From June 13-15, 2005, the Percival David Foundation for Chinese Art (PDF) held its 23rd Colloquy. As Colin Bundy, Director of the School of Oriental and African Studies, London, explained in his opening remarks, the PDF is one of the little-known treasures of the University of London, associated with the Department of Art and Archaeology. It has held an annual/biennial Colloquy on selected aspects of Chinese art, archaeology and connoisseurship since 1970, and published a corresponding series of proceedings in substantial, peer-edited volumes. The subject of this year's colloquy was unprecedented for the Foundation, which is more used to addressing its attention to porcelain, bronzes, Chinese decorative style and so on - the more traditional facets of academic art history. As a matter of fact, the colloquy was all but unprecedented full-stop. Europe has certainly never seen an academic gathering devoted to the material culture of the Chinese book with this number of presentations, all of a remarkably high standard - three days, six plenary sessions, twenty presentations. It was both exhilarating and exhausting. Stacey Pierson, tireless organizer on behalf of the PDF and curator of the Foundation's collections, expected seventy people, including presenters, to attend. In the event, about 90 participants registered and she suspects that there were gate-crashers. Hanshan Tang Books produced a special list of one hundred and fifty related titles in response to the colloquy. We printed one hundred copies and had disappointed scholars clamouring for more.
Curation of the colloquy's programme was the responsibility of Craig Clunas, Percival David Professor of Chinese Art and Archaeology, and Ming Wilson, Senior Curator in the Asian Department at the V&A. The latter provided intelligent continuity throughout the colloquy as well as herself presenting a full paper. Sadly, Clunas was unable to be physically present due to a serious, debilitating bout of flu. From his sickbed he composed an introductory address, read by Stacey Pierson. Clunas is known for an approach to art history that is informed by contemporary critical theory, and he and his fellow convenor's agenda for this colloquy reflected such engagements. Apart from the famous ceramics of its founder's collection, the PDF also holds a small collection of his Chinese books, including a number of some rarity and interest. As Clunas pointed out, Sir Percival David's sole publication, Chinese Connoisseurship, is, in fact, a book about a book, a translation with commentary, which Sir Percival based on the text of an early Ming period edition he acquired in 1942, the Ge Gu Yao Lun of Cao Zhao. Clunas implicitly signalled pertinent theoretical aspects of Sir Percival's moment of authorship - its self-referential, intertextual and transcultural character - and, at the same time, he highlighted and made concrete the vital importance of the colloquy's goal: giving scholarly attention to the art of the book per se, as a necessary contribution to our general understanding of material culture. More specifically, Clunas reminded contributors that their focus was not so much the 'art' of the book (as if some books are 'art' and others are not) but the Chinese book's 'artifactuality.' He wanted to hear papers on, 'the diverse ecology of the book in China,' and called for new engagements of Chinese print culture with what is still a Eurocentric tradition of book history. He asked that participants reassess the idea of a 'golden age' of Chinese printing, both the 'pedestalization' of Song period editions and the predominance of the late Ming period for illustrated work. He required us to extend our connoisseurship to the Qing period and beyond. Finally, he asked the colloquy to break down some of the questionable distinctions between book as manuscript and book as print object, a relationship that plays out very differently, East and West. In response, significant contributions to all these issues and more were provided by the many speakers. Clearly, some contributions will be of greater interest to antiquarian booksellers and collectors than others, and the following remarks will tend to expand on those contributions.
