by H.A. Giles [1]

The endowment of a Chinese chair at Columbia University naturally suggests the acquisition of a good Chinese library. At the University of Cambridge, England, there is what I can only characterise as an ideal Chinese library. It was not bought off-hand in the market, — such a collection indeed would never come into the market, — but the books were patiently and carefully brought together by my predecessor in the Chinese chair during a period of over forty years’ residence in China. The result is an admirable selection of representative works, always in good, and sometimes in rare, editions, covering the whole field of what is most valuable in Chinese literature.

I now propose, with your approval, to give a slight sketch of the Cambridge Library, in which I spend a portion of almost every day of my life, and which I further venture to recommend as the type of that collection which Columbia University should endeavour to place upon her shelves.

The Chinese library at Cambridge consists of 4304 volumes, roughly distributed under seven heads. These volumes, it should be stated, are not the usual thin, paper-covered volumes of an ordinary Chinese work, but they consist each of several of the original Chinese volumes bound together in cloth or leather, lettered on the back, and standing on the shelves, as our books do, instead of lying flat, as is the custom in China.

Division A contains, first of all, the Confucian Canon [2], which now consists of nine separate works.

There is the mystic Book of Changes [3], that is to say, the eight changes or combinations which can be produced by a line and a broken line, either one of which is repeated twice with the other, or three times by itself.

         ————-  —-   —-  ————-
         ————-  —-   —-  ————-  etc.
         —-   —-  ————-  ————-

These trigrams are said to have been copied from the back of a tortoise by an ancient monarch, who doubled them into hexagrams, and so increased the combinations to sixty-four, each one of which represents some active or passive power in nature.

Confucius said that if he could devote fifty years to the study of this work, he might come to be without great faults; but neither native nor foreign scholars can really make anything out of it. Some regard it as a Book of Fate. One erratic genius of the West has gone so far as to say that it is only a vocabulary of the language of some old Central Asian tribe.

We are on somewhat firmer ground with the Book of History [4], which is a collection of very ancient historical documents, going back twenty centuries B.C., arranged and edited by Confucius. These documents, mere fragments as they are, give us glimpses of China’s early civilisation, centuries before the historical period, to which we shall come later on, can fairly be said to begin.

Then we have the Book of Odes [5], consisting of some three hundred ballads, also rescued by Confucius from oblivion, on which as a basis the great superstructure of modern Chinese poetry has been raised.

Next comes an historical work by Confucius, known as the Spring and Autumn [6]: it should be Springs and Autumns, for the title refers to the yearly records, to the annals, in fact, of the native State of Confucius himself.

The fifth in the series is the Book of Rites [7]. This deals, as its title indicates, with ceremonial, and contains an infinite number of rules for the guidance of personal conduct under a variety of conditions and circumstances. It was compiled at a comparatively late date, the close of the second century B.C., and scarcely ranks in authority with the other four.

The above are called the Five Classics; they were for many centuries six in number, a Book of Music being included, and they were engraved on forty-six huge stone tablets about the year 170 A.D. Only mutilated portions of these tablets still remain.

The other four works which make up the Confucian Canon are known as the Four Books. They consist of a short moral treatise entitled the Great Learning [8], or Learning for Adults; the Doctrine of the Mean [9], another short philosophical treatise; the Analects [10], or conversations of Confucius with his disciples, and other details of the sage’s daily life; and lastly, similar conversations of Mencius [11] with his disciples and with various feudal nobles who sought his advice.

These nine works are practically learned by heart by the Chinese undergraduate. But there are in addition many commentaries and exegetical works — the best of which stand in the Cambridge Library — designed to elucidate the true purport of the Canon; and these must also be studied. They range from the commentary of K‘ung An-kuo [12] of the second century B.C., a descendant of Confucius in the twelfth degree, down to that of Yüan Yüan [13], a well-known scholar who only died so recently as 1849. These commentaries include both of the two great schools of interpretation, the earlier of which was accepted until the twelfth century A.D., when it was set aside by China’s most brilliant scholar, Chu Hsi, who substituted the interpretation still in vogue, and obligatory at the public competitive examinations which admit to an official career.

Archæological works referring to the Canon have been published in great numbers. The very first book in our Catalogue [14] is an account of every article mentioned in these old records, accompanied in all cases by woodcuts. Thus the foreign student may see not only the robes and caps in which ancient worthies of the Confucian epoch appeared, but their chariots, their banners, their weapons, and general paraphernalia of everyday life.

