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Chinese Collection

500 items.

The bulk of the collection of Chinese printed books and manuscripts was acquired in 1901 with the purchase of the Crawford collection.

The foundation of the 25th Earl of Crawford’s collection was laid by his purchase en bloc of the library of Pierre Léopold van Alstein (1792-1862) in 1863. Lord Crawford made further acquisitions, from booksellers in Britain and Continental Europe and via agents in China.

The collection is noteworthy for the comparatively small number of imperfect works. The books date mostly from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, although twenty-eight items are dated before 1600. They include histories, geographical works and narratives of travels, biographies, ceremonials, dictionaries, encyclopaedias, botanical and medical treatises, grammar books, compendia of poetry and prose literature, and works on calligraphy in Chinese, English, French and Latin.

With the omission of science and technology, almost every aspect of Chinese life and culture is represented.

Some are associated with the distinguished French sinologist, Jean-Pierre Abel Rémusat (1788–1832), and the German orientalist, Julius von Klaproth (1783–1835).

Thirty-one manuscripts were included in the Crawford purchase.

With the Crawford collection also came fifty-seven volumes and folders containing approximately 1,000 watercolour paintings, mostly eighteenth- and nineteenth-century, depicting many aspects of China and Chinese life. Eight similar volumes were acquired in 1957.

One of the most significant such items is a large-folio album containing a rare complete set of ‘Twenty views of the European palaces in the Garden of Perfect Brightness’, which uniquely includes an unfinished coloured painting (Chinese 430).

Another fifty-six printed books derive from the former University Library Chinese collection, while six books were donated in 1992 by Han Suyin.

See also the Mo-So manuscripts and Tibetan manuscripts.

Finding aids

  • Published outline catalogue of the Crawford collection (including some items not received by the Library), J.P. Edmond, Catalogue of Chinese Books and Manuscripts (privately printed, 1895).
  • Manuscript catalogue of Chinese books compiled by John Williams between 1863 and 1875.
  • Manuscript catalogue of Chinese paintings.
  • Unpublished handlist of University collection.
  • Unpublished typescript list by John Deane and Professor Zheng Yaying, 1991.


The John Rylands Library

Using the reading rooms in the John Rylands Library

Image collections

View a selection of high-resolution images of watercolours from the Chinese Collection, via Luna Insight, the Library's image management system.