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Tianyige Library (Tianyi Pavilion)
2019-10-15Text Size: A A A

Tianyi Pavilion, or Tianyige Library, stands on the bank of the Moon Lake. It is the oldest private library extant in China and has been made one of the key national heritage sites. For centuries it has been known as the "city of books in the South" for its enormous collection of rare ancient books and documents. It was built in 1561 in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). Fan Qin, the owner of Tianyi Pavilion Library, was born in Yinxian County and lived during the reign of Emperor Jiajing. In 1532 when he was 27, Fan passed the highest imperial examination and earned the title of jinshi, a successful candidate in the imperial examination. After that he served as an official in many places of China. Later, being weary of politics, Fan Qin resigned as senior minister of the Ministry of Military Affairs and returned to his hometown. Having a liking for books, Fan collected rare books of various dynasties and contemporary anthologies. When he was to pass away, he left a testament disallowing his descendents to distribute the books and prohibiting the books from being taken out. Quan Zuwang, a historian of the Qing Dynasty, praised this practice by saying: for two hundred years the books are kept intact, here you see a collector unparalleled in China.

Originally, the library had 70,000 volumes of books, mostly block prints and manuscripts from the Song Dynasty and the Ming Dynasty, including Confucian classics, history, philosophy and belles-letters, and some of them are rare or the only extant copies in the world. Unfortunately, only 13,000 volumes remained when the PRC was founded in 1949, because a great many of them were either expropriated by the bureaucracies, stolen or fell into decay. The government and recent generations were committed to the protection and expansion of the library. Premier Zhou Enlai urged the People’s Liberation Army to protect Tianyi Pavilion in the wartime. In October, 1962, Guo Moruo, a famous literary master, paid a visit to the library. He wrote a poem giving high regards to the library, the collections and the beautiful environment. Thanks to the efforts of the administrative office, the collection has increased. At present the number of volumes has reached 300,000, including 80,000 rare books, mostly block-printed editions and manuscripts. These books are important historical documents for researchers of history, folk customers, astronomy, geography, hydrology, medicine, etc. 

The library was originally called “Dongming Cottage” and the layout of the construction was elaborately designed by Fan Qin himself. Borrowing an idea from The Book of Changes suggested in "Heaven embodied in One gives birth to water, while Earth represented in Six makes it grow", Fan Qin named the new house "Tianyi Pavilion" (that is "Pavilion of Heaven and One"). Books are most vulnerable to fire, he said, but water can suppress fire. Thus the name "Tianyi" hints at the fact that water curbs fire. Fan Qin hoped his stock might forever be clear of the destructive might of flames. Yianyi Pavilion is not only famous for its book collection, but also for its unique library buildings and the beautiful garden designs.

The library is situated in the north of the yard and faces south so as to let in sunlight and prevent the books from getting molded and damp. He also wedged a magic idea into the structure of the library, where one large room constitutes the upper floor, implying “Heaven joined with one make water”, as was told in the primeval classic Hetu. This place was called Treasure House, dry and bright, where rare ancient works are kept; downstairs there are six chambers in a row, alluding to the message of Hetu "Earth coupled with six makes it thrive". These rooms downstairs are of primitive simplicity. In front of the library lies the Tianyi pool which was intended to guard against fire disaster, and on the water is a pavilion surrounded by green woods and strange rocks. On the back is a park with flowers, grasses and tall bamboos, and the famous “Steles Forest of Mingzhou” which has over 80 inscription tablets, including 7 tablets of the Song Dynasty and 16 tablets of the Yuan Dynasty and many tablets from the Ming and Qing dynasties, valuable among them are three Tablets of the Song Dynasty: the anonymous Epitaph of Hermit Zhao, Poems on Cultivation and Weaving autographed by Lou Yue and Charity for the Hungry by Bingzi from Shaoxing. These tablets are treasured resourses in historical study.  Today the renovated Tianyi Pavilion presents itself to the public with elegant simplicity. The ancestral hall of the Qin Family standing behind the Tianyi Pavilion looks magnificent and resplendent, bringing out the best of each other with the pavilion.

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