Shelf Lives

Four Centuries of Collectors and their Books

A Chinese Library: Sir Thomas Wade


A page from the original manuscript catalogue of Wade’s collection of Chinese books, 1857. FH.10.109.

Thomas Francis Wade (1818–1895), who spent three terms at Trinity College, Cambridge, arrived in China as a soldier in 1842 and remained there for forty years, transferring to the diplomatic service and ending as British Minister from 1871 to 1882. In 1886 he presented his collection of Chinese books to the University Library, and from 1888 until his death was the first Professor of Chinese in the University. His collection of Chinese books, 883 works in 4,304 volumes, was described by Herbert Allen Giles, his successor in the Chair of Chinese, as a ‘judicious selection of the best editions of the best works in the most important branches of Chinese literature’. As Wade’s working library, it is especially rich in texts on administration, law and diplomacy, and includes several rare and some unique items. The Wade Collection provided the basis for the later development of the Library’s Chinese collections, which now rank amongst the most important outside China.


‘Sir Thomas Francis Wade, K.C.B., H.B.M.’s Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary to China’, from The Far East. A Monthly Journal, Illustrated with Photographs, August 1876. CRB.87.15.