Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Exhibition of Chinese Rare Books at EAL

Leaves of Enchantment, Bones of Inspiration: The Dawn of Chinese Studies in Canada is the first comprehensive exhibition of Chinese rare books held in the University of Toronto Libraries. This joint project by the Cheng Yu Tung East Asian Library, the Royal Ontario Museum and the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library was on display in the Fisher Library from May 25 to September 17, 2010. The current installation includes parts of the earlier exhibition.

Most of the Chinese rare books in the Cheng Yu Tung East Asian Library belong to the so-called “Mu Collection” - a private collection of scholarly books from Mr. Mu Xuexun (慕學勛1880-1929). Mu was born in Penglai County, Shandong Province. He graduated from Beiyang University (北洋大學堂) in Tianjin in 1911 and worked as the Chinese Secretary at the German Legation in Beijing for seventeen years (1912-1929). He spent over twenty-five years building up his personal library, which consisted of roughly forty thousand volumes of books.

At the time when Mu Xuexun passed away in 1929, his son had been assigned to a position outside of Beijing and so the family decided to sell the rare book collection. Canadian missionary Bishop William Charles White (1873-1960) offered $10,500 to purchase it in its entirety and his offer was accepted by the Mu family. White was the first Anglican Bishop in Henan Province (1901-1930) stationed at the city of Kaifeng (開封)and the first Canadian bishop to be consecrated for service in the mission field.

Ten Chinese workers were hired to prepare a descriptive catalogue for the library collection. The book shipment arrived at Toronto in June, 1935. At the time, it was the third largest university collection of Chinese books in North America, after the Gest Library at McGill University (later transferred to Princeton University) and the Harvard-Yenching Library at Harvard University. The Mu Collection was first housed in ROM’s Sigmund Samuel Gallery. On 5 November 1937, the Library opened officially in a new addition specially built for the Mu Collection with the name “Professor H.H. Mu Library of Chinese Books”. Bishop White was appointed the first keeper of the Library.

In 1968, the majority of the Mu Collection became part of the University of Toronto Libraries’ holdings. At that time, an East Asiatic Studies Library was created with holdings of sixty thousand volumes— apart from the original Mu Collection - that had been added to the library in the years since 1937. In 1974, the East Asiatic Studies Library moved to the newly constructed John P. Robarts Research Library, the main humanities and social sciences library of the University of Toronto Libraries where it was absorbed into the Central Library and renamed as the ‘East Asian Library’. The Mu Collection was relocated to its own rare book reading room, with part of it kept in compact shelving in a restricted area.

In the Mu Collection, there are two volumes of Song Dynasty (960 - 1279) editions, ninety-eight volumes of Yuan Dynasty (1271 – 1368) editions, 230 titles of Ming Dynasty (1368 – 1644) editions, around 400 titles of Qing Dynasty (1644 – 1911) editions from before the 60th year of Emperor Qianlong’s reign (1795) and 50 titles of Ming and Qing manuscripts. Some of these are unique and exceedingly rare materials. This exhibition contains two parts: Part I is displayed in the EAL Rare Book Reading Room close to the main entrance of the library and the part II displays here. You can find publications related to the Chinese rare book collections and the history of this library in the last case of this display. For more information, please contact our staff.

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