Two Private Libraries: Zhu Yizun's 'Pavilion for Airing Books' and Qian Qianyi's Tower of Crimson Clouds
Ancient libraries were little more than places in which to store books 古代圖書館不過是藏書的地方
In his essay 'Unpacking My Library: A Talk about Book Collecting', Walter Benjamin seeks to provide 'some insight into the relationship of a book collector to his possessions, into collecting rather than a collection'. It is a relationship to objects, he argues, 'which does not emphasize their functional, utilitarian value—that is, their usefulness—but studies and loves them as the scene, the stage, of their fate'. The place in seventeenth-century China where books, their collectors and their various readers most often came together was the scholar's studio, wherein was housed whatever private library a scholar had managed to assemble. As the pre-eminent Ming dynasty scholar Qian Qianyi 錢謙益 (1582-1664) warns us, however, as cited in a preface to the catalogue of the library of his great-great-nephew Qian Zeng 錢曾 (1629-ca.1699), Reading Notes on Books Diligently Sought (1726), 'Not all book collections are created equal, for there are those that are collected by readers and those collected by collectors'. In these terms, the two collections that are the focus of this short article were emphatically of the former category, by virtue both of the nature of their holdings and the productive use to which these collections were put by their respective owners.
A portrait of Zhu Yizun. From Qingdai xuezhe xiangzhuan, Ye Yanlan and Ye Gongchuo, eds., 1928 & 1953; rpt. Shanghai: Shanghai Shudian Chubanshe, 2001, vol.1, p.87.
The first of these private libraries, that of the early Qing scholar Zhu Yizun 朱彝尊 (1629-1709), as we see from his own account of the vicissitudes of his book collection, was large, eventually totalling over eighty thousand fascicles (juan), and had been painstakingly assembled over the course of the latter half of his long life. The bulk of its holdings comprised handwritten copies of works in the libraries of fellow collectors.
The second library, Qian Qianyi's Tower of the Crimson Clouds (Jiangyun Lou 絳雲樓), the building for which was completed in 1643, lasted little more than seven years before, late one winter's night early in 1650, it was almost completely destroyed by fire. This collection, by contrast again, based on the acquisition of the core holdings of four earlier immense private libraries, was comparatively small. A highly selective collection it totalled only around three thousand titles and was comprised almost exclusively of rare Song (960-1279) and Yuan (1264-1368) dynasty imprints.
Zhu Yizun 朱彝尊 (1629-1709), 'Preface' to Catalogue of the Works Housed in the Pavilion for Airing My Books (Pushu Ting zhulu xu 曝書亭著錄序):
Few of the books that my family inherited from my great-grandfather, the Grand Secretary Zhu Guozuo 朱國祚 [1559?-1624], survived the warfare attendant upon the Yiyou year [1645, when the Ming ruling house fell to the Qing dynasty and Manchu-led armies invaded China Proper]. I was seventeen at the time and took refuge with the family of my wife, all of us being forced to move six times to escape the turmoil. For his part, my father had to move nine times before he finally settled down at Meihui Village. By then, our family possessions had been reduced to whatever little we could fit into a single junk and, as a man who made a living sitting beside an ink-slab with his brush in hand, the situation was particularly desperate for me, for I found myself with no books to read at all.
On my eventual return to my home from Lingnan, I visited Nanchang and bought five boxes of books, enough to fill a large book chest. Later, during the years I lived in Yongjia, the case against the Ming History was being prosecuted, and every book I owned that mentioned events connected with the Ming period had to be consigned to the flames. By the time I returned home again, upon enquiry, I discovered that I had lost every book that I had once possessed, and even the book chest itself had disappeared. Later on still, when I stayed in Jiangdu for a year, I began collecting books again. I had occasion to encounter my old friend Xiang Dushou 項篤壽 and he told me that he was in the process of selling off some incomplete volumes from his Tower of the Ten Thousand Volumes (Wanjuan Lou 萬卷樓) and, for twenty taels, I bought up everything he had on offer. At the same time, both Vice-Minister Cao Rong 曹溶 [1613-85] and Minister Xu Qianxue 徐乾學 [1631-94] presented me with copies of works in their collections. My passion for books increased over time and soon I was spending everything I made from my tutoring work on books. Once I had taken up office,  I had copies made of works held in the Historiographical Office, of works in the collections of Sun Chengze 孫承澤 [1593-1675] of Wanping, Qin Yanzhai 秦硯齋 of Wuxi, Xu Qianxue of Kunshan, Huang Yuji 黃虞稷 [1629-91] of Jinjiang, and Gong Xianglin 龔翔鱗 of Qiantang. By the time I returned home to Jiaxing having administered the Provincial Examinations in Nanjing, I calculated that, over this period, I had managed to collect over thirty thousand fascicles (juan), some of which had been handed on to me by my father. Once I had retired, I managed to collect another forty thousand odd fascicles, and was later given yet another two thousand five hundred by Li Yanzhen 李彥貞 of Shanghai. A book collection that now totalled eighty thousand fascicles was something truly to be proud of. This collection included books that had been borrowed and never returned and books that had been stolen, others again that remained incomplete. Of those that remained, however, I can fairly claim that I had read the vast bulk of all of them.
