Cop­per­plate-printed Books

Beijing (English) - - CONTENTS - Trans­lated by Li Jin­long Edited by Scott Ed­ward Bray

Qing Dy­nasty scholar Chen Men­glei who un­der­went twists and turns con­trib­uted to the pub­li­ca­tion of the Great Col­lec­tion of An­cient and Mod­ern Books.

The his­tory of an­cient China is re­plete with ma­jor lit­er­ary com­pi­la­tions, ref­er­ence books and book se­ries alike. The three great­est works of all, how­ever, were the Yon­gle En­cy­clopae­dia of the Ming Dy­nasty (1368–1644) and the Com­plete Li­brary in the Four Branches of Lit­er­a­ture and Great Col­lec­tion of An­cient and Mod­ern Books of the Qing Dy­nasty (1644–1911). While the for­mer two were handed down from one gen­er­a­tion to an­other by codex, the lat­ter rose from print­ing tech­nol­ogy based on cop­per type, mark­ing a turn­ing point in the Qing Dy­nasty.

Dur­ing the reign of Em­peror Kangxi (1661–1722), the great scholar Chen Men­glei, with the help of Prince Cheng, was in charge of com­pil­ing the largest ref­er­ence book. Chen's good for­tune was short-lived, how­ever. Af­ter Prince Cheng's brother Em­peror Yongzheng (reign: 1722–1735), as­cended to the throne, the

em­peror saw to it that he was sent far off to the re­mote Hei­longjiang Prov­ince. The em­peror even went so far as to ex­punge Chen's name from the Great Col­lec­tion of An­cient and Mod­ern Books, much to his re­gret.

Chen’s Twists and Turns

In 1673, the three fief­doms of Yun­nan, Guang­dong and Fu­jian were grow­ing in strength and re­fus­ing to take or­ders from the crown. Know­ing this, Em­peror Kangxi de­cided to have them dis­solved. Con­trary to his ex­pec­ta­tions, im­me­di­ately af­ter the procla­ma­tion was is­sued Wu San­gui (1612–1678) rose in re­volt in Yun­nan Prov­ince, lay­ing claim to cul­tural relics of the Ming Dy­nasty and the rest of China. In af­ter­math of his re­volt, Shang Kexi (1604–1676) in Guang­dong and Geng Jingzhong (1644– 1682) in Fu­jian fol­lowed suit (dubbed “the Re­volt of the Three Feuda­to­ries”). Geng Jingzhong in par­tic­u­lar called upon the celebri­ties of the time, among them well-known schol­ars, forc­ing them to take po­si­tions within his fief­dom to bol­ster his re­bel­lion against the em­pire. Even so, Chen Men­glei, a suc­cess­ful can­di­date in the high­est im­pe­rial ex­am­i­na­tions, wasn't swayed, flee­ing to a tem­ple in­stead.

Born into a lit­er­ary fam­ily in 1650 in Fuzhou, Chen ap­plied him­self as­sid­u­ously to his stud­ies even as a child, and ex­celled at writ­ing. At age 12, he passed the im­pe­rial ex­am­i­na­tion at the county level, and eight years later, at the pro­vin­cial level. In 1670, 21- year- old Chen went to Bei­jing, be­com­ing a suc­cess­ful can­di­date in the high­est im­pe­rial ex­am­i­na­tions. More­over, he was on the short­list of bach­e­lors at Han­lin Academy and, shortly af­ter­wards, took up com­pil­ing at the Academy.

