Chinese Rare Books

Collection Overview

The Harvard-Yenching Library’s Chinese Rare Book collection includes Chinese books from the 13th to 19th centuries covering classics & history, philosophy, collectaner, and unique manuscripts.

The collection has been built over generations. Beginning in 1928, the Library commissioned the Chinese acquisitions section of Beijing' Yenching University Library in to purchase rare and old books. During the Second World War, the Library purchased Ming and Qing block-print editions as well manuscripts with the aid of bookstores in Shanghai and Beijing.

After WWII, the first Librarian of Harvard-Yenching, Kaiming Chiu, continued to expand the collection by obtaining rare items in Japan, such as the Song block-print edition of Dabanruo boluomiduo jing, a collection of rare Ming-dynasty letters, and other works.

The collection is composed of:

  • 1,500 Song, Yuan, and Ming block-print books (including duplicates), and 188 of them cannot be found in any of the major libraries in China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, or Japan
  • Roughly 1,500 manuscripts (including holographs)
  • Song, Yuan, and Ming encyclopedias (leishu), including Sancai tuhui 三才圖會, Shantang sikao 山堂肆考, and Tang leihan 唐類函
  • Nearly 2,600 gazetteers, including 720 rare editions printed from the Ming through the Qianlong period
  • Banned books and women’s writing