公元前1600至1050年
Or.7694/1517

大英图书馆内的中国收藏包括一套总数超过450件的甲骨。它们的年代可上溯至公元前1600至1050年间,这使它们成为大英图书馆内最古老的藏品。最新的科技已经被应用于这些甲骨的保护和储藏。另外,一个对它们进行数字化的项目正在进行当中。

Shang dynasty oracle bones, c. 1600 to 1050 BC Or.7694/1559 and Or.7964/1560 Shang dynasty oracle bones, c. 1600 to 1050 BC Or.7694/1559 and Or.7964/1560
Shang dynasty oracle bones, c. 1600 to 1050 BC
Or.7694/1559 and Or.7964/1560
CCO_PD

The oracle bones are carved with the Shang Dynasty script, also called ‘oracle script’ (jia gu wen). It is the oldest known form of Chinese writing and the ancestor of the Chinese characters still used today. The jia gu script is angular and the shape of the characters is simplified as much as possible to make it easier to engrave on hard surfaces. Many jia gu wen characters are often defined as ‘pictographic’, because they are stylised depictions of the objects they represent.

商代甲骨,约公元前1600至1050年
Or.7694/1559, Or.7964/1560

这些甲骨上刻有商代文字,也被称为“甲骨文”。这是已知最古老的汉字书写体系,并且是今天仍在使用的汉字的雏形。甲骨文字形棱角分明,其形状已经尽可能简化以便于刻在坚硬的表面上。许多甲骨文文字被定义为‘象形文字’,因为它们酷似所表示事物的抽象形状。

Divination cracks Shang dynasty oracle bone, c. 1600 to 1050 BC Or.7694/1535
Divination cracks
Shang dynasty oracle bone, c. 1600 to 1050 BC
Or.7694/1535
CCO_PD

Oracle bones were an extraordinary discovery for sinologists and historians. Firstly they prove the existence of the Shang Dynasty, which some researchers questioned until the beginning of the nineteenth century. Furthermore, from a linguistic perspective, they offer primary materials for the interpretation of China’s earliest script. In the bone shown above, the fissures created by the heat of the fire during the divination process are clearly visible. Most of the cracks on the bones appeared on the front side with a distinctive shape ( ) from which the Chinese character for ‘divination’ (bu卜) is derived.


商代甲骨,
公元前16001050
Or.7694/1535

商代甲骨对于汉学家和历史学家来说是一项非凡的发现。首先它们证明了商朝的存在,而此前直到19世纪初仍有学者对其提出质疑。另外,从语言学角度,它们为解读中国最早的文字提供了第一手资料。这里所展示的甲骨,其在占卜过程中经过火烧产生的裂缝清晰可见。大多数裂纹出现在甲骨正面并具有特殊形状(),汉字‘卜’即是由此而来。

An axe thrust into the Earth Shang dynasty oracle bones, c. 1600 to 1050 BC Or.7694/1592 and Or.7964/1554
An axe thrust into the Earth
Shang dynasty oracle bones, c. 1600 to 1050 BC
Or.7694/1592 and Or.7964/1554
CCO_PD

The discovery of oracle bones in 1899 marked a turning point in Chinese paleography and etymology. The bones revealed a stage in the development of the Chinese script that had been absent from previous scholarship and, in some cases, overturned theories held for centuries.

For example, the character Untitled which is visible in inscriptions on both these bones, means ‘king’ and is now written 王. This character was considered to represent the role of the king (represented by a vertical line) as mediator between heaven, earth and man (three horizontal lines), but the earlier form found on the oracle bones seems to simply be a depiction of an axe thrust into the earth.

大地的斧
商代甲骨,
公元前16001050
Or.7694/1592, Or.7964/1554

1899年甲骨文的发现标志着中国古文字学和词源学的转折点。这些甲骨揭示了中国文字发展过程中缺失的一环,并在某些情况下,彻底改变了主导几个世纪的理论。

例如这两件甲骨上的铭文中都可见的  Untitled  字,是现代汉字中的“王”。这个字从前被认为代表“王”沟通天、地、人的角色(中间一竖代表王,三横代表天地人),但是甲骨文中的早期字形显示了这个字更为象形的起源,即一把劈进大地的斧头。

A lunar eclipse Shang dynasty oracle bone, c. 1600 to 1050 BC Or.7694/1595
A lunar eclipse
Shang dynasty oracle bone, c. 1600 to 1050 BC
Or.7694/1595
CCO_PD

This scapula bears an inscription about the coming ten-day period, and records that there will be no bad luck.

