2012: Remembering the Bibliophile Huang Shang

On 5 September 2012, the esteemed essayist, bibliophile and book collector Huang Shang (黃裳, b.1919) [the penname of Rong Dingchang 容鼎昌] died in the Ruijin Hospital in Shanghai. He was ninety-three years old.[1]

Huang Shang was particularly fond of Nanjing and he wrote over forty essays on the scenes, culture, history and food of the place. He remarked:

I have tarried in Nanjing only for a very short time, although I have passed through many times. To the city I am but a hurried transient. And yet, for some inexplicable reason, I developed an unusual attachment for the place.[2]

He wrote his first travelogue about the city as a sensitive young student in 1942, ‘White Gate, Autumn Willows’ 白門秋柳. Four years later, while working as a journalist for the Shanghai Wenhui Bao 文匯報, he visited again and recorded his account of the city’s noted sites and libraries as well as its street life in series of jottings. He would come back again, in 1949, when he wrote Looking at Jiangnan after Liberation 解放後看江南 and, in 1979, he would publish Letters from Baixia 白下書簡.

China Heritage Quarterly, the precursor of this Annual, has long appreciated Huang Shang’s work. The December 2009 issue of the journal carried Duncan Campbell’s translation of Huang’s ‘On Reading Tung Chuin’s A Record of the Gardens of Jiangnan’, reproduced in this section of the Annual.

In this Annual focussing on the history, culture and life of Nanking, we present two translations of Huang Shang’s evocative writings on the city: Duncan Campbell’s rendering of the ‘Swallow Rock'[link], a piece that resonates with Zhang Dai’s account of on the same site[link], and the present translation, ‘On the Depository of Extant Ancient Writings’.[3] Reflecting Huang Shang’s interest in the city these two modest offerings are our tribute to a man of sophistication and talent (and someone who kindly befriended the editor of this journal in the 1980s). — Zhu Yayun 朱亞雲, Associate Editor

Chen Qun (陳群, 1890-1945), the owner of the Depository of Extant Ancient Writings, was born in a wealthy family in Changting county 長汀, Fujian. He studied at Waseda University in Tokyo and later became Interior Minister and Governor of Jiangsu under the Wang Jingwei regime during in the Sino-Japanese War period. Two days after Japan’s surrender, on 17 August 1947, Chen committed suicide using the poison sent to him by the Japanese. He was only fifty-six. In Huang Shang’s essay below, despite his ideological differences with the long-dead bibliophile, something reflected in his use of the word ‘traitor’ 漢奸 when referring to him, the author limns a sympathetic and appreciative picture of Chen, one which accentuates the considerable contribution he made to the preservation of China’s cultural heritage.

Construction of the Depository of Extant Ancient Writings 澤存書庫 commenced in March 1941 and was completed in February the following year at a total cost of approximately 235 million Republican yuan. Inspired by the erstwhile Governor of Jiangsu, Qi Xieyuan 齊燮元 who, in 1922, built a library on the Street for Perfecting Sages 成賢街 to commemorate his father (today the library of Southeast University), Chen Qun intended to dedicate the building to the memory of his parents. Wang Jingwei 汪精衛, President of the Nanjing government under Japanese occupation, named it by adopting a line in the ‘Jade-Bead Pendants of the Royal Cap’ 玉藻 section of the Book of Rites 禮記: ‘When his father died, he could not bear to read his books — the touch of his hand seemed still to be on them’ 父歿而不能讀父之書,手澤存焉爾.[4] Located on 2 Yihe Road 頤和路 (formerly 231 Yihe Road) and directly across from Chen Qun’s residence, the depository is a three-storey circular construction that encloses a courtyard.

Around five thousand volumes from Wang Jingwei’s Double Reflections Pavilion 雙照樓 collection were deposited here, together with many other books owned by Republican notables such as Liang Hongzhi 梁鴻志 and Jiang Kanghu 江亢虎. At the end of 1943, the general collection of the Depository were opened to the public. During its heyday, the holdings of the Depository reached four hundred thousand volumes, including forty-five thousand rare books. Chen Qun employed his fellow Fujianese Chen Shirong 陳世镕 as the librarian as well as five full-time workers for the upkeep of the collection. Following Chen’s death and the return of the Nationalist President Chiang Kai-shek, and his government, to Nanking, the Depository was taken over by the National Central Library. It now housed rare and special book collections which were supervised by the famed scholar Qu Wanli 屈萬里. As Nanking gradually descended into chaos amidst the roaring cannon and rattling rifles of 1949, the majority of these rare books were removed to Taipei. The remaining ten thousand volumes became the basis for the Ancient Chinese Books section of today’s Nanjing Library.[5]