Side by side with the sacred books of Confucianism stand the heterodox writings of the Taoist philosophers, the nominal founder of which school, known as Lao Tzu, flourished at an unknown date before Confucius. Some of these are deeply interesting; others have not escaped the suspicion of forgery — a suspicion which attaches more or less to any works produced before the famous Burning of the Books, in B.C. 211, from which the Confucian Canon was preserved almost by a miracle. An Emperor at that date made an attempt to destroy all literature, so that a fresh start might be made from himself.

But I do not intend to detain you at present over Taoism, about which I hope to say more on a subsequent occasion. Still less shall I have anything to say on the few Buddhist works which are also to be found in the Cambridge collection. It is rather along less well-beaten paths that I shall ask you to accompany me now.

In Division B, the first thing which catches the eye is a long line of 217 thick volumes, about a foot in height. These are the dynastic histories of China, in a uniform edition published in the year 1747, under the auspices of the famous Emperor Ch‘ien Lung, who himself contributed a Preface. [15]

The first of this series, known as The Historical Record [16], was produced by a very remarkable man, named Ssu-ma Ch‘ien, sometimes called the Father of History, the Herodotus of China, who died nearly one hundred years B.C.; and over his most notable work it may not be unprofitable to linger awhile.

Starting with the five legendary Emperors, some 2700 years B.C., the historian begins by giving the annals of each reign under the various more or less legendary dynasties which succeeded, and thence onward right down to his own times, the last five or six hundred years, i.e. from about 700 B.C., belonging to a genuinely historical period. These annals form Part I of the five parts into which the historian divides his scheme.

Part II is occupied by chronological tables of the Emperors and their reigns, of the suzerains and vassal nobles under the feudal system which was introduced about 1100 B.C., and also of the nobles created to form an aristocracy after the feudal system had been swept away and replaced by the old Imperial rule, about 200 B.C.

Part III consists of eight important and interesting chapters: (1) on the Rites and Ceremonies of the period covered, (2) on Music, (3) on the Pitch-pipes, a series of twelve bamboo tubes of varying lengths, the notes from which were supposed to be bound up in some mysterious way with the good and bad fortunes of mankind, (4) on the Calendar, (5) on the Stars, (6) on the Imperial Sacrifices to Heaven and Earth, (7) on the Waterways of the Empire, and lastly (8) on Commerce, Coinage, etc.

Part IV deals with the reigns, so to speak, of the vassal nobles under the feudal system, the reigns of the suzerains having been already included in Part I.

Part V consists of biographies of the most eminent men who came to the front during the whole period covered.

These biographies are by no means confined to virtuous statesmen or heroic generals, as we might very reasonably have expected. The Chinese historian took a much broader view of his responsibilities to future ages, and along with the above virtuous statesmen and heroic generals he included lives of famous assassins, of tyrannical officials, of courtiers, of flatterers, of men with nothing beyond the gift of the gab, of politicians, of fortune-tellers, and the like.

This principle seems now to be widely recognised in the compilation of biographical collections. It was initiated by a Chinese historian one hundred years B.C.

His great work has come down to us as near as possible intact. To the Chinese it is, and always has been, a priceless treasure; so much so that every succeeding Dynastic History has been modelled pretty much upon the same lines.

The custom has always been for the incoming dynasty to issue the history of the dynasty it has overthrown, based upon materials which have been gathered daily during the latter’s lease of power. At this moment the Historiographer’s Department in Peking should be noting down current events for the use of posterity, in the established belief that all dynasties, even the most powerful, come to an end some day.

In addition to the Dynastic History proper, a custom has grown up of compiling what is called the “Veritable Record” of the life of the reigning Emperor. This is supposed to be written up every day, and with an absolute fidelity which it is unnecessary to suspect, since the Emperors are never allowed under any circumstances to cast an eye over their own records.

When the Hanlin College was burnt down, in 1900, some said that the “Veritable Records” of the present dynasty were destroyed. Others alleged that they had been carted away several days previously. However this may be, the “Veritable Records” of the great Ming dynasty, which came to a close in 1644, after three hundred years of power, are safe in Division B of the Cambridge Library, filling eighty-four large volumes of manuscript. [17]

The next historical epoch is that of Ssu-ma Kuang, a leading statesman and scholar of the eleventh century A.D., who, after nineteen years of continuous labour, produced a general history of China, in the form of a chronological narrative, beginning with the fourth century B.C. and ending with the middle of the tenth century A.D. This work, which is popularly known as The Mirror of History, and is quite independent of the dynastic histories, fills thirty-three of our large bound-up volumes. [18]

