Libraries share data to trace ancient Chinese books
Although some Italian priests famously came to China in the late 16th century, large numbers of Western missionaries only stepped into the country after the 1840s, when the Middle Kingdom was forced to open its gates to the Western world in the aftermath of the first Opium War.
The missionaries took myriad Chinese books and written records of their religious missions back to their home countries.
A new book released by the publishing house affiliated with the National Library of China now attempts to clarify the long-hidden history.
Last week, The Bibliography of Chinese Ancient Books Collected in Pitts Theology Library in Emory University was released in Beijing, offering detailed inventory of ancient Chinese books housed in the library, a repository of files relevant to the missionaries once stationed in China.
About 500 ancient Chinese books and Christian files in Chinese from the university in Atlanta, Georgia, are listed in the new book, published in both Chinese and English.
As a top US research institution on theology, Emory University got about 1,500 volumes of ancient Chinese materials in 1976.
The new publication mainly focuses on those in the university’s Pitts Theology Library that are from the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), according to Liu Ming, a researcher from the National Library of China who hosted the project.
“These books are not only crucial to figuring out the development of Christian churches in China, but significant references to study Chinese linguistics,” Liu said at a symposium on the new book in Beijing last week.
For example, he cites that New Testaments written not only in Mandarin but in Chinese dialects like Fuzhou dialect and Shanghainese are found in the collection.
The oldest Christian book listed was published in Hong Kong in 1845. Some books in the bibliography were from the reign of Emperor Kangxi (1662-1722).
According to Wang Guohua, a researcher from the Pitts library, the publishing is part of cooperation with the National Library of China launched in 2014.
“The book is to provide references for professionals, and it’s also to show the overseas communities’ enthusiasm to protect those precious ancient books from China,” she explains.
Zhou Yuan, director of the Eastern Asian Library at the University of Chicago, says tracing the circulation of such books after publication adds a dimension to history.
“These Christian books are perfect items to study intercultural communication and know history in a big picture,” he says.
In 2014, China’s national library kicked off its longterm investigation of ancient Chinese books scattered overseas. So far it has published three bibliographies of overseas collections of ancient Chinese classics, concerning Japan, Spain and Harvard-Yenching University in the United States.
Zhang Zhiqing, deputy director of the NLC, says these are all huge projects.
“North America’s universities house abundant ancient Chinese books, but most of them don’t have a complete bibliography of their collections,” he says.
Though the collection at Pitts is not that big, it has a certain theme — Christian history in China — and thus is a good example for more projects to come, Zhang explains.
A new bilingual book offers crucial references of the development of Christian churches in China.