Maiatckii Dmitri

/St.-Petersburg State University (Russia)/


My paper is devoted to the Library of the Faculty of Asian and African Studies at SPbSU, exactly to its collection of old oriental books.

First of all I should provide to the reader some basic historical information about the Library. The origin of the Library can be tracked back to the year of 1724. That year Russian Emperor Peter the Great (1682-1725) ordered his government to establish the Russian Academy of Science. Peter I was preoccupied with formation of high scientific organization in Russia, which could conduct investigations in many fields of studies, including not only natural, but also human studies. In this way his special order obliged Russian merchants and diplomats, who visited different countries, to buy there books on a lot of subjects, including history, religion, culture, literature, geography, political and economic system, industry, crafts, botany, zoology, medicine, army organization and so on. These books were to be studied and translated. His purpose was to get as many information about different spheres of life in foreign countries as it was possible that time. The deepest interest was put on Arab and on countries, surrounding Russia. Because of Russian specific geographical location, such countries included many oriental states – Turkey, Persia, Middle Asian countries, China, Mongolia. Turkey, Persia and China were the main directions to be investigated. Regularly the Academy of Science prepared lists of book on items it wanted to know, then gave the lists with public money to traders or diplomats, who were instructed to buy books while visiting foreign countries. From time to time the Academy sent there students or scholars for studying and buying books. In some cases the books were coming to Russia as donations, given to Russian official missions or scholars. Purchase and donation are two basic sources of collecting oriental books in the Academy. In this way the books were accumulated in the Academy until 1819.

In the year of 1819, a part of oriental books were transmitted from the Academy to the Library of St.-Petersburg University (SPbU). They were put into a newly established Oriental Department of the Library of the University. Later, Russian government made a decision on the base of this Department and of the Faculty of Asian and African Studies of Kazan University to open in St.-Petersburg University a special Centre for Oriental Studies. In 1855 after moving of the Faculty of Asian and African Studies from Kazan to St.-Petersburg, the Oriental Department of the St.-Petersburg University’s Library was subordinated to the Faculty and was supplemented with oriental books that were previously stored at Kazan University. That is why now you can find on many books a stamp of Kazan University. After 1855 the Oriental Department of the University Library got its informal name – the name of the Library of the Faculty of Asian and African Studies at SPbU.

Since 1855 till today the Library has experienced almost 160 years of its development. Now about 300 000 books in oriental languages are stored in the Library.  Of this amount 60 000 books are rare books (or the books published before 1900). Among them approximately 30 000 books are in Chinese, 7 500 – in Manchu, 3700 – in Indian, 3500 – in Japanese, 2000 – in Tibetan, 1000 – in Arab, 1000 – in Mongolian, 600 – in Persian. Other books are in Turkish, Korean, Sanskrit, Armenian, Georgian, Kalmyk, Hebraic and so on.

The fund of old books is unique. Its uniqueness and originality is determined by several features.

Firstly, the formation of the collections since the beginning has been hold under the direct observation and participation of scholars and orientalists, who wanted to know a lot about each sphere of life in the countries they studied. That’s why the books in the Library are generally of wide themes.

Secondly, the books were tools of investigations (mainly in philology and history). That’s why among them there are a lot of dictionaries, reference works, handbooks and encyclopedias.

Thirdly, while storing, the books were expected to be fit to teaching process. I mean teaching students languages and the same aspects of culture and life, which were studied deeply by their teachers. And that time usually there were no special and modern teaching materials and textbooks, available today. Lecturers and students used materials common in oriental countries or compiled by Russian teachers themselves. Such books today are available in variety of copies and keeps students made marks.

Fourthly, a part of books are divided or could be divided into personal collections. Generally speaking, such books are not gathered in one place and can be distinguished only according to stamps of owners, ex-librises and manmade marks on them. But many of books were gathered and in whole collections were presented by their owners to the Library. In several cases the books were bought or got from private libraries of scholars after their death. Here I mean the Chinese and Manchu collections by academician Vasily Vasiliev (1818-1900), Pavel Popov (1843-1913), Viktor Uspenski (1845-?). Arab collections of Alexander Kazembek (1802-1870), sheikh Muhammad Ayyadh at-Tantawi (1808-1861), Anton Muchlinski (1808-1877), Vladimir Girgas (1835-1887) and baron Viktor Rosen (1849-1908). Japanese collection by Prince Arisugawa Taruhito (1835-1895), Iosibumi Kurono (1859-1918). Turkish collection by Platon Melioranski(1868-1906). The list is could be continued. Many of these collections were described in catalogues. But the great part is still waiting to be catalogued.