There is a quaint passage in the old man’s Preface, dated 1084, and addressed to the Emperor: —

“Your servant’s physical strength is now relaxed; his eyes are short-sighted and dim; of his teeth but a few remain. His memory is so impaired that the events of the moment are forgotten as he turns away from them, his energies having been wholly exhausted in the production of this book. He therefore hopes that your Majesty will pardon his vain attempt for the sake of his loyal intention, and in moments of leisure will deign to cast the Sacred Glance over this work, so as to learn from the rise and fall of former dynasties the secret of the successes and failures of the present hour. Then, if such knowledge shall be applied for the advantage of the Empire, even though your servant may lay his bones in the Yellow Springs, the aim and ambition of his life will be fulfilled.” [19]

Biography, as we have already seen, is to some extent provided for under the dynastic histories. Its scope, however, has been limited in later times, so far as the Historiographer’s Department is concerned, to such officials as have been named by Imperial edict for inclusion in the national records. Consequently, there has always been a vast output of private biographical literature, dealing with the lives of poets, painters, priests, hermits, villains, and others, whose good and evil deeds would have been long since forgotten, like those of the heroes before Agamemnon, but for the care of some enthusiastic biographer.

Among our eight or ten collections of this kind, there is one which deserves a special notice. This work is entitled Biographies of Eminent Women, and it fills four extra-large volumes, containing 310 lives in all. [20] The idea of thus immortalising the most deserving of his countrywomen first occurred to a writer named Liu Hsiang [21], who flourished just before the Christian era. I am not aware that his original work is still procurable; the present work was based upon one by another writer, of the third century A.D., and is brought down to modern times, being published in 1779. Each biography is accompanied by a full-page illustration of some scene in which the lady distinguished herself, — all from the pencil of a well-known artist.

Three good-sized encyclopædias [22], uniformly bound up in ninety-eight large volumes, may fairly claim a moment’s notice, not only as evidencing the persistent literary industry of the Chinese, but because they are all three perfect mines of information on subjects of interest to the foreign student.

The first [23] dates from the very beginning of the ninth century, and deals chiefly with the Administration of Government, Political Economy, and National Defences, besides Rites, Music, and subordinate questions.

The second [24] dates from the twelfth century, and deals with the same subjects, having additional sections on History and Chronology, Writing, Pronunciation, Astronomy, Bibliography, Prodigies, Fauna and Flora, Foreign Nations, etc.

The third [25], and best known to foreign scholars, is the encyclopædia of Ma Tuan-lin of the fourteenth century. It is on much the same lines as the other two, being actually based upon the first, but has of course the advantage of being some centuries later.

The above three works are in a uniform edition, published in the middle of the eighteenth century under orders from the Emperor Ch‘ien Lung.

There are also several other encyclopædias of information on general topics, extending to a good many volumes in each case.

One of these contains interesting extracts on all manner of subjects taken from the lighter literature of China, such as Dreams, Palmistry, Reminiscences of a Previous State of Existence, and even Resurrection after Death. It was cut on blocks for printing in A.D. 981, only fifty years after the first edition of the Confucian Canon was printed. The Cambridge copy cannot claim to date from 981, but it does date from 1566. [26]

Another work of the same kind was the San Ts‘ai T‘u Hui, issued in 1609, which is bound up in seventeen thick volumes. [27] It is especially interesting for the variety of topics on which information is given, and also because it is profusely illustrated with full-page woodcuts. It has chapters on Geography, with maps; on Ethnology, Language, the Arts and Sciences, and even on various forms of Athletics, including the feats of rope-dancers and acrobats, sword-play, boxing, wrestling, and foot-ball.

Under Tricks and Magic we see a man swallowing a sword, or walking through fire, while hard by an acrobat is bending backward and drinking from cups arranged upon the ground.

The chapters on Drawing are exceptionally good; they contain some specimen landscapes of almost faultless perspective, and also clever examples of free-hand drawing. Portrait-painting is dealt with, and ten illustrations are given of the ten angles at which a face may be drawn. The first shows one-tenth of the face from the right side, the second two-tenths, and so on, waxing to full-face five-tenths; then waning sets in on the left side, four, three, and two-tenths, until ten-tenths shows nothing more than the back of the sitter’s head.

There is a well-known Chinese story which tells how a very stingy man took a paltry sum of money to an artist — payment is always exacted in advance — and asked him to paint his portrait. The artist at once complied with his request, but in an hour or so, when the portrait was finished, nothing was visible save the back of the sitter’s head. “What does this mean?” cried the latter, indignantly. “Oh,” replied the artist, “I thought a man who paid so little as you wouldn’t care to show his face!”