The character for moon (月 now and Untitledin oracle bone script) is visible at the top centre. This particular oracle bone is very important for research on the ancient Chinese calendar and astronomy, as it carries on the reverse side the record of a lunar eclipse.

月食
商代甲骨,
公元前16001050
Or.7694/1595

这块肩胛骨刻有占卜未来十天(一旬)吉凶的铭文,记录了这期间并无不详。

汉字‘月’(甲骨文作 Untitled )位于第一行正中。这块甲骨的背面记载了一次月食观测,它对于研究古代中国历法和天文具有重要意义 。

 

Related events

Michael Wood: The Story of China
Fri 23 Oct 2015, 18:30 - 20:00
British Library Conference Centre

Too big to print: the story of Yongle Dadian
Mon 23 Nov 2015, 18:45 - 20:15
British Library Conference Centre

 

Sara Chiesura and Emma Goodliffe, Curators, Chinese collections
in cooperation with Susan Whitfield, Director, International Dunhuang Project

With thanks to Gao Feichi for the Chinese translation
 ccownwork

07 May 2015

Propaganda and ideology in everyday life: Chinese comic books

The Chinese collection at the British Library includes an interesting series of around 100 comic books published during the 1960s in the People’s Republic of China. They are an excellent historical and linguistic resource and represent an extraordinary example of how official sources can promote selected values and visions among citizens using material which is visually enjoyable or mainly intended for children’s education and entertainment.

Some of the comic books and books for children in the British Library Chinese collections (British Library ORB. 30/235)
Some of the comic books and books for children in the British Library Chinese collections (British Library ORB. 30/235)

The collection of Chinese comics at the British Library can be divided into two main types: the so-called Lian huan hua 连环画, which are meant for individual reading by both children and adults, and comics intended for children’s education and language learning.

The lian huan hua (literally: linked images) started to circulate in Shanghai in the 1920s, when publishers began to use new printing techniques and lithography for illustrated periodicals and books. The stories were exemplified through black and white images where the accompanying text was inserted at the bottom or in speech bubbles. The lian huan hua became extremely popular in China, and were widely spread across the country. They reached a peak in their distribution and use during the 1970s and 1980s, but rapidly lost their appeal for readers in the 1990s.

The themes contained in the lian huan hua differ from year to year. Traditionally, and especially at the beginning of their circulation, the main subjects were adaptations of Chinese classical stories, folk tales or novels. 
Selection of lian huan hua published during the 1960s in the British Library Chinese collections (British Library ORB. 30/235)
Selection of lian huan hua published during the 1960s in the British Library Chinese collections (British Library ORB. 30/235)

During and after the 1960s (with the exception of the years of the Cultural Revolution), the Chinese Communist Party adopted the lian huan hua as a form of propaganda and mass education. These comics were in fact believed to be much more direct and easier to understand than books and treatises on Communism and they were considered more attractive by the masses. The stories of the lian huan hua published in this period therefore focus on political themes, such as the Sino-Japanese War, social realism and selected and approved biographies of Chinese heroes, both of the imperial and the republican periods, who stood for bravery, loyalty or strength, and were usually opposed to foreign enemies.

Cover and excerpt from the lian huan hua “Lin Zexu” (林則徐), published by the Ren min mei shu chu ban she (人民美术出版社), 1963. Lin Zexu was an imperial official who lived during the Qing dynasty. He was a central figure in the Opium War and had a key role in the Chinese campaign against the trading of opium (British Library ORB. 30/235) Cover and excerpt from the lian huan hua “Lin Zexu” (林則徐), published by the Ren min mei shu chu ban she (人民美术出版社), 1963. Lin Zexu was an imperial official who lived during the Qing dynasty. He was a central figure in the Opium War and had a key role in the Chinese campaign against the trading of opium (British Library ORB. 30/235)
Cover and excerpt from the lian huan hua “Lin Zexu” (林則徐), published by the Ren min mei shu chu ban she (人民美术出版社), 1963. Lin Zexu was an imperial official who lived during the Qing dynasty. He was a central figure in the Opium War and had a key role in the Chinese campaign against the trading of opium (British Library ORB. 30/235)


