What is this mysterious (possibly Chinese) book?
December 23, 2023 3:58 AM   Subscribe

Years ago we were cleaning out an older relative's garage and found a mysterious and kind of beautiful book I've wondered about ever since. It's in an Asian language I can't conclusively identify and it has unusual binding so it unfolds like an accordion. More details (and pics) below the fold...

We have no idea about this book's origin, vintage, etc. I took some pictures and ran them through Google Translate, and it said the language was "simplified Chinese." It was able to translate one line as "there are people in the winter solstice," but that was it. The book is about 14 inches tall. Here's a picture of the cover. That title is printed on something sort of like a sticker; it's raised but I'm not sure if it could be peeled off. I must admit that I'm not even sure if the text is upside-down in these pics. The book is bound in an "accordion" style, kind of like this. One side of the paper is black with white characters and the other side is blank. Here's a picture of the spread with the "winter solstice" line. There's a red stamp on the inside back cover that looks like this.

Can anybody tell me anything about this book? It's been a little mystery in my family for years and when we get together for Christmas I'd love to finally be able to tell them what the heck it is.
posted by Ursula Hitler to Writing & Language (4 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I know there are people on AskMe who are better at reading old Japanese handwriting than I am, so I'm just going to have to say "this is old Japanese handwriting" and leave it at that.

FYI, those pictures are indeed upside down.

The first couple words of the title are something like 趙に昂ぢ but I couldn't find anything by that title in WorldCat. That wouldn't be unusual for an older Asian book in any case, but out of curiosity, is there any indication that this was professionally published? Is there any kind of copyright information, for example?
posted by Jeanne at 5:43 AM on December 23, 2023

Best answer: This is what I've found:

You can buy this book here: https://www.kosho.or.jp/products/detail.php?product_id=352263388 (I can't read Japanese, but if Google Translate is correct, there isn't much information on this page.)

From the book above, I've found the following in Wikipedia: the calligrapher and painter was Zhao Mengfu (趙孟頫), courtesy name Zi'ang (子昂), 1254–1322, China Yuan dynasty.

This web page from Letterform Archive may be the book you have? An account of the Brocade Hall in Shoushu, calligraphed by Chou Su Gou

Hope these links help.
posted by applesurf at 6:05 AM on December 23, 2023 [4 favorites]

I think applesurf has id'd the book, and the book is in Chinese. The cover writing is the title in Cursive ("Grass script"). I think it is showing up as "simplified" Chinese in Google, because a few radicals (like the left side of the bottom character, the "speech" radical) look very different in handwritten "grass script", and that is what modern simplified (PRC) Chinese character forms are based on. (A "radical" is a component part of a character, there a are couple of hundred of those, vs. many thousands of characters. They don't tell you much about the meaning but they do make memorization easier.)
posted by Vegiemon at 1:24 PM on December 23, 2023

Response by poster: Thank you, applesurf! That's the book. The one on Letterform Archive has a different pattern on the cover but otherwise it looks the same. Frustrating that there's no clue to the vintage, but this is a lot more than I knew before.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 4:44 PM on December 23, 2023

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