But cataloging is fraught with great difficulties today. Here I should mention the fifths feature of the Library. The first half of the XX-th  century was a time of serious challenges for Russian country and a tragic one for the Faculty’s Library. The challenges came during the Civil War (1918-1920), followed after the October Revolution (1917), during the reign of I.Stalin in 1930-50-s and during the Second World War. These years divided the history of the Library into “before” and “after”. During these two decades many Russian institutions have been several times reorganized, many scholars were repressed. And the Library of the Faculty of Asian and African Studies was not exception. The situation in the country influenced the fate of the Library and the content of its funds. The Library and its books were often moved from one place to another. At the same time many books were removed from Library, or destroyed, sometimes transferred to other libraries. During this process a lot of precious books were lost. This period of time is covered by a veil of secrecy. Inventory books and inventories, reflecting revenue in previous decades, have been destroyed, transferred to unknown places, a description of the fund was started „from scratch“. So chronologically the first inventory book in the Library dates back to the year of 1931. Actually, we can say that from that date began a new life of the Library. And it is a „depersonalized“ life. The names of the former owners who left them permanently erased from the memory of the Library. The only indications of some books belonging to the private collection or the donor are possessory marks (stamps and bookplates), marginal writings or inscriptions. And it is a great task for our librarians and scholars to do cataloguing today.

Further, as a sinologist, I would like to add few words about the funds of old Chinese books, introduce some my experience and results of cataloguing in the Library for the last two years.

The collection of old Chinese books is the largest one in the Library. It consists of 29 869 volumes and makes 50% of all old oriental books in the Library. The great part of the books is xylographs or block-prints. But there are also 120 manuscripts and handwritten albums. The books mainly belongs to the Qing period, but some of them are of Ming period.

Previously the most famous and the oldest Chinese book kept in the Library, was a part of Yongle Encyclopedia. In China everybody knows the sad fate of the Encyclopedia. It was compiled in 1408. Consisted of 23 000 manuscript rolls and was the world’s largest known general encyclopedia at its time. The book existed only in 3 copies. All of these copies were destroyed during the foundation if the Qing Dinasty, during the Taiping Rebellion in Nanjing and during invasion of the troops of seven states into China during the Boxer Rebellion (1900). It is unknown how, but 11 volumes suddenly appeared at the Library of the Faculty of Asian and African Studies at SPbU. In June of 1951 all of them were returned by the University to Chinese Ministry of foreign affairs.

Today the oldest Chinese book in the Library is printed in 1417 woodcut block-print „The Famous Sutras by the Buddha Tathagata and Various Arhats, Bodhisattvas, and Holy Monks”. It contains the essential Buddhist scriptures that had been translated from Pali or Sanscrit originals since the arrival of Buddhism in China at the end of the first century. It was a huge and complex canon that was also used in Korea, Japan and Vietnam.

The Chinese books of the Library were collected by Russian scholars N.Bichurin (1777-1853), P.Kafarov (1817-1878),academician V.Vasiliev (1818-1900), academician V.Alexeev (1881-1951) and other outstanding persons. The books are on many subjects: such as Confucius ideology, Buddhism, Taoism, philosophy, history, geography, literature, medicine, philology, lexicology, aesthetics, and many other subjects.

In 2011-2012s my colleague Ekaterina Zavidovskaya and I were working in the Library with the collection of academician Vasily Vasiliev. Our result is a book with description of his collection.

Vasily Vasilyev (03.20.1818-05.10.1900) was an outstanding Russian scientist and researcher of China. He was also an expert in Buddhism and Sanskrit studies, and he even held a position of a Professor at the Petersburg Academy of Sciences (1886). From 1878 to 1893 academician Vasiliev was the Head of the Faculty of Asian and African Studies in St. Petersburg University. V.P.Vasilev laid the foundations of the Russian Academic School in Chinese Studies. He developed a number of sinological courses and taught students in Kazan and St. Petersburg universities. His contribution provided a solid foundation for the Chinese Studies in Russia, and this initiative was followed by a great number of talented scholars.

