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Introduction

The Essence of Government in the Chen-kuan Era
Figure 1. The Essence of Government in the
Chen-kuan Era

Written by Wu Ching, T'ang Dynasty
Compilation by Ko Chih, Yüan Dynasty
Imperial Household edition, 1473, Ming Dynasty
Dimensions: 35.4 x 21.6 cm (H x W)
Columns: 26.5 x 18.5 cm (H x W)
Enlargement  |  More Info

Since antiquity, books in their various forms have been important tools by which humanity has expressed its consciousness, disseminated knowledge, and relied upon for making records. Over the years, the contents and appearance of books have changed considerably with the times and production techniques. In particular, with the gradual spread of Western learning in the East and rapid developments in printing techniques, modern audiences often find it quite difficult to approach old books, except to note their "old-fashioned" quality. The National Palace Museum holds some 200,000 such books, many of which were inherited from the imperial collection and palaces of the former Ch'ing dynasty. Some of the most renowned of these splendid and refined rare books are T'ien-lu lin-lang(Figure 1) from the Chao-jen Hall, Wan-wei pieh-ts'ang from the Yang-hsin Hall, "Ssu-k'u ch'üan-shu (Complete Collection of the Four Treasuries)" from the Wen-yüan Pavilion, and "Ssu-k'u ch'üan-shu hui-yao (Abstracts from the Complete Collection of the Four Treasuries)" from the Ch'ih-tsao Hall.

The focus of this exhibition is how to go back in time to discover the beauty and elements of rare books using modern display methods and allow audiences to appreciate and understand rare books with joy and ease. For this reason, the exhibition has been divided into two parts. The first deals with understanding the basics of rare books. With masterpieces from the National Palace Museum collection, actual objects help explain changes in the development of Chinese books and the evolution of printing techniques. Audiences are then further drawn into the world of rare books with explanations of related ideas and classifications of texts. The second part of the exhibit deals with the appreciation of rare books. By enjoying rare books as works of art, such facets as the differences in print type, the beauty of bookbinding, and the making of refined illustrations are explored using select gems from the collection.