A Stone Plate Printed Clas­sic

Beijing (English) - - CONTENTS - Trans­lated by Zhang Hong­peng Edited by Mark Zuiderveld

Qind­ing shu jing tushuo is one of few ex­ist­ing stone plate printed books from the Im­pe­rial Store­house of the Qing Dy­nasty (1644–1911), re­flect­ing the su­perb skills of stone plate print­ing.

The time-hon­oured Dong­tangzi hu­tong (lane) in Dongcheng District is home to a cul­tural prop­erty un­der the mu­nic­i­pal­level pro­tec­tion of Beijing, the site of the Board of Min­is­ters for For­eign Af­fairs in the Qing Dy­nasty (1644–1911), at the domi­cile num­bered 49. Af­ter the Se­cond Opium War (1856–1860), the self-strength­en­ers helped es­tab­lish the Board of Min­is­ters for For­eign Af­fairs in the lane to han­dle for­eign af­fairs and study ad­vanced Western tech­nolo­gies, which was the first ever depart­ment ded­i­cated to ad­dress­ing for­eign af­fairs in China.

Dur­ing the reign of Em­peror Guangxu (1875–1908) in the Qing Dy­nasty, the Board of Min­is­ters for For­eign Af­fairs printed a book Qind­ing shu jing tushuo (“il­lus­trated de­scrip­tion of books and clas­sics au­tho­rised by em­per­ors”) in stone plate print­ing in­tro­duced from the West. With ex­quis­ite print­ing, the book was hon­oured as the im­pe­rial store­house-se­lected book.

Es­tab­lish­ing a Board of Min­is­ters

In 1790, Em­peror Qian­long (reign: 1736– 1796) cel­e­brated his 80th birth­day, which be­came one of the most im­por­tant events

in the coun­try. Af­ter­wards, King Ge­orge III of the United King­dom learnt the news and ap­pointed Ge­orge Macart­ney (1737–1806), a British states­man and diplo­mat, to lead a del­e­ga­tion to Beijing to present gifts to Em­peror Qian­long on his 80th birth­day. Ge­orge Macart­ney had an­other im­por­tant task: to open trade with China.

It was the first of­fi­cial mis­sion to China from Western Europe. Af­ter a one-year sea voy­age, the fleet ar­rived at Bai­hekou, Tian­jin. When they reached Beijing, the Min­istry of Rites dis­patched of­fi­cials to re­ceive them.

Dur­ing the Qing Dy­nasty, be­fore the Opium War, the Qing gov­ern­ment didn't have de­part­ments ded­i­cated to han­dling for­eign af­fairs. If trib­u­taries or vas­sal states sent del­e­ga­tions to pay tributes or report diplo­matic is­sues, the Min­istry of Rites or the Depart­ment of Gov­er­nance of Eth­nic Mi­nori­ties was in charge of re­ceiv­ing and han­dling them.

At that time, the Qing gov­ern­ment con­sid­ered it­self su­pe­rior to its coun­ter­parts and re­garded all for­eign coun­tries as vas­sal states, so it didn't recog­nise peerto-peer diplo­macy and equal trade with other coun­tries. Gen­er­ally, the Min­istry of Rites man­aged ties with those com­ing by sea from east and south. In the mean­time, the Depart­ment of Gov­er­nance of Eth­nic Mi­nori­ties took re­spon­si­bil­ity to han­dle is­sues re­gard­ing states com­ing by land from the north and west such as Rus­sia.

How­ever, for­eign trade was lim­ited in Guangzhou and un­der the man­age­ment of the Gover­nor of Guang­dong and Guangxi. In case any diplo­matic is­sues arose, the em­peror au­tho­rised an im­pe­rial com­mis­sioner to han­dle them. With­out im­pe­rial ap­proval, no of­fi­cials were al­lowed to in­ter­vene in diplo­macy.

