Rare Books and Secret Archives: Treasures from the Collections of the National Palace Museum


The National Palace museum is home to a rich collection of approximately 203,000 volumes of rare books and nearly 400,000 pieces of historical documents from the Qing archives. Large in number, these materials are of great cultural and historical value.
the Qing court, including those originating from the Song, Yuan, and Ming dynasties, as well as monographic imprints by the Qing court. Among the most well known collectanea, one can count the Tienlu Linlang Library of the of Zhaoren Palace, Wanwei Biecang Library of the Yangxin Palace, the Siku Quanshu (Complete Library of the Four Treasuries) of the Wenyuan Pavilion, the Siku Quanshu Huiyao (Condensed Library of the Four Treasuries) of the Chizao Hall, and block-printed editions of the Wuying Palace. Other notable items include Yang Shoujing’s Guanhaitang Library of rare books that he acquired while stationed in Japan, rare Song and Yuan editions, novels, block prints, local gazetteers, maps, and anthologies entrusted to the Museum from Peking Library, as well as books donated to or placed under the custody of the Museum.

The archival documents of the Qing court, on the other hand, may be divided into the following four categories according to location of storage: Palace Memorials, archives of the Grand Council, archives of the Grand Secretariat, and archives of the Historiography Institutes (including the Historiography Institute of the Qing dynasty and the Qing Historiography Institute of the early Republican era). Occupying the largest portion of the archival collection are the Palace Memorials with imperial rescripts in vermilion ink and the Grand Council copies of Palace Memorials, along with their attachments. These documents were carefully preserved in the Qing court on account of their confidentiality, and access to which by the world outside was thus impossible. Carefully managed and finely preserved by Qing rulers, they have existed to this day, ready to give the audiences an opportunity to probe into what they were meant to be.
The rare books are appealing to the audiences because of the superb craftsmanship in production, exquisite decorations, and fine layout designs. The confidential nature of the archival documents of the Qing court would also trigger the visitors' curiosity. The exhibition Rare Books and Secret Archives offers the public an opportunity to examine these rare books and acquire a better understanding of how the book has evolved in China over the centuries, and to have a clearer idea of the Qing archival system and its relevance to government administration and even court history.


Rare Books: a Quintessential Selection from the National Palace Museum Collection

The National Palace Museum houses a collection of rare books, numbering over 203,000 volumes, from the Song, Yuan, and Ming dynasties. Mainly formed and assembled by the Qing court, the collection is impressive in both quality and quantity.

When the Manchu came to rule over the Han China, the new dynasty also took over the entire court library left by the defeated Ming. The palace collections further expanded in scale and contents. Compilations of imperial writings and various other works were commissioned per imperial orders; great effort was put in to actively pursue the Song and Yuan rare books. Collated by court scholars for imperial perusal only and titled collectively Tianlu Linlang (Resplendent Voluminosity), these rare books reveal the extent of Qing emperors’ cultivated erudition. Twists and turns in history have made the once exclusive sets an important part of the National Palace Museum’s collections.

Other sources also contributed to the Museum’s rich collection of rare books, including Ming imprints and maps taken over from the former Peking Library, unusual Chinese originals and Japanese imprints gathered by Yang Shoujing, an assistant to the late Qing's envoy to Japan; Song and Yuan works donated by individuals, local gazetteers transferred from the Department of Defense, and various Qing anthologies bequeathed by the Sun Yat-Sen Library of Hong Kong. Except for a few that used to be in the court collections and then scattered outside, most of these are manuscripts or imprints produced by private or commercial operations. Their varieties are a valuable complement to the Museum’s court-based collection.

The section ''Rare Books: a Quintessential Selection from the Museum Collection'' consists of the following seven segments: ''Gems of the Wuying Palace Editions'', ''Treasuries of the Wenyuan Pavilion'', ''Fine Editions of the Wanwei Biecang Library'', ''Works from the Peking Library'', ''Rare Books of the Guanhaitang Library'', ''Invaluable Donations”, and “Dragon Sutras.'' With the vast collection of volumes in their fine binding, the multi-block color-printing techniques, and the many other ingenious devices employed by private print houses, the featured items provide historical perspectives into the rare books housed in the Museum, and, as a whole, into the aesthetic, cultural, artistic, and bibliophilistic aspects in the world of rare books.

Treasures in the Wuyin Palace

Qinding Gujin Tushu Jicheng
Completed Collection of Graphs and Writings of Ancient and Modern Times
Edited on imperial order by Jiang Tingxi, et al., Qing dynasty
Wuying Palace imprint of bronze movable type, 1726, Qing dynasty
  Qinding Wuyingdian Juzhenban Chengshi
Printing Procedures of the Wuying Palace
Written by Jin Jian, Qing dynasty
Wuying Palace imprint of wood movable type, 1773, Qing dynasty
Imperial Learning
Written by Fan Zuyu, Northern Song dynasty
Miniature manuscript by Prince Yongrong, 1775, Qing dynasty


Gems of the Wenyuan Chamber

Qinding Tianlu Linlang Shumu Houbian
Supplement to the Catalogue of the Tianlu Linlang Library
Compiled on imperial order by Peng Yuanrui, et al., Qing dynasty
Compiled on imperial order by Peng Yuanrui, et al., Qing dynasty
  Qinding Buhui Xiao Yuncong Lisao Quantu
Supplement to Xiao Yuncong's Illustrations to Encountering Sorrow
Illustrated by Xiao Yuncong and supplemented on the imperial order of Emperor Qianlong, Qing dynasty
Handwritten dition of the Wenyuan Hall as part of the Siku Quanshu Library, 1773-1781, Qing dynasty


