Celebrations of the Qing Emperor's birthday, showing elephants, crowds of people and pavilions

East Asia Collections

The Library’s collections encompass a remarkable diversity of material, documenting five centuries of East Asian history and culture.

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Woodcut of Mount Fuji, from Edo daisetsuyo kaidaigura, c.1864.

The Chinese collections include more than 500 Chinese printed books and manuscripts, ranging from the 16th century to the late 19th; one thousand exquisite watercolour paintings from the 18th and 19th centuries; the second largest Mo-So collection in Europe, which contains over 100 pictographic and syllabic texts from a remote area close to Tibet; and archives that document interactions between Britain and China from the early 1800s to the present day.

The collection of Mo-So manuscripts is especially significant, consisting of notebooks made by dto-mbas (shamans) for the performance of secret ceremonies. The collection was acquired between 1916 and 1920 from the botanist George Forrest, one of the few Europeans to have lived with the Naxi community in the ancient Mo-So capital, LiKiang.

Archives relating to China

The Library’s archives document over two hundred years of engagement between Britain and China. They include the papers of Sir John Bowring (1792–1872) relating to political and commercial affairs in the Far East at the time when he was Consul at Canton, Plenipotentiary to China and, from 1854, Governor of Hong Kong and Chief Superintendent of Trade. They are a key source for studies of Anglo-Chinese relations in this period. The papers of E. H. Parker, the first Professor of Chinese at the Victoria University of Manchester, consist of notes, correspondence, article cuttings and photographs, mostly relating to his time working in China for the British Consular Service.

Missionary activity is documented in the Christian Brethren Collections, particularly in the extensive lantern slide collection and missionary files of the Echoes of Service Archive. Within the vast Methodist Archives, the Lewis Court Bible Christian Collection contains material relating to missionary activities in China during the 19th century. Likewise, the papers of the Methodist missionary Harold Burgoyne Rattenbury, who worked in China from 1902 to 1934, contain a great deal of information on Chinese life and affairs during a momentous period in the country’s history; Rattenbury witnessed the end of the period of the War Lords and the beginning of the civil war between the Nationalists and the Communists.

The extensive archive of Li Yuan-chia (1929–94) documents the life and work of one of the most important Chinese artists of the 20th century. He spent the last twenty-eight years of his life at Banks, next to Hadrian’s Wall. Here he established the LYC Museum, where over three hundred artists exhibited. His own cosmic vision fused poetry, photography, sculpture, painting and installation.

Japanese books and other East Asian books and manuscripts

The Japanese Collection contains over 200 Japanese books dating from the 16th to the 19th centuries, including wood-blocks, colour printing, manuscripts, drawings and photographs. A number of these were acquired in Japan by notable early Japanologists, including Isaac Titsingh (1745-1812). It includes an especially important collection of cartographic material – mostly maps, charts and atlases.

There are also a small number of printed books from Korea and manuscripts in Tibetan, Mongolian and Yi (Sani).

Further information