THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Asian and African studies blog

36 posts categorized "East Asia"

03 May 2019

Jesuit Mission Press ‘Feiqe monogatari’ now online

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One of the most important items in the British Library’s Japanese collections is a small, rather ordinary-looking, leather-bound volume, generally known as Feiqe monogatari (BL shelfmark Or.59.aa.1). Despite its appearance, it is, in fact, a remarkable work in a number of ways. Firstly, it was one of the earliest books printed in Japan using movable type rather than the traditional woodblocks, secondly, it is the first non-religious text printed in colloquial Japanese transcribed into the Roman alphabet, offering valuable insights into the phonology of the Japanese language in the 16th century, and thirdly, it is the world’s only extant copy.

Now, thanks to a collaborative project between the British Library and the National Institute for Japanese Language and Linguistics (NINJAL), Tokyo, a fully digitised version of this unique work is available online along with transcriptions, as part of NINJAL’s  Corpus of Historical Japanese, Muromachi Period Series II : Christian Materials.  In addition to a full set of images, NINJAL has also provided transcriptions of the Romanised text and in mixed Japanese kanji/kana script.

The book contains three different texts bound together: Feiqe monogatari a version of the Heike monogatari 平家物語 or Tale of the Heike, a famous medieval epic about the rivalry between the Taira and Minamoto clans, Esopo no fabulas the first Japanese translation of Aesop's Fables, and an anthology of maxims, drawn from Chinese classics, called the Qincvxv (Kinkūshū 金句集).

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First page of Feiqe monogatari (Or 59.aa.1, p.3)Noc

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First page of Esopo no fabulas (Or 59.aa.1, p.408d)Noc

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First page of Qinquxu (Or 59.aa.1, p.507) Noc

All three were printed on the Japanese island of Amakusa by Jesuit missionaries using a movable-type printing press in late 1592/early 1593. Feiqe monogatari has a preface dated 10 December 1592, the title page of Esopo no fabulas is dated 1593 and a general preface added at the front of  the volume was completed on 23 February 1593.

The three texts are accompanied by a printed glossary of ‘words difficult to determine’ (funbetsv xinicuqi cotoba) found in Feiqe monogatari and Esopo no fabulas.  At the end of the book is a handwritten Japanese-Portuguese vocabulary.

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Handwritten Japanese-Portuguese dictionary (Or.59.aa.1, p.597) Noc

From the preface of Feiqe monogatari we know that it was the work of the Christian convert - and later apostate - Fabian Fucan (Fukansai 不干斎, c. 1565–1621). Fabian was baptised in 1583 and joined the Jesuits in 1586, teaching Japanese to missionaries in the Jesuit College in Amakusa. He later rejected Christianity and in 1620 published the anti-Christian tract Deus Destroyed (Ha-Daiusu 破提宇子).

When the first Christian missionaries arrived in Japan in the 1540s they immediately set themselves to learning the Japanese language. Their aim, of course, was to convert the population to Christianity and to do this they needed to be able to communicate its teachings in the local language. They made rapid progress and with the help of Japanese converts, soon began translating Christian texts into Japanese. To assist with their work, Alessandro Valignano, head of the Jesuit Mission in East Asia, had a movable-type printing press brought from Portugal. It reached Japan via Goa in July 1590 and was set up at the Jesuit College in Kazusa 加津佐, on the Shimabara Peninsula, where the first work, a life of the apostles and saints entitled Sanctos no gosagyveono vchi nvqigaqi (Sanctos no go-sagyō no unchi nukigaki サントスの御作業の内抜書), was printed in 1591. Shortly afterwards, in the face of official persecution, the College and press were moved to the more remote and safer location of Amakusa 天草 where printing resumed in 1592. The College on Amakusa was suppressed by the Japanese authorities in 1597 so the Jesuits moved again, this time to Nagasaki, taking the press with them and books continued to be printed there from 1598 to 1611.

The books produced by the Jesuit Mission Press in Japan between 1591 and 1611, almost exclusively religious in content, are known collectively in Japanese as Kirishitan-ban or “Christian publications”. The majority were translations of Christian texts widely read in Europe such as Doctrina Christaã, Guía de pecadores and parts of Introducción del símbolo de la fe, in some cases adapted to the Japanese context with additional explanations or omission of doctrines which might have provoked controversy.

The Japanese authorities increasingly came to regard Christianity as subversive and, following a series of repressive measures, it was eventually suppressed and all remaining missionaries expelled from Japan in 1639.

The precise number of Kirishitan-ban titles printed in Japan is not certain.  With the suppression of Christianity and the destruction of images and artefacts connected with it, most of the Jesuit printings were lost.  In his pioneering work The Jesuit Mission Press in Japan, 1591–1610 published in 1888, Sir Ernest Satow identified 14 titles. Kirishitan Bunko: A Manual of Books and Documents on the Early Christian Mission in Japan (1940) by Johannes Laures, identifies 30 books published by the Jesuit Mission Press but this includes 5 printed in Macao, Goa or Manila. A more recent publication, Kirishitan to Shuppan (2013), lists a total of 41 Kirishitan-ban (including 5 fragmentary texts) with 92 extant copies identified worldwide, 7 of them in the British Library.  For the 35 works published in Japan, it lists a total of 72 known copies.

Besides its rarity, Feiqe monogatari is important in that it is a literary rather than a religious text..  It was not intended for the education of Japanese Christians but for the missionaries themselves as an aid to learning the language and to understanding the history and values of the Japanese for whom the warrior code (bushidō), reflected in Heike monogatari, and the Chinese classics represented by Kinkūshū had great significance.

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First page of preface to Feiqe monogatari ((Or 59.aa.1, ftpr) Noc

The spelling conventions of Portuguese, together with differences in pronunciation of the time, mean that the Romanised texts appear unfamiliar to those used to Hepburn, Kunrei-shiki and other later systems. For example, comparing spellings to the Modified Hepburn transliteration system most widely used today: ‘c’ and ‘q’ are used instead of ‘k’ depending on the following vowel (‘c’ before ‘a,’ ‘o’ or ‘u’, ‘q’ before ‘e’ and ‘i’), while ‘x’ represents ‘sh’ before ‘’i’ and, unlike modern standard Japanese, also before ‘e’. The letter ‘v’ can represent either the vowel ‘u’ or the semivowel ‘w’. The bilabial fricative sound now Romanised as ‘h’ (or ‘f’ before a ‘u’) is written as ’f’ in all positions, presumably reflecting the pronunciation of the time. ‘tçu’ is the equivalent of ‘ts’. As in Portuguese spelling, ‘u’ is inserted after ‘g’ to maintain a hard sound before ‘e’ or ‘i’.