Page from the lian huan hua “Zhan Shanghai” (战上海), published by the Shanghai ren min mei shu chu ban she (上海人民美术出版社) in November 1962. A movie with the same title had been produced in 1959 (British Library ORB. 30/235)
Page from the lian huan hua “Zhan Shanghai” (战上海), published by the Shanghai ren min mei shu chu ban she (上海人民美术出版社) in November 1962. A movie with the same title had been produced in 1959 (British Library ORB. 30/235)

Among the Chinese comic books collection, apart from the lian huan hua, we find some interesting illustrated titles which were mass-produced in the 1960s and were created especially for children’s education and entertainment. They use simplified Chinese characters along with the corresponding pinyin transliteration system which was officially adopted by the People’s Republic of China in the Fifth Session of the first People's Congress in 1958. Pinyin transliteration was introduced in all primary schools as a way of teaching Standard Chinese (普通话 putong hua). Then, as also today, linguistic unity in China played a fundamental role in helping developing a sense of national identity.


Page from Chang yi chang Beijing, 唱一唱北京, “Sing sing Beijing”, published by Zhongguo shao nian er tong chu ban she 中国少年兒童出版社, 1962 (British Library ORB. 30/235)
Page from Chang yi chang Beijing, 唱一唱北京, “Sing sing Beijing”, published by Zhongguo shao nian er tong chu ban she 中国少年兒童出版社, 1962 (British Library ORB. 30/235)

The sense of a shared culture and the aim to work together for the benefit of the nation can be seen in the image below, where a trio composed of industrial worker, farmer, and soldier archetypes are pictured overhead while below, two children run to get a copy of the Ren min ri bao (人民日报, People’s Daily).


Page from Chang yi chang Beijing, 唱一唱北京, “Sing sing Beijing”, published by Zhongguo shao nian er tong chu ban she 中国少年兒童出版社, 1962 (British Library ORB. 30/235)
Page from Chang yi chang Beijing, 唱一唱北京, “Sing sing Beijing”, published by Zhongguo shao nian er tong chu ban she 中国少年兒童出版社, 1962 (British Library ORB. 30/235)

Cover and page from Shao nian er tong tu hua, 少年儿童图画 “Children’s drawings”, published by Zhongguo shao nian er tong chu ban she 中国少年兒童出版社, 1964. The British Library copy includes a previous child owner's drawings (lower right)! (British Library ORB. 30/235) Cover and page from Shao nian er tong tu hua, 少年儿童图画 “Children’s drawings”, published by Zhongguo shao nian er tong chu ban she 中国少年兒童出版社, 1964. The British Library copy includes a previous child owner's drawings (lower right)! (British Library ORB. 30/235)
Cover and page from Shao nian er tong tu hua, 少年儿童图画 “Children’s drawings”, published by Zhongguo shao nian er tong chu ban she 中国少年兒童出版社, 1964. The British Library copy includes a previous child owner's drawings (lower right)! (British Library ORB. 30/235)

All the comics share a pattern of symbols, colours and recognizable places used to reinforce a sense of a shared community: the Chinese flag, Tian’an men square, the hua biao (obelisk) with dragons patterns and so on. The children themselves are almost always represented with the iconic red scarves worn by the members of the Chinese Communist Youth League. In each title we find optimistic descriptions of China, with a focus on technological achievements (with depictions of dams, railways and so on), and a continuous link between traditional symbols and contemporary scenes. These representations can be seen as attempts to create and re-create narratives about recent history in the context of the nation's conception, its future wellbeing, and sources of national pride.
Page from Fei dao Tian’an men qu, 飞到天安门去 “Flying to Tian’an men”, by Zhong Zimang and Le Xiaoying, published by Zhongguo shao nian er tong chu ban she 中国少年兒童出版社, 1966 (British Library ORB. 30/235)
Page from Fei dao Tian’an men qu, 飞到天安门去 “Flying to Tian’an men”, by Zhong Zimang and Le Xiaoying, published by Zhongguo shao nian er tong chu ban she 中国少年兒童出版社, 1966 (British Library ORB. 30/235)

A selection of comic books from the British Library Chinese collection will be featured, together with a choice of posters, in the new free online course “Propaganda and Ideology in Everyday Life”, a ground-breaking project which allows students to interact with the British Library’s original collection items. The course is developed in cooperation with the Centre for the Study of Ideologies at the University of Nottingham and will start in May 2015, on the FutureLearn platform.

You can find a video trailer here and access the course registration at this page.