Chen worked his way up, win­ning high praise from those around him. His mother, how­ever, could never ac­cus­tom her­self to life in Bei­jing and af­ter three years within the city Chen re­quested to take leave to send his mother home. Fol­low­ing the out­break of the re­volt, he fled to the tem­ple, only to find him­self with lit­tle choice but to suc­cumb to Geng Jingzhong's will af­ter his father had been taken cap­tive. Yet Chen still re­fused to take up the post on the plea of ill­ness. Li Guangdi, Chen's fel­low com­piler who hap­pened to be in his home­town of Anxi, sided with Geng. Dur­ing a visit with Chen, Li was so im­pressed by Chen's de­tailed anal­y­sis of the sit­u­a­tion in Fuzhou that he was en­cour­aged turn against Geng. As a re­sult, they both drafted the Memo­rial to the Throne in Wax Pill in their stead­fast de­ter­mi­na­tion to de­feat the en­emy. Af­fixed with a joint sig­na­ture, the memo­rial was expected to be sub­mit­ted to the court by Li Guangdi while Chen re­mained in Fuzhou. Be­fore his de­par­ture, Li Guangdi swore to his fel­low com­piler that “If I suc­ceed, you will get the credit.” Yet against these ex­pec­ta­tions, rather than go­ing straight to Bei­jing, Li took a wait- and- see ap­proach in Anxi. Find­ing the odds were very much in favour of the Qing troops, Li ex­punged Chen Men­glei's name from the memo­rial, placed it in the wax pill and set off to Bei­jing in 1675. Em­peror Kangxi was so im­pressed from the tac­tics stated in the memo­rial that he pro­moted Li. More than a mere lit­er­ary novelty, the memo­rial was passed among min­is­ters and even to gen­er­als on the front­lines.

In 1677, Aisin Gioro Jieshu led Qing's forces in de­feat­ing Geng and re­cov­ered the Fu­jian Prov­ince. Tak­ing all the credit, Li came to Fuzhou and met Chen, not­ing to his old friend that “I should give you credit for your ded­i­ca­tion.” Apart from this, he wrote a poem which read, “Li Ling ded­i­cated him­self to the court of the Han Dy­nasty and the Duke of Liang turned against the court of the Zhou Dy­nasty.” This was expected to praise Chen for his al­le­giance.

Dur­ing the Re­volt of the Three Feuda­to­ries, how­ever, a cer­tain Chen Fang in Fuzhou sur­ren­dered to Geng

and was be­stowed with the ti­tle of Grand Sec­re­tary at Han­lin Academy. Ow­ing to wide­spread ru­mours, this grand sec­re­tary was mis­taken for Chen Men­glei, which caused cer­tain of­fi­cials to pe­ti­tion for se­vere pun­ish­ment for the wronged Chen. Chen Men­glei was even­tu­ally sent to jail and sen­tenced to death in 1680. Dur­ing his im­pris­on­ment he re­peat­edly re­quested Li to pro­vide the court with ev­i­dence of his in­no­cence. In re­sponse, Li made a state­ment to serve such a pur­pose af­ter his re­turn to Bei­jing dur­ing the same year, leav­ing out a joint pe­ti­tion for dis­patch­ing troops on Chen's be­half. With only ha­tred left for his fel­low com­piler, Chen put pen to pa­per and wrote a let­ter of a re­la­tion­ship bro­ken apart. Once word had been spread, Of­fi­cials like Zhang Yushu and Xu Ganxue, as well as such Grand Sec­re­taries as Ming Zhu took it upon them­selves to res­cue him. Thus, Chen nar­rowly es­caped death. Yet he was still re­duced to a slave in Shengjing, now known as Shenyang, and dur­ing his 17-year servi­tude, his wife and par­ents passed away. Apart from teach­ing, Chen pressed for­ward, devoted to the com­pi­la­tion of Ele­men­tary In­tro­duc­tion of Zhou Yi, Gen­eral Chron­i­cle of Shengjing and Haicheng County An­nals.

Chen wasn't called to Bei­jing un­til Em­peror Kangxi made an in­spec­tion tour of Shengjing in 1698. Fol­low­ing that day Chen be­gan a life of ease and lux­ury, and was made tu­tor of the em­peror's third son, Aisin Gioro Jieshu Yinzhi (also ti­tled “Prince Cheng”). Chen's de­vo­tion im­pressed his stu­dent. Three years later, he was un­der or­ders to com­pile a ref­er­ence book en­ti­tled the Great Col­lec­tion of An­cient and Mod­ern Books.

