I found this little book in the Oxfam in Crouch End and it is AMAZING! While only 100 pages long it is a fantastic look at libraries of the Qing. So much useful information and interesting things to research further are found in here.
The book was written in the early 30s and reprinted in the 70s. The book covers imperial libraries, private collections as well as academy libraries. One of the most heart-breaking parts of the book is after talking about the collections Taam then goes on to talk about how in many cases the books were destroyed either by fire or foreigners or stolen at the end of the 19th century or during the republican period.
The book includes a background on libraries during the Ming, and the cultural importance of books and scholarship. He then goes on to look at the imperial libraries particularly under Kang Hsi (Kang Xi) and Chien Lung (Qian Long). (One of the interesting things I learned was that unlike earlier dynasties that had a huge library staff when Chien Lung finished building his comprehensive library he sacked his librarians and the eunuchs were put in charge of keeping the library clean and maintaining it physically without anyone actually in charge of looking after it. The catalogue itself was thought good enough that no one needed to supply any additional help.
The formation of the catalogue was one of the most interesting parts of the book. It went into great detail about how the emperor obtained books, and how the catalogue was constructed. It was interesting to see how he bribed scholars into loaning him or giving him books to add to the imperial library. The catalogue was intended to be a full list of all the books extant, and included books that weren't kept in the library (usually because they weren't important enough to copy). This brought up the issue that even though printing had been around for 100s of years in the Ming and Qing dynasty there were still a great deal of manuscript books and scribes. Collectors would copy out each others books by hand, and the imperial library employed 1000 scribes for copying out books it wanted to add to its collection. This I found most surprising. The imperial collection also included books by Jesuit's (in Chinese) on western scientific topics. The collection of books for the library also resulted in a large book burning of those that the emperor found to be unsuitable (ie criticised the current dynasty)
The section on private libraries was also fascinating. It was interesting to learn about the different types of book collectors and the details of their libraries, how they made their catalogues, and how they preserved and cared for their books. The importance of these collectors was further examined in a chapter which looked at how they contributed to the preparation of accurate/authoritative texts, the detection of forgeries, recovering long lost works and reprinting out of print copies of ancient and old books. It definitely seemed like the collectors took on a lot of the importance of printers and booksellers in the West. Provenance was also really importance to these collectors.
The last chapter while called "summary" contained much new information. It looked at the academy libraries and how these fell into disrepair. He also mentioned Aural Stein and the discovery of the Dunhuang library and how China was attempting to recover some of its lost books.
This book was an amazing find. So interesting and informative to read. I feel very lucky to have found a copy of it....Continua