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Imperial Publications under the Qing Dynasty

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Directors : Nathalie Monnet (BNF) and Françoise Wang-Toutain (CNRS)

Collaborators : Vladimir Uspenskyi (Saint Pétersbourg University), Oliver Kapolnas (Hongary) (Doctoral Student, supervised by Tatiana Pang), Weng Lianxi (Palace Museum, Beijing)

This project focuses on imperial editions produced during the first half of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), that is until the mid 19th century. These works have been largely neglected for several reasons. They lacked the prestige attached to more ancient editions. They were produced by the state power and as such were wrongly considered less valuable and last but not least, they were not produced by Chinese, but by Manchu who controlled China until 1911. Only recently have these works become the subject of systematic study. This project aims to contribute to this new field of research that began to develop in China and to a lesser extent in the US.

Since the beginning of 2014, Nathalie Monnet (BnF) and Françoise Wang-Toutain (CNRS) have worked on an annotated translation of the introductory text to the Compendium of the meaning of translated words corrected by the emperor (Yuzhi Fanyi mingyi ji zheng’e 御製翻譯名義集正訛). This work, based on a copy of a quadrilingual edition dating to Qianlong’s reign (r.1736-1796) and kept in Saint Petersbourg, should be published by the fall of 2015. The reading and translation of the Corrected report on the restoration of Guanyin temple by Cheng Minzheng, under imperial aegis (Yuzhi Cheng Minzheng chongxiu Guanyinsi ji ding’e 御製程敏政重修觀音寺記訂訛) will begin in February 2015. This is also a writing of Qianlong emperor. Its specificity is to be engraved on jade. This unique copy is kept at the Bibliothèque nationale de France.
These two texts have in common to be written notes by Qianlong himself. By directly expressing the Emperor’s mind about precise historical points or linguistics, they reveal his intellectual dirigisme. A systematic study of these prefaces or preliminary notes has never been undertaken. It will be the first stage of this project on imperial editions.
There already exist some inventories or catalogues of the collections of these imperial editions kept in China but the situation is different in Europe. Mainly taking into account the collections of the BnF but also those of the Musée Guimet, IHEC and EFEO, we will have to compile such catalogues for France.
Yet, in order to carry out our researches on « prefaces », we need to establish new tools, notably to classify imperial editions according to the various textual additions that introduce or accompany the main text like prefaces, colophons, imperial edicts concerning the redaction, lists of the members of the editorial committee, notes, etc. This first classification will enable us to analyse the nature of these “prefaces”, as well as their link with the main text and the information that they make public.
Among the various subjects, we have chosen to focus on those elements of the texts that show the will to control knowledge, a recurrent feature of the editorial production of the first emperors of the Qing Dynasty. This obsessional will is one of the reason d’être of the flourishing existence of the imperial printing press established in the heart of the Forbidden City.
This research will be deepened by the study of documents of various nature that will enable us to carry out a more global analysis on the following subjects :

Nature of imperial editions.

 We will attempt to determine the different types of works that were selected for publication by the imperial printing house by defining broad categories and by analysing them chronologically in order to disclose the tendencies and the evolutions chosen and dictated by Qing State during peculiar moments of its history.

Problems of multilingualism. Unlike what can be observed in China, our study of imperial editions will not confine to Chinese texts, but will look at the whole imperial textual production. In order to carry out this aim, we will attempt to gather the skills of international researchers with complementary specific linguistic abilities in Chinese, Tibetan, Manchu and Mongol. We will endeavour to identify the criteria used to select texts for publication in Chinese and for publication in other languages or for multilingual editions. Study of the multilingual editions will focus on translation issues (determination of the source text, fidelity to the text or divergent discourses, intentionally or not) in the context of imperial patronage. We will study the nature and the composition of editing committees in charge of these projects. These approaches will lead us to examine the political use of these texts in a multi ethnic empire, as well as their religious, scientific and educative orientation.

The role played by the Emperor and different members of the court. 
We will attempt to determine to what extent the emperors (and more particularly which emperors and at what time in their life) really had an editor activity by personally intervening in the works’ selection and the page make-up, as well as supervising all the steps of the realization and diffusion of these books. We will also try to assess the role played by the different members of the imperial family and by the high officials who were closed to the emperor and were also involved in this kind of patronage. This research will primarily rely on the analysis of introductory texts as well as on the study of the biographies of these persons.

Materiality. The corpus of imperial editions is clearly distinct from the corpus of commercial or private editions from the same period. In order to define its characteristics, we will attempt to classify the supports (quality of paper or other supports, for example jade), analyse the presentation (binding, packaging, etc.), and, if possible, determine the origin of the materials as well as the cost of production. This research, with a codicological approach, will include a study of the page layout, markers in the margins, and dimensions of these books, etc.

Means of production, storage and distribution. The aim of this study is to assess the impact of this production on the society by determining the number of original prints, and categorizing which audience could have access to them and on which circumstances. We will notably look at the place of these editions in the system of imperial favours, and in the system of diplomatic or institutional gifts, as well as their internal use at the court. We will also attempt to define how the xylographic blocks used for these editions were kept as well as the methods used for the storage of the prints. We will also analyse the “re-engravings”, hitherto neglected as they are considered less prestigious. Yet these books provide precious information about the real diffusion of the imperial discourse in the Chinese empire. We will examine their new modalities of production as well as the enlarged audience reached by these re-editions.

Comparison with other imperially sponsored productions. 
This research will be enhanced by studies on other modes of imperial textual production, in Chinese or in other scripts, on various supports such as paper, steles or stones slabs, wall wooden panels or jade plates, woven or painted textiles, ceramic, and, in general, all kinds of inscriptions added to the objects kept in the imperial collection.

An international workshop will be organized in Paris in the spring of 2015.