The National Palace Museum is home to a rich and large collection of Chinese rare and antiquarian books. While the bulk of our holdings is inherited from the Qing court, others are assembled through acquisitions and donations of works that are culturally significant but are lacking in the core collection. One such example is the Guanhaitang Library accumulated by the late Qing bibliophile Yang Shoujing. It was acquired by the Beiyang Government from Yang's family in 1915, and a great portion, totaling 1,634 titles in 15,491 volumes, was transferred in 1926 to the Museum. These titles are unique in that not only are they representative of the diverse subject coverage of Chinese books, but are also illustrative of their distribution and circulation in the East Asian cultural sphere.
Yang distinguished himself from other renowned book collectors of the late Qing not by the size of his holdings. He was respected for his unflagging efforts in acquiring a substantial number of Chinese rare and antiquarian books in Japan and shipping them back home. In 1880, He Ruzhang, the Chinese ambassador to Japan, appointed Yang as one of his diplomatic attachés in Tokyo. It was the prime time of the Meiji Restoratioin, a period during which Japan was deeply involved in nationwide westernized reformation. Yang found numerous Chinese books being dumped into the market at low prices and purposely started collecting. He befriended such Japanese bibliophiles as Mori Risshi (1807-1885), Mukoyama Koson (1826-1897) and Shimada Jurei (1838-1898), as they shared a common passion for books. With their assistance and guidance, Yang was able to get hold of many rare and antiquarian Chinese books from other collectors either through purchase or exchange.
In 1884, Yang at the end of the term of his service shipped the books that he had collected in Japan to China. Four years later he moved the collection to Linsuyuan Garden in Huangzhou, Hubei province, and later in 1903 to Guanhaitang Library in Juwan, Wuchang. Yang died in 1915, and the Beiyang Government paid some 70,000 taels of gold to acquire the collection from his family. Part of the collection was transferred to the Songpo Library, which was integrated into the former National Library of Peiping. The remaining titles were deposited at the Jilingyou Garden, and then transferred to the Library of the Palace Museum Library before being moved to the hinterland of China to avoid the flames of the Sino-Japanese War. While the National Palace Museum houses only part of the collection, it nevertheless illustrates Yang's incessant efforts and remarkable work in assembling rare and antiquarian books overseas, and is thus testimonial to his contributions to conserving Chinese culture.
The exhibition is made up of four sections: "Yang Shoujing and His Calligraphy" gives an account of the life of the bibliophile and his brushwork; "Book Collecting in Japan" addresses Yang's continued search for rare and antiquarian editions, his connoisseurship, and the characteristics of the titles acquired; "An Eye on the Cosmos" examines, by way of the broad subject coverage of Yang's library, his academic explorations into geography and human body structure, and his introspective views on the macro and micro universe manifested therein; and "The Spread of Chinese Books" outlines the historical course of Chinese editions circulating to the Korean Peninsula and Japan, as well as their journey back, seemingly responding to Yang's destined encounter with, and acquisition of, Chinese rare and antiquarian books in a foreign land and shipping them home.