The opening sentence on the first page reads: Nifon no cotoba to historia uo narai xiran to fossvrv fito to tameni xeva ni yavaragvetarv Feiqe no monogatari [The Tale of the Heike made easy to help those wishing to learn the language and history of Japan] which would be written in Modified Hepburn as Nihon no kotoba to historia o naraishiran to hossuru hito no tame ni sewa ni yawaragetaru Heike no monogari, or in Japanese script as 日本の言葉とhistoria [歴史]を習い知らんと欲する人の為に世話に和らげたる 平家の 物語.

Another interesting aspect of Feiqe monogatari is that while not the oldest, it was the first book in the British Museum/British Library’s Japanese collections. The preliminary pages of the volume bear a succession of shelfmarks and annotations from which it appears that the book was acquired by the eminent collector Sir Hans Sloane (1662-1753) in the first years of the 18th century. The earliest number is R3594, one of many sequences used by Sloane. Research published by Amy Blakeway in The Library Catalogues of Sir Hans Sloane: Their Authors, Organization, and Functions (http://www.bl.uk/eblj/2011articles/pdf/ebljarticle162011.pdf), suggests that the R-sequence was used for a rather random can be dated to between 1712 and 1723.  Sloane has also added the erroneous description in his own hand “Fables in the Language of Tonquin” (i.e. Vietnam). After Sloane’s death his vast collections became the foundation of the British Museum and its library and were installed in Montagu House. The number on the titlepage (3Ib) is a Montagu House location, showing that the book was stored in room 3, press I, and on shelf b with other works on Mythology. The book was given the general shelfmark 1075.e. but was later considered to be important/valuable enough to be moved to a case pressmark C.24.e.4.  A subsequent reorganisation of the British Museum Library saw it being transferred to the Department of Oriental Manuscripts and Printed Books (OMPB) where shelfmarks beginning “Or.” were assigned - Or.59.d.6 and, later, its current number Or.59.aa.1.  As part of OMPB Feiqe monogatari passed to the custodianship of the British Library in 1973.

Its role as a teaching tool for non-Japanese missionaries gives Feiqe monogatari is greatest significance today - that it is written in colloquial, rather than literary Japanese and is printed in the Latin alphabet, not in Japanese script.  The Japanese written language was, and is, extremely complicated combining many thousands of Chinese characters and two different syllabaries.  Using the 26 letters of the Latin alphabet made the task of writing and printing much simpler and meant that the text was easier for the Jesuits to read.  Since at that time there was no standard way of transcribing Japanese, the missionaries simply wrote down what they heard often using the spelling conventions of their native Portuguese.  For the study of Japanese historical linguistics, therefore, Feiqe monogatari is a very valuable source of information for how the language was actually spoken and pronounced in the late 16th century.

In a way that will be familiar to all who have ever tried to learn a foreign language, whenever they were unable to find the correct Japanese translation of a word the missionaries and their Japanese helpers seem to have simply used the Portuguese word instead. So "Aesop's Fables" becomes "Esopo no fabulas” and “history” is “historia” rather than the expected Japanese words gūwa 寓話 and rekishi 歴史respectively.

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Successive shelfmarks used for Feiqe monogatari (Or.59.aa.1, preliminary pages) Noc

Sadly, no record has been found of how Sloane acquired the book or from whom. Between 1723 and 1725, Sloane purchased a substantial collection of Japanese books, manuscripts, natural history specimens and other material from the family of the German physician Engelbert Kaempfer (1651-1716) who had lived in Japan from 1690-92 as physician in the Dutch East India Company’s trading base in Nagasaki. However, as noted above, a study of the shelfmarks and other annotations suggest that Feiqe monogatari was acquired by Sloane before the Kaempfer collection. It is known that the Jesuits sent some of their publications back to Europe – either to Rome or to their influential benefactors. Recent research by Peter Kornicki has shown that Japanese books reached England during the 1620s, sent to wealthy patrons by the East India Company through its trading factory in Hirado. Dutch traders also continued a supply of books back to Europe, some of which would have circulated among collectors like Sloane.

One final mystery is the illustration on the front page of the volume which depicts a crowned classical figure in a chariot pulled by lions. Neither the image nor the Latin inscription have no obvious connection to the content of any of the contained works. Perhaps this was an etching or woodcut that had been used in another work and was simply inserted here as decoration. If any readers of this blog recognise it, I would be delighted to hear from them.

 

Hamish Todd,

Head of East Asian Collections

With thanks to Dr Karen Limper-Herz, Lead Curator for Incunabula and 16th Century Books, British Library.

 

References

Blakeway, Amy, “The library catalogues of Sir Hans Sloane: their authors, organization, and functions”. eBLJ (2011). http://www.bl.uk/eblj/2011articles/pdf/ebljarticle162011.pdf

Elison, George, Deus Destroyed: The Image of Christianity in Early Modern Japan, Harvard University Press, 1973.

Kornicki, Peter, Umi o watatta Nihon shoseki : Yōroppa e, soshite Bakumatsu, Meiji no Rondon de 海を渡った日本書籍 : ヨーロッパへ、そして幕末・明治のロンドンで. Tokyo: Heibonsha, 2018.

Laures, Johannes, Kirishitan Bunko: A manual of books and documents on the early Christian mission in Japan. Tokyo: Sophia University, 1940.

Orii, Yoshimi, “The dispersion of Jesuit books printed in Japan: Trends in bibliographical research and in intellectual history”. Journal of Jesuit Studies 2 ; 2 (2015).  https://brill.com/view/journals/jjs/2/2/article-p189_2.xml?lang=en

Satow, Ernest., The Jesuit Mission Press in Japan, Privately printed, 1888.

Toyoshima, Masayuki 豊島正之 (ed.), Kirishitan to Shuppan キリシタンと出版. Tokyo: Yagi Shoten,

 

07 April 2019

A Jesuit Atlas of Asia in Eighteenth-Century China

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Today's post is by guest blogger Xue Zhang, PhD candidate, Department of East Asian Studies, Princeton University. Xue Zhang is working on Qing China’s geographical knowledge of Xinjiang in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries with a special interest in cartography. Here she writes about an important discovery in the British Library India Office Records Map collection

In 1735, Jean-Baptiste Du Halde (1674–1743) thrilled European readers with the news that the Jesuits had made impressive progress in China. His colleagues used a map of Peking to impress the Kangxi emperor (r. 1661-1772) with the accuracy of the European methods and successfully persuaded him to commission the Jesuits to complete a national map of which was to be of vast importance to the empire. In the eighteenth century, a considerable number of Jesuit cartographers worked for the Qing court, and their most important works included the three atlases they presented to the Kangxi, Yongzheng (r. 1722-1735), and Qianlong (r. 1735-1796) emperors.