A portrait of Xu Qianxue. From Qingdai xuezhe xiangzhuan, vol.1, p.59.
My son, Kuntian 昆田 [1652-99], also proved an assiduous reader, and although we frequently had few clothes to wear or little to eat, the sound of his chanting could constantly be heard in our house. Silverfish eating their way through the pages of a book, a mouse stealing off with a piece of preserved ginger between its teeth or a pelican pursuing a fish, none of these can quite capturing the quality of his obsession with books. It seemed certain that he was set to bring me great pleasure in my old age. Alas, earlier this year, my son died, far too prematurely. Who now will read these books of mine? The material things of this world do not gather long together, and those that do happen to come together, sooner or later, must disperse, this being a principle of all things. I have no idea into whose hands my books will eventually fall. Perhaps they will be treasured and wrapped in brocade, or then again they may be neglected, treated as mere earth and grass. I have no way of foreseeing the happy fortune, or otherwise, of the books that I have collected.
South of the pond I have a pavilion named 'Airing My Books'. Having aired my volumes, I store them in the pavilion, cataloguing them in eight fascicles, one category per fascicle: classics, arts, history, records, philosophic masters, literary collections, encyclopaedias, and polemics.
This preface was written by the Old Man of the Bamboo Knoll during the twelfth month of the thirty-eighth year of the reign of the Kangxi emperor .
Although Zhu's book collection seems to have remained intact for some years after his death, when the site of his Pavilion for Airing Books was visited by Ruan Yuan 阮元 (1764-1849) almost ninety years later, he found the books gone and the pavilion itself in ruins. He immediately ordered its restoration, as a lasting memorial to Zhu Yizun, his books and his poetry. During his lifetime, however, Zhu's library had been used for the editing of a number of extensive compilations: his documentary history of Beijing entitled Accounts of the Past Heard in the Precincts of the Sun (Rixia jiuwen 日下舊聞) (1687), an anthology of Ming poetry completed in 1705, and, most importantly, a General Bibliography of the Classics (Jingyi kao 經義考) completed in 1701 (only printed in its entirety in 1755).
In book collecting circles Zhu won himself immortal fame not just for the 'Beautiful Demotion' (meibian 美貶) mentioned above, but also for an outrageous act of duplicity. Suspecting that Qian Zeng's collection included books that he had obtained from Qian Qianyi's Tower of Crimson Clouds, the library discussed below, and which Qian Qianyi was thought to have obtained, in turn, from the Mowang Guan 脈望館 collection once owned by the Zhao 趙 family, Zhu needed access to the catalogue of holdings that Qian Zeng's was said to have compiled but which he hid from sight. It is recorded that Zhu invited Qian to a banquet in Nanjing and, during the course of the revelries, bribed Qian's retainers to open up his book chest and allow the jealously guarded catalogue to be copied before its owner returned. The collection at issue here is the library to which I now turn.
The Tower of Crimson Clouds
From both an historical and a personal perspective, one cannot imagine a less propitious moment for Qian Qianyi to have established his library. By the winter of 1643, when the building itself had been completed, rebel armies under the command of Li Zicheng 李自成 (1605-1645) and Zhang Xianzhong 張獻忠 (1605-1647) had occupied much of the north and the south of China, respectively. The troops of the Manchu claimants to the throne loomed ominously in the far north. In the twelfth month, Qian Qianyi's closest friend, the poet and painter Cheng Jiasui 程嘉燧 (1565-1643) died at his home in Xin'an 新安. By the nineteenth day of the third month of the following year, the Northern Capital had fallen to Li Zicheng and the Chongzhen Emperor had hung himself from a tree upon Longevity Mountain. By the next month, the Qing troops had broken through Shanhai Pass and by the fifth month they, in their turn, had occupied Beijing. By the fifth month of the following year, when the Qing authorities occupied the Southern Capital, Qian Qianyi, then serving as Minister in the Ministry of Rites (libu shangshu 禮部尚書) and dressed in his court robes, surrendered. Despite such circumstances, however, the book collection assembled in the Tower of the Crimson Clouds proved the finest and most carefully chosen private collection assembled during the course of the Ming and Qing dynasties. The story of this library is inextricably associated with the consummation of a celebrated if scandalous love affair and the sale of a single book.
