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Expert selects China’s greatest books

Frances Wood sinologist‘Great Books of China’ introduces sixty-six works spanning three millenia of Chinese history selected by the former curator of the British Library’s Chinese collection Frances Wood.

Guanghwa Bookshop on Shaftesbury Avenue near Leicester Square hosted an event early in December 2017 at which Frances explained her selection. Guanghwa staff had been busy festooning the walls of the venue with cards marked outside with dynastic name/era, and inside bearing a snippet from the selected book. Vivian, our host/compere invited guests by turn to pluck a card from the wall, and to read out the snippet; Frances would then tell us the reason for chosing the book from which the snippet was drawn.

Chinese Tang/Song dynastry female poet Li Qing Zhao and her poem about white cranesAs well as works of Tang 唐 and Song 宋 dynasty poets Du Fu 杜甫, Li Bai 李白 and Li Qing Zhao 李清照, the ancient collection of poems the ‘Book of Songs’ 诗经 Shi Jing gets Frances’ enthusiastic approval. It has existed as a collection since 400 B.C., and shows “the consistency and continuity of the Chinese character – Chinese people remaining infused with its words and rhythms to the present day”.

“It really makes your brain unwind, it is very beautiful, it is simple” is Frances’ verdict on the ‘Diamond Sutra’, which is the world’s first printed book (868 A.D.), one copy of which is preserved in the British Library, and “bears a very touching dedication” bearing witness to the patron’s filial piety for his parents.

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Other books that came up through the card plucking process included Yuan 元 dynasty ‘Story of the Lute’ 琵琶经 Pipa Jing , Ming 明 dynasty ‘Exploitation of the works of Nature’ 天工开物 Tiangong Kaiwu which incorporates instructions on paper-making, and Qing 清 dynasty ‘Mustard Seed Garden Manual of Painting’ 芥子园画传 Jieziyuan Huazhuan.

A copy of Great Books of China will soon be available on loan from Barnet Library service, but I have first dibs!

About Dr Frances Wood – Frances Wood in Wikipedia
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