Resources:

阿英 (A Ying), 中国连环图画史话 (History of Lian huan hua in China), 山东画报出版社 (Shandong hua bao chu ban she), 2008
Farquhar, Mary Ann, Children’s Literature in China: From Lu Xun to Mao Zedong, Armonk: M.E. Sharpe, 1998.
Farquhar, Mary Ann, “Through the Looking Glass: Children’s Stories and Social Change in China, 1918-1976”, in Gungwu Wang, ed., Society and the Writer: Essays on Literature in Modern Asia, Canberra: Research School of Pacific Studies, The Australian National University, 1981, 173-198.

 

Sara Chiesura, Curator, Chinese collection
 ccownwork

With thanks to Ian Cooke, Curator, Social Sciences

07 April 2015

Propaganda and ideology in everyday life: Chinese collection posters

The Chinese collection at the British Library includes an interesting series of around 40 posters produced in the 1970s and 1980s in the People’s Republic of China which represent an extraordinary example of popular visual material created by official sources to promote a sense of shared history and national identity.

Detail from富裕童喜, Fu yu tong xi, Wealthy and Happy Baby, author: Zhang Guiying, 1982, 77.5 x 53cm (British Library ORB. 99/104)
Detail from富裕童喜, Fu yu tong xi, Wealthy and Happy Baby, author: Zhang Guiying, 1982, 77.5 x 53cm (British Library ORB. 99/104)

The Chinese collection of posters from the 70s and 80s can be grouped by different subject areas and themes: New Year Prints, including the “chubby babies” series, theatre and film posters, educational posters, prints on the Mao cult, ethnic minorities and so on. While they use and combine a range of different visual language and signs, their intention is the same: to encourage a certain vision of the nation and its culture, to evoke selected values, to show examples of role models, to strengthen the sense of community and belonging among the citizens.

In some of the posters we find a repetition of colours or symbols that for the Chinese viewer have significant meanings and which are immediately recognizable. Most of the material, and in particular the “chubby babies” posters, show a predominance of the colour red, an auspicious colour in both traditional and modern Chinese culture, while other items display particular types of flowers (for example, the chrysanthemum, symbol of longevity) or animals.

The British Library Chinese collection also includes some examples of official posters for the so-called yang ban xi (样板戏). The term Yang ban xi literally means “model operas” and it refers to six operas and two ballets written during the first years of the Cultural Revolution, when the traditional themes of the Chinese opera were banned and replaced with stories aligned with Mao Zedong’s thoughts and personally approved by Mao’s wife, Jiang Qing. The protagonists of the stories were often soldiers of the PLA (People’s Liberation Army) who stood out for their bravery, heroism and support to the rural people. 

  Detail from the yang ban xi opera poster 沙家浜, Shajia bang, Shajia Creek, 1960s, 77.5 x 53cm (British Library ORB. 99/177)
Detail from the yang ban xi opera poster 沙家浜, Shajia bang, Shajia Creek, 1960s, 77.5 x 53cm (British Library ORB. 99/177)

The yang ban xi monopolised the artistic production of the years of the Cultural Revolution and were massively distributed: they were not only performed on stage, but also broadcasted on radio and reproduced as movies. Coloured posters depicting key scenes from the plays begun to circulate widely throughout the country. Despite the range and the variety of distribution, the content of the yang ban xi had to be the same and strict guidelines were issued in order to guarantee that all the productions and performances were identical and were not deviating from the approved version.

The two ballets listed as “model operas” are Hong se niang zi jun (红色娘子军, The Red Detachment of Women) and Bai mao nü (白毛女, The White-Haired Girl). The first premiered in 1964, while the second was performed as an opera in 1945 and was later produced as a movie in 1950. The White-Haired Girl is based on a traditional story which is centred on the misery suffered by the local peasantry, particularly the women, and depicts the Communist Party as their saviours and heroes. The songs are now classics of Chinese culture and, unlike other ballets, the music contains a lot of vocal solos and choruses.

Detail from the yang ban xi ballet poster白毛女, Bai mao nü, The White-Haired Girl, 77 x 53cm, 1972 (British Library ORB. 99/178)
Detail from the yang ban xi ballet poster白毛女, Bai mao nü, The White-Haired Girl, 77 x 53cm, 1972 (British Library ORB. 99/178)

A selection of posters from the Chinese collection produced in the 1970s and 1980s will be featured in the new free online course “Propaganda and Ideology in Everyday Life”, a ground-breaking project which allows students to interact with the British Library’s original collection items. The course is developed in cooperation with the Centre for the Study of Ideologies at the University of Nottingham and will start in May 2015, on the FutureLearn platform.