Af­ter the Opium War, the United King­dom forced the Qing gov­ern­ment to en­ter into a se­ries of un­equal treaties to gain the Qing gov­ern­ment's con­ces­sions in for­eign trade, in­clud­ing open­ing five ports in Guangzhou, Fuzhou, Xi­a­men, Ningbo and Shang­hai and grant­ing tar­iffs and con­sular ju­ris­dic­tion to the United King­dom. In ad­di­tion, the re­stric­tion on Chi­nese of­fi­cials' com­mu­ni­ca­tion with their for­eign coun­ter­parts was lifted. As the for­eign trade in five ports led to fre­quent diplo­matic is­sues, the Qing gov­ern­ment es­tab­lished a po­si­tion to reg­u­late for­eign trade in five ports and han­dle for­eign af­fairs in 1844 [the 24th year of the reign of Em­peror Daoguang (reign: 1821–1850)], which was con­cur­rently taken by the Gover­nor of Guang­dong and Guangxi. In 1859 [the ninth year of the reign of Em­peror Xian­feng (reign: 1851–1861)], the po­si­tion was ad­justed to un­der the con­trol of Gover­nor of Jiang­nan (to­day's Jiangsu, Shang­hai and An­hui) and Jiangxi. At that time, the po­si­tion was still pro­vi­sional as that of an im­pe­rial com­mis­sioner as the Qing gov­ern­ment con­sid­ered for­eign trade and diplo­matic is­sues as tem­po­rary jobs.

In 1860 (the 10th year of the reign of Em­peror Xian­feng), the Se­cond Opium War broke out. At last, China lost the war and was com­pelled to sign the hu­mil­i­at­ing Con­ven­tion of Pek­ing that dis­ap­pointed some peo­ple with in­sight­ful views and sparked their con­cerns over China's un­der­de­vel­oped sciences. Yixin (1833–1898), Prince Gong, who of­fi­ci­ated the sign­ing cer­e­mony of the treaty, felt ashamed and wor­ried that the treaty could only be an ex­pe­di­ent mea­sure and not pre­vent China from fu­ture suf­fer­ing or hu­mil­i­a­tion. Yixin thought it im­per­a­tive to learn from the West and in­tro­duce Western sciences and tech­nolo­gies.

Both Zeng Guo­fan (1811–1872), a fa­mous states­man and Con­fu­cian scholar in the late Qing Dy­nasty, and Li Hongzhang (1823–1901), a politi­cian and diplo­mat, agreed with Yixin. Li said, “Mak­ing China strong in­de­pen­dently is more dif­fi­cult than de­vel­op­ing it by learn­ing from Western coun­tries. How­ever, to study Western weaponry isn't as ef­fec­tive as grasp­ing the knowl­edge of pro­duc­ing weapons.” In this con­text, the Self-strength­en­ing Move­ment was launched, bring­ing about more for­eign af­fairs, and it be­came nec­es­sary to es­tab­lish a body ded­i­cated to han­dling for­eign af­fairs to avoid de­lays.

In 1861, the Qing gov­ern­ment es­tab­lished the Board of Min­is­ters for For­eign Af­fairs and des­ig­nated Yixin, Grand Sec­re­tary Guil­iang (1785–1862) and Left As­sis­tant Min­is­ter of Rev­enue Wenx­i­ang (1818–1876) to head the new

depart­ment, and ap­pointed Yixin as its chief. It was the first ever ad­min­is­tra­tive body es­tab­lished by China un­der Western in­flu­ence, mark­ing the start of mod­ern Chi­nese diplo­macy. The Board of Min­is­ters for For­eign Af­fairs took charge of han­dling diplo­matic is­sues, dis­patch­ing en­voys to other coun­tries, man­ag­ing for­eign trade, cus­toms, coastal de­fence and pro­cure­ment of firearms, fund­ing the op­er­a­tion of Tong­wen Guan (“School of Com­bined Learn­ing”) and send­ing stu­dents abroad to study. The Board of Min­is­ters for For­eign Af­fairs ac­tu­ally had a wide range of pow­ers and func­tions in­volv­ing coastal de­fence, min­ing, rail­ways, tele­grams, postal ser­vice and man­u­fac­tur­ing. Due to the ex­pan­sion of its pow­ers, it be­came a cen­tral depart­ment in charge of for­eign af­fairs and diplo­matic is­sues.

