An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

Bowu yaolan 博物要覽

Mar 29, 2024 © Ulrich Theobald

Gu Yingtai's 谷應泰 Bowu yaolan 博物要覽

Bowu yaolan 博物要覽 is a book on collectibles written during the early Qing period 清 (1644-1911) by Gu Yingtai 谷應泰 (1620-1690), courtesy name Gengyu 賡虞, style Lincang 霖蒼, from Fengrun 豐潤 (in today's Hebei province), who is better known for his history book Mingshi jishi benmo 明史紀事本末.

His book on collectibles with a length of 12 juan was printed in 1658. It is composed of articles on miscellaneous issued. The preface, written by Li Diaoyuan 李調元 (1734-1803), points out that items like pearls, jade, rhinoceros horns or elephant tusks can be made into precious objects and constitute enjoyable things. Gu Yingtai proved this by commenting on designations, origins, and an assessment of natural and artistic values, with the aim to forestall merchants to deceive the world. The book discusses bronze objects (juan 1), ceramics (2), objects of gold (3), silver (4), pearls (5), jewelry (6), jades (7), semi-precious stones like agate, coral, crystal, etc. (8), glass, nacre, tortoiseshell, rhino horns, and ivory (9), incense and wooden objects (10), rocks (11), and brocades (12).

The text can be found in the series Congshu jicheng chubian 叢書集成初編 and Hanhai 函海.

Gu Tai's 谷泰 Bowu yaolan 博物要覽

Gu Yingtai's book from 1658 must not be confounded with a book of the same title, but written by Gu Tai 谷泰, courtesy name Ningyu 寧宇, during the Tianqi reign-period 天啟 (1621-1627) of the late Ming era 明 (1368-1644). Gu Tai was princely household manager (wangfu zhangshi 王府長史) of the Prince of Shu 蜀王. The preface, dated 1626, was written by Yu Ying 余膺.

Gu Tai's book has a length of 16 juan and is an overview of antiques and collectibles. Its organization is similar to Gu Yingtai's book (and quite probably inspired Gu Yingtai's work). It starts with stele inscriptions (juan 1), calligraphies (2) and paintings (3), and then goes on to bronze vessels (4), ceramics (5), ink-stones (6), gold (7), silver (8), pearls (9), jewelry (10), jades (11), agate and coral (12), amber, mellite, glass (13), crystal, tortoiseshell, rhino, and ivory (14), incense (15), and ends with lacquerware and rocks (16). The compilers of the imperial series Siku quanshu 四庫全書 rated the book as rather brief, and mediocre and not scholarly enough. It survives as a manuscript.

A joint edition of the two books with the title Bowu yaolan liang zhong 博物要覽兩種 was published in 2023 by the Shandong Kexue Jishu Chubanshe 山東科學技術出版社.

Beijing Dongfang Shoucangjia Xiehui 北京東方收藏家協會, ed. (1996). Zhonghua shoucang da cidian 中華收藏大辭典 (Beijing: Beijing Yanshan chubanshe), 7.
Li Xueqin 李學勤, Lü Wenyu 呂文鬰, eds. (1996). Siku da cidian 四庫大辭典 (Changchun: Jilin daxue chubanshe), Vol. 2, 1998.
Lu Mingxin 逯銘昕 (2023). "Bowu yaolan bianzhuan yu liuchuan kaolun 《博物要覽》編撰與流傳考論", Ziran kexue shi yanjiu 自然科學史研究, 42 (1): 64-74.