Lot 103
  • 103


20,000 - 30,000 USD
87,500 USD
bidding is closed


  • Paper
  • 13 3/4  by 8 5/8  in., 34.9 by 21.9 cm
woodblock-printed, published in 1407, comprising six chapters divided into three volumes each secured with stitch binding, the covers of yellow paper, each side of the folio pages printed in clerical script with 14 columns and 28 characters per column, the preface printed in a larger, more calligraphic font with 8 columns per page and 17 characters per column, punctuation in the text indicated by small superscript circles sometimes highlighted in red pigment, a large square seal of the Empress reading Houzai zhi ji (written to convey profundity) impressed in red on the final page of the preface and the first page of each chapter, enclosed in a custom paper-board case bound in red fabric and covered with celadon-blue paper printed with crimson bouquets and a further leather-bound outer case lined with yellow silk, enclosed with three letters written by diplomats dated between 1888 and 1927 (8)


European Private Collection, acquired in Beijing prior to 1888.
Francis Edwards Ltd., London, 1965.

Catalogue Note

The present album is a particularly well-preserved edition of the celebrated book, Daming Renxiao Huanghou Quanshanshu [Book of exhortation for virtuous deeds by the Empress Renxiao of the Great Ming] written by Empress Xu (1362-1407) in 1405, which brings together teachings from Confucianism, Buddhism and Daoism that encourage good deeds. Each chapter opens with proverbs and quotations that are supported by historical anecdotes, with the central theme heeding the warning that good deeds will be rewarded and punishment will befall bad deeds. It concludes with the Exhortations, where her sons and nephews give their endorsements of the book, followed by a listing of all the important military and civil officials who praised it. The success of this publication helped establish quanshanshu (books to promote good deeds) as a popular literary genre.

Empress Xu, whose given name was Yihua, was the eldest daughter of Lady Xie and General Xu Da (1332-1385), a comrade-in-arms of the Hongwu Emperor, father of the later Yongle Emperor. It was the wish of Hongwu that their children be married. Regarded as a virtuous and quiet child, Empress Xu was given the nickname ‘the female student’ (nuzhusheng) because of her love of reading. Married in 1376 and appointed Empress upon the Yongle Emperor’s ascension to the throne in 1402, she wrote several books. These writings served to legitimize her imperial line and she attempted to ameliorate the violence following the three-year civil war that brought her husband to power. Her other writings include Gujin lienu zhuan [Biographies of illustrious women past and present], published in 1403, and Neixun [Household instructions] of 1404. In Neixun she gracefully acknowledges the teachings she received in her first years at the palace that she received from her mother-in-law, Empress Ma. According to the catalogue to the exhibition Ming. 50 Years that Changed China, The British Museum, London, 2014, p. 60, ‘[t]he preoccupation of the early Ming emperors with correct behaviour of court ladies was connected to their efforts to prove themselves rightful rulers. They sought to establish Ming ladies’ court etiquette and to spread this behaviour to vassal states’. Both Neixun and the present book remained influential throughout the Ming and Qing dynasties in China as well as in Korea and Japan. 

Editions of this book are found in important institutions; one is held in the National Central Library of Taiwan, Taipei, coll. no. 306 07588; another in the Capital Library, Beijing, coll. no. 04808; one in the Chongqing Library, Chongqing; and a fourth in the Muban Foundation collection, included in the exhibition Ming. 50 Years that Changed China, ibid., cat. no. 37.

An undated letter enclosed in the volume describing the value, history, and contents of the book, with particular emphasis on the moral aspects of the text and concepts of the afterlife, was written by Father Jaime Masip to Father Matellan. Father Masip was a Dominican missionary in China for 25 years and served on the Ethnology and Linguistics Subcommittee for the 1929-30 Missionary Exhibition in Barcelona, which had been previously staged at the Vatican in 1925. The exhibition included numerous Chinese artifacts and artworks, and it is possible that this book was included among the exhibits.

Other enclosed documents include a summary and authentication of the book written in Spanish by Juan de Licopolis Marzal, Interpreter for the Spanish Legation in China, dated 1st September 1888 in Peking (Beijing). The summary was written at the request of Leopoldo de Alba Salcedo (1843-1913), a historian and politician who was the Plenipotentiary Minister of Spain in China and Siam (Thailand) from 1884 to 1886. There is also a letter written by A. Nissière, the First Interpreter to the French Legation to China, dated 3rd September 1888 in Peking, which states that two Chinese literati with expertise in Ming dynasty printed books examined the books and confirmed their authenticity. A third document, written in English by Zhang Xianglin in April 1927, also verifies the authenticity and date of the book as 9th March 1405. Zhang (b. 1880) held important government positions in the Republic Period, including in the News and Translation Bureau, in the Ministry of the Interior, and as the Consul-General in New York, among other posts.