Principal Meaning to The Book of Etiquette and Ceremony

Tags: National Palace Museum | rare books | Sung dynasty


Sung Dynasty (960-1279)
29 x 19 cm (print: 20 x 14 cm) 
Wei Liao-weng (1178-1237), Sung dynasty
1252 Southern Sung imprint by Wei K’o-yü of Hui-chou in the “Principal Meaning of the Nine Classics”

Wei Liao-weng received his Presented Scholar (chin-shih) civil service degree in 1199 and went on to serve as an official in the Southern Sung (1127-1279). A colophon to another book notes that Wei Liao-weng served as a high official before running afoul of the prime minister. Demoted to a countryside position, he devoted his time to compiling information for his books on the essence of the Classics. His books were later printed in 1252 and placed in the Tz'u-yang Academy. However, in 1276, the books were destroyed during the collapse of the Sung dynasty. This makes this surviving example all the more rare, something that was noted even in the Ch'ing dynasty (1644-1911) by a collector.

Wei Liao-weng's “Chiu-ching yao-i (Principal Meaning of The Nine Classics)” was once in the court collection of the Ming dynasty (1368-1644). However, by the latter Ming, it was no longer complete, with only four of the classics remaining--and even they were incomplete. For example, “Principal Meaning to The Book of Rites”, according to the Ssu-k'u ch'üan-shu (Complete Library of the Four Treasuries) editors of the Ch'ing court, was missing chapters (chüan) 30 and 31. In terms of private collections, the most was three Classics in a Shanghai collection. However, it appears that this edition was lost in the wars that plagued modern China. Thus, in addition to this copy in the Museum collection, only a copy of “Shih-ching yao-i (Principal Meaning of The Book of Poetry)” survives in a Japanese library.

This book, after being purchased in the Ch'ing dynasty by Juan Yüan, was submitted to the Ch'ing court. Despite the thin strokes of the characters in the text, they still appear crisp and fresh, which is rare among surviving Sung imprints today.

Text and images are provided by National Palace Museum