Tianlulinlang: The Treasure-Collection of Rare Books

Qinding Tianlu Linlang Shumu Houbian
Supplement to the Catalogue of the Tianlu Linlang Library
Compiled on imperial order by Peng Yuanrui, et al., Qing dynasty
Compiled on imperial order by Peng Yuanrui, et al., Qing dynasty
  Kongshi Liutie
Six Wrintings by Master Ko
Written by Kong Chuan, Song dynasty
Imprint by Han Zhongtong of Quanzhou, 1166, Southern Song dynasty
Wanwei Biecang Xubian Shumu Tiyao
Annotations to the Supplemental Catalogue of the Wanwei Biecang Library
Written on the imperial order of Emperor Jiaqing, Qing dynasty
Handwritten red-lined edition of inner court, 1796-1820, Qing dynasty


Beiping's Rare Books & Maps Ensemble

Yongle Dadian
Vast Documents of the Yongle Era
Complied by Xie Jin, et al., Ming dynasty
Manuscript copy of inner court, 1522-1572, Ming dynasty


Rare Books Collection from Yang Shoujing

Kingin Zuroku
Catalogue of Japanese Coins
Edited by Kondō Morishige (1771-1829)
Color imprint of 1810, Japan


Various Precious Arts Donated to the Museum

Xinbian Zhuru Pidian Gujin Wenzhang Zhengyin
New Edition of Ancient and Modern Literary Writings Annotated and Commentated by Confucian Scholars
Edited by Liu Zhensun, Southern Song dynasty
Imprint of 1265-1274, Southern Song dynasty
Donated by Shen Zhongtao
  Su Wenzhong Gong Shiji
Collection of Poems by Su Shi
Written by Su Shi, Northern Song dynasty; commentated by Ji Yun, Qing dynasty
Black-and-red imprint by the Yunyu Print House, 1869, Qing dynasty
Donated by Qin Xiaoyi


The Tibetan Dragon Sutra

Tibetan Dragon Sutra
Section of Collected Sutras
Handwritten in gold ink during the reign of Emperor Kangxi, Qing dynasty (Phu case)


Tripitaka in Manchu

Manchu Tripitaka
Imperial in red ink imprint of 1790, Qing dynasty


Secret Archives: a Treasury of Qing Historical Documents

Archival documents are not only records produced during administrative activities, but also an important source of materials for studying the implementation of policies and the formulation of legal institutions. Since the ancient times there has been a system for safekeeping national archives on account of their referential value and confidentiality. It is noted in Shiji (Records of the Grand Historian) that King Cheng of Western Zhou had commanded his officials to store important archives in a jinguei (golden cabinet), revealing that the ruler was cautious of preserving archives. Considered by many as the earliest archiving system, the practice of preserving administrative documents has been carefully observed and followed in each succeeding dynasty, leaving an important treasury of materials of historical value.

Such archives were sealed and preserved carefully, and access by others was next to impossible. Documents thus treated would include all those compiled under imperial commission, such as veritable records, court diaries, imperial genealogical records, proclamation mandates, compilations of decrees, and all those that could help compile dynastic histories.

After Manchu ruled China, the system of archival management of the Ming was adopted. Clear and strict regulations for archival practices, such as registering, copying, recalling, repairing, checking, and filing, were written out. For example, the huge number of archival documents preserved in the Grand Council was regulated to be examined and repaired after several years in consideration of their frequent use by officials and the resulting damages. We may thus get a sense of the kind of attitude of Qing court held towards the management and preservation of national archives.

The section ''Secret Archives: a Treasury of Qing Historical Documents'' highlights the valuable historical resources held by the National Palace Museum, such as imperial decrees and official documents, biographies of officials, and palace memorials and accompanying illustrations. Not only does it reveal the secret veil of national archives which were considered confidential, but also help the visitors to garner an understanding of the development of official documents during the Qing dynasty. Meanwhile, they also show how the Qing government was administrated, the court life, and the relationship between the emperor and officials, as well as the process of the rise and fall of each reign.


Propositions and Palace Memorials from Court Officials 

Memorial on the status of constructing wood paling in Taiwan
Presented by Chan Jibu, Investigating Censor to Taiwan


Official Documents

Mingyichen Liehzhuan
Biographical Materials of Officials of the Ming Dynasty
Edition of the State Historiography Institute, Qing dynasty
  Mingyichen Liehzhuan
Biographical Materials of Officials of the Ming Dynasty
Edition of the State Historiography Institute, Qing dynasty
Taiwan Luetu
Map of Taiwan(Chinese version)
1662-1722, Qing Dynasty


Palace Memorials & Illustrations

Memorial on the dispatching of officials and the escorting of Taiwan's aboriginals to Beijing
Presented by Jueluo Manbao, Governor-general of Fujian and Zhejiang


Historical Documents on Taiwanese Aboriginals

Huangwing Zhigong Tu
Illustrations of Tribute Missions to the Imperial Qing
Taken from the Siku Quanshu Huiyao (Condensed Version of the Complete Library of the Four Treasuries) of the Ci-zao Hal, Qing dynasty


Text and images are provided by National Palace Museum