Perhaps some one may wonder how it is possible to arrange an encyclopædia for reference when the language in which it is written happens to possess no alphabet.

Arrangement under Categories is the favourite method, and it is employed in the following way: —

A number of such words as Heaven, Earth, Time, Man, Plants, Beasts, Birds, Fishes, Minerals, and others are chosen, and the subjects are grouped under these headings. Thus, Eclipses would come under Heaven, Geomancy under Earth, the Passions under Man, though all classification is not quite so simple as these specimens, and search is often prolonged by failing to hit upon the right Category. Even when the Category is the right one, many pages of Index have frequently to be turned over; but once fix the reference in the Index, and the rest is easy, the catch-word in each case being printed on the margin of each page, just where the finger comes when turning the pages rapidly over.

The Chinese are very fond of collections of reprints, published in uniform editions and often extending to several hundred volumes. My earliest acquaintance with literature is associated with such a collection in English. It was called The Family Library, and ran to over a hundred volumes, if I recollect rightly, and included the works of Washington Irving and the immortal story of Rip Van Winkle. There is also a Chinese Rip Van Winkle, a tale of a man who, wandering one day in the mountains, came upon two boys playing checkers; and after watching them for some time, and eating some dates they gave him, he discovered that the handle of an axe he was carrying had mouldered into dust. [28] Returning home, he found, as the Chinese poet puts it,

“City and suburb as of old,
But hearts that loved him long since cold.”[28a]

Seven generations had passed away in the interim.

The Cambridge Library possesses several of these collections of reprints. One of them is perhaps extra valuable because the wooden blocks from which it was printed were destroyed during the T‘ai-p‘ing Rebellion, some forty years ago. [29]

I may mention here, though not properly belonging to this section, that we possess a good collection of the curious pamphlets issued by the T‘ai-p‘ing rebels. [30]

Other interesting works to be found in Division B are the Statutes of the present dynasty, which began in 1644, [31] and even those of the previous dynasty, the latter being an edition of 1576. [32]

Then there is the Penal Code of this dynasty, in several editions; [33] various collections of precedents [34]; handbooks for magistrates [35], with recorded decisions and illustrative cases.

A magistrate or judge in China is not expected to know anything about law.

Attached to the office of every official who may be called upon to try criminal cases is a law expert, to whom the judge or magistrate may refer, when he has any doubt, in private, just as our unpaid justices of the peace in England refer for guidance to the qualified official attached to the court.

Before passing on to the next section, one last volume, taken at haphazard, bears the weird title, A Record in Dark Blood [36]. This work contains notices of eminent statesmen and others, who met violent deaths, each accompanied by a telling illustration of the tragic scene. Some of the incidents go far to dispose of the belief that patriotism is quite unknown to the Chinese.

Division C is devoted to Geography and to Topography. Here stands the Imperial Geography of the Empire, in twenty-four large volumes, with maps, in the edition of 1745. [37] Here, too, stand many of the Topographies for which China is justly celebrated. Every Prefecture and every District, or Department, — and the latter number about fifteen hundred, — has its Topography, a kind of local history, with all the noticeable features of the District, its bridges, temples, and like buildings, duly described, together with biographies of all natives of the District who have risen to distinction in any way. Each Topography would occupy about two feet of shelf; consequently a complete collection of all the Topographies of China, piled one upon the other, would form a vertical column as high as the Eiffel Tower. Yet Topography is only an outlying branch of Chinese literature.

Division C further contains the oldest printed book in the Cambridge University Library, and a very interesting one to boot. It is entitled An Account of Strange Nations, and was published between 1368 and 1398. [38] Its contents consist of short notices of about 150 nationalities known more or less to the Chinese, and the value of these is much enhanced by the woodcuts which accompany each notice.

Among the rest we find Koreans, Japanese, Hsiung-nu (the forefathers of the Huns), Kitan Tartars, tribes of Central Asia, Arabs, Persians, and even Portuguese, Jean de Montecorvino, who had been appointed archbishop of Peking in 1308, having died there in 1330. Of course there are a few pictures of legendary peoples, such as the Long-armed Nation, the One-eyed Nation, the Dog-headed Nation, the Anthropophagi,

“and men whose heads
Do grow beneath their shoulders.”

There is also an account of Fusang, the country where grew the famous plant which some have tried to identify with the Mexican aloe, thus securing the discovery of America for the Chinese.