You can find a video trailer here and access the course registration at this page.

Resources:
Mary Ginsberg, The Art of Influence: Asian Propaganda, British Museum, 2013.
Stefan R. Landsberger, "Contextualising (Propaganda) Posters", in Christian Henriot and Wen-hsin Yeh (eds.), Visualising China, 1845-1965. Moving and Still images in Historical Narratives, Brill, 2013, pp. 379-405.
Eberhard Wolfram, A Dictionary of Chinese Symbols: Hidden Symbols in Chinese Life and Thought, Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1986.
Lu Xing, Rhetoric of the Chinese Cultural Revolution: The Impact on Chinese Thought, Culture, and Communication, University of South Carolina, 2004.


Sara Chiesura, Curator, Chinese collection
 ccownwork

With thanks to Ian Cooke, Curator, Social Sciences 


16 March 2015

An alternative Cinderella: The girl with a kneading bowl (not a pearl earring)

Tracy Chevalier’s 1999 novel Girl with a pearl earring was inspired by the magnificent painting by the Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer. Griet, the heroine of the Chevalier novel, always wore a distinctive white cap. Chevalier explained that behind Griet’s symbolic cap was an idea originally from the Bible, which considered women’s hair to be seductive and therefore subversive. Chevalier built upon that idea, as if Griet's cap served to shield the wilder and more sensual side of her persona that she did not want to reveal to others.

In Japanese folklore, more specifically the stories known as Otogizōshi 御伽草子,  we find another girl who always wore an impressive object on her head. This extremely odd piece of headgear led her to be known as “the girl with a kneading bowl” (Hachikazuki 鉢かづき).

'The girl with a kneading bowl' (Hachikazuki 鉢かづき), early Edo period (ca. 17th century). Naraehon manuscript. British Library, Or.12897.
'The girl with a kneading bowl' (Hachikazuki 鉢かづき), early Edo period (ca. 17th century). Naraehon manuscript. British Library, Or.12897.  noc

Otogizōshi is an umbrella term used to identify a miscellaneous body of Japanese short narratives, covering a wide range of subjects such as fairy tales, war epics, stories from Shinto myths, Buddhist legends, and so forth. These texts were produced from about the late Kamakura period (1185−1333) until the Muromachi period (1333−1568), but their popularity continued into the Edo period (1603-1868). Otogizōshi circulated in both manuscript form and printed versions. Between the late Muromachi and mid Edo periods they were often reproduced as fine manuscripts, called Naraehon 奈良絵本, which were enriched with colourful hand-painted illustrations elegantly illuminated with gold and silver foil. From the Edo period onwards, these stories also began to be circulated in various printed versions, most notably Otogi bunko 御伽文庫, a collection of 23 otogizōshi published in Ōsaka by Shibukawa Seiemon 渋川清右衛門 in the early 18th century. The British Library Japanese collection holds several Naraehon manuscripts and printed versions of otogizōshi, including various editions of the Tale of Hachikazuki.

'The girl with a kneading bowl' (Hachikazuki 鉢かづき), early to mid Edo period (ca. 17th-18th century). Naraehon manuscript. British Library, Or.12885, f. 24
'The girl with a kneading bowl' (Hachikazuki 鉢かづき), early to mid Edo period (ca. 17th-18th century). Naraehon manuscript. British Library, Or.12885, f. 24.  noc

Image03
The same Hachikazuki story in a woodblock printed version, Otogizōshi ( お伽草子), early Edo period (ca. 17th century). British Library, Or.75.g.15.  noc

It is possible to identify the basic storyline of Hachikazuki as a subspecies of the classic story of Cinderella. Hachikazuki loses her mother, suffers from the maltreatment of her wicked stepmother, and eventually meets a handsome young man with prospects who has all of the essential features of the ideal husband of her time.

In actual fact, the prototype of the Cinderella story originated in China. It is believed that this was first recognised by a renowned Japanese scholar of the 19th century. Minakata Kumagusu (南方熊楠 1867-1941) was a multi-talented researcher with many interests; amongst other things he was a naturalist, biologist and folklorist. In an article of 1911 (details below), Minakata compared European and Oriental folk stories in order to identify significant similarities in the story patterns. He was interested in  prior research by Pedroso on Portuguese folk-tales which had already categorised some stories of the Cinderella type, but which had overlooked the Chinese version.

