Treasuring the Moveable Type
Qinding wuyingdian juzhenban congshu is a series of 138 rare books. As the only copy in existence, it is precious, rare and complete in content, featuring exquisite block-printing.
During the reign of Emperor Qianlong (1736–1795) of the Qing Dynasty (1644–1911), the emperor established a special editorial board to compile Complete Library in Four Sections. The board was also in charge of collating The Yongle Canon and compiling book series. However, thinking that compilation of Complete Library in Four Sections lasted too long, the emperor ordered the staff members to compile and edit 138 kinds of rare works and posthumous works of the Song (AD 960– 1279) and Yuan (1271–1368) dynasties from The Yongle Canon. Moreover, he required books to be “conducive to the way of the world and human heart” and printed first for circulation, and that the first four kinds be printed and distributed with block- printing technology. Later, at the suggestion of Jin Jian (?–1794), minister of the Imperial Household Department, the remaining 134 kinds of books were typeset and printed with wooden moveable- type printing technology. This book series, a collection of 138 rare books, is named Qinding Wuyingdian juzhenban congshu (“gathered treasure edition book series of Hall of Martial Valour compiled at imperial order”).
This voluminous book series is not only a monumental work of largest-scale typeset and printed with wooden type in the Hall of Martial Valour of the Qing Dynasty, but also a product of bookprinting with wooden type which saw the largest scale use in Chinese history, representing an immortal chapter in the history of China’s book-printing.
Imperial Decree to Search for Rare Books
In 1388, Emperor Taizu (reign: 1368–1399) of the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644) wished to compile reference books with materials taken from various sources entitled Lei yao (“essentials of various schools of Thought”). However, he failed to realise his wish. After Emperor Chengzu (1403–1425) of Ming succeeded to the throne, he ordered grand secretaries to compile an encyclopaedia which included the Confucian classics, historical records, philosophical writings and miscellaneous works, hence the book Wenxian Jicheng (“collected works of literature”).
Book compiled, it was submitted to the Emperor for royal assent. The emperor, however, felt dissatisfied, thinking that much is not included in the book. Therefore, from 1405, Emperor Chengzu decreed some scholars continue compiling this reference book. This time, over 3,000 people participated in the compilation. Another two years were spent on elaborate compilation and eventually the assignment was completed. Reading it through, the Emperor felt very satisfied. He named this book The Yongle Canon ( Yongle was the reign title of Emperor Chengzu) and wrote a preface for it.
Compilation of the book completed, it was bound into 11,095 volumes which contained as many as over 370 million Chinese characters. This monumental work involved as many as 7,000 to 8,000 kinds of ancient books. Assembling various books of different historical periods, The Yongle Canon was a Chinese encyclopaedia, the largest scale of its kind in Chinese history. However, as this reference book was too voluminous, and wasn’t cut into blocks for printing. Only one copy of the book was transcribed by scholars. In 1420, Emperor Chengzu had the capital moved to Beijing. So, The Yongle Canon was brought to Beijing. From that point on, this work was preserved in the palace. During the reign of Emperor Jiajing (1522–1567), the Emperor ordered another copy of The Yongle Canon to be transcribed. Unfortunately, toward the end of the Ming Dynasty, the original copy of The Yongle Canon was lost with only a duplicate left behind.
After the Qing Dynasty conquered and began to rule over the Central Plains, its rulers attached great importance to collecting and sorting out books.
In 1680, Emperor Kangxi (reign: 1662– 1723) changed the left and right bungalows of Hall of Martial Valour into Book Compiling Bureau and named it Workshop of Hall of Martial Valour which specialised in printing and decorating books.
In 1729, it was renamed Book Compiling Bureau of Hall of Martial Valour which consisted of Manufacturing Supervision Academy and the Imperial Collation Academy. Book Compiling Bureau of Hall of Martial Valour specialised in printing and publishing books. From then on, Hall of Martial Valour became an institution devoted to collating and printing books, with books block-printed there called “palace versions.”
During the reign of Emperor Qianlong (1736–1796), the emperor attached great importance to searching for books that were almost unavailable. This job lasted for tens of years. In 1772, Zhu Jun (1729–1781), a provincial education commissioner from Anhui, put forward four pieces of advice to the emperor on searching for and collating books. One piece of advice mentioned that The Yongle Canon in the palace preserved many rare books. Zhu Jun suggested the Emperor organise specially-assigned persons to edit, collate and proofread these rare books. However, by then, over 2,000 volumes in The Yongle Canon had been lost. Agreeing strongly on his suggestions, the emperor decreed books from The Yongle Canon be carefully selected and collated and that the volumes that have been collated and proofread be published for circulation, with other volumes to be included and edited. These books, together with all officially block-printed books by the provinces and the Hall of Martial Valour, were to be catalogued in accordance with the Confucian classics, historical records, philosophical writings, and miscellaneous works, and be collectively titled Complete Library in Four Sections.
