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Ancient Places / Trip Ideas

Awesome story of the oldest private library in Asia

By Xiaohong Wang

November 27

A few days ago, Tianyige in Ningbo, Zhejiang, was granted the status of 5A scenic spot by The National Key Cultural Relics Protection Unit.

A few days ago, Tianyige in Ningbo, Zhejiang, was granted the status of 5A scenic spot by The National Key Cultural Relics Protection Unit.

A few days ago, Tianyige in Ningbo, Zhejiang, was granted the status of 5A scenic spot by The National Key Cultural Relics Protection Unit. The rare honor of a 5A status was bestowed because Tianyige is the oldest private library in Asia and one of the three oldest family libraries in the world.

Tianyige is a point of pride for Ningbo natives, who have historically placed a high value on the culture of book collection throughout the ages. There have been more than 150 famous ancient book collectors in Ningbo’s history. Besides Tianyige, there are more than 40 famous libraries in the city. Tianyige is an outstanding representative of the book collection culture of Ningbo.

Tianyige, Ningbo, Zhejiang [Photos/China.org.cn]
The library was built during Emperor Jiajing’s reign in the Ming Dynasty (1561-1566 A.D.). It was formerly the private library of Fan Qin, a military minister. Fan Qin became a Jinshi scholar after the Imperial Examination at the age of 27. Later he served in many parts of the country, during which time he collected the books stored at Tianyige.

Tianyige was not only used to collect precious books, it also has an important impact on many libraries in later generations. Emperor Qianlong ordered the construction of several libraries in China which imitated the style of Tianyige, including famous libraries such as Wenyuange, Wenyu-ange, and Wenjinge.

Tianyige, Ningbo, Zhejiang [Photos/China.org.cn]
Tianyige has had both ups and downs in its long history, with glorious periods and periods of decline caused by wars. During the past 450 years, the history of Tianyige is also the history of the development of Ningbo’s book collection culture. Now it has 300,000 volumes of precious ancient books, many of which were donated by private collectors. Local chronicles and the records of the Ming Dynasty Imperial Examinations are the most precious.

Tianyige, Ningbo, Zhejiang [Photos/China.org.cn]
Now, Tianyige is a museum. It not only collects books but also has the responsibility of protection and restoration. The Restoration Department of Tianyige is also a science and technology protection center for cultural paper relics that has all the necessary qualifications for the protection of cultural paper relics. Every day more than 10 professionals work to restore as much as possible of damaged ancient books. According to Wang Jinyu, director of the Restoration Department, this is very boring work. The premise of doing a good job on this is experience and dedication. “Whenever I repair a broken ancient book, I feel very fulfilled,” Wang Jinyu said.

In order to let tourists understand better the knowledge of Tianyige’s ancient book collection, printings, and restoration work, a special exhibition section was founded for tourists. Through this exhibition, you can learn a lot about ancient books. Tianyige is a very special cultural tourist attraction in China.

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