The existence of many of these nations is duly recorded by Pliny in his Natural History, in words curiously identical with those we find in the Chinese records.

Some strange birds and animals are given at the end of this book, the most interesting of all being an accurate picture of the zebra, here called the Fu-lu [39], which means “Deer of Happiness,” but which is undoubtedly a rough attempt at fara, an old Arabic term for the wild ass. Now, the zebra being quite unknown in Asia, the puzzle is, how the Chinese came to be so well acquainted with it at that early date.

The condition of the book is as good as could be expected, after six hundred years of wear and tear. Each leaf, here and there defective, is carefully mounted on sheets of stiff paper, and all together very few characters are really illegible, though sometimes the paper has slipped upon the printing-block, and has thus given, in several cases, a double outline.

Alongside of this stands the modern work of the kind, published in 1761, with an introductory poem from the pen of the Emperor Ch‘ien Lung. [40] It contains a much longer list of nations, including the British, French, Spanish, Dutch, Russians, Swedes, and others, and the illustrations — a man and woman of each country — are perfect triumphs of the block-cutter’s art, the lines being inconceivably fine.

Division D contains Poetry, Novels, and Plays. Under Poetry, in addition to collections of the works of this or that writer, there are numerous anthologies, to which the Chinese are very partial. The mass of Chinese poetry is so vast, that it is hopeless for the general reader to do much more than familiarise himself with the best specimens of the greatest poets. It is interesting to note that all the more extensive anthologies include a considerable number of poems by women, some of quite a high order.

Two years ago, an eminent scientist at Cambridge said to me, “Have the Chinese anything in the nature of poetry in their language?” In reply to this, I told him of a question once put to me by a friendly Mandarin in China: “Have you foreigners got books in your honourable country?” We are apt to smile at Chinese ignorance of Western institutions; but if we were Chinamen, the smile perhaps would sometimes be the other way about.

Such novels as we have in our library belong entirely to what may be called the classical school, and may from many points of view be regarded as genuine works of art. Besides these, there is in the market a huge quantity of fiction which appeals to the less highly educated classes, and even to those who are absolutely unable to read. For the latter, there are professional readers and story-tellers, who may often be seen at some convenient point in a Chinese town, delighting large audiences of coolies with tales of love, and war, and heroism, and self-sacrifice. These readers do not read the actual words of the book, which no coolie would understand, but transpose the book-language into the colloquial as they go along.

À propos of novels, I should like just to mention one, a romantic novel of war and adventure, based upon the History of the Three Kingdoms [41], third century A.D., an epoch when China was split up under three separate sovereigns, who fought one another very much after the style of the Wars of the Roses in English history. This novel, a very long one, occupies perhaps the warmest corner in the hearts of the Chinese people. They never tire of listening to its stirring episodes, its hair-breadth escapes, its successful ruses, and its appalling combats.

Some twelve years ago, a friend of mine [42] undertook to translate it into English. After writing out a complete translation, — a gigantic task, — he rewrote the whole from beginning to end, revising every page thoroughly. In the spring of 1900, after ten years of toil, it was ready for the press; three months later it had been reduced to ashes by the Boxers at Peking.

“Sunt lacrymae rerum ...”

Chinese plays in the acting editions may be bought singly at street-stalls for less than a cent apiece. For the library, many good collections have been made, and published in handsome editions.

This class of literature, however, does not stand upon a high level, but corresponds with the low social status of the actor; and it is a curious fact — true also of novels — that many of the best efforts are anonymous.

Plays by women are also to be found; but I have never yet come across, either on the stage or in literature, any of those remarkable dramas which are supposed to run on month after month, even into years.

Division E is a very important one for students of the Chinese language. Here we find a number of works of reference, most of which may be characterised as indispensable, and the great majority of which are easily procurable at the present day.

Beginning with dictionaries, we have the famous work of Hsü Shên [43], who died about A.D. 120. There was at that date no such thing as a Chinese dictionary, although the language had already been for some centuries ripe for such a production, and accordingly Hsü Shên set to work to fill the void. He collected 9353 written characters, — presumably all that were in existence at the time, — to which he added 1163 duplicates, i.e. various forms of writing the same character, and then arranged them in groups under those parts which, as we have already seen in the preceding Lecture, are indicators of the direction in which the sense of a character is to be looked for. Thus, all characters containing the element 犭 “dog” were brought together; all those containing 艹 “vegetation, 疒 “disease,” etc.

