Medieval Manuscripts in the Fu Ssu-nien Library, Institute of History and Philology,
Academia Sinica, Taipei, Taiwan

The Fu Ssu-nien Library at Academia Sinica contains forty-nine manuscripts that appear to be from the fifth to the thirteenth centuries. Thirty-six are in Chinese, nine in Tibetan, one in Tangut, one in Uighur and two are images of buddhas. Unfortunately, in all but a few cases, the sources for these manuscripts are not recorded in library documents, leaving the question of their provenance open to question.

Based on evidence in the manuscripts themselves, some of the manuscripts almost certainly originated in Cave 17 at Dunhuang. For example, document (no. 188104), the Weimo shouji, includes a colophon signed by one Zhang Daqing, a local official at Dunhuang in the ninth century whose name appears on manuscripts in the Stein and Pelliot collections. Similarly, the manuscript of the Fahua ji (no.188098), a fragment from a commentary on the Lotus Sutra, is a relatively obscure text, found only at Dunhuang, The same holds true for the Yuanming lun, (no.188106), a rare text now found only among the Dunhuang manuscripts.

A few of the manuscripts include colophons offering information on how the manuscripts reached the Fu Ssu-nien collection. Notes to a manuscript of the Mahāpratisarādhāraṇi (no.188097), explains that it originally belonged to Xu Chengyao (1874-1964) who served as an official in Gansu between 1919 and 1921 at which time he obtained a number of the Dunhuang manuscripts. Many of these manuscripts were sold to Chinese libraries upon his death, as evidenced by his seal which appears on them. This note further explains that Xu gave this manuscript to his student, Wu Boquan. Academia Sinica was founded in Canton in 1928, later moving to Peking, and then, following on the Japanese invasion, to Nanking, Kunming and Lichuang, before coming to Taiwan in 1948. The manuscript seems to have entered the Fu Ssu-nien collection in the 1950s, after the move to Taiwan. Similarly, the colophon to a manuscript of the Dharmaguptakavinaya (no.188099) explains that it was sent to a scholar named Zhou Shumo by a “friend from Lanzhou.” It is likely that other manuscripts in the collection were owned first by Chinese scholars or officials with some connection to the Dunhuang area. Most were interested in the manuscripts chiefly for their calligraphy.

In addition, library records include receipts dating to the forties for some of the manuscripts. Three of these receipts are frustratingly vague, with entries such as “Five Tang manuscripts of scripture of one juan each: 25 yuan.” As such, it is difficult to assign individual receipt entries to specific manuscripts in the Fu Ssu-nien collection. One of the three receipts is dated January 3, 1949 (it may be a list of prices, rather than a receipt of purchase). The other two are probably from 1948. All three are records of purchases from Qingyuntang, a well-known Peking bookstore. A note attached to one of the three explains that Xu Hongbao, a prominent antiquarian, had verified that the manuscripts on the list were Dunhuang texts from Li Shengduo’s collection. Li Shengduo ( 1858-1937) was known in the forties to have a collection of Dunhuang manuscripts, which were sold to various collectors and stores after his death. Some such manuscripts, though bearing his seal, were not in fact from his collection. The price of the manuscripts as given on the receipts ranges from 25 to 1200 yuan. For comparison, the monthly salary of Fu Ssu-nien, then director of the Institute, was about 400 yuan.

A second set of records describes the purchase of manuscripts at Dunhuang by a team of researchers from the Institute who visited Dunhuang in 1944. All four of these can be linked to specific manuscripts in the Fu Ssu-nien Collection (no.s 188096, 188080, 188104, and 188105). One of these, purchased by the scholar Xiang Da in September of 1944, is mentioned in a letter from Xia Nai to Fu Ssu-nien and Li Ji of the Institute, in which Xia speculates:

In August, workers at the Thousand Buddhas Cave by chance discovered more than sixty juan of Six Dynasties manuscripts inside of a late Qing clay image…. In September, acting on an introduction from Director Wang of the Provincial Bank, Mr. Xiang purchased for the team a Six Dynasties manuscript (a fragment of the Lotus Sutra) in one juan [ i.e. no.188080 ]. I suspect it is one of the pieces found by the workers.

The story of the Qing statue is unlikely, and probably reflects a local rumor about the origin of some Dunhuang manuscripts. Documents related to the other three manuscripts note that they were purchased from the manager of a mill for 3 shi and 3 dou of grain. Another letter from Xia Nai to Fu Ssu-nien and Li Ji dated July 31, 1944 contains clues to the source for the Tibetan manuscripts in the collection. Xia writes:

Xiang Da says that there are some ten bundles of Tibetan Buddhist scriptures in booklet format kept at the Office for Public Education. These were taken from the Ten Thousand Buddhas cave. The chief administrator of the Office doesn’t particularly like them. I suggest that our team approach him and offer to exchange new books for them. As to whether or not we can procede by this plan, I await your approval. I also await your instructions for the exact terms of such an exchange.

Similarly, yet another letter from Xia Nai, dated to March 26 of 1945, mentions the possibility of purchasing Tangut texts:

There are in addition five printed Tangut texts that were unearthed in Ningxia. Director Yuan of the Peking Library has already sent Mr. Zhao to negotiate, but they are asking a very high price. Moreover, he has already gone to Hezhou and won’t be back in Lanzhou until next month. If the Peking Library doesn’t want to buy them, does the Institute of History and Philology want them? How much can we offer? If it is under ten thousand yuan the team can make the purchase, but if the price is in the tens of thousands, then I’m afraid we will need more money.

As neither of the letters describes the texts in detail, it is difficult to determine if the documents mentioned here refer to the Tibetan manuscripts and Tangut fragments in the Fu Ssu-nien collection. At the very least, they give a sense of the atmosphere at Dunhuang at that time in which many locals possessed manuscripts they claimed were medieval texts the Dunhuang find. We include here reproductions of these library records along with the manuscripts.

Although, outside of manuscripts mentioned in these library documents, most of the manuscripts cannot be conclusively traced to medieval Dunhuang, for the most part the paper and calligraphy are similar to those seen in other Dunhuang manuscripts. Over the years, a number of Dunhuang specialists have looked at the manuscripts, and to date none have shown, or even suggested, that any of the manuscripts are modern forgeries. Nonetheless, the possibility that some may be forgeries cannot be ruled out.

The manuscripts have never been published. In addition to the IDP Database, images of the documents appear as well on the website of the Fu Ssu-nien Library at

The manuscripts have received little scholarly attention. The only published work on them is the article “Taibei Zhongyanyuan Fu Sinian Tushuguan cang Dunhuang juanzi tiji” by Cheng A-ts’ai in Wu Qiyu xiansheng bazhi huadan Dunhuangxue tekan (1999), pp.355-402, which provides descriptions of the manuscripts and evidence for dating them.



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