The love affair was that between Qian Qianyi and Liu Rushi 柳如是 (1618-1664), a 'singsong girl of Wujiang'. Liu was in her twenty-third year when, during the winter of 1640 she paid a call at Qian's Half Rustic Hall (Banye Tang 半野堂) dressed as a man and travelling unaccompanied on a skiff; he was 58. 'I will not marry anybody less talented than Scholar Qian of Mount Yu 虞山', she is somewhat unreliably reported as having said; he for his part, having met her, supposedly said: 'I will not marry anyone less able to write poetry than Liu Shi'. By the sixth month of the succeeding year, the two had married, in the face of opposition from the clan of Qian's first wife.
The book sold was a Song dynasty imprint of the two histories of the Han dynasty that had once belonged to the eminent scholar and man-of-letters Wang Shizhen 王世貞 (1526-90) and which Qian had finally acquired after considerable effort some twenty years previously for 1200 taels. As Qian himself tells us in his 'Note Appended to the Song Dynasty Imprint of the History of the Two Han Dynasties which I Once Owned' ('Shu jiu cang Song diao liang Han shu hou' 書舊藏宋雕兩漢書後), Wang Shizhen had obtained this book in exchange for an estate; Qian was to sell it at a loss of 200 taels to his student Xie Sanbin 謝三賓 in 1643 in order to build Crimson Clouds for Liu Rushi.
In the case of this library, we are afforded an intimate glimpse within its walls in the following passage from a biography of Liu Rushi by the writer Niu Xiu 鈕琇 (d.1704):
Once Liu Rushi had reverted (gui 歸) to Qian Qianyi of Mount Yu, he viewed her as if she was a celestial being descended from the crimson clouds. Such beings, as we all know, prefer to dwell in towers and so, to the rear of his Half Rustic Hall, Qian built her a five-bay tower that was pillowed by the hill and nestled up against the wall and which appeared exquisite in its reds and greens. This tower he named 'Crimson Clouds'. No book collector south of the great river possessed a richer collection than did Qian, and now he re-doubled his efforts to acquire rare books (shanben 善本), along with new editions from the woodblocks of his friend Mao Jin's 毛晉 [1599-1659] Pavilion for Drawing from the Ancients (Jigu Ge 汲古閣). He transported his collection to his tower by cart and installed it upstairs. Ivory bookmarks and precious scrolls were piled higgledy-piggledy. Once he had retired from the world of the embroidered curtains and jasper chambers he would spend day and night closeted here in close conversation with Liu Rushi....
A portrait of Qian Qianyi. From Qingdai xuezhe xiangzhuan, vol.2, p.369.
In old age, as Qian's obsession with reading and with books became even more pronounced, Liu Rushi was the only person that he would ever consult as he went about his editing work and the checking of textual variants (jiaochou 較讎). Whenever the slightest furrow crossed his brow or his brush pause as it plied its way down the page, Liu Rushi would immediately leap to her feet and proceed upstairs to consult some book or other. Although books were stacked as high as the rafters she would soon return with a particular volume of a specific text and would open it up to point with her slender fingers to precisely the passage that Qian had been trying to remember, never once making a mistake. On other occasions, when Qian's use of an allusion proved either wrong or infelicitous, she would correct the text of what he had written. Qian Qianyi took great delight in her divine intelligence and grew ever more fond of her. When our dynasty sought to employ the former officials of the previous dynasty, Qian answered the summons. Soon, however, he became implicated in a plot and was dismissed, after which time he devoted himself exclusively to writing and editing. Liu Shi waited upon him constantly, her love for reading serving to encourage the two of them in the recklessness of their behaviour.
The major work that the two of them completed during the short life of the library was a massive anthology of the poetry of the Ming dynasty, entitled A Collection of the Poetry of the Various Reigns (Liechao shiji 列朝詩集) which, when completed in 1649, was published by Mao Jin shortly before the site of their collaboration disappeared in flames. This was a work that Qian had conceived of some many years earlier but which they embarked upon together only when Liu Rushi started to bring the required materials with her on her visits to Qian whilst he was imprisoned in Nanjing in 1648 under suspicion of Ming loyalist activities.
