Hippisley Collection of Chinese classics now on loan at the RAS

The Society is delighted to have received a collection of Chinese books on long-term loan from the London Library. The books were collected by Alfred Hippisley (1848-1939), who worked for the Imperial Chinese Maritime Customs Service between 1867 and his retirement in 1910. In addition to his administrative work, Hippisley is particularly known as a central proponent of the ‘Open Door’ policy, which held that foreign powers should not seek exclusive control over trade and commerce with China, thus mediating between their competing interests and ambitions. A photograph of Hippisley is viewable online via the Historical Photographs of China project: https://www.hpcbristol.net/visual/hv35-42.

The Hippisley Collection in situ at the RAS

Hippisley’s collection focuses on the Chinese classics, philosophy, dynastic histories, and lexicography. There are several works printed in the eighteenth century, and even earlier, as well as some more modern literature from the nineteenth century. The collection consists primarily of traditional thread-bound books, rebound (presumably by Hippisley) into hardcover volumes, and totals around 40 seminal works of Chinese literature in over 400 volumes.

Hippisley donated the books to the London Library in 1936, explaining that at his advanced age reading Chinese characters caused too much strain on his eyes. Although he could no longer use the books, he wanted them to be available somewhere they could be of service to students and scholars. The RAS is very happy to take them on loan to support this same aim, and we hope that they will prove useful to a new generation of researchers. Our collections are available for everyone to use, free of charge – including, of course, members of the London Library.

The Hippisley Collection complements the library and archive of the Sinologist A.C. Graham, which the Society acquired earlier this year, and provides an additional reference tool for those studying the Chinese Classical tradition. It also offers an insight into how a senior British official, working in China during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, sought to understand China’s intellectual traditions.

We hope to begin the cataloguing of the Hippisley Collection and the (much larger) Library of A.C. Graham in the New Year. In the meantime, please contact us if you have any queries about the collection.

This week saw the last RAS events of 2018. On Tuesday, 11 December, Professor Ian Gow (University of Edinburgh) spoke on “The Scottish Sinologist Alexander Wylie (1815-1887): Missionary, Man of Letters, Mathematician”. Wylie was a missionary and scholar who, based in Shanghai for much of the second half of the nineteenth century, was keenly interested in the exchange of knowledge – in both directions – between China and the West, with a particular interest in the history of mathematics. It was interesting to hear about this hitherto somewhat neglected figure. Meanwhile, the Society’s last lecture of the year took place last night, Thursday 13 December, when Dr Alexandra Green (British Museum) spoke on “Sir Stamford Raffles: Civilised Views of Java”. Dr Green discussed the nature of Raffles’s extensive collections, as well as his historical work, including his History of Java, published in 1817.

Prof Ian Gow delivers his lecture

We are very grateful to all those who have given their time to lecture at the Society over the last year. We already have a full programme of events scheduled for the first half of 2019, and look forward to welcoming Fellows and members of the public for more talks, book launches, and other events during the coming months. Our next lecture will take place on Thursday 10 January, when Dr Cailah Jackson (University of Oxford) will lecture on “The Arts of the Book in a Time of Conflict: Manuscripts of Late Medieval Konya”. Until then, we would like to wish all our readers a Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year.