Robe trio of images

Gest Library "Cribbing Garment"
Andrew H. Plaks

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In "Research on the Gest Library 'Cribbing Garment,' A Very Belated Update," the lead article in volume XI, no. 2 of the East Asian Library Journal, Professor Andrew Plaks writes about his more than two-decade-long interest in one of the unusual non-book objects in the Gest collection, the so-called "cribbing garment," more than once on public display in earlier years of the Gest Library at Princeton. His inventive research methods invite readers to participate in his investigation into the origins, utility, contents, and significance of this elusively sublime and curious object, about which there remains much to be deciphered.

This short silk jacket, acquired in China by Irvin Van Gorder Gillis, agent for the Gest Collection, was carried to the United States in the luggage of William B. Pettus, head of the North China Language School in Beijing, and late in August 1932 was delivered to Guion M. Gest at the office of Gest's engineering firm in New York City. Densely packed examination essays written in "flyhead script," yingtouzi, appear to cover virtually every inch of the surface area of the jacket. Essays on topics from the Daxue (Great Learning) each begin with a red-ink swab, and those on topics from the Zhongyong (Doctrine of the Mean) each begin with a black-ink swab. Professor Plaks discovered that text visible under the ink swabs named the author or indicated something of the source of a given essay. Norman Muller, conservator of the Princeton University Art Museum, successfully applied infrared reflectography to peel away the color of the red-ink swabs to reveal previously invisible characters.

The resulting highly enlarged photographic images of the 405 red-ink name tabs, some perfectly legible and others hardly legible, are published here on this page of the website for the East Asian Library Journal with an invitation to journal readers and those who might stumble onto this site for assistance in deciphering these names and further in identifying the persons named. "Appendix One" to Professor Plaks's article lists the names and life dates of authors already identified; "Appendix Two" lists those names already deciphered, but not yet identified.

When you click on the above header, you will enter the gallery of all 405 name images numbered in the order of their appearance in the "Great Learning" portion of the "cribbing garment." Under each is the identification to date. Our key is the following:

? indicates that the character is indecipherable.
A character in parentheses ( ) indicates that the reading is uncertain.
A character in brackets [ ] indicates an alternative to the character preceding it.

Please send the results of your own sleuthing—readings of previously undeciphered characters, corrections to readings offered, and identification of names—in an email to The results of this cooperative reading will facilitate in further bracketing the date of and identifying sources for the making of the Gest "cribbing garment."

Below schematic drawings of the robe by Heather Larkin, technical assistant for the East Asian Library Journal, indicate the direction of the reading layout of the columns of the text on the jacket.


robe diagram 1

Robe diagram 3

robe diagram 2


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