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  • Die Leishu der imperialen Bibliothek des Kaisers Qianlong (The lei-shu in the imperial library of the Qianlong emperor)
  • Hans van Ess (bio)
Christoph Kaderas . Die Leishu der imperialen Bibliothek des Kaisers Qianlong (The lei-shu in the imperial library of the Qianlong emperor). Asien-und Afrika-Studien der Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, vol. 4. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1998. 336 pp. Hardcover DM 198, ISBN 3-447-04059-9.

This book is the first major attempt to discuss and analyze a collection of so-called Chinese "lei-shu" in a systematic way. Because there are no comparable previous studies on this topic, Christoph Kaderas has chosen to concentrate on the altogether sixty-five lei-shu contained in the Ssu-k'u ch'üan-shu, which today is easily accessible to many scholars all over the globe and at the same time contains the most extensive collection of classical lei-shu. Kaderas starts with a critique of the conventional rendering of "lei-shu" as "encyclopedias." According to him, this Western term should no longer be used as an equivalent for lei-shu. Kaderas also declares that simply to translate "lei-shu" as "classified book" is not much help either, since there are many other works in Chinese literature (such as the Chou-li, Shuo-yüan, and Hsin-hsü) that could be treated under this heading but that have never been called a "lei-shu" by Chinese authors. The combination of "lei" and "shu" began to occur in book titles only rather late, in the seventeenth century, and the single word "lei," which we do find in earlier collections, does not seem to be accompanied by any important clues as to why such a book would later be classified as a lei-shu (pts. 2.4 and 2.5).

Juxtaposing the European concept of the "encyclopedia" and the Chinese "lei-shu," Kaderas in his third chapter points to the fact that European encyclopedias supposed that there was an inner nexus holding together all the concepts discussed in such a book. Since the eighteenth century, European encyclopedias have claimed to contain in a systematic way all that is worth knowing by anyone wanting to pass for an educated person. According to Kaderas, a similar attempt was never made by the authors of Chinese lei-shu, which had a much more practical purpose. Unfortunately, readers have to wait until page 268 before they learn something about the actual function of a Chinese lei-shu. Therefore, at this stage of the inquiry, they simply have to believe Kaderas that the function of European encyclopedias was quite different from that of "lei-shu."

Chapter 4 contains the bulk of the work. After reformulating the commonly asked question "which lei-shu are representative of the genre?" to read "which lei-shu A were declared as representative at a certain time B by a group of persons C?" Kaderas proceeds to point out that various editions of the Ssu-k'u ch'üan-shu can contain different versions of a given text. This is an interesting hint that is not, however, followed by concrete examples. On page 49 Kaderas states that he has based his research on the Wen-yüan Ko reprint of 1987, but he does not cite the [End Page 475] editions from other pavilions—which are admittedly not easily accessible. Note 197, starting on page 142, seems to be an example citing the difference between a Wen-yüan Ko edition and another text. The latter, however, is not an edition of the Ssu-k'u ch'üan-shu but a collection of lei-shu contained in the Yen-ching Ta-hsüeh T'u-shu-kuan.

Pages 51-257 consist of meticulously annotated descriptions of the sixty-five lei-shu to be found in the Ssu-k'u ch'üan-shu. These descriptions contain notes on the importance of a lei-shu for a given context, on its content, and on different editions. This part of the work is extremely valuable for anyone interested in quick reference to the major "lei-shu" of imperial China. Some of these texts— such as the Tai-p'ing yü-lan or the I...


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