In cul­ture and ed­u­ca­tion, the board es­tab­lished Tong­wen Guan to teach mem­bers of Eight Ban­ners the for­eign lan­guages and make them serve as in­ter­preters and trans­la­tors, which was the first ever for­eign lan­guage school in China. For print­ing books, it first in­tro­duced Western tech­nol­ogy of stone plate print­ing and printed Qind­ing shu jing tushuo, an out­stand­ing stone plate print in the late Qing Dy­nasty.

Stone Plate Printed Clas­sic Books

Be­fore the Tang Dy­nasty (AD 618–907), most Chi­nese books were spread in hand­writ­ten copies. Wood­block print­ing came into be­ing in the late Tang Dy­nasty, sub­stan­ti­ated by the old­est ex­ist­ing book Di­a­mond Sutra printed in the ninth year of the Xiantong reign (AD 860–874). Dur­ing the Song Dy­nasty (AD 960–1279), wood­block print­ing ma­tured and many books were printed us­ing this tech­nique dur­ing the Song and later dy­nas­ties. From the Yuan Dy­nasty (1271–1368), the metal and wooden mov­able-type print­ings be­came pop­u­lar and most books were printed in the two tech­niques. Around the time of the Opium War, while Catholic priests came to China to preach, stone plate print­ing was brought over.

Stone plate print­ing, a kind of lithog­ra­phy with a his­tory of more than 200 years, was in­vented by Ger­man au­thor Alois Sene­felder (1771–1834), who was born in Prague and liked to com­pose mu­sic. How­ever, he couldn't af­ford the costs for print­ing his works, and thus, tried to print them with stone plates by him­self but failed sev­eral times. Fi­nally, in 1796, he suc­ceeded in test­ing and named the tech­nique the stone plate print­ing (or lithog­ra­phy). Stone plate print­ing utilised an im­age drawn with oil, fat, or wax onto the sur­face of a smooth, level litho­graphic limestone plate. The stone was treated with a mix­ture of acid and gum ara­bic, “etch­ing” the grease con­tent of the draw­ing ma­te­rial into the stone's pores and chem­i­cally cre­at­ing grease reser­voirs. The open stone (with­out draw­ing) was af­fected by the gum ara­bic cre­at­ing a thin gum layer that would then at­tract wa­ter. When the stone was sub­se­quently moist­ened, these gummed ar­eas re­tained wa­ter; an oil-based ink could then be ap­plied with a roller stick­ing only to the orig­i­nal draw­ing. The ink would fi­nally be trans­ferred to a cot­ton fine art pa­per sheet, pro­duc­ing a printed page.

This tech­nique had been in­tro­duced into China be­fore Alois Sene­felder died, but was na­tion­wide spread dur­ing the reign of Em­peror Guangxu. In 1831, Wal­ter Henry Med­hurst (1796–1857), an English Con­gre­ga­tion­al­ist mis­sion­ary to China, first printed some Chi­nese books with the stone plates in Djakarta, In­done­sia, and later, es­tab­lished a print­ing house in Ma­cau. In 1832, he set up a print­ing house in Guangzhou to print books for preach­ing in­clud­ing the Bi­ble. How­ever, as the Qing gov­ern­ment re­stricted preach­ing, he had to se­cretly print his books. In the fol­low­ing forty years, stone plate print­ing wasn't pro­moted in China.

