mobile menu decorative search icon decorativeSearch the site

Chinese Collection

Date range: 16th-20th centuries

Number of items: 700 items

The core collection of Chinese printed books and manuscripts was acquired by Enriqueta Rylands in 1901 through her purchase of the Crawford collection. This represents five centuries of Chinese culture and includes 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. Many items contain beautiful woodcut illustrations.

Most of the books date from the 18th and 19th centuries, with around a quarter of the collection comprising Shan Ben (ancient books) dating from before the Qian Long period (1711). A further 28 items are dated before 1600.

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

Another 56 printed books derive from the former University Library Chinese collection, while six books were donated in 1992 by Han Suyin.

The Crawford collection also includes 57 volumes and folders containing approximately 1,000 watercolour paintings, mostly 18th- and 19th-century, depicting many aspects of China and Chinese life. Eight similar volumes were acquired by the library in 1957.

One of the most significant visual 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 457).

See also:

Further Information:

There are a number of catalogues covering different parts of the collection, in English and Chinese. Some of these are available as pdfs.

Other catalogues are available via the Special Collections reading rooms:

  • Manuscript catalogue of Chinese books compiled by John Williams between 1863 and 1875;
  • Manuscript catalogue of Chinese paintings;
  • Unpublished handlist of University collection;
  • Guoying Li, Xiaowen Zhou and Xianrong Zhang (eds), Ying guo man che si te da xue yue han rui lan zi tu shu guan zhong wen gu ji mu lu = Bibliography of ancient Chinese books in John Rylands library at University of Manchester (Beijing, 2018).

Location: