The Abbey Newsletter

Volume 9, Number 7
Dec 1985


High-Level Workshop in Taipei

The Library Association of China (Taiwan) organized a three-week Workshop on the Authentication and Preservation of Rare Materials, the first of its kind, in Taipei during November and December 1984. the workshop was limited to 30 participants, among them curators and sinologists from the USA, Sweden, France, Singapore, Hong Kong, Korea and Germany.

Chinese materials pose unique problems for the librarian and the conservator. Many have survived since the fifth or sixth centuries, making much of the existing material from the western world look young by comparison. Authentication is a problem for curators, as well as preservation. How can we recognize a genuine Tun-huang scroll from a fake? How can we distinguish between an original of the twelfth century and a fifteenth-century reprint? the workshop addressed these problems and provided a forum for a general interchange of experience. Nineteen invited scholars and specialists gave a total of 25 lectures on different topics, accompanied by displays of relevant material, and there was ample opportunity for questions and discussion. Each lecture lasted over an hour mod 40 minutes.

The workshop was divided into three parts, beginning with a discussion of the current state of Chinese rare book collections, in China and abroad. During the following ten days, materials of different types from different periods were displayed, handled and examined, and the problems of textual authentication, classification and cataloguing were discussed.

During the last week, the problems of preservation were aired and different methods compared. Techniques of restoration and binding were demonstrated, and practical sessions held. Dr. Helmut Bansa gave a detailed description with over 100 slides of the methods employed in the Bavarian State Library for the preservation and restoration of Chinese rare materials. His lecture attracted many experts and lasted 3½ hours, with another three-hour discussion period after lunch. Dr. Bansa's description of the leafcaster used in the Bavarian State Library aroused interest as a time-saving alternative to backing damaged pages with tissue, though it was understood that leafcasting is not suitable for all repair work.

Mr. Lin Mao-sheng, chief of the Book Restoration Laboratory in the National Palace Museum in Taipei, explained and demonstrated the different traditional methods of book and paper restoration.

Prevailing environmental conditions to an extent dictate the conservation problems faced by librarians, and there were opportunities at the close of the workshop for participants to inspect the efforts made in Taiwan to combat the effects of a hot and humid subtropical climate. The library of the Palace Museum is housed in a new building, and rare documents are kept in an air-conditioned basement room at a temperature of 16°C. Not a book can be seen: all 170,000 volumes are locked in huge bookcases made of camphor wood for protection against insect pests. In the National Central Library, the 130,000 volumes of rare books are kept in metallic cases, with camphor balls wrapped in paper on the shelves: the area is air-conditioned, dark and very cold.

China lays claim to an unbroken continuity of historical and philosophical writing from the Shang dynasty (1766-1122 BC) onwards. the Chinese have an acute sense of the value of early and authentic versions of texts, and their approach to the study as well as the conservation of early documents is thus informed by a concern for their authenticity. The proceedings of the conference, to be published during 1985, will offer a fascinating insight into a culture which continues to approach textual criticism, bibliography, and conservation as related aspects of a single discipline. Further such international meetings are planned.

[Reprinted with permission from the May issue of Library Conservation News, with additional excerpts from the report by Jane Hwang on which LCN based its story. Jane Hwang is responsible for the Chinese collection of the Bavarian State Library and was a participant in the workshop. Her address is: Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Fernostsammlung, Ludwigstr. 16, D-8000 München 34, Federal Republic of Germany.

[On page 14 of the January 1981 issue of thins Newsletter, Edward Martinique's descriptive study of traditional methods of book conservation used in Taiwan is announced. It is 230 pages long and has 230 photographs. His address is 109 Oak Leaf Lane, Rt. 3, Chapel Hill, NC 27514. His telephone number in 1981 was 919/933-9817.]

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