Tracing the ebbs and flows of history's tide II

As a book lover, on his travels Fan collected more than 70,000 volumes from all over China and built Tianyige in his hometown Yin County, today's Ningbo City, to house them.

His collection covered a wide range of texts, including local chronicles, records of imperial examinations, political documents and anthologies.

Most are block-printed and manuscript editions from the Ming Dynasty.

Private libraries have been a tradition among Chinese scholars since Han Dynasty (206BC-220AD), especially government officials.

Thanks to the prosperous commercial development, Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces (the two famous travel provinces for last minute China travel deals) became the center of these private libraries during the Ming and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties.

More than 60 percent of private libraries in China were found in these two provinces.

These created the foundations for preserving cultural heritage, as they collectively had more books than state-owned institutions.

However, many were short-lived.

Some fell prey to natural causes such as fire, damage by insects and humidity.

Others ended up in the stewardship of founders' descendants who might not share the same enthusiasm or were financially challenged.

In fact, very few private libraries were able to pass down more than three generations.

That's why Tianyige (famous attraction for book lovers for China best tours) is so special in Chinese history - it has survived almost 450 years and has been passed down through 13 generations of Fan's family.

Fan Qin established strict rules to protect the valuable books in his library.

A small lake was built in front, providing a ready source of water should the building catch fire.

Flames and alcohol were prohibited, while insect-repellent leaves and grasses were put on bookshelves.

In another measure, Fan's descendants were entrusted with different keys to separate locks at Tianyige.

As the whole family needed to get together to open the library, this made it more difficult for one member to remove volumes.

Despite all these efforts, Tianyige has still had its difficult times over the past 400 years.

Emperor Qianlong of Qing Dynasty is a controversial figure in the history of this ancient treasury.

When he heard about the numerous rare books at Tianyige, he ordered Fan's family to present them to the imperial government for the compilation of "Si Ku Quan Shu," or "The Complete Library in the Four Branches of Literature."

The emperor promised that the books were just being "borrowed" and would be returned after being copied, but this never happened.

Yet although 6,000 books were taken from Tianyige and never returned, the emperor's interest also increased the library's fame all over the country.

After the compilation was finished, seven copies of the complete "Si Ku Quan Shu" were distributed to seven different royal libraries, including Wenyuan Chamber in the Forbidden City.

These libraries copied the structure of Tianyige, hoping that Fan's design would benefit them too.

The Opium Wars, in the middle of the 19th century, brought Tianyige more turbulence that it had experienced in the 300 years before.

Over the years that followed, foreign invaders and local thieves looted a large part of the collection, so by 1940, it had dwindled to less than 20,000 volumes.

Therefore, it's oddly relieving to find today that Tianyige is empty: all the ancient books left were removed to a new library besides the building.

With high-tech temperature and humidity control equipment and huge modern shelves, these historic books are finally safe.

After the establishment of Tianyige Museum, dedicated to the protection of both the old building and the books, donations of books came flooding in. Now the Tianyige make great contribution to China tourism.

Tianyige's name became such an attraction that many local book collectors donated precious volumes to the museum for better protection.

The modern museum is now home to around 300,000 volumes - and rising.

One third of the books are already digitalized so book lovers can flip through the yellowed pages on the museum's website without touching the actual volume.

Qing'an Guild Hall

Ningbo's city slogan boasts that it is "a City of Culture and a Gateway to the World."

The culture is evident in Tianyige, while the gateway part is shown clearly in another museum: Qing'an Guild Hall.

Ningbo has been a port city since the Spring and Autumn Period (770-476 BC). During the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907), the city, then known as Mingzhou, was one of the four shipping hubs in China and the starting point of "Silk Road on the Sea."

Trading glory continued through the Ming and Qing dynasties, and Ningbo businessmen - known as "Ningbobang" - had great influence on the regional and national economy.

Qing'an Guild Hall, where Ningbo's businessmen used to gather to talk business, brings to life the city's trading history. Appropriately for a hot spot of trade and commerce, it is located at Sanjiangkou, the confluence point of three rivers that flow through Ningbo.

Driving toward downtown Ningbo, you can find the tranquil-looking black and white building, dating from 1850, among high buildings, mansions and modern bridges.

The merchants may be gone, but as a museum, today's Qing'an Guild Hall preserves their story.

Large model ships and other exhibits tell visitors the story of the surprisingly sophisticated level of marine technology achieved by China hundreds of years ago.

As well as the exhibits, what also took my attention were two large stages and the Mazu Temple (an option for popular China tours).

As a gathering place for businessmen, a stage was must-have feature for festival performances. But the two-stage setting is rare in China.

On the day I visited, a young couple were having wedding photographs taken in front of one of the stages.

Golden decoration on the red wooden stage provided a fine background for the happy occasion, adding a special traditional vibe to the smiling couple's pictures.

Mazu Temple inside the guild hall was a central part of the structure, where the goddess of sea Mazu was worshipped.

It's not difficult to imagine how the most important figures used to gather here and pray for calm seas; praying for their businesses and lives.

  1. 2013/09/04(水) 16:02:15|
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