An exhibition of ancient Chinese books will kick off in Beijing on Sept 7 to celebrate the 110th anniversary of the National Library of China, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism announced on Wednesday.
The exhibit will include more than 300 ancient books that are among the most precious selected from the collections of 40 public institutions and 30 individuals nationwide.
According to Chen Binbin, counsel of the public service department under the ministry, the exhibition will be the largest for ancient books in the 70-year history of New China.
"Compared with general cultural relics, books are more fragile and more difficult to preserve," Chen said. "However, the reason why we can trace the roots of Chinese civilization today is largely attributed to these textual recordings."
The National Museum of Classic Books, affiliated to the National Library of China, will host the exhibition, which is currently scheduled to last three months.
The catalog of exhibits, which has been partially released to media by Lin Shitian, a veteran researcher of ancient books at the National Library of China, covers a wide range of book varieties and periods. For example, some samples of Liye Slips, which were unearthed from Hunan province, are so far the only known remnants of government documents from the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC).
Also on display will be pages of the Song Dynasty's (960-1279) printed version of History as a Mirror, one of the most important chronological history books in ancient China, which will also honor its author Sima Guang, who coincidentally was born exactly 1,000 years ago.
The earliest printed comprehensive Tibetan Buddhist sutras from 1410, collected by Sera Monastery in Lhasa, the Tibet autonomous region, also reflects the rule of the Chinese central government over Tibet in history, according to Lin. It was printed in Nanjing, Jiangsu province, then China's capital, and was bestowed upon the monastery by Emperor Yongle of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).
Lin highlighted the only surviving copy of Libu Yunlue, an official dictionary of poetic rhythm from the Song Dynasty. When it appeared on auction in 2013, it was hailed as "the biggest discovery of ancient Chinese books in recent years".
"As consciousness protecting cultural relics and intangible cultural heritage has greatly risen among the public in recent years, better protection of ancient books will become the next big talking point," Chen said.
A national project was launched in 2007 to systematically investigate, categorize, restore and digitally copy huge numbers of ancient books that are scattered nationwide. For instance, more than 200 programs have been organized to train people to restore ancient books, and in the National Library of China alone, digital copies of 32,000 ancient books have been uploaded online.
According to the National Center for Preservation and Conservation of Ancient Books, there are 30 million ancient books in China, and an ongoing general survey has registered over 80 percent of them in a national database.
"That means each copy has an ID card to indicate who collected it and where it is housed," Chen said.
Lin added that a database recording overseas collections of ancient Chinese books is also being built. He estimated about 3 million copies are now housed abroad. A section of the exhibition is set to display some "national treasures" returned from overseas for the first time since 1949.
Examples showing Sino-foreign cultural exchanges in ancient times are also on display, such as a 15th-century edition of Almagest by ancient Greek astronomer Ptolemy, Euclid's Elements in Manchu and other books in Latin, English, Italian and other languages. Lin explained that many of them were introduced into Chinese imperial courts through Western missionaries during the Ming and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties.