Yale University Library


Chinese Rare Books at Yale

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About the Chinese Rare Books at Yale Database

The Chinese Rare Books at Yale database brings together information about Chinese rare books and manuscripts held primarily in East Asia Library Special Collections in SML and also in the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. The collection consists predominantly of printed works published before 1796. There are 439 works represented in the database and each record contains extensive bibliographic data and notes, an image of the first page of the text, and a link to the catalog record in Orbis, Yale’s online catalog. The database is intended to provide enhanced access to Yale’s holdings of Chinese books published prior to the end of the reign of the Qianlong Emperor in 1796. Two rare editions from the Republican period are also included. The records can be accessed by dynasty for a chronological overview.

The books represented in the Chinese Rare Books at Yale database include volumes that came to Yale in 1849, when the College Library became the first academic institution in the United States to collect Chinese books. These early acquisitions were arranged for the Yale College Library by missionary printer Samuel Wells Williams, then resident in Canton, who later came to Yale as the first professor of Chinese language and civilization in the U.S. Other rare books were purchased and donated in subsequent years, such as several works that came with the personal library of Yung Wing (Yale Class of 1854) whose donation paved the way for the hiring of Williams at Yale in 1877. Later benefactors included Mary and Arthur Wright, distinguished China historians, who donated 44 of the rare works included here.

The database was conceived and created by Yang Guanghui 楊光輝 (Fudan University) during a six-month fellowship in the East Asia Library in 2008. Much of the basic bibliographic information came from cataloging records provided earlier by the Chinese Rare Books Project under the direction of Dr. James Soren Edgren. Other cataloging was contributed by Yang Guanghui, Wang Liang 王亮 (Fudan University), and current and former Yale East Asia Library staff, including Chi-wah Chan陳志華, Polly Huei-ju Chang黃慧珠, and Law Chin卓犖. Wu Ge吳格of Fudan University also shared his insights during a visit to Yale and later communications. Sarah Elman蔡素娥, former Associate Curator in the East Asia Library, inspired and led the original effort to identify and re-catalog Yale’s Chinese rare books and manuscripts and the subsequent project that brought to Yale the experts from Fudan University.

Sample御製天元玉曆祥異賦 Yu zhi tian yuan yu li xiang yi fu
Between 1628-1644, Ming Dynasty (1368-1644)
East Asia Library

Sample紅樓夢 A Dream of the Red Chamber
清乾隆57 年[1792]北京程偉元木活字印本 Printed in 1792, Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) East Asia Library