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article imageRare book in Cambridge opens window to China's musical history

By Layne Weiss     Mar 5, 2014 in Music
Cambridge - An "odd little book" which has been stored in a Cambridge library for the last two centuries has been identified by Chinese scholar Dr. Jian Yang as Xian Di Pipa Pu, an 18th century volume of Chinese musical scores.
The rare book has unknowingly been kept at the St Johns College library in Cambridge since being brought to England from China in the 19th century after surviving a Napoleonic naval adventure, Cambridge News reports.
A collection of Chinese books was in the possession of Reverend James Inman when the ship he was sailing confronted a French naval squadron off the Malaysian coast in February 1804, BBC News reports.
After the incident, Inman decided to donate his collection to St. Johns College in Cambridge. Experts in China believe one of the books Inman donated "one-of-a-kind" and offers completely new insight into China's pre-modern musical heritage, Cambridge News reports. There is very little original literature left on the subject.
Chinese scholar Dr. Jian Yang says the volume, described by a St. John's academic as an "odd little book," has been evaluated by some authorities in China and is said to be "quite unique and priceless."
“When I saw the book, I realised almost immediately that it might be a very rare volume of Gongche notation, printed in China around 1770.
“I have consulted other researchers and none of them has ever seen any other copy of this title, so it is quite possibly unique," Yang says.
“We should count ourselves very lucky that James Inman survived his difficult voyage bringing it back from China to Britain.
“After 210 years of silence, it means that we now have the chance to learn more about Chinese culture and music," he added.
The book gives an introduction to three instruments "Di," a flute, Sanxian, a three-stringed lute," and "Xiao," a recorder. The introduction is followed by 13 pieces of music written in Gongche notations.
George Archdale, an Oriental expert at Cambridge-based auctioneers Cheffins, said it is nearly impossible to guess a value for the rare book, not only because of its rarity, but also because of its "extraordinary journey" to Cambridge.
Archdale says that figuring out the value would require "finding recently sold items which might be considered comparable enough to present as a basis for some calculated estimate."
One must also consider "the strength of the Chinese market for buying back Chinese treasures."
“With more common things, westerners may agree a fair auction estimate only to find that the Chinese surpass it with great gusto, sometimes by factors of ten or more," Archdale added.
According to BBC News, a spokesman from St Johns College said the materials donated by Reverend Inman are available for research purposes and may be used in future exhibitions.
More about Book, China, Music, china's musical history, st johns cambridge
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