More extraordinary still are the people behind the collection. The founder, Fan Qing, not only amassed the foundation of today's collection, but practically rewrote the rules of his extended family to ensure that the collection would not be dispersed over the future generations. On his death bed he divided his property into two portions -- ten thousand tiels of silver in one portion, and the book collection in the other, and asked his two sons to choose. The elder choose the books, and funded the upkeep of the collection through revenues from his own land. Other colorful characters appeared on stage in the intervening countries -- one learned lady begged her uncle to arrange her marriage to the family, not because of any romantic feelings, but because she wanted to be able to study the collection. The Fan family, in their turn, needed her dowry to repair the buildings that housed the book collection. In some ways this family of book collectors had to deliberately turn their back on some of the values of the scholars. In a culture that values perfection and completeness, they had to choose to hold on to the incomplete and imperfect. While other scholars could take pride in being unsoiled by the stink of money, for the Fan family pride came after their book collection. It is a precarious and sometimes pathetic existence, but something that every book lover could empathize with.
The Yue Opera The Book Collectors (藏书之家) is based on the story of Tianyige. What ever I feel about Tianyige is filtered through the setting of this opera. The characters in the opera are not real historical characters, but an amalgam of some of the more colorful historical characters. It has two songs in particular which are very fine. The first is the opening song, which can be heard here.
The second is 三跪求书. In the story, the current owner of the collection, Fan Rong, is trying to buy Fengshu, a banned book, from Magistrate Sun, another book collector who dared not keep the book in the collection. However, to avenge a perceived slight, Sun would only agree to sell the book to Fan Rong if he would kowtow to him three times. It's a very nice play on the old saying, there is gold beneath the knees of a gentleman.
The entire opera, for those who want, can be watched on tudou.