The most celebrated account of this last and tragic event is that of Cao Rong, another man who earned himself undying obloquy through his decision to serve two dynasties, an earlier acquaintance (and lover?) of Liu Rushi before she met and married Qian Qianyi and a frequent visitor to their library once it had been established, and himself a major book collector who, as we have seen above, made his library freely available to Zhu Yizun in his search for the sources necessary to his work: Not long after he had travelled north to take up office he returned home on the pretext of ill health, taking up residence in Red Bean Mountain Estate (Hongdou Shanzhuang 紅豆山莊). Turning to his book collection, he began again to bring order to it (shanzhi 膳治), mending those books that needed repair, making copies of those that needed copying, at the same time sorting the collection into various categories (qufen leiju 區分纇聚). He then had the whole collection housed upstairs in the Tower of Crimson Clouds, in seventy-three large bookcases. With evident joy, he would survey his collection, exclaiming: 'I may well have been reduced to poverty in my old age but I'm certainly rich in terms of my books!' Ten or so days later his young daughter was playing upstairs in the tower with her wet-nurse in the middle of the night when, as the wick of the lamp was being trimmed, it fell amidst a pile of papers which immediately burst into flames. Downstairs, Qian Qianyi arose with a start, but by that time the flames already lit up the sky and the tower was beyond saving. He fled outside. Before long, both the tower itself and the books that it had once housed had been reduced to ashes.
1. Li Dazhao, 'Speech at the Commemorative Meeting Celebrating the Second Anniversary of the Establishment of the Library of the Beijing Tertiary Normal College' (Zai Beijing gaodeng shifan xueyxiao tushuguan er zhounian jinianhui shang de yanshuoci), Pingmin jiaoyu, 1919 (10).
2. Walter Benjamin, Illuminations, edited by Hannah Arendt and translated by Harry Zohn, New York: Schocken Books, 1969, p.60.
3. Qian Zeng, Reading Notes on Books Diligently Sought (Dushu min qiu ji jiaozheng 讀書敏求記校證), Shanghai: Shanghai Guji Chubanshe, 2007, p.478.
4. For an account of which, see Fang Chao-ying's biography of Zhu Yizun in A.W. Hummel, ed., Eminent Chinese of the Ch'ing Period (1644-1912) (hereafter, ECCP), Washington: Government Printing Office, 1943, pp.182-85.
5. L. Carrington Goodrich provides a brief note on this case of literary persecution in ECCP, pp.205-206, as part of his biography of Zhuang Tinglong 莊廷鑨 (d. ca.1660), author of a work entitled Collected Digests of Ming History (Ming shi jilüe 明史輯略) that failed to abide by Qing dynasty historiographical conventions. As Goodrich writes, 'When the case was closed on July 1 , the Zhuang family, the family of the writer of the preface, the families of those scholars whose names appeared in the work as assistant compilers were nearly annihilated. Males above fifteen sui were executed, and their women and children distributed as slaves to Manchurian families. The printers, and those purchasers of the book who could be identified, were executed. The corpses of both Zhuang Tinglong and his father, as well as several others who were implicated, were disinterred and burned. Several officials who knew of the book, but had not troubled to inform the Court, were executed. A total of some seventy persons were put to death and a large number were exiled. All the families involved had their fortunes confiscated' (p.206; romanisation altered).
6. After success in the special examinations of 1679, Zhu was appointed to the Hanlin Academy with concurrent editorial responsibility for the compilation of the official history of the Ming dynasty. Dismissed in 1684 for having had unauthorized copies made of materials in the imperial collection, Zhu was reappointed to the same post in 1690, only to be dismissed again several years later, never thereafter to hold office.
7. Zhu Yizun, Zhu Yizun xuanji, Shanghai: Shanghai Guji Chubanshe, 1991, pp.446-49.
8. For an account of a more recent visit made to the site of this pavilion, late in 1999, see the first item in the noted contemporary book collector Wei Li's 韋力 My Search for Traces of the Private Libraries of Old (Shulou xunzong 書樓尋蹤), Shijiazhuang: Hebei Jiaoyu Chubanshe, 2004, pp.2-4.
