The British Library brings valuable rare original manuscripts to China for first time

2017-04-14 08:30Global Times Editor: Li Yan ECNS App Download
The music sheets for The Gondoliers by Gilbert & Sullivan (Photo/Courtesy of the British Library Board)

The music sheets for The Gondoliers by Gilbert & Sullivan (Photo/Courtesy of the British Library Board)

Want to see for yourself how British classics Jane Eyre and Romeo and Juliet came into being?

If you are in Beijing this April, you will have the chance.

On Thursday, the National Library of China (NLC) announced the details of a new exhibition that will see original manuscripts of iconic works of literature from the collections of the British Library and the NLC displayed side by side in China's capital for the first time.

Scheduled to kick off on April 21 at the NLC's National Museum of Classic Books, Shakespeare to Sherlock: Treasures of the British Library will show a collection of nine manuscripts and two early print copies from the British Library. The list of British writers whose works will be on display includes literary greats such as Charles Dickens, Arthur Conan Doyle and Charlotte Bronte, according to NLC Associate Director Li Honglin.

For its part, the NLC is working in collaboration with the Jiaxing Municipal Library in East China's Zhejiang Province to offer a number of their valuable manuscripts, including manuscripts from Zhu Shenghao (1912-44), a veteran translator of Shakespeare's works, and Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) playwright Tang Xianzu, who lived at roughly the same time as Shakespeare.

Rare treats

Until the exhibition comes to an end on June 21, visitors will be able to view the 1598 Quarto edition of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, which once belonged to King George III, alongside a Ming Dynasty print copy of Tang's The Peony Pavilion. Both talented playwrights in their home countries, Shakespeare and Tang were commemorated in numerous events around the world last year, as 2016 marked the 400 anniversary of the two masters' deaths.

"Many of the manuscripts on display are the only copies in existence," Li said at the announcement conference. "This version of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet in particular is a rarity and is the most accurate edition found so far."

Works to be shown also include the manuscripts for novels that were later adapted into popular films or TV productions, such as Doyle's The Adventure of the Missing Three-Quarter from the Sherlock Holmes series and British novelist and former naval intelligence officer Ian Fleming's handwritten drafts and typescripts of The Living Daylights, one of the James Bond stories.

The joint exhibition marks the two national libraries' first cooperation after Han Yongjin, NLC director, and Roy Keating, chief executive of the British Library, signed a cooperative agreement in Shanghai in December 2016.

"The quality of this exhibition is unprecedented in NLC history," Li said in conclusion at the press conference.

Alongside the exhibition, the NLC also plans to hold a number of activities to "help Chinese visitors to better understand the English manuscripts," according to the organizers.

A number of translations of British classics will be displayed at the exhibition, while films in Chinese about the literary works on display and a series of lectures and seminars discussing Chinese and British classic literature will be held in the exhibition hall.

Closer bonds

In an interview with the Xinhua News Agency on March 24, Keating explained that the exhibition is part of a larger program that seeks to establish a long-term partnership with China.

"Made possible by 1.6 million pounds (1.99 million U.S. dollars) of funding from the British government, the British Library in China: Connecting through Culture and Learning program includes a series of pop-up exhibitions that will subsequently be held in locations around China, including Wuzhen [in East China's Zhejiang Province], Shanghai and Hong Kong, through to 2019," Keating told Xinhua.

Recent years have witnessed closer cultural ties between the UK and China.

In 2012, the British Museum and the National Museum of China co-organized Passion for Porcelain in Beijing. More recently, the two national museums also held the A History of the World in 100 Objects exhibition, which displayed 100 items from the British Museum collection in the Chinese capital in March.





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