July 10, 2000 Library of Congress Publishes New Guide to Asian Collections

Contact: Audrey Fischer (202) 707-0022

The Library of Congress has recently published Library of Congress Asian Collections: An Illustrated Guide. Representing the cultures of China, Japan, Korea, the south Asian subcontinent and southeast Asia, the guide traces the growth of the collection from its earlier emphasis on the classics to its current focus on modern Asian publications.

"Beyond describing the collection, the guide conveys the story of how this material came to this home so far from its origins," said Mya Thanda Poe, chief of the Library's Asian Division. "The story involves a fascinating cast of scholars, diplomats, missionaries, explorers, adventurers and soldiers who collected and brought home to America print and nonprint material, which became part of the Library's rich Asian collection. As a result, the collection mirrors the growth of American diplomatic involvement, academic interest, and public attention to Asia."

The Library of Congress is a central repository for all types of Asian publications that are not broadly available at other locations in the United States. Initiated in 1869 with a gift of 10 works in 933 volumes offered to the United States by the Emperor of China, the Library's Asian collection of more than 2 million items is the largest and most comprehensive outside of Asia.

The collection includes one of the oldest examples of printing in the world -- passages from a Buddhist sutra, or discourse, printed in A.D. 770. From eighth century printed prayers placed in wooden pagodas to current Tibetan periodicals, the Library's Asian collection displays a rich written tradition in a variety of formats, including fans, woodblocks, scrolls, silk cloth, porcelain, palm leaves, and bamboo. More than 65 illustrations, mostly in color, highlight the diverse nature of the material.

Portions of the collection came to the Library as a result of American expeditions to Asia. For example, a collection of more than 3,000 Naxi pictographic manuscripts dating back to the 13th century were brought to this country by Joseph Rock who explored the region on assignment for National Geographic during the 1920s and 1930s. Similarly, a collection of Malay manuscripts and early printed books written in Jawi (Malay in Arabic script) were brought to the United States in 1842 on a sailing vessel commanded by Lt. Charles Wilkes. Herman Melville used the official history of the Wilkes Expedition as a resource for his 1851 novel Moby Dick and modeled Captain Ahab after Lt. Wilkes.

Made possible by support from the James Madison Council, a national, private-sector advisory council dedicated to helping the Library of Congress share its unique resources with the nation and the world, the illustrated guides to the Library's collections feature materials in various formats. They include guides to the Library's collections of manuscripts; prints and photographs; rare books; cartographic materials; music, theater and dance; and Hispanic and Portuguese and European materials.

Library of Congress Asian Collections: An Illustrated Guide -- an 80-page softcover book -- is available for $10 from the Library of Congress Sales Shop. Credit card orders: (202) 707-0204 and from the U.S. Government Printing Office (stock number 030-000-00-284-9).


PR 00-097
ISSN 0731-3527