The first papers of the colloquy addressed a couple of underlying themes, the relationship of manuscripts to printed books and the influence of one form on the other, especially the influence of Chinese calligraphic and orthographic traditions on the design and production of printed matter. Professor Maggie Bickford of Brown University, however, raised a question concerning the bibliographic classification of illustrated manuscripts. In art history such items are often treated like paintings, their texts bracketed for the purposes of appreciation and interpretation. Bickford pointed to an early tradition which categorized such items - often in scroll form - as books, conveyors of information intended to be read rather than simply gazed upon, enjoyed and absorbed as visual art. Martin Heijdra of the Gest Library, Princeton (one of the West's great collections of fine and rare Chinese material) and Chen Hongyan from the National Library of China both addressed Chinese calligraphy and its role in book design. Calligraphy is China's highest visual art, a practice, simultaneously, of writing pure and simple, and also, as it were, of 'old mastery.' Calligraphy in China is much much more than the craft of beautiful writing that it is, chiefly, in the West. The characteristics of this art derive from the Chinese system of writing, a source of perpetual and often delusional fascination for people in the West. Its characters, 'spelt' out in integral, more or less regular-sized units, represent what we call words or, at least, significant parts of words. Cultures that use the Chinese system need thousands of distinct characters to compose their texts, make their inscriptions, and produce their books. The handwriting - calligraphy - which constitutes a manuscript has different regularities and rhythms compared with its western counterparts. In brief, these are more richly developed in visual terms, and examples are valued because of their association with great artist-scholars. The effect of these conditions on book design and production are contradictory and paradoxical. The forms of characters in books printed from carved woodblocks may be valued because of their association with a hero of calligraphic culture or, in rare cases, because they were actually written out by their author-artist as a model for the block carver(s). On the other hand, the necessity for consistency of print design when using an 'font' of thousands of characters requires a narrowing of the range of what we would call typographic variety. There are less than half a dozen Chinese 'book faces,' if we discount the insignificant variations produced by carvers, or by other media of production. Chen Hongyan's presentation concentrated on calligraphy's artistic contribution to the book in China, citing examples of direct intervention by author-artists. Martin Heijdra took on the subject from a more detached and analytical perspective, giving us important new ways of characterizing the typographic design of Chinese books and, in fact, pointing out that the relationship of this design to calligraphy has made it difficult for Chinese connoisseurs to appreciate and make use of typographic distinctions, because, for example, certain character forms in books must be praised and assessed for a calligraphic aesthetic that runs counter to a comparatively down-graded print aesthetic.
Perhaps it is necessary to recall, even in this context, that antiquarian Chinese print culture differs from that of the West in at least one absolutely fundamental aspect. Until the introduction of modern printing techniques in the nineteenth century, the dominant form of Chinese book was printed from woodblocks, each carved with the reverse relief representation of the equivalent of an entire opening. The culture that invented moveable type (traditionally attributed to Bi Sheng 990-1051) did not deploy it, other than exceptionally, until it became socio-economically viable to do so, after the introduction of lithography. Western missionary printing of Chinese texts (albeit chiefly Christian texts) constitutes the advent of typography as such, in our planet's other centre of culture. SOAS's Professor of Chinese History, Tim Barrett, exposed a few of the extraordinary ironies of this situation. For example, he proposed that for westerners to think of Gutenberg as the inventor of printing is rather as if we thought of Diesel as the inventor of the train. That would imply that James Watt, the steam-driven industrial revolution, and the rail-transport manifestation of a messy, long-outmoded technology might be forgotten or discounted. Woodblock printing in China was the engine of a worldwide cultural revolution and yet this fact is still, in real sense, invisible to us in the West. Its influence is still difficult for us to properly gauge. When Rowan Watson of the V&A was asked, from his expert Western print history perspective, to explain why there was no comparable European tradition of full-page, full-opening woodblock printed books, no clear insights emerged from an otherwise enlightening gallop through 'the long fifteenth century.'