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Noosy Hada off the Coast of the Arctic Ocean (BL IOR/X/3265)
https://blogs.bl.uk/.a/6a00d8341c464853ef0240a4428c8a200c-pi

The Jesuit atlas (IOR/X/3265) initially catalogued by the British Library as “Chinese roll maps” is a revision of the Yongzheng Atlas (henceforth the BL edition). A Catalogue of Manuscript and Printed Reports, Field Books, Memoirs, Maps, etc. of the Indian Surveys Deposited in the Map Room of the India Office refers to it as “A Chinese map of the greater part of Asia and part of European Russia,” and includes a detailed entry. As with the Kangxi and Qianlong Atlases, the scope of the Yongzheng Atlas reaches beyond the territories under Qing rule. The northernmost toponym of the BL edition is Noosy Hada off the Russian coast of the Arctic Ocean, and the southmost toponym is the Great Tortoise Shell Shoal ( Da daimao zhou) at the tip of today’s Hainan Island. The atlas extends west to the Red Sea, and east to Gioi Ri li Omo in Russia. Therefore, it is more accurate to regard it as a map of Asia than of the Qing empire.

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The Great Tortoise Shell Shoal in the Pacific Ocean (BL IOR/X/3265)
https://blogs.bl.uk/.a/6a00d8341c464853ef0240a4428c8a200c-pi

In 1708-1718, under the patronage of the Kangxi emperor, the Jesuits conducted comprehensive surveys of Qing territories, measuring the longitudes and latitudes of 641 sites. Synthesizing their own data and other sources, the Jesuits produced the Kangxi Atlas. In 1756, 1759, and 1772, the Qianlong emperor, Kangxi’s grandson, had the Jesuits map Xinjiang, the former territory of the Zunghars that the Qing had newly acquired. The earliest edition of the Yongzheng Atlas was completed no later than 1726, while the BL edition reflects the territorial changes up through 1760. For most Qing territories, the BL edition consults the results of the land surveys conducted in 1708-1718, 1756, and 1759. For a few borderlands, such as Tibet, and the areas beyond Qing control, the Jesuit cartographers referred to Qing envoys’ records and other materials.

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The BL edition of the Yongzheng Atlas is prefaced by two Qianlong’s poems in Chinese and Manchu, which are dated 1756 and 1760. The same poems preface the Qianlong Atlas (BL IOR/X/3265)
https://blogs.bl.uk/.a/6a00d8341c464853ef0240a4428c8a200c-pi

The Yongzheng Atlas is characterized by its hybrid style, which distinguishes it from the Kangxi and Qianlong Atlases, which use latitude-longitude coordinates. The BL edition is composed of ten rows of various lengths, and each row is divided into squares of 2.5 inches, by equidistant horizontal and vertical lines. The vertical lines represent meridians with indicators, such as “east one” and “west one,” on the bottom. The prime meridian is based at the Shuntian prefecture, the capital area of the empire. The horizontal lines resemble latitudes but do not note any degree. The coordinates of the Yongzheng Atlas are a hybrid of the latitude-longitude system and the conventional Chinese method of indicating the distance by a network of square grids. The Kangxi and Qianlong Atlases adopt curves, and thus are known as “curved-grid maps” (xiege ditu) in the Qing documents, while the Yongzheng Atlas, featuring straight lines, is referred to as a “rectangular-grid map” (fangge ditu).

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The meridian crosses the Shuntian prefecture (In red)

Imperial cartographers updated the Yongzheng Atlas throughout the eighteenth century to make sure that it reflected the latest territorial changes and cartographical practices, and thus left multiple versions. The currently known nine editions of the Yongzheng Atlas are preserved in five institutions. The xylographic edition in the Chinese Academy of Sciences was printed no later than 1728. The xylographic print and manuscript in the First Historical Archives can be dated to 1729. The two colored xylographic editions in the Palace Museum in Beijing were printed respectively around 1725 and 1729. One manuscript edition in the museum was drawn before 1727, while the other was after 1730. The editions in the National Library of China and the British Library were produced between 1759 and 1761.

In 1825, John Reeves (1774-1865), a British tea merchant in Canton, presented the BL edition of the Yongzheng Atlas to the library of the East India Company in London. During his stay in Canton from 1812 to 1831, Reeves acquired an extensive collection of the specimens and drawings of exotic flora and fauna and his collection ended up in the British Museum’s natural history department. William Huttmann’s report to the Council of the Royal Geographical Society in 1844 briefly described the BL edition. Nevertheless, he mistook the revision of the Yongzheng Atlas for the Qianlong Atlas, which also included depictions of Inner Asian territories gained by the Qing in the 1750. Huttmann claimed that he had translated all the Manchu toponyms and a considerable portion of the Chinese ones in this atlas on behalf of the East India Company.

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The marginalia in the lower left corner of the third row.

In his magnum opus Science and Civilisation in China, Joseph Needham argued that the Chinese grid tradition was another form of quantitative cartography, which continued to prosper when the European tradition of quantitative mapmaking suffered a great degeneration in the medieval millennium. The Yongzheng Atlas integrates two traditions, pioneering a series of nineteenth-century maps, in which the Chinese rectangular grid system and the latitude-longitude coordinates coexisted.

Further Reading:

A Catalogue of Manuscript and Printed Reports, Field Books, Memoirs, Maps, etc. of the Indian Surveys Deposited in the Map Room of the India Office. London: W. H. Allen & Co, 1878.

Cams, Mario. Companions in Geography: East-West Collaboration in the Mapping of Qing China (c.1685-1735). Leiden: Brill, 2017.

Hostetler, Laura. Qing Colonial Enterprise: Ethnography and Cartography in Early Modern China. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011.

Millward, James. “Coming onto the Map: ‘Western Regions’ Geography and Cartographic Nomenclature in the Making of Chinese Empire in Xinjiang.” Late Imperial China 20 (1999): 61-98.

Needham, Joseph. Mathematics and the Sciences of the Heavens and Earth, vol. 3 of Science and Civilisation in China. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1959.

Perdue, Peter, “Boundaries, Maps, and Movement: Chinese, Russian, and Mongolian Empires in Early Modern Central Eurasia.” The International History Review 20 (1998): 263-86.