The Old Man Com­piles a Mas­ter­piece

Fol­low­ing his re­turn to Bei­jing, Chen be­came one of Em­peror Kangxi's most fa­vored schol­ars. The em­peror once paid a visit to Chen's study and in­scribed the words “the pine abounds with towering branches and ver­dant nee­dles, the crane's old wings moult new feath­ers.” In­debted to the em­peror, Chen re­ferred to his study as the “House of Pine and Crane.” As his study be­came this new House, the em­peror like­wise pre­sented Prince Cheng with the Xichun Gar­den of the Old Sum­mer Palace. Chen's House hap­pened to be on the sec­ond floor of the Xichun Gar­den, ad­ja­cent to the au­di­to­rium of to­day's Ts­inghua Uni­ver­sity.

Dur­ing his many years of read­ing and teach­ing, Chen made the dis­cov­ery that most ref­er­ence books laid less stress on style while fo­cus­ing on reg­u­la­tions. For this rea­son, he de­cided to com­pile a com­pre­hen­sive ref­er­ence book on or­der and law. Un­der the aus­pices of Prince Cheng, Chen was given as­sis­tants to fin­ish the manuscripts for his com­pi­la­tion, along with the “Har­mony Hall” col­lec­tion pre­sented by the prince.

Start­ing on Oc­to­ber 1701, Chen Men­glei be­gan the clas­si­fied com­pi­la­tion of over 10,000 vol­umes ac­cord­ing to the Har­mony Hall col­lec­tion and his own home col­lec­tion. Labour­ing for five years to pro­duce the Great Com­pi­la­tion of An­cient and Mod­ern Books, Chen com­pleted the man­u­script in 1716. Em­peror Kangxi was lav­ish in his praise for the mas­ter­piece and re­named it the Great Col­lec­tion of An­cient and Mod­ern Books (known as the Au­tho­rized Ver­sion of the Great Col­lec­tion of An­cient and Mod­ern Books). Prince Cheng took charge of the busi­ness af­fairs in the Col­lec­tion Hall and Chen of com­pi­la­tion. The hall it­self boasted a to­tal of 80 em­ploy­ees re­spon­si­ble for edit­ing and tran­scrip­tion. Four years later, their fi­nal ver­sion was com­pleted. Kangxi re­warded all those en­gaged in its com­pi­la­tion and re­ferred the man­u­script to the Hall of Mil­i­tary Prow­ess for type­set­ting and print­ing.

The ma­jor­ity of type­set­ting and

print­ing was com­pleted in 1722. As it hap­pened, Kangxi passed away and Em­peror Yongzheng ac­ceded to the throne in the same year. Prince Cheng was sent to guard the Jin­gling Mau­soleum of Em­peror Kangxi, then im­pris­oned in Jing­shan Moun­tain. The princedied. Be­ing on in­ti­mate terms with Prince Cheng, Chen Men­glei found him­self caught in the mid­dle of the grudge be­tween the two broth­ers. For his part, Em­peror Yongzheng de­creed to his min­is­ters that Chen had been a traitor and should get his just desserts. As a re­sult, he was once more forced into ex­ile in Hei­longjiang Prov­ince in 1723 on four counts: col­lu­sion, in­ter­fer­ence in na­tional af­fairs, bla­tant pub­lic­ity and heinous crimes.

