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Saturday, April 29, 2000, updated at 09:19(GMT+8)

Rare Books Return to China

A batch of very rare Chinese books, state treasures which have been lost for the past 150 years, returned on April 28 to the motherland.

After one and a half centuries of secret preservation, the Weng's family transferred the 542 precious ancient books, which had been maintained by an insurance company in New York City for at least 50 years, to the Shanghai Library.

Some of the block-printed books are first editions as well as the only existing copies in the world, Qi Gong, chairman of the National Committee for Cultural Relics Authentication and Preservation (NCCRAP), said in an interview with Xinhua. "Most of them have extremely high academic value," said Qi, also director of the Central Research Institute of Culture and History.

"With reference to the state classification for cultural relics, many books from the Weng's collection are state treasures which have never been seen in the world's libraries, including China's National Library," said Ji Shuying, senior member of the NCCRAP who has studied rare Chinese books all his life.

"Scholars have wondered about the existence of Weng's collection for more than 100 years," said Fu Xinian, son of a famous bibliophile and also a senior member of the NCCRAP. Some 79 books, including a block-printed edition of Ji Yun from the Song Dynasty (960-1279), are the only existing copies in the world, and remain in good condition.

The major part of the Weng's collection was accumulated by Weng Tonghe (1830-1904), tutor of Emperor Guangxu of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).

After generations of preservation, Weng Wan'ge, the son of Weng Tonghe's great-grandson, is now in the possession of the cream of the collection.

Through two years of laborious negotiations, China Guardian Auctions Co., Ltd. in late 1999 obtained the consent of the octogenarian Weng, who agreed to send his ancient editions back to China, and authorized the company to be the sole agent of the book auction.

Roughly half a century ago, Weng Wan'ge transported the Weng's collection from Shanghai to the United States as war raged in China.

As these volumes remained unknown to the world, the exhibition of the books in 1985 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York greatly amazed the academic and historical relics communities worldwide.

The books' academic value far exceeds the collections of American libraries, including the state library of the United States and the Harvard Peking Library.

Well-known Chinese scholars Ren Jiyu, Wang Shixiang, and Jin Chongji have appealed to the government many times to buy back the rare books.

The Shanghai municipal government finally bought them at a cost of millions of U.S. dollars.

In the 1950s and 1960s, the state bought 102 kinds of precious ancient books from a Hong Kong collector.

Furthermore, the Guardian company auctioned off the only extant copy of another block-printed book of the Song Dynasty, which was obtained by a Chinese organization with a bid of 1.33 million yuan (160,240 U.S. dollars).

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A batch of very rare Chinese books, state treasures which have been lost for the past 150 years, returned to the motherland.

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