It is a shame to be unable to do more than cite some of the colloquy's presentations without giving them due comment and context. Thankfully, the proceedings will be published and its readers will be able to pursue in greater detail what I can only list. Frances Wood of the British Library gave a talk on the early history of the British Museum/British Library collections, revealing some of the mysteries behind the acquisition and cataloguing of early Chinese items which should be provenanced but for which Library records are, perhaps inevitably, somewhat problematic and mysterious. Kevin McLoughlin spoke on images of Guanyin - the Bodhisattva of Compassion - in 17th-century illustrated works, and Anne Farrer took on the relationship between book illustration and sheet printing in the early 18th century, contributing to the further study of one of the glories of illustrated colour printing in China, the Mustard Seed Garden Manual of Painting, a marvellous book - parts of which are not uncommon in the West - with a spectacularly difficult publication history. In a three-paper session where books and objects came into explicit relationship, Peter Lam of the Chinese University of Hong Kong spoke about the illustration of ceramic techniques in books about China's most famous kiln site, Jingdezhen. Ming Wilson gave us fantastical insights into the fantasies of connoisseurs who produced books about objects - jades in her case - that never existed but which Chinese culture needed to document as if they did exist. Philip Hu took us to an extreme of the book as material object in a fine exposition on books made, literally, of jade. These are chiefly court-commissioned memorial tomes, but they can be extensive and they do evoke the question, 'When is a book not a book?' To complete the list of papers that I feel guilty not to comment on properly, there was a fine presentation by Wang Chenghua on an important moment of printing using collotype illustrations in the early 20th century. This was for mass-produced publications which significantly documented and popularized Chinese art in a manner that also contributed to a sense of national identity at the time. Finally, Yuan Xiyang gave us a brief history of modern Chinese book design in its crucial formative period from 1919-1937.
A significant number of the presentations emerged from the contemporary critical academy in the United States. These were, generally speaking characterized by a theoretically-informed approach capable of relating the specifics of print culture to history, sociology and even politics. This is welcome in the context of Chinese studies, where scholarship has often been somewhat unworldly. The colloquy seemed, in a sense, to follow on from the publication of four significant monographs in the field, and two of their authors were present. Cynthia Brokaw spoke on commercial book production in the '19th-century hinterland,' while Robert Hegel addressed a specific case of illustrated fiction from the Ming-Qing transition period. Brokaw's co-edited book, Printing and Book Culture in Late Imperial China - apart from further work of her own and of Hegel's - contains essays by two other colloquy participants. Joseph McDermott spoke on the high cultural regard of the Chinese for all things inscribed. This regard is manifested socially in the formation of grassroots associations of ordinary people, who join and volunteer to collect and respectfully dispose of waste paper that is written on. Tim Brook and Kathlyn Liscomb both addressed illustrated works, the first as a historian trying to make out what was being represented in the panoramic illustrations produced for published records of Buddhist monasteries in Ming period Nanjing; while Liscomb brought forward questions concerning the representation of literary figures as culture heroes, and what this signified for different sectors of Chinese society. Julia Murray spoke about a particular imperial-sponsored illustrated text in 'The Provenance and Evolution of Jiao Hong's Yangzheng Tujie,' a paper that combined analysis of the function and positioning of this printed instrument of imperial edification with the more historical critical aspects of connoisseurship such as occasionally concern even the pragmatics of bookselling.
It was Sören Edgren of the Princeton-based, Research Library Group-led Chinese Rare Books Project, who provided us with the presentation most likely both to goad booksellers and get their juices flowing, since he was speaking directly to questions of the authentication and dating of Chinese rare books. Many of the actual examples he discussed are virtually inaccessible or all but beyond the dreams of avarice. Edgren is primarily concerned with what the Chinese call 'shanben' (fine editions). Such books are very rarely seen in the West, even more rarely traded, and they are not, generally speaking, exportable from mainland China. In this part of the world, we are now fortunate if we are able to handle what the Chinese call 'putong guji' (ordinary early editions), which may occasionally, however, include examples of Qing period illustrated material. This can be attractive and collectable, even for bibliophiles who do not read Chinese. Edgren's remarks on authentication and dating are, nonetheless, generally applicable, quite apart from the shock and amusement they are able to provoke. In broad terms, the connoisseurship of Chinese books strongly resembles that of the West. Careful research, attention to sources of information and standards of description - all of these are vital. Edgren is deeply involved with the issues of providing transcultural standards for bibliographic and physical description and any associated research. The Chinese tradition in the field is sketchier and less well-defined than it is for us, more dependent on the personal authority of scholars and collectors than on attention to the material itself. By this, I mean that provenance and associated supporting text, in the form of colophons and inscriptions, can, in the Chinese context, count for as much in valuing (in both senses) a book as, for example, the presence or absence of a cover page (Chinese equivalent of title page) or the correspondence of a particular exemplar with previous bibliographic records (with or, more likely, without physical description). In China the connoisseur/collector had a large measure of control over the fate of rare editions. Perhaps this is best illustrated by Edgren's answer to a question from the floor. 'What about binding? Wouldn't a study of the history of Chinese binding assist with provenance and dating?' Initially, Edgren answered with a simple, 'No.' Of course, there is a history of binding in China with dateable techniques and, in rare cases, dateable use of materials. However, generally speaking, the binding of a Chinese book was and is a moveable feast, even more so in China than in the West. Collectors are less likely to be concerned about preserving an old binding. They would prefer to protect or restore a binding to enhance or set off the text and its printing. This and the fact that Chinese bindings are much easier both to disassemble and reproduce, gives them far less value for authentication.
