SpeakerMi Chu

Institution Library of Congress

Subject Illustrated Guide of Tilling and Weaving: Rural Life in Imperial China

As is widely known, the original Illustrations of Tilling and Weaving was a work by Lou Shou completed around 1145 C.E., during the early Southern Song dynasty. That work no longer survives, although there are many woodblock editions of it available on the market. The Complete Imperially Commissioned Illustrations of Tilling and Weaving in this institution, hand painted on silk, is a rarity in the world.

The text on this document was composed by the Kangxi emperor of the Qing dynasty, also known by his temple name, Shengzu; the painting is by Jiao Bingzhen, of the Directorate of Astronomy. Jiao Bingzhen was a court painter of the early Qing who served in the Directorate of Astronomy in the Kangzi era. He studied Western painting methods, his teacher being the famous Jesuit Johann Adam Schall von Bell.

The Complete Imperially Commissioned Illustrations of Tilling and Weaving is painted in color on silk from the Imperial Household Department and is dated the second month of the thirty-fifth year of the Kangxi era, or March 1696. It includes twenty-three depictions of agricultural activities and an equal number of depictions of weaving. Each page has the text on the left, preceded by the painting on the right. The text consists of poems in seven-syllable lines written in regular script. The paintings are in fine detail, and on each one is a five-syllable poem in regular script in fluid, rich brushwork. The silk ground features a paired-dragon pattern in dark carmine. From ancient times, China was founded on agriculture, and the awareness that the imperial administration’s first priority would always be on agriculture and sericulture is reflected in the ancient saying that “When we dress ourselves in silk, we must remember the deprivations of the women who weave, and when we eat grain, we must think about the suffering of the men who till."

The history of this album’s provenance is remarkable. Bought in London in 1908 by Dr. Frederick Peterson from New York, the Imperially Commissioned Illustration of Tilling and Weaving was authenticated by two famous sinologists of the time, Dr. Berthold Laufer and Dr. Paul Pelliot as being by the hand of Jiao Bingzhen. In the journal T’oung Pao, no. 13 (1912), published an important article on the Illustrations of Tilling and Weaving entitled “The Discovery of a Lost Book,” ensuring the scholarly place of the Kangxi version in history. Twenty years later, in 1928, Mrs. William H. Moore of New York purchased this album from Dr. Peterson and transferred it to the Library of Congress to be preserved.

The U.S. Library of Congress also holds rare printed editions of the “Illustrations of Tilling and Weaving,” including: The “Diagrams of Agriculture, Sericulture, Tilling, and Weaving" in the third volume, ninth juan, of the Shimin wanyong zhengzong buqiuren quanbian, a large compendium of useful knowledge for people of all walks of life published in the thirty-seventh year of the Wanli era of the Ming dynasty (1609). According to the 1940 annual report of the Library of Congress, these diagrams are unique to this book and are very likely to be reproductions of the Lou Shou "Illustrations of Tilling and Weaving" from the Southern Song and early-Ming woodblock editions.

A copy of the Wakan Kanseki Kōshiki zu based on a Song edition was published in the fourth year of the Empō era in Japan by the court painter Kanō Einō (1631–1697). Only three copies of this Japanese edition survive: two in Japan, and one donated to the Library of Congress in 1928 by the John Crerar Library in Chicago.

Those who are interested can gain a deeper understanding of the value of the version painted by Jiao Bingzhen through the genealogy of the woodblock editions of the Illustrations of Tilling and Weaving.