First of all, let me express my sincere hearty thanks to the Library of Princeton University for providing me this rare opportunity to do research on the rare books kept at the Mudd Library. I was so fortunate to have this chance to examine these Buddhist scriptures engraved from the twelfth century to the seventeenth century.
Before my coming to Princeton , Dr. Martin Heijdra, Curator of Rare Chinese Books Section, suggested that I start to investigate the Ming Northern Edition of the Buddhist Canon instead of the Qisha Edition of the Buddhist Canon engraved during the long period from the thirteenth to the fifteenth centuries. His suggestion was proved to be timely and wise.
During the whole month of July 2009, I examined this Ming Northern Edition of the Buddhist canon. This edition was constructed during the years of 1411- 1440. This set, although incomplete, has 3757 volumes extant at the Mudd Library, Princeton University .
Opening the first volume of the scripture, an imperial decree captured my attention. I checked this page with two extant copies of the same edition in Chongqing Library and the Library of Imperial Palace in Beijing . I found that the format, the patterns of the frame and seal of the empress differ from the two copies I examined in China . The seal of the empress is particularly impressive. I did not find this seal either in the copy of Chongqing Library or the CD Edition based on the hard copy of the Ming Northern Buddhist Canon kept at the Imperial Palace Library in Beijing . I also checked other scholarly researches on this edition. They all recorded the imperial decree, but never mentioned the red seal by the empress.
Records say that this Ming Northern Edition is a court edition because it was designed, constructed and printed in the Imperial Court . My conclusion is that this copy of the Ming Northern Edition of the Buddhist Canon kept at Princeton University is not only a print of the Court, but it was a property of Empress Li, who was mother of Emperor Wanli (r. 1573 – 1620). When the empress died, the Buddhist canon was transferred to her son-in-law, Wan Wei, who died in 1644 when a peasant rebellion overthrew the dynasty.
After the downfall of the dynasty, this copy of the Northern Ming Edition of the Buddhist Canon no longer belonged to the royal family. Through careful examination of colophons, I found that a monk named Xingduan took a note that he read one volume of the Prajñāpārāmitā sūtra in the year Xinhai (1671) during the reign of Emperor Kangxi (r. 1662 -1722). The colophon indicates that with the death and bankruptcy of Wan Wei’s family, this Northern Ming Edition of the Buddhist Canon became the property of a Buddhist temple in Beijing .
Thus, this Princeton copy is a uniquely priceless treasure.
This Yongle Northern Edition of the Chinese Buddhist Canon witnessed the vicissitudes of history of Chinese Buddhism at the end of the Ming Dynasty, particularly how Wan Wei, the owner of this Buddhist canon, tried to survive with the Buddhist canon kept in the court.
These and other findings will greatly widen our understanding of this Ming Northern Edition of the Buddhist Canon. Each extant copy has its uniqueness as I later found in Chongqing Library and the CD edition. The colophons, the dating, the format and other aspects offer useful information for comparative studies. The Princeton copy provides me a useful reference to other extant copies of the same edition in China. I am going to investigate such extant copies of this edition in China this coming summer.
I avail myself of this opportunity to express my sincere appreciation of the generous support of the Friends of Princeton University Library. It was with their aid that I was able to get access to these treasures. It is beyond my words to express my thanks to Dr. Andrea Immel for her constant encouragement and support. I would like to thank Ms Linda Oliveira, Dr. Martin Heijdra, and Dr. Paul Needham for their kind and generous aid during my fruitful stay at Princeton. Finally, I would like to thank Dr. Martin Heijdra for the excellent guidance and service he offered me during my entire stay at Princeton.