Essentials to the Collected Meaning of The Four Books

Tags: National Palace Museum | rare books | Yuan dynasty


Yüan Dynasty (1279-1368)
31.5 x 24 cm (print: 28 x 20.5 cm) 
Liu Yin (1249-1293), Sung dynasty
1330 Yüan dynasty imprint by the Branch Secretariat of Kiang-Che

After the fall of the Sung dynasty in 1279, the scholar Liu Yin turned to a life of seclusion. Known for his lofty character and disposition, he was highly esteemed by contemporaries. Consequently, backed by the following Yüan government, his “Essentials to the Collected Meaning of The Four Books” was printed with exceptional quality. For example, the woodblocks used for this Yüan impression were unusually large. The characters of the text also follow in the Chao Meng-fu style of calligraphy that was fashionable at the time. The artistic quality of the characters reveals a close relationship between writing and carving, both of which were of first rank. Furthermore, this book was not reprinted in later periods, making this surviving example all the more precious. This book was once in the inner court of the Ming dynasty (1368-1644), where it is described as "in thirteen books; incomplete." During compilation of “Ssu-k'u ch'üan-shu (Complete Library of the Four Treasuries)”, a transcribed copy had been submitted to the Ch'ing (1644-1911) court, but it too was only a partial copy with only 24 chüan (chapters) out of a total of 36. The compilers of the Ssu-k'u ch'üan-shu, nonetheless, still accepted it, showing how valuable the book and Liu Yin's scholarship was considered.

This imprint, according to its collection history, was once owned by Chou Chiu-sung of the Ming. The continuation of the catalogue to the imperial T'ien-lu lin-lang collection does not mention how it entered the Ch'ing court. Furthermore, no other records mention this imprint as part of any collection. Thus, it appears that this imprint is the only complete surviving example of this book.

Text and images are provided by National Palace Museum