Emperor Kangxi (1654-1722)
Gengzhi tu (Pictures of tilling and weaving), a Chinese album of 46 woodcuts with associated poems on agriculture and silk production. [China: 1696 or later]. Large square 4° (318 x 305mm). Concertina fold-out of thin card with text, prints and borders mounted. 6pp. preface by Kangxi printed in brown ink, 2pp. text, 23 full-page woodcut prints of agricultural scenes by Zhu Gui after Jiao Bingzhen, each with an integral poem and faced by a single page poem by K'ang Hsi, 23 full-page woodcut prints relating to the growth of silk-worms and the production of silk by Zhu Gui after Jiao Bingzhen, each with an integral poem and faced by a single page poem by Kangxi. Every double-page opening with a border of pink paper flecked with gold. (Some joints between leaves split.) Chinese polychrome flower-print cotton-covered boards (soiled), modern green cloth box, green morocco label. [With:] A.C. EASTMAN. A 47pp. typescript of a translation in English of the eight-line poems. Provenance: A.C.Eastman (inscription dated 1926, typescript).
A RARE SET OF THIS WORK ON ALL ASPECTS OF CHINESE FARMING AND SERICULTURE, the original commissioned by Kangxi and published in 1696, with his poetry woodcut in facsimile of his own calligraphy. Kangxi, one of the two most powerful Ch'ing dynasty emperors, succeeded to the Imperial throne in 1661 and after a brief period when a regency held power, he ruled over and expanded the empire until his death in 1722. When not involved in his numerous military campaigns, he encouraged the introduction of western-influenced education and arts, allowed the Roman Catholic church access to the country. The Gengzhi tu, commonly referred to as Pictures of Tilling and Weaving is a Chinese illustrated book of considerable fame. "Despite having been widely studied and appreciated in the West and Japan, as well as in China, the history of the book is a complex one. This edition is properly known as Yuzhi gengzhi tu or Peiwan zhai gengzhi tu to denote its sponsorship by Kangxi emperor Shengzu (1654-1722) who ordered the court painter Jiao Bingzhen to make the illustrations. The forty-six woodcuts... depict contemporary Qing settings, although the original work on which it is based is of the Song dynasty. The illustrations display a strong European influence because of Jiao's contacts with Jesuit painters resident in Beijing. The original version of the Gengzhi tu was by Lou Shou (1090-1162) and was published around 1237... By the time of Jiao's publication, this version was either not extant in China or completely neglected. After 1700, the "modernized" Yuzhi gengzhi tu influenced all new editions and manuscript copies of the work in China... The term yuzhi in the title refers not to the imperial patronage of the work, but to the emperor's participation in the form of the seven-character quatrains [which accompany] each illustration. By implication, the poems were composed by the.. emperor.., but in fact they were often done by scholars at court, and in this case they seem to be in imitation of his handwriting." (Sören Edgren. Chinese rare books in American collections China House Gallery, China Institute in America, 1984, item 38). Jiao Bingzhen was director of the Board of Astronomy and Secretary for Fine Art in the Palace. These were translated into woodcuts by Zhu Gui, a ranking official at the Imperial Court of Ceremony.
The dating of the various editions of Gengzhi tu is extremely difficult. The present copy is from an edition where K'ang Hsi's poems were originally printed above the woodcut images, but here have been cut into strips (each including three characters) and remounted on the facing page. This may either have been done out of necessity, or at the wish of an early owner. The quality of the impressions of the woodcuts suggests that this copy is probably an early edition, but despite the 1696 date-equivalent given in the colophon, it has not been possible to arrive at a precise date.