Books collecting had grown into an elegant fashion by Ming and Qing Dynasties, especially in Jiangnan Regions (mainly the areas of Jiangsu and Zhejiang south of the Yangtze River), where scholastic pursuit was a particularly respected tradition. While most well-read households set aside one room or two as a study, some had been so infatuated with books as to build a whole building to collect and store them.
Liu Cheng'gan, a real "book-worm", founder of Jiayetang Library.
Huzhou Jiayetang Library was one of such private book-collecting houses built by such a bibliomaniac - Liu Cheng’gan (1882~1963). Liu had been born to a cultured – and rich – family; his father was an official, and his grandfather, Liu Yong, an acclaimed billionaire who carved out his fortune through decades of business. Liu Cheng’gan could have rested comfortably with such a huge inheritance. He was brought up in line with strict traditional education, and could go on pursuing a bureaucratic career without having to worry about livelihood. However, the imperial civil service examination system was abolished in the last decade of Qing Dynasty, and the bibliomaniac Liu Cheng’gan went into his “kingdom of books”, again.
Construction of the Jiayetang Library began in 1902, and was renovated in 1924. The two-storied collection house, made up of totally 52 collection rooms surrounding a big courtyard where books may be dried in the sun, stands amid the elegantly embellished garden, and was a blend of Western and Chinese architecture.
Front facade of the garden-style Jiayetang Library.
The Western-style hanging lamp of the reading room.
The big courtyard
The first half of the 20th century in China was turbulent and eventful, making it a hard time for collecting antiques (including ancient books). Large quantities of ancient books went into circulation, and Liu seized the opportunity to buy them regardless of costs. In its heyday, Liu’s collection of books at Jiayetang amounted to 160,000. Part of these books (around 200 volumes) had been published in Song-Yuan Dynasties. As many had been the then rare, or only, existing copies, Liu had them reprinted.
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