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Reviewed by:
  • The History and Cultural Heritage of Chinese Calligraphy, Printing and Library Work
  • Frances Wood (bio)
Susan M. Allen, Lin Zuzao, Cheng Xiaolan, and Jan Bos, editors. The History and Cultural Heritage of Chinese Calligraphy, Printing and Library Work. IFLA Publications 141. Berlin: De Gruyter, 2010. 251 pp. Hardcover $155.00, ISBN 978-3-598-22046-3. e-ISBN 978-3-598-44179-0. ISSN 0344-6981.

The promise of the title is considerable. The back cover of the work describes the contents as a "fine selection" representing the "width and depth of this extremely important and immense Chinese heritage." The slightly wobbly English might alert the attentive reader to the possibility of disappointment.

Of the eighteen major papers included, only two are in comprehensible English. They are Nancy Norton Tomasko's "Traditional Hand-Made Paper in China Today" and Hartmut Walravens's essay on a rare Ming Lieguozhizhuan in the Berlin State Library. The other papers, by Chinese scholars, are so badly translated as to be useless. I offer a few examples. In Yang Jianxin's paper, "Great Invention with Everlasting Memorial Masterpieces," one finds a baffling passage on a poem by the Qianlong emperor: "Near here, there is Fan's Tianyi Ge Library, Lucky to have Wenlan Ge Library in Paris (sic)." The only part I can understand is the (sic), assuming it serves to signify that the Welan Ge is not in Paris. Li Zhizhong's paper, "On the Invention of Woodblocks for Printing in China," contains a quotation from Fa Zang's Huayan wujiao zhang that apparently throws light on the invention of printing:

Before and after the religious sect started popularizing the Buddhist doctrine as usual, all the Buddhist doctrine was merged in the second and seventh day. Sometimes it said the second before the seventh day, and vice versa. It was something like the printing method in the society. In reading a paper, it was necessary to read sentence by sentence and it happened earlier and later. If we printed something, it can be developed at the same time. It is naturally and not against the truth. We have to understand this theory and try to think it over.

Fa Zang seems to anticipate Gertrude Stein's prose style.

Even if one could understand the translation of Li Zhizhong's paper, the lack of Chinese characters makes it impossible to follow the argument, which is a great loss since he is one of the leading historians of printing in China. He refers to "printed paper," glossed as "the certificate for entering the forbidden palace." However, without the characters, without the original technical term, it is difficult [End Page 67] to see whether these formats are considered part of the history of printing are considered part of the history of printing, rather than the history of seals. Where technical terms appear in the volume (usually unsupported by characters), they are often puzzling. Instead of the common description "movable type" for Bi Sheng's invention, the more obscure (and anachronistic?) "letter board" is preferred. The terms "marijuana" and "jute" are erroneously used in reference to hemp. The caves of Dunhuang are referred to as "stone houses," a literal translation of some charm to the sinologist but perhaps unhelpful to the nonspecialist. The most famous artifact to emerge from cave number 17 at Dunhuang is not a copy of the Heart sutra but the much longer Diamond sutra (p. 56). The last references occur in Yi Xumei and Lu Xiuwen's article "The Calligraphy and Printing Cultural Heritage of Gansu," which has a bibliography (unusual for this volume). Unfortunately, all the titles have been translated into English, which, of course, is not helpful. Readers who do not know Chinese but seek further reading will have their expectations hopelessly raised. Those who know Chinese might struggle to equate "antique" with Wenwu, which is already widely known by its parallel English title of Cultural Relics.

Though some articles have Chinese characters, strange inconsistencies and significant lacunae occur in this volume. In his essay "The History of Ancient Paper Making at Wenzhou Area, Zhejiang, China," Pan Mengbu is keen to set the record straight with his assertion that "juan...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-9367
Print ISSN
1069-5834
Pages
pp. 67-69
Launched on MUSE
2012-03-01
Open Access
No
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