The C. V. Starr East Asian Library Receives Monumental Gift

January 22, 2018

The C. V. Starr East Asian Library recently received a gift from Ms. Leying Jiang (UC Davis, M.A. '93) and her husband, Professor Scott Rozelle (B.S. '79), of the newly published reprint of the Wenlan ge siku quanshu 文瀾閣四庫全書.

Compiled between 1773 and 1782 at the direction of the Qianlong emperor, Siku quanshu (Complete library of the four treasuries) is the largest collectanea in the Chinese tradition, comprised of 3,461 titles in 79,309 juan and totaling approximately one billion characters. Texts date from the earliest times into the eighteenth century, and are organized into four subject categories: classics (jing 經), histories (shi 史), philosophy (zi 子), and literature (ji 集).

The Siku Commission originally produced seven hand-copied sets of the compilation. Four were placed in imperial palace libraries, in the Forbidden City's Wenyuan ge 文淵閣, in the Old Summer Palace's Wenyuan ge 文源閣, in the Shenyang palaces Wensu ge 文溯閣, and in the Wenjin ge 文津閣 of the summer retreat at Rehe. The remaining three were deposited in libraries built by wealthy merchants in Hangzhou, Yangzhou, and Zhenjiang, and graced with names chosen by the Qianlong emperor: the Wenlan ge 文瀾閣, the Wenhui ge 文匯閣, and the Wenzong ge 文宗閣, respectively.

The Yangzhou and Zhenjiang copies were destroyed during the Taiping Rebellion of the 1850s. A third copy disappeared when British and French troops burned the Old Summer Palace in 1860. Three copies survived these years intact: the Forbidden City copy, now at the National Palace Museum, Taibei; the Wenjin ge copy, now at the National Library of China, Beijing; and the Wensu ge copy, now in Lanzhou.

The Wenlan ge copy survived, although not intact—portions had been destroyed or dispersed during the Taiping occupation of Hangzhou in the early 1860s. This loss fortunately came to the notice of two local bibliophiles, Ding Shen 丁申 and Ding Bing 丁丙, in the aftermath of the rebellion. Scouting out and acquiring stray volumes when they could, the brothers managed to recover a substantial part of the original work, then set about having hand copies made of missing volumes. The latter effort continued into the Republican era and was finally completed by Qian Xun 錢恂, founding director of the Zhejiang Library, and Zhang Zongxiang 張宗祥, commissioner of education for Zhejiang Province. However, the Wenlan ge copy again came under threat during the Second Sino-Japanese War, when it was removed first to Guiyang and then to Chongqing for safekeeping. In spite of its inconstant history, the Wenlan ge copy of the Siku is regarded today as the most complete of the extant copies.

To preserve this national treasure and make it available to researchers and the general public, in 2004 the Hangzhou Publishing Group 杭州出版社 began the ambitious task of reprinting the Wenlan ge copy of the Siku. The project was completed more than a decade later, in 2015. In the interim, the publisher encountered numerous difficulties, including a four-year hiatus due to a lack of funding. Fortunately, magnanimous support from Mr. Song Weiping 宋卫平 and colleagues at the China Greentown Group 綠城中國集團 salvaged the project. Mr. Song and many of his colleagues had studied history at Hangzhou University as part of the class of 1977—the first group of students to attend university after the Cultural Revolution. It was their passion for China's cultural heritage and their determination to preserve this valuable part of it that allowed the publisher finally to finish the project.

This is the third copy of the Siku to be reprinted, after the Wenyuan ge and Wenjin ge copies. Hangzhou Publishing Group has issued three hundred sets of Wenlan ge siku quanshu, each complete in 1,559 volumes. EAL's newly received set is one of only two copies in the U.S. Leying Jiang and Scott Rozelle made their generous gift to the East Asian Library in celebration of the three generations of their extended family that have graduated from the University of California and thrived.