The building itself has not enjoyed such a happy fate. In 1994, when the Ancient Chinese Books section of the library was relocated to the foothills of Bracing Mountain 清涼山, it became the shared offices of the Jiangsu Writers’ Association and the Jiangsu Arts Foundation. A facelift was performed on the structure and white tiles were plastered on its façade. In 2010, the building fell into disuse. The cultural legacy of the Depository of Extant Ancient Writings, however, has not faded entirely. In March 2012, a much anticipated edition of Wang Jingwei’s Poems of the Double Reflections Pavilion 雙照樓詩詞藁 was published in Hong Kong, attracting attention from the literary world in both China and Taiwan. The original of this publication is the edition produced by the Depository of Extant Ancient Writings in the spring of 1943, when Chen Qun presented it to Wang as a gift on the occasion of his sixtieth birthday.[6]

In his will, which he called ‘A Note of Self-revelation’ 自剖書, Chen Qun wrote:

I would have no dissent, were the name of the Depository altered; my wish would be fully realised if the book collections could be kept together forever and read by the public, without any loss or dispersion, and if they could supplement the Chinese language libraries in Nanking. Collecting books is difficult, and preserving them is harder still… .

He did not live to see the calamities that the ensuing Civil War and political upheavals brought to the country: books burnt, buildings razed, people slaughtered and the tradition vandalised. What remains of him is a contentious political taboo — his ‘traitor’ status having rained down misery and tragedy on him and on his family—but because of his care, effort and prescience, the many rare books in his collection have survived. These remain quietly on the shelves of libraries in Nanking and Taipei; they bear silent witness to the assault of human barbarity upon culture.

This translation is inspired by my teacher Duncan Campbell’s works on book collecting and libraries in the Jiangnan region. I would like to thank him for his wise counsel and encouragement in its preparation. I also want to acknowledge the meticulous editing and the insightful advice of the editor, Geremie R. Barmé. 

On the Depository of Extant Ancient Writings


Huang Shang 黃裳

Translated by Zhu Yayun 朱亞雲

The autumn in the City of Foundry 冶城 deepened and the relentless wind and rain were carried on a bracing air. A day such as this, cool and yet not frosty, most befitted visiting the mountains and sightseeing. The life of a reporter was a bustling affair and in normal circumstances would not allow one to idly engage in such elegant pursuits. The peace negotiations, however, have recently been sunk in a mire and in all likelihood cannot readily be lifted out of the mud. Instead of wasting one’s whole life on these futile matters, it is more useful to turn one’s attention to Nanking’s culture and thereby to ‘embellish the peace’.

On the afternoon of the day before yesterday I went to see Zhou Fohai 周佛海 at 19 Ninghai Road but was denied entrance. So I took a stroll around Shanxi Road. I came upon a second-hand bookstore and bought two anthologies of poetry with an inscription by Duanmu Zichou 端木子畴. From my conversation with the owner, I learnt that the North City Reading Room of the Central Library at the corner of Shanxi Road was the original site of the ‘Depository of Extant Ancient Writings’, owned by Chen Qun. Intrigued, I made my way there. Upon presenting my visiting card, I was led to an exquisite small parlour where everything was neatly arranged and sofas and paintings collected not a mote of dust. A little pond and a rockery outside the window created a rather surprisingly delightful atmosphere of tranquility. In a short while Mr Qu Wanli presented himself. He is a guileless fellow from Yutai county, Shandong; he is in charge of the special collections section for the Central Library. The responsibilities of this section are to collect and catalogue rare books, calligraphy and paintings, frontier writings, archives and banned items. At present he is in fact attending to the arrangement of rare books in the North City Reading Room. In the future when the rare editions from Chongqing are shipped downstream, those in Japan reclaimed and those stored in Shanghai and Hong Kong returned, this North City Reading Room will become the depository for the rare books of the Central Library and it, along with the Beijing Library in the north, will be seen as a pair of refined jade crowns among China’s public libraries.

In reply to my question regarding to the ‘traitor’ Chen Qun’s Depository of Extant Ancient Writings, Mr Qu gave me a detailed and fascinating account of its history. It could be a fitting entry in the ‘Anecdotes From the Forest of Books’ 書林逸話.[7] Chen Qun, style-named Renhe 人鶴, was one of the long-standing traitors in the ‘puppet’ Nationalist regime and could be considered one of its ‘founding traitors’. He served as Interior Minister and Governor of Kiangsu province, although the handsome sum reaped from these lucrative posts was mostly spent on books. As Nanking fell [at the end of the war], the streets were teeming with old books, but no one dared to buy them, nor could they afford them. Even as pulp for making recycled paper, most of these books would find no home; they were only used as kindling. It was at this time that Chen Qun started collecting old books, and common book dealers gathered the ‘scrap papers’ together to present to him after a cursory attempt at reordering the pages.