Fur­ther­more, the em­peror or­dered Jiang Tingxi to edit the Great Col­lec­tion of An­cient and Mod­ern Books again and re­place the name of Chen Men­glei with his own. More­over, Chen's rel­a­tives, dis­ci­ples and fel­low vil­lagers all found them­selves un­der the em­peror's wrath and were sent home im­me­di­ately. Local of­fi­cials were given or­ders to im­pose strict dis­ci­pline on any­one as­so­ci­ated with Chen. Re­gard­ing the mas­ter­piece, some changes were made to the cat­e­gory ti­tles and vol­umes by Jiang Tingxi. The Great Col­lec­tion of An­cient and Mod­ern Books was pub­lished in 1726. This edi­tion was pref­aced by Em­peror Yongzheng and signed by such ed­i­tors as Jiang Tingxi.

Im­mor­tal Book of Cop­per Char­ac­ters

Dur­ing the reign of Em­peror Kangxi, many mov­able cop­per print­ing types were avail­able, 60 years be­fore wooden type. In his old age, books like Ephe­meris Ori­gin and the Essence of Math­e­mat­ics and Physics were type­set and printed. Chen like­wise had his Po­etry An­thol­ogy of the House of Pine and Crane go to press. The Great Col­lec­tion of An­cient and Mod­ern Books pub­lished in 1726 cap­tured the quin­tes­sence of splen­did pa­per­back and im­pe­rial style. Only 64 copies of the en­cy­clo­pe­dia with its nu­mer­ous vol­umes were pub­lished. Aside from those copies, a rare sam­ple book was avail­able, which saw lim­ited print­ing. Apart from those housed in the Im­pe­rial Li­brary, the Hall of Im­pe­rial Zenith and Palace of Heav­enly Pu­rity, the Col­lec­tion was also kept in six other pavil­ions. Later, the book was de­liv­ered to high­rank­ing of­fi­cials, along with col­lec­tors, each do­nat­ing over 500 books dur­ing the com­pi­la­tion of the Com­plete Li­brary in the Four Branches of Lit­er­a­ture. That said, the ex­tant copies that have sur­vived are few and far be­tween. To­day, an unabridged ver­sion is housed in the Na­tional Li­brary of China, as well as the Palace Mu­seum.

Fol­low­ing the print­ing of the Great Col­lec­tion of An­cient and Mod­ern Books, no other lit­er­ary work was pub­lished from the em­peror's gov­ern­ment. The mov­ing cop­per type was stored away in the cop­per char­ac­ter li­brary of the Hall of Mil­i­tary Prow­ess, with no spe­cial at­ten­tion given to its safe­keep­ing. Re­gret­tably, a cus­to­dian made a small for­tune in steal­ing the cop­per type. Liv­ing in dread of the con­se­quences, the cus­to­dian sug­gested de­stroy­ing the cop­per type and cast­ing coins. What lit­tle re­mained in 1744 was like­wise put to the fur­nace for mak­ing coins, leav­ing a sad end­ing to print­ing dur­ing the Qing dy­nasty.

The mas­ter­piece it­self, with its mas­sive 10,000 vol­umes had 40 vol­umes ded­i­cated to cat­a­loging alone. It was di­vided into six parts: the mo­tion of ce­les­tial bod­ies, ge­og­ra­phy, un­der­stand­ing of hu­man re­la­tions, mu­seum, sci­ence and econ­omy; and each con­sist­ing of 32 canons. The whole book, across its 5,020 vol­umes con­tained 160 mil­lion char­ac­ters and 520 cases. It ranged over a num­ber of top­ics and en­joyed tremen­dous pop­u­lar­ity.

While the Great Col­lec­tion of An­cient and Mod­ern Books had far-reach­ing in­flu­ence, the true com­piler Chen Men­glei, to­gether with his son, was con­demned to a life of hard­ship in Hei­longjiang un­til the end of his life in 1741. He was buried by his son in his home­town of Fu­jian.

A pho­to­copied ver­sion of Great Col­lec­tion of An­cient and Mod­ern Books

The Grand Au­di­to­rium at Ts­inghua Uni­ver­sity

The Hall of Mar­tial Val­our within the For­bid­den City in Bei­jing

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from China

© PressReader. All rights reserved.