The National Palace Museum is home to a rich collection of approximately 214,000 volumes of rare books and nearly 400,000 pieces of historical documents from the Qing archives. Large in number, these materials are of great cultural and historical value.
The core of the Museum’s collection of rare books was inherited from the Qing court, including those originating from the Song, Yuan, and Ming dynasties, as well as monographic imprints by the Qing court. Among the most well known collectanea, one can count the Tienlu Linlang Library of the of Zhaoren Palace, Wanwei Biecang Library of the Yangxin Palace, the Siku Quanshu (Complete Library of the Four Treasuries) of the Wenyuan Pavilion, the Siku Quanshu Huiyao (Condensed Library of the Four Treasuries) of the Chizao Hall, and block-printed editions of the Wuying Palace. Other notable items include Yang Shoujing’s Guanhaitang Library of rare books that he acquired while stationed in Japan, rare Song and Yuan editions, novels, block prints, local gazetteers, maps, and anthologies entrusted to the Museum from Peking Library, as well as books donated to or placed under the custody of the Museum.
The archival documents of the Qing court, on the other hand, may be divided into the following four categories according to location of storage: Palace Memorials, archives of the Grand Council, archives of the Grand Secretariat, and archives of the Historiography Institutes (including the Historiography Institute of the Qing dynasty and the Qing Historiography Institute of the early Republican era). Occupying the largest portion of the archival collection are the Palace Memorials with imperial rescripts in vermilion ink and the Grand Council copies of Palace Memorials, along with their attachments. These documents were carefully preserved in the Qing court on account of their confidentiality, and access to which by the world outside was thus impossible. Carefully managed and finely preserved by Qing rulers, they have existed to this day, ready to give the audiences an opportunity to probe into what they were meant to be.
The rare books are appealing to the audiences because of the superb craftsmanship in production, exquisite decorations, and fine layout designs. The confidential nature of the archival documents of the Qing court would also trigger the visitors’ curiosity. The exhibition Rare Books and Secret Archives offers the public an opportunity to examine these rare books and acquire a better understanding of how the book has evolved in China over the centuries, and to have a clearer idea of the Qing archival system and its relevance to government administration and even court history.
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