Priorities for Building

a Research Collection

N. Sivin

2005.12.24

Everyone who studies the history of science or medicine either runs out of space sooner or later, or has long since done so. That makes it necessary to establish priorities. Here are mine:

First, important general reference works. I would put a set of the Hanyu dacidian 汉语大辞典 at the very top of your list, the single-volume classical dictionary of characters Wang Li gu Hanyu zidian 王力古汉语字典, and so on. For references, see  "Solving Scientific and Medical Problems in General Research on China" under "Guides to Research."

Second, important reference works for science and medicine. Sometimes this saves space(!). For instance, the new two-volume 中国医籍大辞典 has allowed me to retire half a dozen volumes that provided information on medical classics.

Third, good modern critical or annotated editions of classics. These are on the whole more useful than reproductions of rarities, which tend to be of the scarcest rather than the best available recension. The best single series of this kind I have found is Lidai Zhongyi ming ji wenku 历代中医名籍文库, each on a different field, mostly edited by disciples of the great Ma Jixing 马继兴. On top of their overall quality, they usually contain informative essays on books in that field that they do not include. Some are based on quite rare editions. The Zhonghua yidian 中华医典 CD-ROM collection is quite useful for filling in until better editions appear and you have more bookshelf space.

Fourth, important recent scholarship. This includes books in Western languages as well as Chinese and Japanese. Again I give priority to reference works. For instance, I find the Cambridge Histories of the Han, Tang, and Ming quite useful for background. But you may want to wait until you have contributed to a Cambridge conference volume. Being a "Cambridge author" will save you forty per cent on their pricesónot that thatís a good reason to publish a book of yours there.

Fifth, the best available editions of interesting but less important scientific, technological, and medical books.

One way to avoid temptation is to shop at relatively specialized Beijing bookstores. Because the medical bookshop at the Zhongyi Yanjiuyuan was closed this summer, a friend took me to the bookshop at the Beijing TCM University. It is also in tight quarters, but that trip was much more productive than our visits to Feng Ru Song etc.