So far as we know, this system originated with him; and we are therefore not surprised to find that in his hands it was on a clumsier scale than that in vogue to-day. Hsü Shên uses no fewer than 540 of these indicators, and even when the indicator to a character is satisfactorily ascertained, it still remains to search through all the characters under that particular group. Printing from movable types would have been impossible under such a system.

In the modern standard dictionary, published in 1716, under the direction of the Emperor K‘ang Hsi, there are only 214 indicators employed, and there is a further sub-arrangement of these groups according to the number of strokes in the other, the phonetic portion of the character. Thus, the indicators “hand,” “wood,” “fire,” “water,” or whatever it may be, settle the group in which a given character will be found, and the number of strokes in the remaining portion will refer it to a comparatively small sub-group, from which it can be readily picked out. For instance, 松 “a fir tree” will be found under the indicator 木 “tree,” sub-group No. 4, because the remaining portion 公 consists of four strokes in writing.

Good copies of this dictionary are not too easily obtained nowadays. The “Palace” edition, as it is called, is on beautifully white paper, and is a splendid specimen of typography. [44]

A most wonderful literary feat was achieved under the direction of the before-mentioned Emperor K‘ang Hsi, when a general Concordance to the phraseology of all literature was compiled and published for general use. Word-concordances to the Bible and to Shakespeare are generally looked upon as no small undertakings, but what about a phrase-concordance to all literature? Well, in 1711 this was successfully carried out, and remains to-day as a monument of the literary enterprise of the great Manchu-Tartar monarch with whose name it is inseparably associated.

The term “literature” here means serious literature, the classics, histories, poetry, and the works of philosophers, of recognised authorities, and of brilliant writers generally.

It was not possible, for obvious reasons, to arrange this collection of phrases according to the 214 indicators, as in a dictionary of words. It is arranged according to the Tones and Rhymes.

Let me try to express all this in terms of English literature. Reading a famous poem, I come across the lines

“And every shepherd tells his tale
Under the hawthorn in the dale.”

Now suppose that I do not know the meaning of “tells his tale.” I recollect perfectly that as a boy I thought it meant “whispered the old story into the ear of a shepherdess.”. I determine to hunt it up in the Concordance. First of all, I find out from the Dictionary, if I do not know, to what Tone tale, always the last word of the phrase, belongs. Under that tone will be found various groups of words, each with a key-word which is called the Rhyme, that is to say, a key-word with which all the words in this group rhyme. There are only 106 of these key-words all together distributed over the Tones, and every word in the Chinese language must rhyme with one of them.

The question of rhyme in Chinese is a curious one, and before going any farther it may be as well to try to clear it up a little. All Chinese poetry is in rhyme; there is no such thing as blank verse. The Odes, collected and edited by Confucius, provide the standard of rhyme. Any words which are found to rhyme there may be used as rhymes anywhere else, and no others. The result is, that the number of rhyme-groups is restricted to 106; and not only that, but of course words which rhymed to the ear five hundred years B.C. do so no longer in 1902. Yet such are the only authorised rhymes to be used in poetry, and any attempt to ignore the rule would insure disastrous failure at the public examinations.

This point may to some extent be illustrated in English. The first two lines of the Canterbury Tales, which I will take to represent the Odes, run thus in modern speech:—

“When that Aprilis with his showers sweet,
The drought of March hath pierced to the root.”

No one nowadays rhymes sweet with root. Neither did Chaucer; the two words, sote and rote, were in his days perfect rhymes. But if we were Chinese, we should now rhyme sweet with root, because, so to speak, Chaucer did so.

When the Tone of a word is known, it is also known in which quarter of the whole work to look; and when the Rhyme is known, it is also known in which part of that quarter the key-word, or rhyme, will be found. Suppose the key-word to be gale, it might be necessary to turn over a good many pages before finding, neatly printed in the margin, the required word, tale. Under tale I should first of all find phrases of two words, e.g. “traveller’s tale,” “fairy-tale”; and I should have to look on until I came to groups of three characters, e.g. “old wife’s tale,” “tells his tale,” and so forth. Finally, under “tells his tale” I should still not find, what all students would like so much, a plain explanation of what the phrase means, but only a collection of the chief passages in literature in which “tells his tale” occurs. In one of these there would probably be some allusion to sheep, and in another to counting, and so it would become pretty plain that when a shepherd “tells his tale,” he does not whisper soft nothings into the ear of a shepherdess, but is much more prosaically engaged in counting the number of his sheep.