The impression left on me in the second-hand bookstore was that its owner mentioned Minister Chen as if he were recounting stories in the prosperous Kaiyuan era of the Tang dynasty. At that time book dealers, in groups of three and four, with books under their arms, went to the puppet government headquarters, where Chen himself often met them. Even when he was occupied with his official duties he would ask them to leave the books behind. In this way he acquired many works. Later, when he became president of the puppet Examination Yuan, it was hard to make such easy money and gradually he could no longer afford his habit. His Depository was later scattered in three places, and in his ‘Note of Self-revelation’ he claimed it held a million volumes of books. In reality there were four hundred thousand volumes in Nanjing, and another two hundred eighty thousand to three hundred thousand in Shanghai and Suzhou. Whether this discrepancy was on account of his befuddled state before his death, or was a result of later loss, we cannot possibly know, but the figure of a million books is certainly an exaggeration.

What is extraordinary is the fact that in his Nanjing home he had over one hundred thousand volumes, mostly the rarest items. Before he quaffed the poison Chen wrote several hundred notes to catalogue this private collection and he urged his family to process the books and have the catalogue sent here. The Depository of Extant Ancient Writings was not far from his thoughts, even in his farewell note. Those he employed to look after the collection were entrusted to carry on their work. From that second-hand bookstore owner I also learnt that he bequeathed his cherished curios, as mementos, among them. In a nutshell, all these things he did were remarkable; he could be said to be a man out of step with his fellow traitors.

After the victory of the Sino-Japanese War, the books were handed over to the Central Library with the approval of the Executive Yuan. The preparation of the catalogue started on 23 April this year [1946] and, up to the present, it has almost been completed. Another ten-odd days will see its finalisation and a report will be submitted. At the moment the bibliography already fills a thousand pages.

En passant I enquired of Mr Qu about the books left behind by Wang Jingwei. He replied that there were about seven thousand in his house on 34 Yihe Road, but in the main they were common editions of poetry collections with a few Ming-era works. They were not really worthy of attention.

Thereupon I asked Mr Qu to show me the books. After leaving the parlour and going through a moon gate, we arrived at a large house, the floor of which was covered with cattail bags. They were covered by a disorderly array of books in Japanese which were waiting to be processed.

The courtyard was of a circular shape. The three-storey building has some twenty large rooms for storing books; inside each stands an array of fully stacked wooden shelves, books bound in refined pale blue silk dazzling the eyes. One by one we opened the doors to look inside. Constrained by time I could only browse through few items, even then I found many rare books. Here are a few notes taken from my scribbles:

  • Sixty-five volumes of Xu Qianxue’s 徐乾學 autograph draft (or perhaps manuscript copy) of the Biographies of the History of the Ming;
  • A Song-dynasty edition of the Spring and Autumn Annals;
  • The original edition of the complete works of the Book of Odes by the Directorate of Ceremony of the Ming dynasty, sumptuously produced and its royal blue silk cover still remaining;
  • Fuzhou’s East Chan Temple edition (the fourth year of the Shaosheng reign) of the Scripture on the Correct Dharma of the Foundations of Mindfulness, its illustrations and calligraphy being elegant, unostentatious and influenced by the North Song style, and its paper being extremely thick and heavy;
  • The Thatched Hall of Four Snow edition of Romance of the Sui and Tang Dynasties;
  • The Hongzhi edition (uncertain) of The Record of the Lute;
  • The Li Zhuowu edition, the Wanli edition and the Golden Valley Garden edition of The Record of the Western Chamber, each beautifully illustrated, and an exquisitely executed Manchu and Chinese manuscript copy with a most neat and refined transcription (this was the first time I had seen a Manchu translation of a Chinese book);
  • The Wanli edition of the novel Record of the Grand Director of the Three Treasures Visiting the Western Oceans.