In the following year after the aforementioned decree was promulgated, the emperor ordered Academy of Complete Library in Four Sections be founded to collect books. What’s more, the emperor awarded those who donated books and had their names inscribed in the Complete Library in Four Sections. In this way, he encouraged people to donate books to the imperial court.
As a result, books from all corners of the country swarmed in Beijing. The books collected boasted over 10,000 categories, all of which were sent to the Academy of Complete Library in Four Sections. Meanwhile, Emperor Qianlong promulgated an imperial decree that “for those books included in The Yongle Canon which are
hardly extant and are beneficial to scholars of a younger age, their titles should be picked up and summaries of the books should be written. Then those in charge should list these books into a catalogue and submit it to the court so that they could be block-printed.”
Printing with Moveable Type
Academy of Complete Library in Four Sections was the institution of compiling Complete Library in Four Sections. Receiving the imperial decree, the staff members of the Academy began to make arrangements. They first sorted out and made use of The Yongle Canon. Emperor Qianlong felt very satisfied with the work of the staff members of the Academy and gave out an imperial decree to assign Jin Jian, a Korean and a minister from the Imperial Household Department, to take care of this task. After Academy of Complete Library in Four Sections was founded, Jin Jian was appointed vice-president in charge of issues concerning Complete Library in Four Sections and the compilation and blockprinting affairs of Hall of Martial Valour. He also wrote the book Qinding Wuyingdian juzhenban chengshi (“printing manual for gathered treasure edition of Hall of Martial Valour at imperial order”).
In 1773, staff members of the Academy began compiling and editing four rare books— Difan (“golden sayings of Tang’s emperor”), Hangong jiuyi (“etiquette of officials of the Han Dynasty”), Yiwei bazhong (“eight kinds of the apocrypha texts on the Changes”), Weizhenggong jianxu lu (“remonstrance of Wei Zheng”)—from The Yongle Canon. However, books compiled and edited then were, in most cases, dotted with annotations and comments. Therefore, the staff members needed to transcribe manuscripts before the books were blockprinted. Such manuscripts were called “Qing Dynasty Manuscripts.”
On the basis of the Qing Dynasty Manuscripts, the craftsmen block-printed all the four books within four months. However, other books which were to be printed and published and amounted to as many as 134 categories. Jin Jian, thinking it difficult to block print all of them, proposed to the Hall of Martial Valour to organise craftsmen to typeset and print other books with wooden moveable type. In this way, books were printed more efficiently.
Jin Jian carefully calculated the labour and material needed in block carving these wooden types. Around 1,400 taels of silver were needed. This would save a great deal in manpower, material and financial resources. Emperor Qianlong praised this scheme for book printing and gave out an imperial decree that “It is a good plan and proceed as planned.” He then ordered craftsmen of the Hall of Martial Valour to make 100,000 more common jujube wooden characters aside from the 150,000 wooden moveable types already made. The moveable characters totalled 250,000 in number.
The scheme was approved by the emperor, and Jin Jian felt gratified. He made efforts in fulfilling the task. Led by him, the craftsmen engraved wooden moveable types day and night. Over a year, 250,000 wooden moveable characters were engraved.
These wooden types engraved were categorised in a certain order. Six craftsmen were responsible for typesetting and printing. Two of them specialised in typesetting and the other four were in charge of the four tones respectively. The typesetters chanted the characters to ask for the corresponding characters while craftsmen in charge of the four tones identified rhymes according to sound and sorted out characters. When a book was typeset, a proof would be printed out and then sent to the Imperial Collation Academy for proofreading. If all characters were correctly collated, the craftsmen would then typeset and print the books.
This task lasted for over 20 years. Eventually, the remaining 134 kinds of books were printed through moveable-type printing technique in 1794. Thanks to the efforts of the craftsmen, 138 kinds of books were printed out. Initially, these books were called “moveable type version.” However, as Emperor Qianlong thought that the name moveable type was not so graceful, he named it Juzhen (gathered treasure).” As the four kinds of original block-printed editions were essentially the same in format as the moveable type editions, they were collectively called Qinding Wuyingdian juzhenban congshu.