 

Xue Zhang, PhD candidate, Department of East Asian Studies, Princeton University
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01 February 2019

Happy Chinese New Year! Year of the Pig 2019

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1. Pig Thai MS
Horoscope for the year of the pig, from a Thai manuscript dated 1885, containing drawings based on the Chinese Zodiac and its animals (BL Or.13650, f.6v )
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In East Asian and South East Asian countries, as well as among overseas communities of Asian origin, traditional celebrations for the start of a New Year are approaching. On the 5th of February, we will leave the year of the Dog , and welcome the year of the Pig. Dog and Pig are part of a series of twelve zodiac animals associated with the Chinese lunisolar calendar. The Pig is the last animal of the twelve-year cycle, and in the Japanese and Tibetan traditions is replaced by the Boar.

2. Boar Japanese MS
Illustration of a boar from Seihō gahakuhitsu junishi-jō by Takeuchi Seihō (c. 1900)  (BL ORB.40/71)
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The lunisolar calendar developed in China from the solar one, and was first introduced during the Zhou dynasty (c. 1046 to 256 BC). Years, months and days are calculated taking into account both the phases of the moon and the position of the sun which determines the seasons. Lunisolar calendars require a “leap month” or an “intercalary month” every one or two years. People born during the Year of the Pig, are thought to be clever, calm, mature and well-mannered, but sometimes naïve and insecure.

3. Japanese toy pig
Illustration from the Japanese album of toys Omochabako (BL ORB 40/950)
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Zhu Baijie (豬八戒, where the first character means “pig”) is probably the most famous pig in Chinese literature. He is one of the main characters of the novel Journey to the West (西遊記Xi you ji) by Wu Cheng’en, published in 1592. The novel narrates the pilgrimage of the Tang dynasty Buddhist monk Tang Sanzang to India and Central Asia along the Silk Road to gather and take to China Buddhist texts. During his journey, he meets three creatures who become his disciples to atone for their past sins: Sun Wukong (the Monkey), Zhu Bajie (the Pig) and Sha Wujing (a water monster or “Monk Sha”).

4. Xiyou ji
Page 494 from the 18th century woodblock printed edition of the Xiyouji depicting four characters of the novel travelling: Tang Sanzang on horseback, Zhu Bajie and Sun Wukong with martial arts sticks, and Sha Wujing bringing up the rear (BL 15271.c.13, page 494)
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The Chinese New Year is welcomed with fireworks, whose sound, together with the sound of drums and music, is meant to scare away the demon Nian (written 年, like the character for year). Delicious food is put on the table and chun lian (written春聯: good wishes for the new year in form of poems, usually on red paper) are pasted on the entrance doors.

5. chunlian writer
Calligrapher preparing chun lian (BL Or. 11539, folio 34)
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Our Curator Han-lin Hsieh wrote a chun lian to wish all our readers a very Happy Chinese New Year!

6. Poem

 

 

Happy New Year from us to you,

May your triumphs be big,

In the year of the Pig,

And success come with all that you do.

 

 

 

 


Sara Chiesura, Han-lin Hsieh, Hamish Todd (East Asian Collections)
With thanks to Emma Harrison
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23 January 2019

Researching the Asian and African Collections at the British Library

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The Asian and African department at the British Library began 2019 with one of the most important annual events in our calendar: a training day for students beginning their doctoral dissertations. Approximately fifty students from across the UK were introduced to the collections and the best ways to research them.

It was a ‘really fantastic’ experience, according to one participant, who explained that ‘the collections of the BL can be wonderful but overwhelming so it was incredibly helpful being introduced to what there is and how to use them’.

Show and tell 1
Items on display at the ‘Meet the Curators session’

So, what were the top tips from the day? Where should researchers begin when confronted with the enormous collections at the British Library? If you haven’t used our collections yet – or if you have, but aren’t too sure how it all works – then this blog will get you started.


Where to start

The first place to look is our subject hub pages. (You can also get there from the front page of our website by going to the ‘Catalogues and Collections’ menu, then selecting ‘Overview of the Collections’.)

These pages give you a quick overview of what’s in the BL’s collections, how you can access it, and what you can get elsewhere. It’s an essential place to start, so that you know the sort of things you can search for in our catalogues and what we’re likely to have (as well as what we don’t have).
Subject hub imageRelevant subject hubs for Asian and African Studies via https://www.bl.uk/subjects


Understanding our collections

The British Library’s collections are huge. They are:

  • from all over the world
  • in all major world languages, and many others
  • in all disciplines, and
  • historical and contemporary.

We hold material in a very wide range of formats. If, so far, you’ve only thought about using books and manuscripts or archives, it could be worth asking how other items (perhaps sound recordings, or maps) could bring new dimensions to your research.

Collection formats
Different collection formats in the British Library


Searching the collections

There are two main catalogues:

Explore the British Library, for (mainly) published material:

  • Books and serials
  • Newspapers
  • Maps
  • Audio-visual material
  • Doctoral theses
  • E-resources
  • Archived websites
  • Printed music

Explore Archives and Manuscripts, for (mainly) unpublished material:

  • Archives
  • Manuscripts
  • Visual collections

Both catalogues indicate hard-copy and digital material.

Additional catalogues are also available via our website, and these may give more detail on particular collections. For example, the Sound and Moving Image catalogue is recommended for audio-visual collections.

Show and tell 2
Hebrew and Christian Orient curator Ilana Tahan showing some BL collection items at the doctoral training day


Using the collections: in the Reading Rooms

For physical/hard-copy items, you’ll need to come into our Reading Rooms (having first obtained a Reader Pass). Our full collections are available for research at our main building in St Pancras, London. You can also see many items (but not everything) in our Reading Room at Boston Spa, Wetherby, Yorkshire.

For licensing reasons, some electronic material is only available on-site in our Reading Rooms. The most important thing to be aware of in this respect is our collection of subscription e-resources. These are electronic packages which the British Library buys and/or subscribes to. They include:

  • bibliographies and other reference tools
  • journals and e-books, and
  • collections of primary sources.

University libraries also offer these packages, but we have many things which individual libraries may not hold, so it’s always worth checking. The best way to find out what we have is to go to our electronic resources page.

Remote access to a few of these resources is available to Reader Pass holders, and may increase in future. Where this service is offered, it’s indicated on the electronic resources page.

E-resources Japan sample search
Sample search for electronic resources on Japan

The British Library is given one free copy of every book published or distributed in the UK. This is called legal deposit, and these days about half of this material come to us as e-books. These electronic publications are also only available in the Reading Rooms. These can be identified through Explore the British Library and read on the Reading Room computers.


Using the collections: online

We are digitising more and more of our collections, which means that some of the material you’ll find in our catalogues is available free online.

Manuscripts from our collections are available through the Digitised Manuscripts portal, which includes (but is not limited to) Ethiopic, Hebrew, Malay, Persian and Thai manuscripts. See the Asian and African Studies blog for more on these digitised manuscripts.

