Item ID: 8979 Du Gongbu ji 杜工部集 [Collection of “Board of Works” Du (i.e., Du Fu).]. Fu 杜甫 DU.
Du Gongbu ji 杜工部集 [Collection of “Board of Works” Du (i.e., Du Fu).]
Du Gongbu ji 杜工部集 [Collection of “Board of Works” Du (i.e., Du Fu).]
Du Gongbu ji 杜工部集 [Collection of “Board of Works” Du (i.e., Du Fu).]
Du Gongbu ji 杜工部集 [Collection of “Board of Works” Du (i.e., Du Fu).]

A Prime Example of Polychrome Woodblock Printing; Complex Six-Color Printing in Guandong

Du Gongbu ji 杜工部集 [Collection of “Board of Works” Du (i.e., Du Fu).]

Ten vols. 8vo, orig. wrappers (wrappers a little frayed), old stitching. [Guangzhou]: Luo Haoquan’s 駱浩泉 Hanmo Yuan 翰墨園, 1876.

A beautifully executed hexachrome woodblock-printed edition of the annotated poetry of Du Fu (712-70 CE), one of the most famous poets in Chinese literary history. The base text of this collection of his poetry was first printed in 1059 CE, compiled from several books then in circulation. Our edition was marketed to have “commentaries from five authorities” [wujia pingben 五家評本], each of which is printed in a different color of ink. The five commentators are the prominent Ming scholar-officials Wang Shizhen 王世貞 (Yanzhou 弇洲, 1526-90), represented in purple, and Wang Shenzhong 王慎中 (Zunyan 遵巖, 1509-59), in blue; the early Qing scholar-officials Wang Shizhen 王士禛 (Ruanting 阮亭, 1634-1711), in red; Song Luo 宋犖 (Muzhong 牧仲, 1634-1714), in yellow; and the Qing writer and secretary Shao Changheng 邵長蘅 (Zixiang 子湘, 1637-1704), in green. The five commentaries are printed in the upper margin of the pages, with Du Fu’s original text printed in black ink in the center. The different ink colors are also used to highlight and underline parts of the original text and to provide additional commentary. This fine edition, intended for a wealthy readership, is one of the prime examples of polychrome woodblock printing in Guangdong in the 19th century.

Polychrome woodblock printing enjoyed a first flourishing beginning in the early 17th century. At that time, the center was the lower Yangzi region, for a long time China’s wealthiest region and the center of its intellectual life. In this period, publishers tended to use two or three colors of ink in their prints, with tetrachrome prints being very rare. The art form fell out of widespread use but had a revival in the 19th century, with Guangzhou, the capital of Guangdong province on China’s southern coast, emerging as an important center. Unlike the lower-Yangzi printers in the earlier period, those in 19th-century Guangzhou tended to use five or even six colors of ink, as seen in our book.

The emergence of polychrome printing in Guangzhou is linked to the city’s rise to prominence, as intellectual life and higher education developed in the southern metropolis in the early part of the century, in part under the influence of activist and scholarly governor-generals such as Ruan Yuan. Later, with the devastation of central China and the lower Yangzi during the Taiping Rebellion in the middle of the century, the relative importance of once peripheral coastal cities like Guangzhou increased further.

Our edition was published in 1876 by Luo Haoquan’s Hanmo Yuan (Garden of Brush and Ink), one of two publishing and book-selling ventures that Luo (ca. 1838-1926) operated. Luo’s family history was intimately tied up with the rise of Guangzhou. Luo’s father had arrived in the city as a personal secretary (a “camp friend” or muyou 幕友, highly educated individuals kept on retainer by sojourning officials) of Ruan Yuan when he came to assume command of the Viceroyalty of the Two Expanses (i.e., Guangdong and Guangxi) in 1817.

As a young man in Guangzhou, Luo Haoquan drew up inventories of the book collections of famous men of the era, including Zeng Guofan 曾國藩 (1811-72), commander of the “Hunan Braves” of the Xiang Army that did so much to stem the tide of the Taiping onslaught and buy the Manchu another half century of rule. Luo’s sale of rare editions to such individuals marked the beginning of his career as a bookseller, which continued when he inherited his father’s Garden of Brush and Ink and set up his own Dengyun Ge 登雲閣 (Ascending the Clouds Pavilion) bookstore in the market area of Shuangmen Di 雙門底 (Beneath-the-Two-Gates, at the northern stretch of present-day Beijing Road). Luo then expanded into publishing. Ascending the Clouds Pavilion focused on the mass market by putting out monochrome textbooks, regional opera librettos, and medical books. Meanwhile, the Garden of Brush and Ink published high-end polychrome editions of historical works and literary collections, including our book. Luo abandoned polychrome printing in his later years (he passed away at the Ascending the Clouds Pavilion), but books and woodblocks from the Garden of Brush and Ink were moved to Ascending the Clouds Pavilion, which was reorganized under new management upon Luo’s death. Sadly, its assets were destroyed during the second Sino-Japanese War.

Fine set, preserved in a somewhat worn hantao. The final volume has some marginal worming.

The bibliographical information presented here comes from the excellent article “Qingdai Guangdong taoban yinshu yu Guangzhou Hanmo Yuan taoyin ben” 清代广东套版印书与广州翰墨园套印本 ["Polychrome printing in Guangdong in the Qing period and the polychrome editions published by Hanmo Yuan in Guangzhou"], published by the account Shanben guji 善本古籍 [Rare books and old editions] on the blog platform (March 3, 2022):

Price: $15,000.00

Item ID: 8979