paleaswater (paleaswater) wrote,
paleaswater
paleaswater

I only learned about the Tianyige(天一阁) book collection recently. Yet its story is so extraordinary that I wonder that it is so little known among book lovers of the world. Tianyige book collection is the largest and oldest private book collection extant in China today. The name derives from the pattern of 河图 that I spoke of in the last post. 天一生水, which roughly translates as "water arises from the first position of heaven". Elegant the name may be, it simply expressed the founder's desire to prevent the worst nightmare of every book collector - fire. It was founded toward the end of Ming dynasty, and is over 400 years old. The oldest book in its collection dates back 1000 years. One might think that in a country like China a private book collection 400 years old is not very extraordinary. But in fact book collections seldom outlive the original collector, and in China, where there are sweeping cleansings of censored books with every coronation and every new dynasty, the survival of Tianyige with its many banned books for 400 years through two dynasties and multiple governments is nothing short of miraculous.


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 lyrics:
天一生水,地六成之。
啊!
宝籍拥万卷,高阁束经典。
空煎满腹字,烂熟方寸间。
天一生水,地六成之。
命定藏书人,岁岁复年年。

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.

范 容:
藏书人,一跪求书双泪流,
尘埃定,万般滋味涌心头。
天一阁,历尽艰辛藏珍卷,
多少代,穷经皓首护书楼。
百年来,父子传承寂寞中,
百年来,儿孙陋巷清贫守。
百年来,天地正气在心胸,
百年来,千秋文脉不绝缕。
谁曾想,万般劳楚尚不足,
今日里,膝下黄金把书求……

孙知府:
讲的好!不过,范阁主,书中自有黄金屋,
书中自有颜如玉,可你范家藏书,
却藏得债台高筑,生计堪忧,
你到底所求何来啊!

范 容:
藏书人,二跪求书显忠诚,
扪心问,苦中作乐何所求。
饥藏书,一字一句且为肉,
寒藏书,一张一页但为裘。
孤藏书,一册一卷援为友,
忧藏书,一藉一典解以愁。
喜藏书,一匣一箱但为宝,
乐藏书,一楼一阁且风流!
感天动地泣鬼神,
无所憾,膝下黄金把书求!

孙知府:
好啊,孙某肃然起敬!
可李贽文章乃异端邪说,天一阁收藏《焚书》,
莫非你不怕引来杀身之祸吗?

范 容:
大人!秦时焚书坑儒,尽毁百家之书。
然志士毛亨冒死收藏诗经三百,
方能流传至今。
若毛亨惧死求生,诗经则不存矣!大人哪!
藏书人,三跪求书心怀展,
求《焚书》,真知箴言后世留。
天降任于斯,怎能不承受?
珍卷愧失传,万代罪名留。
祖先若追问,扪心怎启口?
子孙若追问,无语来遮羞!
日月若追问,何颜世上走?
天地君亲若追问,訇然毁塌百年楼!
范容荣辱早悟透,只求双书重聚首。
满天清辉作答酬,日月鉴,膝下黄金把书求!!

The entire opera, for those who want, can be watched on tudou.
Tags: history, trivia, yue opera
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