V.P.Vasilev began to collect books during his stay with the 12th Orthodox mission in Beijing (1840-1850). His collection stored in the Library of the Faculty of Asian and African Studies is called „academic“ because was formed as a set of materials aimed for teaching purposes for students. After moving in 1855 the Faculty of Asian and African Studies from the University of Kazan to the University of St.-Petersburg, this collection with other scientific literature, brought from China into Russia by Russian Orthodox missions, also found its new location at SPbU.

After studying in Beijing, V.P.Vasilev had no longer been to China, but in the second half of the XIX century his collection and the Library continued to grow with revenues from the newly published books in China. In 1895 his collection of Chinese books was officially transferred as the gift to the Library of the Faculty.

Currently Vasil’s collection includes 207 titles with up to 2045 oldChinesebooks. Mainly they are in Chinese, with the exception of a few books in the Manchu language. The books in other languages ​​had been transferred to other funds of the Library. The oldest book in the collection is supposedly the beginning of the XV century. Many editions are of XVIII and of the first half of the XIX century, but there are also books that date from the period after the return of Vasiliev from Beijing in 1849. Some of the books are belonged to the beginning of the twentieth century and came out after the death of V.P. Vasiliev .

The books are of different contents. I devided them into:

  1. Confucian classics and comments: 37 books;
  2. Buddhist sutras, treatises and commentaries: 27 books;
  3. Taoist treatises and books on medicine:  8 books;
  4. Works related to Islam and Christianity: 16 books;
  5. Literary works (poetry, prose, dramatic libretto collection of quotations) and commentary: 47 books;
  6. The historical and geographical works, calendars, chronology: 47 books;
  7. Encyclopedia (leishu), catalogs (mostly directories to the „Assembly of the books into four sections“ – „Siku quanshu“): 8 books;
  8. Dictionaries and writings on linguistics: 7 books;
  9. Collections of decrees, official documents, templates for drafting:  7 books;
  10. Periodicals (newspapers): 2 books;

Such quantitative composition not only characterizes the areas of scientific interest of V.P.Vasiliev, but also reflects the submission of the materials considered at that time to be the most suitable for the learning process. A significant number of Buddhist books indicate a deep scientific interest of V.P.Vasiliev to Mahayana Buddhism, in his time he was the best expert in this field, as well as in Chinese, Mongolian and Tibetan Studies. He was the author of a number of fundamental works on Buddhism.

A significant amount of works on the history and geography are there in the Chinese collection, as the scientists of the XIX century attached great importance to the study of the huge corpus of Chinese historical works. A large part of the geographical works is devoted to the region adjacent to the borders of the Russian Empire. This fact indicates the practical use of these documents; it was considered that the graduates should have good knowledge of the situation in the region studied. So „Records of holy wars“ by the Qing historian Wei Yuan and „Notes on the Mongol encampments“ by Qing scholar Zhang Mu represented by a set of doublets with the student made marks on them, which indicate their use as teaching aids. During his lessons V.P.Vasilev devoted a lot of time to the studying of the official documents of the Qing China, for developing practical skills among his students.

A number of works reflects the Confucian classics. Because these works form the basis of Chinese culture, form the ideology of the state. Their study was necessary for the sinologist. This group includes many works of an educational nature (for example, „Canon of the three Characters“ – „San Zi Jing“ and „The Thousand Characters“ – „Qian Zi Wen“), which had been used in schools in China. Russian scholars in Chinese Studies then considered these works suitable for teaching students and they did not yet compile training materials for foreigners. Nevertheless, Vasiliev compiled one of the first Sino-Russian dictionaries for teaching purposes, although his students also used the traditional Chinese dictionaries.



1. Zavidovskaya E., Maiatckii D. Description of Chinese books in collection of academician V.P.Vasiliev, stored in the Library of the Faculty of Asian and African Studies at St.-Petersburg University. St.-Petersburg: NP-Print, 2012. (monograph, in Chinese and Russian).