Your browser does not support javascript, but you can still read this webpage correctly.

Appreciating Rare Books

A Variety of Script Types

The Chinese have a strong attachment to the past, and the carving of woodblocks for printing books in the Sung dynasty often imitated the scripts of such famous T'ang dynasty calligraphers as Ou-yang Hsün (557-641), Yen Chen-ch'ing (709-785) (figure 10), and Liu Kung-ch'üan (778-865) (figure 11). Woodblock carvers of the Yüan dynasty appreciated the Chao script, named after the renowned calligrapher Chao Meng-fu (1254-1322). However, after being copied and recopied generation after generation, the strokes gradually became "horizontally less and vertically more" by the Lung-ch'ing (1567-1572) and Wan-li (1573-1620) periods in the Ming dynasty. This rectangular-looking script type was specially used in printing and became called "Sung script characters" (figure 12), which were almost universally used in printing from the middle of the Ming dynasty onwards. Subsequently, following further imitation by later generations of woodblock engravers, there eventually appeared a handicraft font distinguished by its "horizontally flat and vertically straight strokes, upright left and right falling strokes, square characters, and sharp corners." This became known as "ying-t'i (hard script)". Ming trends were followed in the Ch'ing dynasty, and after the K'ang-hsi reign (1662-1722), two font types were in vogue. One was a so-called "soft" script, which referred to handwriting, and the other was "hard", the Sung font. As for the "chü-chen t'i ('assembled treasure' font)" of the Ch'ien-lung reign, it is also actually an imitation of Sung script. In the late Ch'ing dynasty, when movable lead-type printing was introduced to China, printers began to cast all kinds of typefaces in lead, such as "cheng-k'ai t'i (regular script)", "ku Sung t'i (ancient Sung script)", "fang Sung chü-chen t'i (imitation Sung 'assembled treasure' script)", and "Ming t'i (Ming script)". Although differing in name, they were all based for the most part on Sung script.

The Avatamsaka (Hua-yen) Sutra
Figure 10.The Avatamsaka (Hua-yen) Sutra
Translated by Siksanda, a sramana from
Khotan, T'ang Dynasty
Hangchow Lung-hsing Temple imprint with
later additions and revisions of the
Ch'un-hua era (990-994), Sung Dynasty
Dimensions: 28 x 11 cm (H x W)
Columns: 24 x 11.2 cm (H x W)
Enlargement  |  More Info
Ku-liang Commentary on the Spring and Autumn Annals with Collected Annotations
Figure 11. Ku-liang Commentary on the Spring
and Autumn Annals with Collected Annotations

Compiled with annotations by Fan Ning, Chin Dynasty
Revised by Yü Jen-chung at Wan-chüan T'ang in
Chien-an, Fukien, Shao-hsi era (1190-1127),
Sung Dynasty
Dimensions: 25 x 15.6 cm (H x W)
Columns: 18.3 x 12.6 cm (H x W)
Enlargement  |  More Info
Li Cho-wu's Critique on the Yu-kuei Record
Figure 12. Li Cho-wu's Critique on
the Yu-kuei Record

Written by Shih Hui, Yüan Dynasty
Critique by Li Chih, Ming Dynasty
Jung-yü T'ang edition by Yeh Hu-lin,
late Ming Dynasty (1368-1644)
Dimensions: 28 x 17.8 cm (H x W)
Columns: 20.7 x 14.4 cm (H x W)
Enlargement  |  More Info


The Amitabha Sutra
Figure 13. The Amitabha Sutra
Translated into Chinese by the Indian monk Kumarajiva,
Ch'in Dynasty (Yao)
Tapestry edition with text in black silk
Box: 34 x 18 x 14.5 cm (H x W x D)
Dimensions: 29.5 x 12 cm (H x W)
Columns: 23.7 x 9.3 cm (H x W)
Enlargement  |  More Info

The Beauty of Bookbinding

The binding of books was initially for the convenience of reading and collecting, and it has changed constantly in shape and format along with the evolution of books themselves. Slats and pieces of silk were commonly rolled into "chüan (rolls)" or folded into a stacked design. Early texts on paper were also designed as "chüan-chou (scrolls)" and known as "chuan-tzu (little rolls)". However, by the Sui and T'ang dynasties, with the emergence of lengthy texts, scrolls became too long to open out conveniently, and the accordion-style mounting known as "ching-che chuang (sutra pleated-leaf binding)" was gradually developed. It was also called the "Fan chia chuang (Indian pressed binding)" for its use in Buddhist scriptures. After the emergence of woodblock printing, books were printed one page at a time, so mounting styles went from scrolls and pleated-leaf bindings to "hu-tieh chuang ('butterfly' binding)", "pao-pei chuang ('wrapped back' binding)", and then finally "hsien chuang (thread binding)". In the book collection of the imperial Ch'ing palace, binding was a matter of particular fastidiousness (figure 13), including brocaded cases, wood cases, lacquer boxes, brocaded bundles, and clips made from rhinoceros horn, jade, ivory, and bone. With so many materials, all delicate and beautiful, the binding of books was elevated into a form of art itself.

The Refinement of Illustrations

Illustrations appeared early in the history of Chinese books. In particular, Buddhist scriptures of the Sung dynasty contain many "ching-pien t'u (sutra transformation illustrations)" in order to visually explain the profound meaning of the sutras. However, it was the skillful use of woodblock printing that really drove the development of illustrations, along with stimuli from the rise of drama, novels, and historical stories. Popular demand was great and publishers competed for customers with illustrations appropriate to the story line. Excellence in both text and illustration meant better sales, and printers therefore sought increasingly better printing techniques. The cause-and-effect relationship of this need brought the art of illustration to a high point. Illustration (figure 14) during the middle and later Ming dynasty involved not just meticulous engraving, delicate lines, and exquisite composition. Following developments in "t'ao-pan (multiple)" printing techniques, the appearance of illustrations was transformed from that of a monochrome drawing to a color painting. Book illustrations of the Ch'ing dynasty are also noted for their skill in landscapes, as official engravings (figure 15) were superior to those of publishers or private individuals.

A Children's Reader of Poems from One Thousand Authors
Figure 14. A Children's Reader of
Poems from One Thousand Authors

Selections and notes by Hsieh Tieh-
shan, Southern Sung period
Handwritten edition on red-lined paper
Ming Dynasty (1368-1644)
Dimensions: 32.2 x 21.3 cm (H x W)
Columns: 26 x 17.2 cm (H x W)
Enlargement  |  More Info
Illustrated Lessons from Imperial History
Figure 15. Illustrated Lessons from Imperial History
Edited by Chang Chü-cheng, Ming Dynasty
Illustrated by Shen Chen-lin
Handwritten by P'an Tsu-ying, and others, Ch'ing Dynasty
Handwritten, red-lined Imperial Household edition, Ch'ing Dynasty (1644-1911)
Dimensions: 53.5 x 53 cm (H x W)
Columns: 36 x 46 cm (H x W)

Enlargement  |  More Info