Chen Qun’s book collecting was generally akin to Tao Lanquan’s 陶蘭泉 assembling Kaihua paper books, both men having endeavoured to seek out the finest.[8] He owned a copy of the Kangxi Dictionary published under the auspices of the Qianlong emperor and the Complete Tang Poems; being the first impression, both felt like new and were truly rare beauties in the forest of books. In addition, I saw several Korean publications and manuscript copies, which were of large size and made of parchment and they appeared very lovely. Since the books had not been properly catalogued, it was inconvenient to survey them. I then looked through a thick pile of rare books catalogues. The Song editions included: the incomplete Jianyang edition of the Book of Sui; the Collected Literary Works of Fan Zhongyan (incomplete); the Collected Literary Works of Su Shi; the Selected Literary Works of Chen Liang 陳亮 and Ye Shiwen 葉適文; the Yellow Emperor’s Inner Canon: Basic Questions (Postscript by Yang Shoujing 楊守敬). The Yuan editions were: Selections of Refined Literature of the Tang (complete); A Thorough Probe Into Various Canons; Xunzi; the Poems of Li Bo; the Continuation of the Chronological Comprehensive Mirror to Aid in Government; Florid Prose and a Hundred Elegant Compositions; Collections of Nature and Harmony; Records of Learning in Adversity; Verification of Treatise on Literature in The History of the Han; and so on.

These notes are a result of my hurried glances, so an oversight was bound to occur; they might be of no use for scholars because my shallow learning could not permit me to emulate the details of format invented by Miao Quansun 繆荃孫.[9] My only intention, however, was to make it known that in Nanking there still existed such a place where fine books could be read.

I want to add a final line: Chen Qun was creating his collection at the same time as the Shanghai trustees of our Ministry of Education were seeking them out. According to some records, the competition between the man and the ministry was tantamount to a battle; it was also said that Chen Qun, being not particular about quality, bought everything sent to him, although in the event he did collect some exquisite work. The Song and Yuan collections were not of particular value, but the Ming editions he amassed included many notable volumes. In addition, Chen Qun had a penchant for belles lettres, so the rare editions were plentiful in his collection. Mr Qu told me that a part of the Central Library collections were in Japan, in which Ming materials were abundant and some gems were truly unknown to the outside world. Upon hearing this, my heart pounded with excitement. Sadly, one must ask: when will peace be regained and our lives given back to us so that we can enjoy the leisure time to read again?

Such thoughts lingered in my mind as I quit the Depository of Extant Ancient Writings, the autumnal wind greeting me as the sun set.

Late at night, 19 September 1946


[1] For a detailed account of the life and the works of Huang Shang, as well as various views about him by contemporary writers and artists, see: 寒士精神故紙中 http://culture.ifeng.com/huodong/special/huangshang/

[2] See the postscript of Jinling: Five Accounts 金陵五記, Nanjing: Jinling Shuhuashe, 1982, p.237.

[3] 關於‘澤存書庫’ was written on 19 September 1946, and 燕子磯 was a part of the Miscellaneous Records of Jinling 金陵雜記, published serially in a newspaper in 1946. Both essays are included in the 1982 edition of Jinling: Five Accounts.

[4] This translation is from James Legge, Li Chi: Book of Rites, An Encyclopedia of Ancient Ceremonial Usages, Religious Creeds, and Social Institutions, New York: University Books, 1967.

[5] For a brief discussion of the history of the Depository, see, for example, Ye Hao 葉皓, Stories of Nanking’s Republican-era Buildings 南京民國建築的故事, Nanjing: Nanjing Chubanshe, 2010.

[6] See Yu Ying-shih’s 余英時 preface to Wang Jingwei’s Poems of the Double Reflections Pavilion 雙照樓詩詞藁, Hong Kong: Tiandi Tushu Gongsi, 2012.

[7] It was written by Xie Xingyao (謝興堯, b.1906), a renowned bibliophile and historian. The ‘Anecdotes From the Forest of Books’ first appeared in the Shanghai-based literary magazine Gujin 古今 in 1942. It chronicled the flourishing and decline of book markets, the circulation and distribution of books, the marketing and management of book sellers, the rise and fall of book collectors and the shifting views of intellectuals on books.

[8] Tao Lanquan is a renowned collector from Changzhou 常州, Jiangsu, and he has a particular liking for the Kaihua edition imprints. Kaihua 開花 is a white paper of the highest quality selected for use in the Qing palace editions, made in Kaihua, Zhejiang. For more details of this and other terms related to publishing and printing, see Stephen West’s ‘Glossary of Bibliographical Terms’, online at: http://xirugu.com/CHI500/TradCat/Bibgloss.html

[9] Huang Shang listed two examples of the notation details used by Miao Quansun: ‘heikou—the black line at each end of the central strip of a folio page’ and ‘shuanglan—a pair of parallel lines surrounding the text’. Also, the December 2009 issue of the China Heritage Quarterly pays tribute to Miao Quansun, see here: http://www.chinaheritagequarterly.org/editorial.php?issue=020