Our Cambridge copy of the Concordance is bound up in 44 thick volumes. [46] Each volume contains on an average 840 pages, and each page about 400 characters. This gives a sum total of about 37,000 pages, and about 15,000,000 characters. Translated into English, this work would be one-third as large again, 100 pages of Chinese text being equal to about 130 of English.

In the year 1772 the enlightened Emperor Ch‘ien Lung, who then sat upon the throne, gave orders that a descriptive Catalogue should be prepared of the books in the Imperial Library. And in order to enhance its literary value, his Majesty issued invitations to the leading provincial officials to take part in the enterprise by securing and forwarding to Peking any rare books they might be able to come across.

The scheme proved in every way successful. Many old works were rescued from oblivion and ultimate destruction, and in 1795 a very wonderful Catalogue was laid before the world in print. It fills twenty-six octavo volumes [47] of about five hundred pages to each, the works enumerated being divided into four classes, — the Confucian Canon, History, Philosophy, and General Literature. Under each work we have first of all an historical sketch of its origin, with date of publication, etc., when known; and secondly, a careful critique dealing with its merits and defects. All together, some eight thousand to ten thousand works are entered and examined as above, and the names of those officials who responded to the Imperial call are always scrupulously recorded in connection with the books they supplied.

Among many illustrated books, there is a curious volume in the Library published about twenty-five years ago, which contains short notices of all the Senior Classics of the Ming dynasty, A.D. 1368-1644 [48]. They number only seventy-six in all, because the triennial examination had not then come into force; whereas during the present dynasty, between 1644 and twenty-five years ago, a shorter period, there have been no fewer than one hundred Senior Classics, whose names are all duly recorded in a Supplement.

The pictures which accompany the letterpress are sometimes of quite pathetic interest.

In one instance, the candidate, after his journey to Peking, where the examination is held, has gone home to await the result, and is sitting at dinner with his friends, when suddenly the much-longed-for messenger bursts in with the astounding news. In the old days this news was carried to all parts of the country by trained runners; nowadays the telegraph wires do the business at a great saving of time and muscle, with the usual sacrifice of romance.

Another student has gone home, and settled down to work again, not daring even to hope for success; but overcome with fatigue and anxiety, he falls asleep over his books. In the accompanying picture we see his dream, — a thin curl, as it were of vapour, coming forth from the top of his head and broadening out as it goes, until wide enough to contain the representation of a man, in feature like himself, surrounded by an admiring crowd, who acclaim him Senior Classic. With a start the illusion is dispelled, and the dreamer awakes to find himself famous.

To those who have followed me so far, it must, I hope, be clear that, whatever else the Chinese may be, they are above all a literary people. They have cultivated literature as no other people ever has done, and they cultivate it still.

Literary merit leads to an official career, the only career worth anything in the eyes of the Chinese nation.

From his earliest school days the Chinese boy is taught that men without education are but horses or cows in coats and trousers, and that success at the public examinations is the greatest prize this world has to offer.

To be among the fortunate three hundred out of about twelve thousand candidates, who contend once every three years for the highest degree, is to be enrolled among the Immortals for ever; while the Senior Classic at a final competition before the Emperor not only covers himself, but even his remote ancestors, his native village, his district, his prefecture, and even his province, with a glory almost of celestial splendour.

by C. Aylmer

[1] From China and the Chinese (New York: Columbia University Press, 1902). For the circumstances in which this book was produced and the lectures on which it is based were delivered, see The Memoirs of H.A. Giles (ed. C. Aylmer), East Asian History No. 13-14 (1997) p. 43.

[2] 四书五经

[3] 周易

[4] 书经

[5] 毛诗

[6] 春秋

[7] 礼记

[8] 大学

[9] 中庸

[10] 论语

[11] 孟子

[12] 孔安国

[13] 皇清经解; (清)阮元编; 广州, 1829 [Y 1-102 / FC.734:53.1-102]

[14] 六经图; (宋)杨甲撰; 1740 [A 1 / FC.737.1]

[15] 钦定二十四史; (清)鄂尔泰等奉敕撰; 1739-47 [B 734-950 / FC.116.1-217]

[16] 史记

[17] 明实录; (明)姚广孝等奉敕撰; [B 1870-1954 / FC.160.1-85]

[18] 资治通鉴; (北宋)司马光撰; 鄱阳, 1816 [B 961-992 / FC.118.1-32]

