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Exegeses on the Book of Mencius

Tags: National Palace Museum | rare books | Sung dynasty


Sung Dynasty (960-1279)
29.5 x 20 cm (print: 21 x 16.5 cm) 
Annotated by Chao Ch'i (201 AD; Han dynasty) with commentaries by Hsing Ping (932-1010; Northern Sung)
Southern Sung imprint by the Tea and Salt Supervisorate of the Liang-Che East Circuit in the Chia-t'ai period (1201-1204) with Yüan and Ming dynasty revisions

The traditional study of the Classics is one of the fountainheads of Chinese culture. A large number of notes and commentaries has been left by many talented scholars over the ages. These texts were transcribed by hand until the spread of woodblock printing. It was in the Latter T'ang of the Five Dynasties period that Prime Minister Feng Tao (882-946) recommended the use of wood block printing, which had been used privately since the T'ang dynasty (618-907). The Directorate of Education subsequently arranged the carving of wood blocks for printing the Classics. The engravings of Classics made at that time were modeled after stone slabs engraved in the K'ai-ch'eng era (836-840). These were appended with annotations made since the Six Dynasties period, but they lacked the commentaries, so they were known as single-annotated editions. Commentary editions were first engraved in 988 under Emperor T'ai-tsung of the Sung dynasty. These works, however, did not include annotations and were thus considered single-commentary editions. Unfortunately, the Five Dynasties source editions of the Classics were lost over time. The Sung single-commentary editions of the Classics remain as the earliest extant and are thus extremely rare.

Reading a single-commentary edition was inconvenient to readers, since they needed to refer separately to the annotations. It was not until the 12th century that editions joining annotations and commentaries were published. The publication was carried out by the Tea and Salt Supervisorate of the Chekiang Circuit under the charge of Huang T'ang, and they were thus called “Huang T'ang editions”. They are also known as the “Eight-line editions”, due to their arrangement into half pages of eight columns each. The eight-line editions remained faithful to the spirit of single-commentary editions and extremely few errors were made. In the history of imprints of the Classics, they reflected the single-commentary editions of the past and served as the source of later combined publications. Especially admired by scholars and book collectors, the Ch'ing dynasty scholar Juan Yüan considered it the most precious rare book at the time.

This volume is one of the Eight-column editions. It was printed from an engraving dating to the Chia-t'ai period (1201-1204) in the Sung dynasty with revisions and additions from the Yüan and Ming dynasties. The entire volume consists of 14 chüan (chapters), each of which is divided into an upper and lower part. The original Sung engraving is exacting and refined. Although less attention is apparent in the parts added or amended from the Yüan dynasty, and the characters are slightly stiffer, they are still well-rendered. There are only six authentic volumes of Eight-column editions extant today, including this one. The text is carefully and finely presented in an open and straightforward style. The top part reveals the style of printing the Classics from the Northern Sung (960-1126), while below are later corrections, making this an extremely rare and invaluable work.

Text and images are provided by National Palace Museum