DFG projects for the digitisation of Chinese manuscripts and printed works (2011-2015)

Between 2011 and 2015, the earliest and most valuable Chinese manuscripts and printed works produced in the period between the 7th and the 18th century owned by the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek were newly catalogued and digitised in their entirety. This took place within the framework of two projects supported by the German Research Foundation (DFG). A total of around 12,000 printed volumes and 630 objects in various other book forms (manuscript scrolls, leporelli and single-sheet materials), many of them handwritten, were processed. In so doing, a total of almost 1.1 million digital images was produced.

The majority of the titles processed are printed works, more exactly block prints, not manuscripts. This can be explained by the early spreading of book printing in East Asia: The earliest preserved East-Asian printed materials go back to the 8th and 9th century. This printing technique was commonly used already during the Song period (960-1279).

DFG Early Sinica Project I (2011-2013)

The first DFG project carried out between 2011 and 2013 was focused on Chinese manuscripts and prints crafted before 1650.

Among the selected titles were the around 20 (some of these items are hard to date exactly), partly unique prints from the Song (960-1279) and Yuan (1279-1368) dynasties, which form part of the most valuable collected items of the Bavarian State Library. The majority of these prints are Buddhist texts, many of which are from early editions of the Buddhist canon, which are no longer available in their entirety today and individual parts of which are distributed all over the world. In the course of the new cataloguing, the texts were allocated to the various canon editions.

The project covered also the over one hundred prints from the time of the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) collected by the Bavarian State Library, which mirror the broad spectrum of the history of printing in the Ming period (prints by imperial princes, printing projects spanning two dynasties, etc.), and also prints by western missionaries produced in China during the Qing period (1644-1911) which, with their Christian or scientific contents, represent a peculiarity of the history of Chinese books.

Among the processed manuscripts were the three already mentioned manuscript scrolls from Dunhuang from the Tang period (618-907) and other outstanding pieces with regard to both iconography and content.

DFG Early Sinica Project II (2013-2015)

In the subsequent project between 2013 and 2015 predominantly printed works produced under the reign of the Qing emperors Shunzhi (reigned 1644-1661), Kangxi (reigned 1662-1722), Yongzheng (reigned 1723-1735) and Qianlong (reigned 1736-1795), that is from the first half of the Qing dynasty (1644-1911), and a number of manuscript from the Qing period were processed.

The titles selected for the project mirror the universal character of the collection: It encompasses the literature of the elite (court prints, prints of administrative units, bibliophile private prints, etc.), and likewise so-called popular or everyday literature, among other things novels and collections of stories, musical comedies and theatre plays, almanacs, prophecy books, general encyclopaedias, medical handbooks, religious treatises and training materials for the exams of imperial officials.

Moreover, within the framework of the project various different editions of the Jieziyuan huazhuan芥子園畫傳 ("Manual of the Mustard Seed Garden") and of the Shizhuzhai shuhuapu 十竹斎書画譜 ("A Manual of Calligraphy and Painting from the Ten Bamboo Studio") from the 18th and 19th century were processed. These two works are famous painting manuals and outstanding works of Chinese colour woodblock printing, of which the Bavarian State Library owns a number of very artistic specimens.

Further, also around 40 manuscripts were processed, among them imperial decrees, deeds, memoranda registers, which served as a basis for official historiography, as well as image albums and paintings on so-called pith papers produced in China for export in the 18th and 19th century.


The digitised works will be archived permanently in cooperation with the Leibniz Computing Centre (LRZ), made openly accessible and retrievable in local (OPAC of the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek), national (union catalogue of the Gateway Bayern) and international catalogues (WorldCat, Union Catalog of Chinese Rare Books of the National Central Library, Taipei) and portals (virtual subject library of east and south-east Asia CrossAsia, Europeana) and by using search engines and will be presented at this website in a particularly material-adequate manner:

Many of the manuscript scrolls and leporelli are not only divided into separate individual images, but can also be viewed in one piece with steplessly variable zoom. In a great number of digitised volumes important structural features – i.a. chapter titles or numbering, prefaces and epilogues, images or owners' seals – are captured as entry marks, thus permitting comfortable access to structure and content components of the digitised items. These structural data are incorporated in the search function.

Digitisation in cooperation with Google

Since 2013 this website also contains digital copies of Chinese and Japanese prints of the 17th to the 19th century, which were produced within the framework of the public-private partnership between the Bavarian State Library and Google: A total of around one million volumes of the Bavarian State Library were scanned by Google, among them around 15,000 Chinese and around 2,000 Japanese volumes.

Since the end of the year 2017 the majority of the printed, copyright-free Chinese collection (publication year before 1870) of the Bavarian State Libray, a substantial number of Chinese manuscripts, a large portion of the copyright-free Japanese collection as well as a certain number of Corean titles have been available online for browsing page by page. Thus one of the most extensive collections of Chinese rare books in Europe is freely available to users worldwide. Altogether more than 2 million images are presented via this website.

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