November 12, 2014

The Strangling of Persia

William Morgan Shuster (1877−1960) was an American lawyer and financial expert who served as treasurer general to the government of the Persian Empire in 1911. In 1910, the Persian government asked U.S. president William Howard Taft for technical assistance in reorganizing its financial system. Taft chose Shuster to head a mission of American experts to Tehran. The Strangling of Persia is Shuster’s account of his experiences, published soon after his return to the United States. In the Anglo-Russian convention of August 31, 1907, Britain and Russia had divided Persia (present-day Iran) into a Russian sphere of influence in the north of the empire and a British sphere in the south (with additional arrangements for Afghanistan and Tibet). Each power was to have exclusive commercial rights in its sphere. Under this agreement and other arrangements, Persian customs revenues were collected to guarantee the payment of interest and principal on foreign loans. Seeking to defend the interests of the Persians, Shuster clashed repeatedly with Russian and British officials, until his mission was forced to withdraw in early 1912. The book provides a detailed account of the background to the mission, of political and financial conditions in Persia in the early 20th century, and of the rivalry among Russia, Britain, and eventually Germany for influence in the country. The narrative covers the Russian military intervention of 1911, the atrocities committed by Russian troops, and the coup and dissolution of the Majlis (parliament) carried out under Russian pressure in December 1911. The book includes numerous photographs and a map, an index, and an appendix with copies of key documents and correspondence

A Complete Map of the Mountains and Oceans of the World

Sankai yochi zenzu (A complete map of the mountains and oceans of the world) is a Japanese map of the world, created around 1785 by Sekisui Nagakubo (1717−1801). The map is based on the 1602 edition of Matteo Ricci’s Great Universal Geographic Map in Chinese, first produced in 1584. It is a hand-colored wood-block print, showing the world’s continents and seas, with relief shown pictorially. An alternative title, Chikyū bankoku sankai yochi zenzusetsu (A complete illustration of the globe, all the countries, and the mountains and oceans of the earth), appears at the head of the text on the top of the map. Nagakubo was an official, geographer, cartographer, and Confucian scholar, who in 1779 made the first Japanese map of the Japanese islands to use the Western system of longitudinal and latitudinal lines. Copies of Ricci’s world map were very popular in Japan during the early 18th century, and several versions of it, with different scales and features, were produced by Nagakubo. Although by the late 18th century newer and more accurate world maps by Dutch cartographers were introduced to Japan, copies of Ricci’s map remained in demand, in part because of conservative resistance to the use of double globes or hemispheres, which were employed in the newer maps.

November 25, 2014

The Luxuriant Dew of the Spring and Autumn Annals

Attributed to the Han dynasty scholar Dong Zhongshu (circa 179−circa 104 BC), Chun Qiu fan lu (The luxuriant dew of the Spring and Autumn annals) was an elaboration on the Spring and Autumn Annals, which date from about the 720s to the 480s BC. Dong’s work focuses on the Gongyang Commentary (On the Annals) and its school, which predated his work by a century or more, with references to the five elements theory (fire, earth, metal, water, and wood) and the interaction between heaven and mankind. Four different editions of the work by Dong with varying contents existed already during the Song dynasty. A later edition issued by the Southern Song poet and scholar Lou Yue (1137−1213) became the definitive work, even though it was missing chapters. None of the great Chinese book collectors owned copies with the complete text. This copy was printed from bronze movable type and is very valuable for the purpose of textual collation. Lu Xinyuan (1838−94), the famed Qing bibliophile, added missing parts and corrected errors of the Han Wei cong shu (Series of works from the Han and Wei), based on this work. Fu Zengxiang (1872−1950), a later bibliophile, deduced that Lu Xinyuan may have used a Song print. There are several seal impressions in the book, among them “Gusu Wu shi jia cang” (In the collection of the Wu family of Gusu), “Zhao Zongjian yin” (Seal of Zhao Zongjian, a book collector), and “Feixixuan” (the name of Zhao Zongjian’s studio). The copy was originally in the collection of the Ming collector Wu Xiu in his private library called Chenwaixuan. The book was later kept in Zhao Zongjian’s library, Jiushanlou. Because it was repeatedly collected by famous bibliophiles in sequence, its provenance can easily be traced. Both the paper and the ink used in the book appear shiny and lustrous, and the print seems to float smoothly on the paper. This is a fine work of Ming dynasty bronze movable-type printing. Shown here are the preface, table of contents, and four juan.