  • The Endangered Archives Programme offers large collections of archives and manuscripts from many African and Asian countries online. (The originals remain in the country of origin.)

Doctoral theses (dissertations) from most UK universities can be downloaded or requested via our EThOS service. In many cases, it’s free.

  • The Qatar Digital Library has digitised many India Office Records and Arabic manuscripts held by the British Library. These are of particular relevance to the history of the Middle East, but also relate to East Africa and the Horn, as well as other regions.

Many older books in our collections have been digitised and are available through Explore the British Library. When you find records for these items, you can click through to the full text, which is also available in Google Books.

E-book picture
Catalogue record and digitised full text of a work by the Rev. Samuel Ajayi Crowther, Bishop on the Niger

For more information on what’s available online, see our Digital Collections page as well as the subject hub pages for your area.

And finally…talk to us!

We know that the BL is complicated and staff in Asian and African Collections are happy to point you in the right direction. You can reach us online, or by talking to the staff on the enquiry desk in the Asian and African Studies Reading Room. Enquiries are handled by a specialist reference team, and referred to curators if necessary.

And don’t forget our blog, a mine of information on our collections.

Show and tell 3
Discussions at the doctoral training day


Marion Wallace, Lead Curator, Africa
https://blogs.bl.uk/.a/6a00d8341c464853ef022ad37726d4200c-pi

07 January 2019

History from Between: Global Circulations of the Past in East Asia and Europe

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The East Asian Uses of the European Past  project, funded by the Humanities in the European Research Area, in collaboration with the British Library, is proud to announce a one-day conference on 1 April 2019 to discuss the creation of historical knowledge between East Asia and Europe from 1600-1950.

In two thematic panels and two keynote talks, we will explore how ideas about the past circulated and were repurposed within East Asian networks of exchange. Some of the questions we will consider include: how did East Asian actors use their understanding of European expansion to burnish their own colonial aspirations? What does it mean to say the Chinese had a ‘Middle Ages’—originally a way of talking about the history of and for Europeans? How might the maritime narratives of East Asians challenge how the past of cultural others is viewed?

The event will run from 10am-5pm in the British Library Knowledge Centre, with a smaller reception from 5pm-7.30pm. You can register for the day event (10am -5pm) at our  Eventbrite page. There are also a smaller number of tickets available to our evening keynote and drinks reception from 5pm-7.30pm. You can register for this through our separate Eventbrite page.

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

The first panel, Oceans, Islands, and Imperial Expansion in East Asia, will explore how maritime expansion of the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries was understood by Chinese and Japanese actors.

Professor Leigh Jenco of the LSE will examine the earliest first-hand account of Taiwan’s indigenous peoples, written by the seventeenth-century military advisor Chen Di. In contrast to both European and Chinese contemporaries, Chen showed how the lives of these people might be understood on their own terms rather than in contrast to an established yardstick of civilization.

Professor Martin Dusinberre of the University of Zurich considers the late-nineteenth century intellectual dialogue between the Cambridge professor J.R. Seeley and his young Japanese student Inagaki Manjirō (1861-1908). The result of this encounter was Inagaki’s articulation of a future ‘Pacific Age’ of Japanese expansion, modelled on the past expansion of the British Empire. Finally, Dr Birgit Tremml-Werner, also of the University of Zurich, examines how the late-nineteenth century Japanese translator and historian Murakami Naojirō used European sources to reconsider Japan’s history of maritime engagement in Southeast Asia as a model for its future expansion.

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Jesuit-designed Chinese terrestrial globe, early 17th century (British Library Maps G.35)
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Our first keynote speaker, Timothy Brook, of the University of British Columbia, will discuss Picturing the World: Chinese Uses of European Cartography. Sailing the oceans in the sixteenth century obliged Europeans to come up with new models to visualize the world. As these models reached China toward the end of the century, Chinese cartographers reacted not by abandoning their model of the world, but by importing features of European maps and adjusting their image of the world accordingly. The impact is not always obvious, and the results can be surprising, as we watch both cultures make their way along separate paths toward seeing the world in common.

Our second panel on Entangled Histories will explore how European ideas about the past were repurposed by East Asian actors to understand or reinterpret their own histories. Dr David Mervart of the University of Madrid will discuss how Japanese translations from the Dutch work History of Japan by Engelbert Kaempfer shaped understandings of Japan’s time as a ‘closed country,’ as well as of the merits and demerits of opening the country to outside trade.

Professor Joachim Kurtz of the University of Heidelberg reviews attempts by twentieth-century Chinese historians to use the concept of the “middle ages,” derived from European history, as a meaningful way of partitioning Chinese history.

Finally, Dr Lorenzo Andolfatto of the University of Heidelberg will examine historical conditions which give rise to utopian thinking, through a comparison of the sixteenth-century England of Thomas More and the late nineteenth-century China of the novelist Wu Jianren. He suggests that a fundamental rethinking of the world and England and China’s place in it helped to stimulate both authors’ works.

The day will close with a smaller keynote from Professor Megan Thomas of the University of California, Santa Cruz. Professor Thomas will explore European Pasts in the Margins of Filipino History Making. In the late nineteenth century, when the Philippines was subject to Spanish sovereignty, young Filipino intellectuals imagining their country’s future turned to history. In writings now part of the British Library’s collections, these young men treated what they called the “pre-history” of the Philippine islands as well as the history of Spanish occupation, seeking to glean from the past what could illuminate the present and future.

Their subject was the Philippines, yet in the margins of their accounts were sometimes references to European history—not only the history of Spanish presence in the Philippine islands, but also references to the folklore, customary law, and political history of Europe. They did not look to Europe’s past for models, however; instead they thought that comparing elements of Europe’s past with the Philippines showed dynamic possibilities in the Philippine past, present, and future.

The one-day conference History from Between: Global Circulations of the Past in East Asia and Europe will run from 10am-5pm on 1 April 2019 at the British Library Knowledge Centre. For more information about the research underpinning this conference you can listen to our East Asian Uses of the European Past podcast series here.

Jon Chappell, London School of Economics

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19 December 2018

The Arrival of the Black Ships

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2018 marks the 150th anniversary of the Meiji Restoration, a pivotal event in Japanese history which heralded an era of dramatic political, social and cultural change as Japan emerged from centuries of self-imposed isolation and sought to take its place on the international stage.

During the Meiji Period (1868-1912), Japan was transformed from a feudal society where power lay in the hands of the Tokugawa Shoguns and hundreds of local lords or Daimyo controlling a patchwork of fiefdoms, to a centralised, constitutional state under the nominal leadership of Emperor Mutsuhito (1852-1912). This transition was marked by the inauguration of the new reign name of Meiji or ‘Enlightened Rule’ on 23rd October 1868.