Af­ter the begin­ning of the SelfStrength­en­ing Move­ment, the Qing gov­ern­ment en­cour­aged to in­tro­duce the Western tech­nolo­gies, so stone plate print­ing was grad­u­ally pop­u­larised. Qu Ya'ang, a Chi­nese Chris­tian, was the first to grasp the tech­nique. Dur­ing the reign of Em­peror Daoguang, Qu learnt from some for­eign mis­sion­ar­ies about the stone plate print­ing and printed some pub­lic­ity ma­te­ri­als with scrip­tures on one page and im­ages on the other in Ma­cau. Dur­ing the late Qing Dy­nasty, Chi­nese book­sell­ers es­tab­lished print­ing houses to print books on stone plates, which led to its pop­u­lar­ity. At that time, peo­ple thought it unimag­in­able to print books with­out wood­blocks. Stone plate printed books have pat­terns and texts same as those in the orig­i­nals. In ad­di­tion, the colours in the books are also bright.

From the late Qing Dy­nasty to the found­ing of the Peo­ple's Repub­lic of China, as many as over 100 print­ing houses were es­tab­lished, mainly in Shang­hai. The stone plate and let­ter­press print­ings once played a dom­i­nant role in China in­stead of the tra­di­tional wood­block print­ing. The Shang­haibased Com­mer­cial Press started to use pho­tolithog­ra­phy in 1920 and colour pho­tolithog­ra­phy in 1921, a process which could pro­duce ex­quis­ite con­tent rapidly. Huang Shi­quan from the Qing Dy­nasty said, “Pho­tolithog­ra­phy uses the Western limestone plate as flat as a mir­ror to cap­ture writ­ings through pho­to­graphs and then ap­plies the glue and print­ing ink on the plate. It can re­pro­duce thou­sands of pages in a day with small but leg­i­ble char­ac­ters.”

How­ever, some peo­ple ini­tially didn't be­lieve stone plate print­ing could work so fast or dis­be­lieved the dura­bil­ity of ink on those books. Fi­nally, all peo­ple re­alised the stone plate printed books could stand the test of time and tech­nique could be used to re­print books in a re­duced way.

At that time, Shang­hai was home to a ma­jor­ity of China's print­ing houses ca­pa­ble of print­ing books with stone plates, in­clud­ing Fuwen Ge, Zaowen Pub­lish­ing House, Hong­wen Pub­lish­ing House and The Com­mer­cial Press. Some of them were

able to en­gage in colour print­ing and print books in five colours. Most stone plate printed books were an­cient books rang­ing over Con­fu­cian clas­sics, his­tory books, book se­ries, pop­u­lar fic­tion nov­els and scripts. Com­par­a­tively in­flu­en­tial ones in­clude Sibu con­gkan (“col­lec­tion of Con­fu­cian clas­sics and his­tory books”) and Baina ben er­shisi shi (“patched ver­sion of twenty-four his­to­ries”) printed by the Com­mer­cial Press and Gu­jin tushu jicheng (“col­lec­tion of all books in the his­tory of China”) by Zhonghua Book Com­pany. How­ever, few stone plate print­ing houses were based in Beijing. In this con­text, Qind­ing shu jing tushuo be­came an out­stand­ing rep­re­sen­ta­tive of stone plate print­ing in Beijing.

A Book from the Im­pe­rial Store­house

Wu Shi­jian (1868–1934), mem­ber of Na­tional Academy of the Qing Dy­nasty, once wrote 82 po­ems col­lec­tively named “Qing­gong ci” (“Po­ems on the Im­pe­rial Court of the Qing Dy­nasty”), in which the 40th men­tioned Zhip­ing bao­jian (“ref­er­ences for peace­ful gov­er­nance”) and Qind­ing shu jing tushuo au­tho­rised by Em­press Dowa­ger Cixi (1835–1908). Cur­rently, the stone plate printed Qind­ing shu jing tushuo is col­lected by the Palace Mu­seum.

Af­ter the Se­cond Opium War, Em­peror Xian­feng died from dis­ease and Em­peror Tongzhi (reign: 1862–1874) suc­ceeded to the throne at six. As the em­peror was too young, em­press dowa­gers Ci'an (1837–1881) and Cixi at­tended to state af­fairs. To well gov­ern the coun­try, Ci'an and Cixi or­dered of­fi­cials of the South Study Room and Up­per Study Room to com­pile a book con­tain­ing the pre­vi­ous em­per­ors' gov­er­nance tac­tics, ti­tled Zhip­ing bao­jian.