The study by Pedroso mentioned by Minakata in his 1911 article: Portuguese folk-tales collected by Consiglieri Pedroso, and translated from the original ms. by H. Monteiro.  ([S.l.] : Folklore Society, 1882.) British Library, 7062.900000
The study by Pedroso mentioned by Minakata in his 1911 article: Portuguese folk-tales collected by Consiglieri Pedroso, and translated from the original ms. by H. Monteiro.  ([S.l.] : Folklore Society, 1882.) British Library, 7062.900000

In the year 853, during the Tang dynasty, the scholar Duan Chengshi (段成式) wrote a series of stories, some of them taken from legends and folk tales, collected together under the name of Miscellaneous Morsels from Youyang (Youyang za zu 酉阳杂俎). It is in this work that the story of a girl called Ye Xian (葉限), set during the 3rd century BC, appears for the first time.

First page from an 1849 copy of the Miscellaneous Morsels from Youyang, in the version called重刊酉陽 雜俎正續 (Zhong kan Youyang za zu zheng xu), by Duan Chengshi, published by小嫏嬛山館 (Xiao lang huan shan guan). British Library, 15297.b.14.
First page from an 1849 copy of the Miscellaneous Morsels from Youyang, in the version called重刊酉陽 雜俎正續 (Zhong kan Youyang za zu zheng xu), by Duan Chengshi, published by小嫏嬛山館 (Xiao lang huan shan guan). British Library, 15297.b.14.  noc

The list of similarities between Cinderella and Ye Xian is quite extensive:
1) Both lost their own mother
2) Both were mistreated by their stepmothers
3) Both obtained or were given magical treasures to enable them to surmount obstacles   
4) Both met ideal husband figures
5) Both their future husbands found the girls by means of the right-sized shoe

The Story of Ye Xian, which Minakata highlighted, has been widely accepted as an early version of Cinderella. In contrast to the tale of Ye Xian, the tale of Hachikazuki is not always categorised as a Cinderella-type story because of two significant differences:
1) The method of obtaining her magical treasures
2) The method of proving she was the one her future husband was destined to marry

Hachikazuki obtained her magical treasures from her kneading bowl, which no one (including herself) had previously managed to remove from her head. It was her mother who had put the kneading bowl on to her daughter’s head just before she passed away. All she wanted to do was ensure the happiness of her daughter who she was leaving behind, and so she prayed to the Avalokiteśvara, and then acted in accordance with a revelation from the Avalokiteśvara. Hachikazuki had to endure wearing the kneading bowl on her head until the right moment eventually came. Although she found love with a gentle young man, she had to pass a test. This test was not fitting her foot into the right-sized shoe like Cinderella and Ye Xian. Instead, Hachikazuki had to convince her future husband’s family that she was a truly suitable bride for him. Miraculously, at this moment, the bowl fell off from her head, and she discovered that she possessed all the highly sophisticated acoutrements and attributes of a refined beauty.

Image06
Hachikazuki and her trousseau emerging from her kneading bowl. From 'The girl with a kneading bowl' (Hachikazuki 鉢かづき), early Edo period (ca. 17th century). Naraehon manuscript. British Library, Or.12897.  noc

Image07
The same scene in a different naraehon manuscript. 'The girl with a kneading bowl' (Hachikazuki 鉢かづき), early to mid Edo period (ca. 17th-18th  century). British Library, Or.12885, f. 36.  noc

Image08
The same scene in a woodblock printed edition of Otogizōshi (お伽草子), early Edo period (ca. 17th century). British Library, Or.75.g.15.  noc

Regardless of the differences and similarities between the stories of Hachikazuki and Cinderella, in both we can enjoy a traditional well-loved folk tale with a happy ending.

References

Tracey Chevalier. Girl with a pearl earring (London: HarperCollinsPublishers, 1999). For a description of Griet's cap, see p.11; see also 'Tracy Chevalier Q&A', Mail Online (July 5th 2002).

Minakata’s 1911 article: 南方熊楠「西暦九世紀の支那書に載せたるシンダレラ物語」『東京人類学会雑誌』26巻300号 (1911) is available online as a part of Minakaga zuihitsu (南方随筆) at Kindai Digital Library service, the National Diet Library.

With special thanks to:
Alessandro Bianchi, Asian and African Studies and PhD student, University of Cambridge
Sara Chiesura, Curator for Chinese

Yasuyo Ohtsuka, Curator for Japanese

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