[19] 臣今赅骨癯瘁,目视昏近,齿牙无几,神识衰耗,目前所为,旋踵遗忘。臣之精力, 尽于此书。伏望陛下宽其妄作之诛,察其愿忠之意,以清闲之燕,时赐有览,监前 世之兴衰,考当今之得失,嘉善矜恶,取得舍非,足以懋稽古之盛德,跻无前之至 治。俾四海群生,咸蒙其福,则臣虽委骨九泉,志愿永毕矣!《资治通鉴》 (北京, 1956) Vol. 10, p. 9608

[20] 列女传; (清)汪庚撰; 广州, 1779 [B 957-960 / FC.184.1-4]

[21] 刘向

[22] B 429-526 / FC.343.1-98

[23] 通志; (明)郑樵撰; 北京, 1747-49 [B 429-475 / FC.343.1-47]

[24] 通典; (唐)杜佑撰; 北京, 1747 [B 476-488 / FC.343.48-60]

[25] 文献通考; (元)马端临撰; 北京, 1748 [B 489-526 / FC.343.61-98]

[26] 太平广记; (宋)李〓(fang)等编; 1566 [B 1351-1362 / FC.658.1-12]

[27] 三才图会; (明)王圻撰; [B 1454-1470 / FC.31.104-120]

[28] 信安郡石室山。晋时王质伐木至,见童子棋而歌,质因听之。童子与一物与质, 如枣核,质含之不觉饥,俄顷童子谓曰:“何不去?”持起视,斧柯烂尽,既归, 无复时人。(梁)代任肪撰《述异记》

[28a] 城郭如故人民非。(晋)陶潜撰《搜神后记》卷一

[29] 守山阁丛书; (清)钱熙祚辑; 金山, 1834-44 [B 1240-1271 / FC.55:84.1-32]

[30] F 35-71 / FC.171.7-13

[31] 钦定大清会典事例; (清)托津等承敕旨纂修; 北京, 1818 [B 261-334 / FC.345.93-166]

[32] 大明会典; (明)徐溥等奉敕重修; 1587 [B 193-226 / FC.345.24-57]

[33] 大清律例案语; (清)黄恩彤撰; 广州, 1847 [B 134-147 / FC.383.12-25]

[34] 刑案汇览; (清)祝庆祺辑; 1834-35 [B 114-129 / FC.385.2-17]

[35] 说帖类编; (清)戴敦元撰; 1835 [B 386-390 / FC.385.22-26]

[36] 碧血录; (清)庄仲方撰; 杭州, 1856 [B 1379 / FC.184.15]

[37] 大清一统志; (清)蒋廷锡等奉敕撰; 常州, 1849 [C 85-108 / FC.209.6-29]

[38] 异域图志 [C 114 / FC.246.5]

[39] 福鹿

[40] 职贡图; (清)永璇等奉敕撰; 1761 [C 110-113 / FC.246.1-4]

[41] 三国志演义; (明)罗贯中著; 上海, 1883-84 [D 5-8 / FC.669.1-4]

[42] Charles Henry Brewitt-Taylor (1857-1938). His translation The Romance of the Three Kingdoms was published in 1925.

[43] 说文解字注; (清)段玉裁注; 苏州, 1815 [E 208-211 / FC.443.3-6]

[44] 御定康熙字典; (清)张玉书等编; 北京, 1716 [E 225-237 / FC.471.6-18]

[45] Milton, L’Allégro, 67-68. “Tells his tale = counts his sheep, in order to find if any have gone missing during the night. ‘Tale’ is thus used in the sense of ‘that which is told or counted’, which was one of its meanings in Early English: Anglo-Saxon talu, a number. In the Bible ‘tell’ and ‘tale’ are frequently used in this sense, Gen. xv. 5, Psalms xxii. 17, Exod. v. 18; and in the works of writers nearly contemporary with Milton the words are used of the counting of sheep. ‘To tell a tale’ may also mean ‘to relate a story’, and the shepherds may be supposed to sit and amuse themselves with simple narratives. But, as Milton in the previous lines refers to such rural occupations as are suited to the early morning, and represents each person as engaged in some ordinary duty, it seems likely that in this line also some piece of business is meant, and not a pastime. The morning hours are not usually those devoted to story-telling." (A. Bell, Notes to Palgrave’s ‘Golden Treasury’ (Vol. II), London: Macmillan, 1904, p. 245.)

[46] 御定佩文韵府; (清)张玉书等; 北京, 1723-35 [E 265-304 / FC.474.17-56]

[47] 钦定四库全书总目提要; (清)永〓(rong)等奉敕撰; 1795 [E 143-168 / FC.11.1-26]

[48] 明状元图考; (明)沈一贯撰; 福州, 1875-76 [E 192 / FC.355.1]