9. One of Zhu Yizun's former residences in the city, close to the bookshops of Liulichang and not far distant from that of Ji Yun 紀昀 (1724-1805) discussed in the previous issue of China Heritage Quarterly (No. 12, December 2007), served (like Ji Yun's continues to do) as a house museum, until it was recently destroyed as part of one of the latest plans for the urban renewal of the capital. For a brief note on the house, see Wu Yingcai 吳英才 and Guo Juanjie 郭雋杰, eds., Ancestral Temples and House Museums of China (Zhongguo de citing yu guju 中國的祠堂與故居), Tianjin: Tianjin Renmin Chubanshe, 1997, pp.26-27. Words from Zhu's 'Preface' to his monumental history of the city seem peculiarly prescient in this connection: 'Alas, the sites of the palaces and mansions, the walls and the marketplaces change repeatedly, and only one in ten of the monasteries and temples are found where they once stood, and nine out of ten of these now bear different plaques. As that which once was there is ruined and disappears, and even the books recording their former existence become scattered and lost, as the years follow each other, one after another, the physical traces of the past become ever harder to seek out'.
10. This story is first told, it seems, in Wu Zhuo's 吳焯 'Preface' to the 1726 edition of Qian Zeng's Reading Notes on Books Diligently Sought, for which, see the version noted in Note 3 above, pp.488-89. In a recent discussion of the story, Liu Shangheng 劉尚恆 casts some considerable doubt on its veracity, for which, see his Talking About Books in the Studio of the Two Surpluses (Eryuzhai shuoshu 二餘齋說書), Shijiazhuang: Hebei Jiaoyu Chubanshe, 2004, pp.1-5.
11. Qian Zhonglian 錢仲聯, ed., Qian Muzhai quanji 錢牧齋全集, Shanghai: Shanghai Guji Chubanshe, 2003, vol.6, pp.1529-30. This book had previously been owned by the eminent Yuan dynasty painter and calligrapher Zhao Mengfu 趙孟頫 (1254-1322). In an earlier note on the book, dated 1643, Qian had written: 'To find oneself with no money left in one's purse is the most dispiriting thing in life. The day on which that book left me was one that was hard for me to endure, this desolate scene perhaps approximating that witnessed when having lost his kingdom, Li Yu 李煜 [937-78], the last Emperor of the Southern Tang Dynasty, heard the line: "Facing the imperial concubines I wipe away my tears" drifting towards him from the Music Office', for which, see 'Colophon on the Histories of the Former and the Latter Han Dynasty' ('Ba Qian Hou Han shu' 跋前後漢書), Qian Zhonglian, ed., Qian Muzhai quanji, vol.3, p.1781. In a note later added to this colophon, Qian continued: 'Master Li Weizhen's 李維楨 [1547-1626] brother Li Weizhu 李維柱, whose calligraphy was modeled on that of Yan Zhenqing 顏真卿 [709-85], once told me that: "Were I ever to get hold of that copy of the History of the Han Dynasty once owned by Zhao Mengfu I would burn incense and pray before it every day, insisting that it be buried with me when I die". His words made me deeply ashamed of what I had done' (vol.3, p.1781).
12. Niu Xiu, Drinking Dregs (Gusheng 觚賸), Shanghai: Shanghai Guji Chubanshe, 1986, pp.48-49. For short biographies of Qian Qianyi (including mention of the accusations of Ming loyalist activity) and Liu Rushi, see ECCP, pp.148-50 and pp.529-30, respectively.
13. Liu Shi's daughter (her only child) had been born in 1649. In the 'Preservation' (Shoucang 收藏) section of his Cangshu shiyue 藏書十約, Ye Dehui 葉德輝 (1864-1927), the late-Qing scholar of books and book collecting, notes: 'Lamps and candles, wastepaper baskets, and other containers of combustibles should not be put too near a book-room. The burning of the [Tower of Crimson Clouds] and the conflagration in the Wuying Dian [the Hall of Martial Valour in the Forbidden City in Peking] [in 1869] are the most lamentable events that could possibly have happened in time of peace', for which see Achilles Fang, trans., 'Bookman's Decalogue' (Ts'ang-shu shih-yue 藏書十約), Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies (1950), 13:155. As Joseph McDermott notes, however, other scholars have suggested that the destruction of the library was in fact due to the depredations of the troops of the new dynasty, for which see his A Social History of the Chinese Book: Books and Literati Culture in Late Imperial China, Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2006, p.245.
14. Qian Qianyi, 'Inscription to the Catalogue of the Crimson Clouds Collection' ('Jiangyun Lou cangshu mu tici' 絳雲樓藏書目題詞), in Xuxiu Siku quanshu 續修四庫全書, Shanghai: Shanghai Guji Chubanshe, 2002, vol.920, p.322.