32 vols. 8vo, orig. wrappers, orig. stitching. Shaoyang, Hunan: Wei Shenwei Tang 魏慎微堂, 1906.
First or early edition of a major work on Yuan history by one of the leading Chinese thinkers of the 19th century. The Yuan empire comprised the parts of the Mongol empire that were ruled from present-day Beijing. It included all of China and was treated by later Chinese historiographers as a Chinese imperial dynasty. Thus, after Mongol power in China collapsed in the 14th century and the Ming dynasty took power, they compiled a History of the Yuan based on Chinese precedent and published it in 1370. This work was “compiled in greater haste than the other dynastic histories were, and in consequence it suffers from inadequate preparation and careless editing” (Twitchett & Franke, “Bibliographical Essays,” 689). Scholars in the Qing dynasty sought to remedy these problems.
One of these scholars was Wei Yuan (1794-1857). A classicist, historian, and geographer and geostrategist, Wei “drew connections across time and space on an unprecedented scale” (Mosca, From Frontier Policy to Foreign Policy, 302). His book, New Edition of the History of the Yuan, is “the first full-scale rewriting of Yüan history in the format of a standard history, using the Secret History [of the Mongols] and Yüan period writings of many kinds” (Twitchett & Franke, 697). When researching the British empire’s possessions in India — a pressing concern in this period, when China and Britain entered into armed conflict in the so-called Opium Wars — Wei realized “how far Mongol rule extended.” He thus “came to realize how necessary it was to revise the official history of the Yüan dynasty (Yüan shih) — a work so hastily compiled that little mention was made of the great empire outside of China” (Tu Lien-chê, “Wei Yüan,” 851). Having written his book in the format of a dynastic history, Wei hoped that “it might be accepted as one of the official dynastic histories.” To that end, Wei “prepared, in 1853, a memorial of presentation to the throne. But it was not completed before his death, and the printing was undertaken only in 1905 by a relative named Wei Kuang-tao 魏光燾 [i.e., Guangdao] (T. 午莊), governor-general at Foochow in 1904-05” (Tu, 851). Our book is a copy of this edition or one published slightly after it.
Wei Guangdao outlined Wei Yuan’s approach in his Preface. He wrote that Wei Yuan “late in life returned to work specifically on the history of the Yuan.” Wei
sought evidence in official and private records of the Yuan period, in the writings of former Yuan officials who survived into the Ming, from the conflicting accounts in the histories of the [Khitan] Liao, [Jurchen] Jin, and [Chinese] Song. For unclear issues, he consulted recent writers as well as the various authorities of the countries of the distant West.
Entries in WorldCat record this book as having been printed in 1905. Our copy indeed contains the imprint “Guangxu yisi” 光緒乙巳, corresponding to 1905. However, our copy furthermore contains a colophon written by Zou Daiguo 鄒代過 and dated “Guangxu bingwu” 光緒丙午, which corresponds to 1906. Note that WorldCat 21259735 notes the presence of the colophon but still lists 1905 as the date of publication, which appears to contradict the facts. It is not clear if all of the 1905 copies contain the colophon, and thus we are unable to determine whether or not our copy is a first edition.
Nice set, preserved in four hantao. An earlier owner has carefully excised a library stamp from the first page of each volume, with no loss of text.
Mosca, Matthew W. From Frontier Policy to Foreign Policy: The Question of India and the Transformation of Geopolitics in China. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2013.
Tu Lien-chê. “Wei Yüan.” In Eminent Chinese of the Ch’ing Period, Vol. 2, 850-52. Edited by Arthur W. Hummel. Washington, D.C.: United States Government Printing Office, 1944.
Twitchett, Denis & Herbert Franke. “Bibliographical Essays.” In The Cambridge History of China, Vol. 6: Alien Regimes and Border States, 665-726. Edited by Twitchett & Franke. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994.
Item ID: 9493