Rare Books and Copies Handed Down
While printing the book series with wooden moveable type, Jin Jian compiled a book entitled Qinding Wuyingdian juzhenban chengshi which recorded the process of book printing in detail, including the techniques for making moveable type, printing technology, and the standard and rigid workmanship. The book provided a vivid description that moveable-type printing technique approached the peak of artistry. This set of moveable types used by Jin Jian to moveable-type print Qinding Wuyingdian juzhenban congshu adopted typeface which was shaped into a cube but slightly circular. This typeface looked primitive and elegant. The masstone printed featured differences in degree of darkness and shade. Moreover,
the printing paper was mostly writing paper made from bamboo produced in Jiangxi and some was produced in Fujian, with a pale yellowish paper.
The book compiled was to observe and study affairs in the ancient times and patronise literature and the arts and benefit young students, for which Emperor Qianlong gave out an imperial decree to issue this book series in provinces in Southeast China and permitted it could be printed and distributed throughout the country. Therefore, book-printing began at the imperial order in Jiangning of Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Jiangxi and Fujian. In these places, the book was re-engraved through block printing. Among them, eight kinds of books were printed in Jiangning, and 38 kinds in Zhejiang. Books block-printed in these two places were all small-sized books. While in Jiangxi and Fujian, 54 and 123 kinds of books were respectively block-printed according to the size of the original copy. As books printed in these places were in the same format as the original copy despite different printing methods, these duplicates were called “outer gathered treasures.” The Gathered Treasures of Hall of Marital Valour were called “inner gathered treasures” to differentiate one from the other.
During the reign of Emperor Jiaqing (1795–1821) of the Qing Dynasty, seven kinds of books were printed in gathered treasure version in Hall of Martial Valour. Their form and arrangement of lines and format were basically identical with those of the gathered treasure version during the reign of Emperor Qianlong. The beginning of these books was the poem inscribed by Emperor Qianlong and at the bottom of the first line of the first page of every book were six Chinese characters that read “Gathered Treasure Edition of Hall of Martial Valour” except below the typed area there were no names of the engravers and collators. For this reason, these seven books were called “separate editions of gathered treasure.” The 138 kinds of gathered treasure edition and the seven kinds of separate edition of gathered treasure version during the reign of Emperor Qianlong formed a complete version of Qinding Wuyingdian juzhenban congshu.
Qinding Wuyingdian juzhenban congshu was characterised by its essential contents. Most books were edited and compiled on the basis of precious and rare books. Furthermore, it featured elaborate collation and exquisite block printing. For this reason, it became the most outstanding book among all the palace books from the Qing Dynasty. On the other hand, the wide application of moveable type became a heavy stroke in the history of China’s moveable-type printing. In the course of its printing, Qinding Wuyingdian juzhenban chengshi was of milestone significance. Moreover, the theory in this book pushed forward China’s ancient moveable-type printing technique to a new high. After the printing and publication of Qinding Wuyingdian juzhenban congshu, many rare books were circulated among the academic circles. The only extant copies were preserved and handed down to later generations and became the original copies of the books that followed.
For over 200 years since the printing and publication of Qinding Wuyingdian juzhenban congshu, it has suffered many mishaps. Besides, China was torn by war from the end of the Qing Dynasty to the early Republic of China period (1912–1949). Consequently, most books were lost. Today, complete editions of the book series are rarely seen. Books collected by public and private connoisseurs are mostly odds and ends.
Luckily, in 2012, The Imperial Palace Press (formerly known as The Forbidden City Publishing House), taking Qinding Wuyingdian juzhenban congshu (in the collection of the Palace Museum) as the master copy and based on six kinds of books which were collected in Fudan University Library and Tianjin Library and which weren’t available in the Palace Museum, restored the style and features of the palace version books during the reign of Emperor Qianlong by photoprinting in accordance with their original size and dividing them into 236 cases totalling 1,413 volumes. Only 300 sets of this series of the latest printed books were made available, with collection certificates tailor-made for each. The books were thread-bound and printed with Chinese art paper. They were sub-packaged with original cases and volumes. Moreover, rosewood-made bookcases were custom-made, featuring exquisite engraving in a royal court style.
Qinding Wuyingdian juzhenban chengshi (“printing manual for gathered treasure edition of Hall of Martial Valour at imperial order”)
A Page from Qinding Wuyingdian juzhenban congshu (“gathered treasure edition book series of Hall of Martial Valour compiled at imperial order”)
The Hall of Martial Valour within the Forbidden City in Beijing