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Race against time to preserve ancient publications
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08:52, November 07, 2007

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Reprints have been made of almost 30,000 volumes of ancient and other rare books in the National Library over the past three decades to ensure the original collection is protected.

The library keeps in its collection about 126,000 volumes of rare books dated before 1911 - the year marking the end of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).

It is estimated that China altogether has 30 million books of the kind to survive wars of the last century.

"What we have done for these old books is only a very small fraction of an extremely urgent task," Zhan Furui, the chief librarian, said.

An exhibition featuring 15,000 volumes of the reprinted books at the library opened this week.

Among the collection is what the library staff refer to as the famous "four treasures", namely the Dunhuang Manuscripts, Siku Quanshu (Emperor's Four Treasures), Yongle Canon and Zhaocheng Tripitaka.

Of the four, two have been reprinted completely, Sun Yan, director of the library's historical document center, said.

One of them is the 220-year-old, 36,381-volume Siku Quanshu, the largest collection of books in Chinese history and probably the world's most ambitious editorial enterprise.

The other is the six-century-old, 30,000-volume Yongle Canon, believed to be the world's earliest encyclopedia.

The Zhaocheng Tripitaka was also expected to be reprinted soon.

The 6,980-volume tome is one of the three most important Buddhist encyclopedias compiled throughout China's history.

Its woman editor was a follower of Buddhism in the Jin Dynasty (1115-1234) and devoted 30 years to copying and inscribing Buddhist literature.

It was named Zhaocheng because it was discovered only in 1933 in Guangsheng Temple of Zhaocheng County in Shanxi Province.

As well as reprinting the books, the librarians were also busily restoring them and even reconstructing a number of them.

Source: China Daily

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