To commemorate this major anniversary the British Library has digitised a manuscript handscroll Or.16453 depicting the arrival in Japanese waters in July 1853 of the American Commodore Matthew Calbraith Perry (1794-1858) and his squadron of four warships. Perry’s arrival triggered a long chain of events that led ultimately to the revolution of 1868.

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Fig.1. One of Perry’s steam-driven Black Ships. Detail from British Library manuscript Or.16453
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In November 1852 Perry had been dispatched by US President Millard Fillmore to establish diplomatic relations and ensure the opening of Japan’s ports to trade. On 8th July 1853 the squadron of four ships –steam-driven paddlewheel frigates Susquehanna and Mississippi and sailing sloops Plymouth and Saratoga – appeared off Uraga heading towards the city of Edo, seat of the Shogun’s government. The sight of these smoke-belching, black-hulled vessels, which dwarfed any ship the Japanese had seen before, must have been awe-inspiring and they were quickly nicknamed the Kurofune or ‘Black Ships’. Following their arrival there was intense activity on shore as local officials sent desperate requests for help to the government in Edo. Over the next few days, in an attempt to stonewall Perry while they waited instructions, a succession of unfortunate junior officials were sent out to the Susquehanna, Perry’s flagship, in an attempt to persuade Perry and his fleet to leave for Nagasaki, the only port designated for foreign trade. The Americans refused and fired off blank shots from their cannon, supposedly to celebrate Independence Day but also as an unsubtle hint of their superior firepower.

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Fig.2. Perry and his crew march to the official reception at Kurihama. Detail from British Library manuscript Or.16453
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Eventually on 14th July Perry was allowed to land at Kurihama for a meeting with local dignitaries. He marched in considerable pomp with a large contingent of marines and sailors, accompanied by a military band playing ‘Hail Columbia’ while the Susquehanna fired a 13-gun salute. The scroll gives a vivid impression of the scene with the procession of Americans snaking into the distance[1]. They are preceded by the musicians and the US flag while in the centre walks Commodore Perry accompanied by two cabin boys bearing boxes, probably bearing official gifts or the President’s letter.

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Fig.3. Site of the official reception at Kurihama. Detail from British Library manuscript Or.16453
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The official reception took place in a hastily constructed camp where Perry, accompanied by three of his commanders, presented the letter from President Fillmore to the two Bugyō (Magistrates) of Uraga, Toda Ujiyoshi 戸田氏栄 (1799-1858) and Ido Hiromichi 井戸弘道 (died 1855). With the first stage of their mission accomplished, Perry and his fleet sailed away on 17th July promising to return the following year. As the ships disappeared over the horizon, the watching officials no doubt breathed a sigh of relief but the respite was only temporary and Japan was already on the path to upheaval and civil war.

The British Library scroll Or.16453 is untitled, anonymous and undated but must have been produced shortly after the events it depicts, possibly as an official record. It measures 3.2 metres in length, composed of 8 sections, and the text consists of short captions accompanying the illustrations. A note at the beginning states that the American ships entered Edo Bay on the 3rd Day of the 6th Month of the 6th Year of the Kaei Era (8th July 1853) and they remained until the 14th Day of the 6th Month (19th July) [actually they left on the 17th July]. The first panel depicts some of the US crew - two slightly bored-looking marines resting on their rifles and two luxuriously whiskered officers brandishing swords. They are described as being from the American ship ‘Washington’, although no vessel by that name accompanied Perry.

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Fig.4. Crew of the Black Ships. Detail from British Library manuscript Or.16453
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The artist may have been allowed on board one of the vessels or at least been an eye witness to events since the scroll depicts events and people in considerable detail. For example the second panel shows an array of headgear and musical instruments and the third has pictures of a rowing boat both empty and crewed by sailors and marines.

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Fig.5. Headgear, musical instruments and rowing boat. Detail from British Library manuscript Or.16453
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The fourth section is a magnificent picture (Fig.1) of one of the steam warships with its massive paddlewheel on the side and a huge ‘Stars and Strips’ fluttering from a flagpole.

Next is the illustration of the American procession, followed by a detailed diagram representing the Japanese procession of over 1,000. Unlike the Americans, the members of the Japanese delegation are not shown in person but indicated by dots and banners with descriptions of who was who.

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Fig.6. Diagram of the Japanese delegation’s procession. Detail from British Library manuscript Or.16453
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The penultimate section shows the specially constructed camp at Kurihama (Fig.3), where the official meeting took place between the representatives of the two sides – the Magistrates Toda and Ido for the Japanese, and Perry and three of his commanders for the Americans. The route taken by the US contingent is carefully indicated by a line of dots leading up from the shore.

The scrolls ends with a view of Edo Bay with four enormous Black Ships, the two steamships flying oversized flags, moored ominously off Kurihama.

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Fig.7. The Black Ships at anchor off Kurihama. Detail from British Library manuscript Or.16453 Noc

When the Black Ships departed, they left in their wake a nation in profound disagreement as it faced the challenge of dealing with the advent of the western powers and their demands the opening of Japanese ports to international trade. The existential threat posed by the Black Ships and the world they represented led to deep divisions with the Japanese ruling elite and the population at large. Traditionalists sought to maintain the status quo and keep the foreign ‘barbarians’ out at all costs while reformists believed that change was inevitable and that Japan could benefit from interaction with western nations. The ensuing 15 years of internal disagreement, political machination, diplomatic skulduggery, intimidation and violence on all sides ultimately led to the collapse of the Tokugawa regime and the emergence of a new political and social order.


Hamish Todd, Head of East Asian Collections

https://blogs.bl.uk/.a/6a00d8341c464853ef022ad37f13ca200c-pi


[1] The procession numbered some 250 individuals but the scroll exaggerates this to 500.

05 December 2018

Tales of cats and dogs

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The new exhibition in the British Library’s Entrance Hall, Cats on the Page (until Sunday 17th March 2019), provides a fascinating glimpse of how cats come to life in books. One of several items from the Japanese collections in the exhibition is The Boy who drew cats, rendered into English by Lafcadio Hearn. This story was issued in the Japanese fairy tale series published by Hasegawa Takejirō from 1885, which also included another cat-related tale, Schippeitaro, by Mrs T.H. James, published in 1888. Although the cover illustration of Schippeitaro showing cats dancing in a circle is rather light-hearted, these cats are not simply cute creatures.

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The cover of Schippeitaro, showing a dog in the basket and cats dancing around him in a circle. Mrs T.H. James, Schippeitaro. Tokyo: Kōbunsha, 1888. British Library, ORB.30/4013 Noc

Interestingly, the preface of the tale has nothing to do with cats, but concerns a dog and his image on an Ofuda. Ofuda are paper or wooden amulets issued by Japanese religious institutions to protect their owners from various evils. This image is described as “The picture of the dog, a copy of one now issued from Mitsumine or Mitakesan to the faithful who reverence it as Okuchishinjin, the large mouthed god”.

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Close up of the first page of the tale, showing a fictional Ofuda of Shippeitarō Daimyōjin. Schippeitaro, 1889. British Library, ORB.30/4013 Noc

'Okuchishinjin' must have been a mis-transliteration of the characters 大口真神, which should have been read either as Ōkuchi no magami or Ōguchimagami, a Japanese wolf who plays the role of a divine servant in Shintō belief. Traditionally people affectionately call him Oinu-sama (お犬様), meaning a holy dog. He is strongly associated with Yamato Takeru (日本武尊), a legendary prince of ancient Japan, who is believed to have established Mitsumine Shrine (三峰神社) on his way to the East Country, where the power of the emperor of Japan had yet not been accepted. There is a well-known story of the wolf who guided Yamato Takeru, when he lost his way in the deep mountains of Musashi province. Latterly Yamato Takeru entrusts the protection of the Musashi mountain area to the wolf, so this is why both Mitsumine Shrine and Musashi Mitake Shrine (武蔵御嶽神社) worship Oinu-sama, and his Ofuda is believed to ward off devils and thieves.

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This Ofuda (far right) is possibly from the Mitake Shrine. [The original place of worship in Musashi province was believed to have been founded in 91 BC. Later it joined the Grand Head temple of the Kinpusen Zaō Gongendō (金峰山寺蔵王権現堂) in Yoshino (吉野) and became well known as Mitake Zaō Gongen (御嶽蔵王権現). In the late 19th century, the Meiji government ordered religious institutions to follow the policy of the separation of Shinto from Buddhism, and the name was changed to Mitake Shrine (御嶽神社) in 1874.] The Ofuda shown is from a collection of c. 330 Japanese amulets printed up to the 1880s, mounted in 5 albums. Ofuda harikomichō : Daiei Toshokanzō お札貼込帳 : 大英図書館蔵. British Library, 16007.d.1(1) 60-63 

The legend of Yamato Takeru and the wolf may be an early example of a theme familiar in Japanese tales, of the hero’s journey with a faithful dog. However, in Schippeitaro (竹篦太郎) the true hero is probably not the warrior, but the eponymous dog of the story. A young travelling samurai warrior gets lost in a thick forest on a wild mountainside, with no human inhabitants in sight. Fortunately, he comes upon an empty and half-ruined temple, to serve as his shelter for the night. In the middle of the night, he hears a strange noise and witnesses an extraordinary scene, of a troop of cats dancing in a circle under a beautiful full moon, singing “Tell it not to Schippeitaro! Keep it close and dark!”

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All the cats are depicted standing on two legs, chanting and dancing under the moonlight, with one on the left page with a Tenugui, Japanese traditional towel, on his head. Schippeitaro, 1889. British Library, ORB.30/4013 Noc

The mysterious night passes and by the time dawn arrives, the cats have gone and the samurai manages to discover a path to reach a village. The villagers are overcome by grief because they have to send a fine maiden to a mountain spirit as his sacrifice. The villagers have no choice but to put the victim into a bamboo trunk and leave her in the ruined temple where the samurai warrior had just spent the night. He wants to help the girl and the villagers, so he tells them what he saw the previous night, and asks who Schippeitaro is. He finds out that Schippeitaro is actually a strong and beautiful dog, belonging to the master of the area. The master agrees to send the brave Schippeitaro to the village, and it is Schippeitaro instead of the maiden who is put into the bamboo trunk, and then waits quietly in the ruined temple.


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Schippeitaro, the dog of whom the troop of cats are so afraid, in the bamboo trunk while on his mission to save the maiden and the village. Schippeitaro, 1889. British Library, ORB.30/4013 Noc

At midnight, the troop of cats arrives, led by a huge black boss cat. The fearless Schippeitaro attacks the boss, seizes him with his teeth and holds him fast, so that the young samurai can finish the monster off with one stroke of his trusty sword. The village no longer has to provide a sacrifice and Schippeitaro returns to his master, showered with gratitude by all.


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The boss black cat approaching the sacrifice with his troop, while Schippeitaro patiently hides inside, waiting for the best moment to attack. Schippeitaro, 1889. British Library, ORB.30/4013 Noc

Superstitious Japanese used to believe that if Japanese cats lived too long, they would turn into monster cats Nekomata (猫又) by practising a mysterious ceremony, dancing in a circle in the middle of the night, ideally covering their head with a Tenugui towel.

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Shown on the right is a Nekomata 猫又, cat monster, standing on two legs, wearing a Kimono and putting a Tenugui on her head. Hashimoto Sadahide 橋本 貞秀. Nekomata baba keshō yashiki 金花貓婆化生鋪. Edo : Tsuruya Kichiemon 江戸 : 鶴屋喜右衛門, 1893. Woodblock-printed book. National Diet Library

Although the mountain spirits are depicted as cats in this particular tale, they are usually baboons or monkeys in variations of the original Japanese legend. It was thought that when Mrs. T.H. (Kate) James was working on the English text of Schippeitaro, she probably replaced baboons, which were not familiar to 19th century English readers, with cats.

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Close up of a Nekomata pretending to be an ordinary cat, but her forked tail clearly indicates she is not just a cat. Hashimoto Sadahide 橋本 貞秀. Nekomata baba keshō yashiki 金花貓婆化生鋪. Edo : Tsuruya Kichiemon 江戸 : 鶴屋喜右衛門, 1893. Woodblock-printed book. National Diet Library

We don’t know the exact reason for Mrs James' choice of cats instead of the other options available to her; perhaps, she was inspired by the legend of the mysterious dancing cats. All we know is that the motif of the dancing cats added a somewhat more humorous flavour to the story than savage baboons would have done.

References:

The Boy who drew cats (Japanese fairy tale series,no.23). Tokyo, 1905. British Library, 11095.a.20.

ちりめん本『竹篦太郎』に表れる「踊る猫

Chichibu Mitsumine shrine (秩父三峰神社)
Murashi Mitake shrine (武蔵御嶽神社)

Blog post: Ofuda: in with the good, out with the bad (Part 1) and (Part 2)

Yasuyo Ohtsuka, Curator, Japanese Collections Ccownwork

17 August 2018

The Star Lovers

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The 7th day of the 7th lunar month has long been the date of the Star Festival 七夕 in East Asia, traditionally known as Tanabata in Japan, and as Qixi - or more recently as the ‘Chinese Valentine’s Day’ - in China. It has always been a very popular festival celebrating the summer evening, and evoking the romantic legend of the star lovers who meet each other once a year by crossing the Magpie Bridge over the Milky Way.

