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Ancient texts find new audience online

By Xing Wen | China Daily | Updated: 2023-01-07 11:24

More than 6,786 digitized books were released online by the National Center for Preservation and Conservation of Ancient Books and several partner institutions, bringing the total number of digitized ancient Chinese books available online to more than 130,000. These refer to books and written documents published before 1912.

The online publication of these digital resources, on Thursday, was co-conducted by the center, headquartered at the National Library of China in Beijing, Tianjin Library, Yunnan Provincial Library, Nanjing Library and Suzhou Library in Jiangsu province, and the Sun Yat-sen University Library in Guangdong province. Included in the release are the digital versions of woodblock prints dating back to the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties, stone carvings and inscriptions, family trees, calligraphy and paintings.

The uploaded resources enable researchers and members of the public to examine antique books and other historical documents at home, playing an important role in the preservation and development of traditional Chinese culture, according to Xiong Yuanming, director of the center.

The center launched an online repository for ancient Chinese texts in 2016 and has so far collaborated with 39 institutions worldwide to enrich it. The repository features everything from old photos and nianhua, or New Year's prints embossed with a variety of themes, to gazetteers — chronicles written by imperial officials to record local events. It even includes oracle bones, used at the dawn of Chinese civilization to forecast the future by cracking them over a fire and recording the results using archaic script.

The resources have been categorized in detail, and the retrieval system has been enhanced for users to quickly identify and find what they want.

"The center will continue to share more digitized ancient books, improve its overall services, further dig out the value of China's ancient literary treasures and promote its ability to spread fine traditional cultural resources," says Xiong.

Du Zexun, director of the School of Literature at Shandong University and a professor of ancient bibliography, says that though these ancient books are cultural relics that should be conserved, they are also important resources that have to be utilized. Digitization strikes the right balance, ensuring proper preservation while at the same time increasing public accessibility.

"More ancient books should be digitized in the future to provide readers' easy access to rare book resources.

"It's urgent for China to put in more investment and implement pertinent policies. Museums and libraries across the country should respond to the inevitable trend," Du says.



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