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  • China Illustrata Nova: Sino-Western Relations, Conceptions of China, Cultural Influences and the Development of Sinology Disclosed in Western Printed Books 1477-1877
  • Nathan Sivin (bio)
Björn Löwendahl . China Illustrata Nova: Sino-Western Relations, Conceptions of China, Cultural Influences and the Development of Sinology Disclosed in Western Printed Books 1477-1877. 2 volumes. Catalogue of the Löwendahl-von der Burg Collection. Hua Hin: Elephant Press, 2008. xlix, 264 pp. (vol. 1), 374 pp. (vol. 2). Hardcover $245.00, ISBN 978-974-9898-33-8 (vol. 1), 978-974-9898-34-5 (vol. 2).

This work is an unusually fine specimen of bookmaking: two volumes of handsome type on good paper in large format, sturdily bound, in a stout slipcase. Even the indexes are printed in conspicuously large type, generously leaded. Given the exacting production, it is something of a bargain compared with books by well-known European publishers in the same price range, generally inferior in editing, printing, and binding.

It catalogues a fastidiously assembled collection of early printed books—including three incunabula—and a few other rarities. The first volume, works published through 1776, contains many influential accounts by travelers (seldom restricted to China), reports by missionaries, dictionaries, and early translations. The Opera omnia of Francis Bacon (1561-1626) may seem peripheral to the topic, but Bacon's many references to China have long since proven their value to historians.

The second half, more closely focused on China, is rich in accounts of residence, descriptions, and histories; a wide variety of translations; and a great many Hong Kong colonial ordinances. There are a number of true oddities, for instance Peter Perring Thoms's A Dissertation on the Ancient Chinese Vases of the Shang Dynasty, from 1743 to 1496, B.C. (1851). Not only was Thoms confused about the dates of the Shang period, but he was unaware that the "vases" described in the Chinese catalogue he was translating were bronze vessels. The catalogue also includes his earlier Chinese Courtship (1824), a version of Hua jian ji 花閒集 (940), a poetic anthology in which the typical protagonist is not a prospective bride but a mistress longing for an absent lover.

The catalogue includes twelve serial publications, from Purchas his pilgrimes (1st edition 1613) to Lettres de la nouvelles missions de la China (1841-1862); 1,551 books, odd volumes of periodicals, and administrative documents from 1477 to 1839; a map of 1687, four manuscripts, eight miscellaneous items, and an illustrated version (printed on cards) of Bret Harte's defense of Chinese immigrants to the American West (1870). Few of these items are unavailable in one or another of the greatest research libraries of Europe or the United States, but four fifths of [End Page 240] them are not included in the published catalogues of Beijing's National Library or the Shanghai Library.

The entries in each of these three sections are in chronological order, unlike similar earlier catalogues such as Cordier's Bibliotheca Sinica (4 vols., 1904-1908). This arrangement illustrates developing European knowledge of China, and, of course, shows the spreading influence of early best-sellers—Purchas, the Travels ascribed to Sir John Mandeville (ca. 1371 on), and many others. That is the justification for the book's title, for its almost entirely well-known content is unlikely to disclose new insights, except perhaps to a private collector inspired by easy access to such a fine collection. On the other hand, it is very convenient for bibliographic study, for example, of the four 1586 editions of Juan González de Mendoza's Dell'historia della China, as well as eight others of the same book by 1655. It contains a number of early items on the history of science and medicine in China. For instance, most of the studies of Chinese astronomy by the Jesuit missionary Antoine Gaubil (1689-1759), published from 1729 on (many posthumously) are still worth reading. The collection contains books in all the languages of the countries engaged in trade with China, with more items than one would expect in Swedish. There are a few full-page black-and-white illustrations and color plates, obviously chosen for their attractiveness. One can...


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