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Durham University receives a copy of the Qianlong Emperor's Library

(29 June 2015)

Jade water bowl that once belonged to the Qianlong Emperor, now in the Oriental Museum collection

Durham University has been presented with a copy of the Qianlong Emperor's library, in recognition of Durham’s position as a leading centre of excellence in Chinese Studies.

A reproduction of the collection, known as the Complete Library of Four Treasures, was donated to Durham University by the Chin-Kung Multicultural Education Foundation of Hong Kong. The donation has an estimated financial value of over £50,000.

The 1500 volume set includes 3641 titles and is a reproduction of the library of Qing Dynasty Emperor Qianlong (1711 – 1799). The original library was compiled on the orders of Emperor Qianlong for the Qing Imperial Court in 1772 and the completed library was presented to the Emperor in 1782.

In the years following its completion, the Imperial Court employed 3,826 copyists to make seven copies by hand from the originals, which were housed in seven different locations.

The contemporary reproduction donated to Durham University is of the Imperial Palace copy, now housed in the Palace Museum Library in Taiwan. Of the seven versions produced at the time of its commissioning, the Imperial Palace copy is the only one that has survived completely intact.

The Emperor’s collection covered every field of scholarship and knowledge. The original compilation is arguably the most significant piece of Chinese written heritage.

It is metaphorically called the “Great Wall” of Chinese culture for its cultural significance and considered to be essential for conducting research into Chinese classics, culture, history, philosophy, literature, religion and language.

Every child in China and the Chinese-speaking world is expected to learn about the Complete Library of Four Treasures as part of primary school education. 

Durham University is one of only three UK institutions to be chosen to receive this donation, along with Jesus College, Cambridge and the Bodleian Library, Oxford. 

Chinese language courses have been taught at the University since 1952 and Durham University has a dedicated Department of Chinese and Centre for Contemporary Chinese Studies. As well as extensive Chinese library holdings, the Oriental Museum’s Chinese collection holds Designated status, acknowledging its national and international importance.

The copy of the Complete Library of Four Treasures is now housed in Durham University’s Bill Bryson Library and it will contribute to the consolidation and strengthening of Durham’s reputation as the premier research institution in the north of England in Chinese cultural and historical studies.

Mamtimyn Sunuodula of Durham University Library, who received the donation on behalf of the University, said: ‘We are very grateful to Professor Master Chin-Kung and his Foundation for donating such a significant Chinese collection to Durham.”

To mark the occasion, the University are planning to hold a conference in September to discuss the collection’s scholarly significance.