What is certain is that we share, with all peoples, a genuine and pragmatic sense of the value of fine, early books, and this translates to both connoisseurship and commerce. As such, it also translates to venality and deceptive practices that interfere with, precisely, the aims of scholarship underlying this PDF Colloquy. Edgren gave us some extraordinary examples of what were clearly fraud and also other practices that might seem fraudulent to us but are less clearly dishonest in their specific cultural context. On the one hand, the integrity of a copy is clearly damaged and a fraudulent attempt is made to disguise this fact for the purposes of trading or exchanging the copy. In other cases - arguably more common in China than in the West - efforts are made by collectors and others to restore the integrity of a text, for honest reasons that may, nonetheless, go unnoticed or disregarded. Examples of the latter practice can be highly elaborate, the equivalent of scholarly textual skin-grafting, or extraordinary, super-human feats of facsimile reproduction. Back in the realm of the forger, Chinese bibliographic deception can be both spectacular and amusing. Edgren showed a slide with a wonderful example of a not uncommon practice. The character for 'End,' or 'Finis' may be added to the physically final leaf of a damaged copy. In the example Edgren showed, the dissembler had gone on to cover the added character with a seal impression and an artificial burn mark to render it still legible but plausibly obscured by accidents of ownership and wear. In an even more elaborate case, a dishonest dealer holding volumes three, four and five of a properly twelve-volume work was able, because of the nature of the Chinese script, to change the characters for '3', '4' and '5' in the book's headings to words meaning 'first,' 'second' and 'last.'
The overall message of the colloquy was an energetic and enlightening call to engage with the scholarship and material culture of the Chinese book. Whilst fully according with these aims and sentiments, Edgren explicitly raised another, related warning cry, familiar to booksellers and their clients. Take a good close look at that example of material culture in front of you. 'Buyer Beware!'
 There is a 30-page photocopied catalogue of the most interesting items by Clunas' predecessor, Roderick Whitfield, Chinese Rare Books in the P.D.F. London: Percival David Foundation, 1987, reprinted 2005 for the Colloquy and available through the PDF.
 David, Sir Percival. Chinese Connoisseurship: The Ko Ku Yao Lun, The Essential Criteria of Antiquities. London: Faber & Faber, 1971. Cao Zhao flourished 1387-99; the copy of the original work in the PDF is dated to 1388 with MS notes of the Chenghua reign (1465-1487).
 Note that in the case of other Chinese inventions the situation is not the same. Think of porcelain or the print-implicated invention of paper, for example.
 Brokaw, Cynthia J., and Kai-Wing Chow, eds. Printing and Book Culture in Late Imperial China. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005. Chia, Lucille. Printing for Profit: The Commercial Publishers of Jianyang, Fujian (11th-17th Centuries). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003. Chow, Kai-Wing. Publishing, Culture and Power in Early Modern China. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2003. Hegel, Robert E. Reading Illustrated Fiction in Late Imperial China. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998.