There’s been so much going on to write about, and I’ve sorely neglected actually doing the writing. Forgive me. Here’s a start on catching up.
The Freer Sackler hosted a symposium a few weeks ago (around July 11-15) on Chinese Rare Books. The 13th was the only day of presentations in English, so I attended only that day. Another presenter, Li Yonghui, was supposed to present that day as well, but had to return to China a day early, so Princeton professor Dr. Soren Edgren generously stepped up to the plate, giving four hours of talks.
The first hour was largely about the history of Chinese books, and the different types of binding, which, though fascinating, is also rather lengthy and complex and well-documented elsewhere. Perhaps one of these days, as part of my reportage on my current Japanese Books Digitization Project internship, I’ll put together a post on such things. Better yet, maybe I’ll just link to an already existing page that does a better job of it than I ever would.
Dr. Edgren is the head of the Chinese Rare Books Project (which, strangely, I can’t seem to find any homepage for, with a basic simple Google Search), which has been working to develop and implement standards for cataloguing Chinese rare books, and assembling a database/catalog, which has now been fully integrated into OCLC/WorldCat, and is also available in a Chinese language version.
As a result of being invested in the subject of Chinese books from the point of view of cataloging, Dr. Edgren touched upon a small number of issues with translation and terminology. The main one being the question of “volumes,” with which I have myself long had difficulties as well. Chinese and Japanese books often use the character 巻 (J: kan, C: juan) to refer to “volumes,” but just as often as not, these are not physically separate volumes, but more like chapters or sections. Or, sometimes, a single 巻 can be divided among separate physical volumes, or, to use a more obscure but more precise English term, “fascicles.”
A fascicle is a distinct physical object, what we would most commonly call “a book,” with its own front and back cover; a fascicle is what you would count if you were counting how many books are on a shelf. Go to the library or the bookstore, and you’ll likely find The Lord of the Rings, just to take an example, sold both as a single, really thick, fascicle, and as three separate “volumes” or “books” – Fellowship, Two Towers, and Return of the King each in its own fascicle.
In the case of Chinese and Japanese books, sometimes a single book will contain sections labeled 一巻、二巻、三巻、and sometimes separate books will be labeled something like 一巻上 and 一巻下 (“first kan, first half” and “first kan, second half”). Most versions of The Lord of the Rings that I have seen in Japanese have been printed in this way – each of the three “books” in the trilogy published as two or three “volumes,” that is, fascicles, labeled as 上 and 下, or 上, 中, and 下, for a total of seven to nine fascicles total for the three “books.” Then there are cases where books are labeled as 一編、二編、三編, a completely separate character, related to the word 編集する, meaning “to compile,” and often used to mark the name of the editor or compiler of a text. There are numerous other such issues, originating from the complexities of the use of a wide variety of different terms.
This is pure speculation on my part, but based on my experience with such materials, I imagine that the difficulties derive chiefly from the matter of rebinding and recompilation. Books are constantly being recompiled into new editions, or simply rebound, for example, in the case of three thin fascicles being rebound into one thick fascicle with a fancier, hardback cover. The number of volumes (i.e. chapters, sections) in a classic text is set in stone, so to speak, but the number of fascicles it may be published in is variable. The “Romance of the Three Kingdoms” (三国志, J: Sangokushi), for example, contains 120 chapters, which let’s just say are numbered as 巻 (I’m not sure what character is traditionally used to number them). These 120 巻 have been printed and reprinted, however, in a gazillion different formats, including the 75-volume (read: 75-fascicle) illustrated set from the 1830s-40s that we photographed a few weeks ago. So, do we call this a “120-volume text in 75 volumes”? I suppose in this particular case, the word “chapters” solves the problem well, but that’s really not so easily the case for many other examples…
Stay tuned for another post, in which I’ll share points from Dr. Edgren’s talk on the history of the introduction of the book into Japan.