Colored Waterway Map of the Grand Canal from Yueyang to the Yangtze River Estuary and from Jiangyin to the Forbidden City of Beijing

The world-famous Beijing−Hangzhou Grand Canal is the oldest and longest artificial waterway in the world. Starting from Beijing in the north, it passes southwards to Hangzhou. Construction of the canal, which links some of China’s most important river networks, began in the fifth century BC. By the 13th century, the total length of the canal was more than 2,000 kilometers. Today, its length is 1794 kilometers. This map, executed in the traditional painting style, shows its entire length in a single long scroll. It is one of the key representative historical maps of the Grand Canal. The map includes the sections of the Yangtze River from below the Jing River to its estuary and sections through the important cities of Shaoxing and Hangzhou, until it ultimately reaches the imperial city of Beijing. Currents, place names, sluices, and dams along the waterway are marked. Pictorial images of cities, mountains, and rivers are provided. Prefectures and counties, as well as rivers and lakes, are given textual notations. The transport routes of grain ships are clearly indicated at key navigation courses and lock gates. Details concerning distances are provided for every section of the waterway. Information on water conservancy is also provided in great detail. The Grand Canal was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in June 2014.

Book of Exhortation to Beneficence

Quan shan jing (Book of exhortation to beneficence), also known as Tai shang gan ying pian (Tract of Lord Laozi on actions and consequences; or Tract of Lord Laozi on rewards and punishments), has two parts. Part one is a translation of the Daoist classic Tai shang gan ying pian, a work associated with Laozi, one of the founders of Daoism thought to have lived in the sixth century BC. Part two is an exposition of the moral standards of the Yi people. (“Yi” is a term used for some non-Chinese tribes, mostly in southern China.) It expresses the views held by the Yi, their traditional ethics and moral concepts, as reflected in their customs and religious teachings. The work is written in Yi script. It provides explanations to each line and sentence, exhorting readers to do good deeds, lead a virtuous life, and treat nature well. It emphasizes the traditional concept that “Good will be rewarded with good, and evil with evil.” It also proposes learning progressive ideas from the Chinese, including those relating to technology and production. The pages of the first part of the book are replacements of a later date, and the last few pages are damaged.

Diagrams and Explanations of the Wonderful Machines of the Far West, in Three Juan

Yuan xi qi qi tu shuo lu zui (Diagrams and explanations of the wonderful machines of the Far West), often abridged as Qi qi tu shuo (Illustrations and explanations of wonderful machines), was the first book produced in China to introduce Western mechanical engineering. Written in a systematic manner, it is the work of Deng Yuhan, the Chinese name of Johann Schreck (also called Johannes Terentius, 1576−1630), a German-born Jesuit, and Wang Zheng (1571–1644). The book is in three juan. Juan one contains an introduction to the nature of mechanical devices, with emphasis on such key concepts as gravity, the center of gravity, and balance. Juan two contains explanations of how particular mechanical devices work, providing information on the structure and application of each device, with attention to scales, weights, levels, pulleys, disks, slopes, and the like. Juan three is about the actual uses of mechanical devices. This copy was printed by Wu Weizhong in Jinling in the seventh year (1634) of the Chongzhen reign. At the beginning of the work are two prefaces, including the 1627 preface by Wang Zheng, entitled Yuan Xi qi qi tu shuo lu zui xu (Preface to diagrams and explanations of the wonderful machines of the Far West). It is followed by the 1634 preface by Wu Weizhong, entitled Qi qi tu hou xu (Postscript to the diagrams of the wonderful machines), and the editorial guide to the work. The engraved illustrations are interwoven with the texts. Some pages show the illustrations above and texts below. The copy was in the private collection of Zheng Zhenduo (1898−1958) before entering the National Library of China. It has several seal impressions, including “Changle Zheng Zhenduo Xidi cang ben” (Book in the collection of Zheng Zhenduo, Xidi, of Changle) and “Changle Zheng shi cang shu zhi yin” (Seal of the book collection of Zheng Zhenduo of Changle).