Mémoires concernant l'histoire, les sciences, les arts, les moeurs, les usages . . . des Chinois . . . par les Missionnaires de Pekin.

AMIOT Joseph SJ, and others (1814.)

£19000.00  [First Edition]

Available to view at our Curzon Street shop.


First edition. 17 bound in 16 vols. Two frontispiece portraits, 193 engraved plates (some folding), maps, and tables. 4to. Uniformly bound in 19th century polished calf, elegantly rebacked. Some occasional minor staining (damp and waterstaining affecting vol. 2), but overall a very good set. Paris, Nyon/Treuttel & Würtz, 1776-

A beautiful and very rare complete set of the most comprehensive survey of all aspects of Chinese life in the 18th century. The publication was the project of Henri Bertin (1720-92) who controlled the finances under Louis XVI. The main contributor was Joseph Amiot (1718-94) who had arrived in Peking in August 1751 and remained there for the rest of his life (a fine portrait in the final volume shows him in Chinese dress). Others include Gaubil, Prémare, Cibot, Poirot, as well as two Chinese converts, named Aloys Gao and Etienne Yang who had both studied in Paris. They returned to China in 1765 with a pension from the French King on the understanding that they would send reports and materials that would improve the knowledge of China in France.

The Mémoires were published over a period of 38 years with much of the cost being carried by King Louis XVI. It is curious to note that the entire project was published three years after the Jesuit order had been banned by Pope Clement XIV. Furthermore, the last two volumes XVI/XVII  are exceedingly rare having been published in Nyon some 23 years after volume XV. The first is a continuation of a history of the Tang Dynasty, while the second is a chronology of Chinese History. 

The first volume includes a translation of the Emperor Qianlong‘s account of his conquests in Western China. The frontispiece shows him wearing Manchu dress and he is honoured in the following glowing terms: “Working tirelessly for an admirable government - the greatest ruler in the world and the best scholar of his empire”.

The Jesuits were the first Europeans to make a thorough study of Chinese language, literature, history, and people: The Mémoires include translations of large parts of the Chinese Classics; Chinese law, maxims, and proverbs; as well as essays on Chinese linguistics, current affairs and scientific observation. It includes a reprint of Amiot’s important work on Chinese military strategy with  French translations of some of the most important Chinese texts, i.e. the ‘Sunzi’, ‘Wuzi’, and ‘Bingfa’. There are biographies of noted Chinese throughout history, texts on martial arts, food and silk-production, musical instruments, natural history, astronomy, and medicine. Furthermore, it contains Amiot’s ‘Life of Confucius’. It had great influence on French philosophers of the 18th century, who were impressed with the way that Confucianism formed a strong social order without having to rely on religious dogma. There are numerous Jesuit letters touching on current Imperial affairs, including the nature of the tribute system, and relations with Tibet. Of particular rarity is vol. 16 which contains the 2nd part of the ‘Abridged History of the Tang Dynasty’ by Antoine Gaubil (1689-1759), as well as a Chinese chronology from the beginning of time to the year 206 B.C. (i.e. to shortly after the end of the first Qin dynasty) by the same author. Gaubil was particularly interested in early Chinese history and astronomy because it conflicted with Western notions of a biblical chronology. These ideas contributed to a big controversy in 18th century Europe over the true date for the beginning of the world and other event mentioned in the Old Testament.

This set came from the prestigious Signet library, which formed part of the Society of Writers to Her Majesty’s Signet , a private society of Scottish solicitors dating back to 1594. Lust 96; Cordier 54-56; Catalogue: China Illustrata 93. Collation: pp. [iv], xvi, 485, [1]; viii, 650; 504; iv, 510; iv, 518; [iv], 380; xii, v-xii, [iii]-x, [3]-397, [2], [1, blank]; vi, [ii], 375, [1]; xxiv, 470; xi, [i], 510; xxiv, 609, [1]; [iv], vii, [i], 532; [iv], xvi, 543; xvi, 561, [1]; [iv], 516; [iv], vi, 395, [1]; x, 291. 

Stock Code: 212095

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