|A Quest for Rare Sutras in China|
A Report on my Recent Visit to China
University of the West
I started my trip to China on May 20, 2012. The aim of this trip was to investigate the Yongle Northern Canon which was constructed in the years 1419 – 1440 and 1573 – 1620. I began examining this edition of Buddhist canon in 2009 when I obtained a scholarship from Princeton University. I expanded this research from Princeton to Chongqing, to Yangxian in Shaanxi Province in 2010. When I heard that University of Chicago has a complete set of Yongle Northern Canon, I spent about three weeks at Regenstein Library, examining their collection in June 2011. Then I returned to China and visited three temples in Beijing, Tianjin Library, Shandong Library in the same year. As the research work went further, I knew the remaining target libraries and temples. Then I arranged a trip to a number of libraries and temples in China, covering eight provinces and municipalities in 35 days from May to July, 2012. I visited the following libraries and temples:
Except Guangsheng Temple, all these libraries and temples keep volumes of Yongle Northern Canon.
I would like to summarize the experiences I gained when I tried to check this unique set of Buddhist canon.
The important thing is to have good connections. When I visited the Grand Buddha Temple, in Zhangye, Professor Du Doucheng helped me get a letter of recommendation from the Department of Cultural Relics in Gansu Provincial Government. With this letter, the local curators would show me their collection of treasures. Otherwise, they would not show anything. I could not to see anything in Taiyuan because monks in the Chongshan Temple refused to grant access.
I started my journey in Beijing, where I tried to meet deputy-curator of the National Library of China. Although I did not meet him this time, two staff members of the rare books section met me and introduced me to the curator of the Library of Imperial Palace. When I visited Zhejiang Library, the deputy curator made a phone call to the curator of Lanxi City Museum. When I arrived at Lanxi, the curators used their car to drive me to the temple, located at least 15 km in the outskirts. If I had had no connections, I would not have been able to meet monks and museum staff members. They would not have shown me their collection of the Yongel Northern Canon or allowed me to take photos.
Whenever I visited these libraries and temples, I would usually introduce myself with my PowerPoint documents so that the librarians and curators could see that I am an expert in the field of Buddhist canon. Then they would be at ease with my visit and questions about their collection. If they wanted to share my photos, papers, and books on Buddhist canon, I would generously let them copy what they needed so that they might feel that they gained understanding from my visit.
During my visit, I helped a number of libraries and temples to reach a better understanding of what they have. They invited me to visit their libraries again next year. An aged devotee of Lanxi asked me to promise that I would participate in their ceremony to sun next year because they truly believed that my knowledge would help them to preserve the Buddhist canon. Monks in Fujian invited me to visit them next year, as the abbot in Yongquan Temple where the Yongle Northern Canon was kept in the abbot’s room, but the abbot was absent when I visited the city. They helped me conduct better research when they found I was friendly and helpful.