In 1903, Em­press Dowa­ger Cixi grasped the cen­tral power in her hands and en­gaged of­fi­cials to com­pile a book to clar­ify Shang­shu (“book of doc­u­ments”). Un­der the au­tho­ri­sa­tion of Cixi, Sun Jianai (1827–1909), Zhang Baixi (1849–1907), Rong Qing (1859–1917), Lu Runx­i­ang (1841–1915) and Zhang Hengjia (1847– 1911) presided over the com­pi­la­tion, and des­ig­nated the Board of Min­is­ters for For­eign Af­fairs and the Print­ing House of Im­pe­rial Uni­ver­sity of Pek­ing (pre­de­ces­sor of Pek­ing Uni­ver­sity) to com­pile the book. They also in­vited Zhan Xi­ulin, a fa­mous painter from south­ern China, and oth­ers to draw pic­tures based on de­scrip­tions in Shang­shu. With ref­er­ence to other books in dif­fer­ent pe­ri­ods, the book was il­lus­trated with 570 pic­tures to ex­plain ge­og­ra­phy, fig­ures, gar­ments, tra­di­tions and ob­jects in Shang­shu in 448 sec­tions. Il­lus­tra­tions are ex­quis­ite and vivid. For in­stance, in an im­age re­gard­ing Yu the Great (c. 2200–2101 BC) tam­ing the flood, Yu the Great was de­picted on a moun­tain, with oth­ers chop­ping down trees around him.

Sun Jianai, the book's ed­i­tor-in- chief, ranked first in the im­pe­rial ex­am­i­na­tion in 1859 and to­gether with Weng Tonghe (1830–1904) served as a tu­tor of Em­peror Guangxu. Sun was in­vited as the first min­is­ter in charge of the Im­pe­rial Uni­ver­sity of Pek­ing built ac­cord­ing to the edict of Em­peror Guangxu in 1898.

In 1905, Qind­ing shu jing tushuo was com­pleted and pre­sented to Em­press Dowa­ger Cixi and Em­peror Guangxu for re­views. Af­ter read­ing it, they or­dered the Im­pe­rial Store­house to print the book. The book was fi­nally printed with stone plates by the Board of Min­is­ters for For­eign Af­fairs and hailed as an im­pe­rial store­hous­es­e­lected book.

Af­ter the book was printed, it was bound into six­teen vol­umes in two boxes and dis­trib­uted to na­tion­wide schools. The book's print­ing was costly and only a few copies were pre­served. Ei­ther the pa­per or the dec­o­ra­tion was high in qual­ity and ex­trav­a­gant. It con­tains the most il­lus­tra­tions among all books from the Im­pe­rial Store­house dur­ing the late Qing Dy­nasty. Ad­di­tion­ally, the Chi­nese char­ac­ters “guang xu san shi yi nian jiao yin” (“col­lated and printed in the 31st year of the reign of Em­peror Guag­nxu”) were printed in the book's up­per mar­gins.

This book is one of rare stone plate printed books from the Im­pe­rial Store­house dur­ing the Qing Dy­nasty and rep­re­sents the cul­mi­na­tion of stone plate print­ing in the late Qing Dy­nasty. It was the best one printed by the Board of Min­is­ters for For­eign Af­fairs.

Cur­rently, the Board of Min­is­ters for For­eign Af­fairs has be­come a cul­tural rem­nant but Qind­ing shu jing tushuo is pre­served to well sus­tain its short his­tory.


Qind­ing shu jing tushuo (“il­lus­trated de­scrip­tion of books and clas­sics au­tho­rised by em­per­ors”) and tushu jicheng (“col­lec­tion of all books in the his­tory of China”) printed with stone plate around the 1900s

Stone plate of the North­west Farm­ers Bank for print­ing notes dur­ing the War of Re­sis­tance Against Ja­pan (1931–1945)

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