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Above left is the Dunhuang Star Atlas, the oldest known manuscript of a star chart dating to around AD 700. On the right-hand image the Magpie Bridge, which corresponds to the constellation of Cygnus (= Celestial Ford 天津), has been indicated by a green dotted line, and the Milky Way is indicated by two parallel dotted lines in blue (neither feature is marked on the original Star Atlas). The boy lover, known as Niulang (牛郎) in the Chinese folktale, was identified in his original position as Niu su yi (牛宿一), also known as β Capricorni or Dabih Major in Western astronomy. The girl, Zhinü (織女) has always been and still is associated with Vega since the creation of the Dunhuang Atlas. British Library, Stein Collection Or.8210/S.3326. International Dunhuang Project http://idp.bl.uk/

However, the Star Festival is not only for celebrating romance. We first explored the origins of this festival and related astronomical subjects in two previous blog posts in August 2014: ‘Tanabata (七夕) Star Festival’ - is it 7 July or 2 August 2014? (1) and (2). This year we concentrate on how the night of the 7th day of the 7th lunar month has had a dramatic impact on both the Chinese and Japanese literary traditions.

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A young woman crossing the Magpie Bridge over the Milky Way. Grace James, Green Willow and other Japanese Fairy Tales (London: Macmillan, 1910). British Library, L.R.26.d.7

One of the most notable references to the night of the 7th day of the 7th lunar month in Chinese classical poetry is probably ‘The Song of Everlasting Regret (長恨歌)’ by Bai Juyi (白居易 772–846). The inspiration for Bai Juyi’s poem was the doomed love between Emperor Xuanzong of the Tang Dynasty (唐玄宗帝 685-762) and his imperial consort Yang Guifei (楊貴妃 719-756). On the night of the 7th day of the 7th lunar month, they vowed to be together forever. However, there was to be no happy ending, as Yang Guifei was assassinated.

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Front cover (left) and illustration (centre and right) of the Daoist master meeting with Yang Guifei in the afterworld (right). Chōgonka Zushō 長恨歌圖抄. Published in Japan, Enpō 5 [1677]. British Library, Or.74.cc.7

Despite the passage of many years, Emperor Xuanzong still pines for his dead lover, Yang Guifei. Although he cannot cross the border into the afterlife, he commissions his Daoist master to seek out Yang Guifei, for whom he is still longing but can no longer see, even in his dreams. Eventually the Daoist master manages to meet Yang Guifei in the afterlife, and she asks him to pass her message to Emperor Xuanzong, calling her Imperial lover to a romantic reunion in the stars. Even though there is no explicit mention of the star lovers in the lines below, the 7th day of the 7th lunar month indubitably references the love of the celestial couple.

“On the seventh day of the seventh lunar month, in the Hall of Longevity,
At midnight, when nobody is around, this is when we will make our secret pact.
In the heavens, we vow to be as two birds flying wingtip to wingtip,
On earth, we vow to be as two intertwined branches of a tree.”

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“On the seventh day of the seventh lunar month”. Chinese text with Japanese annotations. Chōgonka Zushō 長恨歌圖抄. Published in Japan for Japanese readers, Enpō 5 [1677]. British Library, Or.74.cc.7

‘The Song of Everlasting Regret’ was already very well known among the Japanese when Murasaki Shikibu (紫式部), who was a lady-in-waiting at the court of the Empress Shōshi in the 11th century, wrote ‘The Tale of Genji (源氏物語)’, and it is clear that she consciously included many direct or indirect references to Bai Juyi’s poetry.

At the opening of the story, the relationship of Genji's parents mirrors that of the Emperor Xuanzong and Yang Guifei, as Genji's father is the Emperor Kiritsubo and his mother is the most beloved one in his court. Genji’s mother dies young, leaving the Emperor in deep sorrow. While they were together, their favourite saying was “In the sky, as birds that share a wing. On earth, as trees that share a branch”, from the famous lines in ‘The Song of Everlasting Sorrow’. Day and night, he repeatedly bemoans the shortness of her life, making his own but an empty dream.

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Chapter 41 of 'The Tale of the Genji' (源氏物語繪詞, Genji monogatari ekotoba), Naraehon manuscript, mid-17th century. British Library, Or.1287, f.43

In Chapter 41, Genji is left alone as his wife Lady Murasaki dies. In this chapter, the episode of the night of the 7th day of the 7th month is described as Tanabata, the day of the blessing of the star lovers. Genji is not in the mood for celebrating romance, and he keeps on thinking of his late wife and composes this poem: “They meet, these stars, in a world beyond the clouds. My tears but join the dews of the garden of parting.” Although the symbolic lines “In the sky, as birds that share a wing. On earth, as trees that share a branch” were not quoted explicitly in his poem, they are evoked implicitly through the whole chapter.

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The celestial lovers - Kengyū (Niulang in Chinese) and Orihime (Zhinü in Chinese). Ikeda, Touri 池田東籬. Amanogawa sōshi 銀河草子. Tenpō 6 [1835.] British Library, ORB.30/3377

Konparu Zenchiku (金春善竹 1405-1470) composed a Noh play, ‘Yōkihi (楊貴妃)’, based on the latter part of ‘The Song of Everlasting Regret’. The key motifs in his Noh play were the tragic separations and broken promises as the lovers believed that nothing could force them to be parted. The lines about the 7th day of the 7th month, the star lovers, tree branches and birds are repeated at the close of the Noh play, leaving the audience filled with sorrow.

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Yōkihi (楊貴妃) from the collection of 200 illustrations of characters from Noh plays. Tsukioka, Kōgyo 月岡耕漁, and Sōfū Matsuno松野奏風. Nōga taikan : nōga nihyakuban ōzoroe 能畫大鑑 : 能畫貮百番大揃. Tōkyō: Seibi Shoin 東京 : 精美書院, 1936. Revised edition of the work originally published in 1934. British Library, ORB.45/153

Lovers in classical literature were aware that they could not thwart fate and that human life is full of uncertainty, but perhaps they admired the star lovers in the night sky as a symbol of eternal love, unobtainable in the real world.

References

Song of Everlasting Regret (Chinese & English translation)

The Tale of Genji (full English translation)

源氏物語と長恨歌

The Dunhuang Chinese sky: a comprehensive study of the oldest known star atlas

With special thanks to Professor Roberto Soria, University of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, for identifying positions of the key constellations and the Milky Way on the Dunhuang Star Atlas.

Yasuyo Ohtsuka, Curator, Japanese Collections