Le fonds chinois 里昂圖書館中文部

The Chinese collection of the Jesuit Library of Fontaines

Between 1998 and 1999, the collections of the Jesuit library of Chantilly were transferred to Lyon Municipal Library. They included a Chinese collection of around 3,000 titles.

This collection is not entirely Jesuit strictly speaking since part of it comprises the personal library of André Yacinthe Rocquette, known as André d’Hormon (1881-1965). The co-founder of the Franco-Chinese University of Beijing, d’Hormon lived in the city from 1906 to 1955. Although a professor of French, he was also well versed in Chinese literature. Driven from China by the Communist regime, he donated his personal library to the Cultural Centre of Royaumont which, after his death, gave it to Chantilly.

The library created by André d’Hormon in the manner of a Chinese scholar, constitutes the largest part of the Chinese collection at Chantilly.

The other part of this collection reflects the activities of the Jesuit missionaries in China. This presence is generally divided into two periods: the first runs from the 16th century to 1773 (the year when the Jesuit order was suppressed), and the second from the mid-19th century until the communists came to power in 1949.

The first period saw the failure of the Jesuits’ efforts to evangelise the Chinese. Often close to the court and the emperors, these missionaries introduced Western sciences to China; they also were instrumental in diffusing in the West the knowledge which they acquired in the Central Realm.

The second period was very different: the classic missionary work of evangelisation continued apace by proper immersion in the general population of China. The editorial production associated with this second period is reflected remarkably well in the Jesuit collection in Chantilly, although it is not exhaustive.

Before the start of their mission of evangelisation, education and scientific research, the Jesuits devoted a number of years to in-depth learning of the language.

The collection thus contains manuals and dictionaries needed to learn Chinese. Some of these linguistic tools are old and reflect the very early interest in this language shown by the Jesuits: for example, this Linguae sinarum mandarinicae grammatica duplex (Paris, 1742) thanks to Étienne Fourmont, one of the pioneers of the study of Chinese grammar in the West.

Another spectacular testimony, the Dictionnaire chinois, français et latin publié d’après l’ordre de sa majesté l’Empereur et Roi Napoléon le Grand [Chinese, French and Latin Dictionary published on order of his majesty, the Emperor and King Napoleon the Great] (Paris, 1813) by Joseph de Guignes, which includes 14,000 Chinese characters, specially engraved for this purpose, giving the French and Latin definitions for each of them.

Mastery of the Chinese language, both spoken and written, was of course necessary for the task of translating religious texts: The Bible, New Testament, missals, lives of saints etc.

Thus, the Jiu zhu xing shi tu jie [Life of the Saviour explained in images], published in 1935, explains the life of Christ by means of forty plates of illustrations accompanied by written commentaries in simple Chinese, accessible to the largest number of people. Notably, the features of the people illustrated, including those of Christ, are Chinese in appearance.

This harked back to the dispute of rites which, three centuries earlier, opposed the Jesuit missionaries in China with the tenets of an orthodoxy in refusing to compromise with religious dogma and practices. Even rarer is this Zhu sheng zong tu xing shi sheng xiang [Illustrated life of the apostles and saints] published in 1869. The copy kept has had parts cut out and is also damaged; it is a xylographic issue from plates in the possession of the Vatican.

Another exceptional document, the Xin jing quan shu [New Testament] printed in Tianjin (Tientsin) on 1st January 1949, in the midst of the civil war, a few months before the Communists grasped power from the Nationalists. Still more unexpected is this Tian zhu jiao (Catholicism) due to the Chinese priest, Liu Yunxuan, published in Shanghai in August 1950! Despite the unstable and dangerous political and military situation (Sino-Japanese war and civil war), the missionaries continued their work.

Like their predecessors, the Jesuits in the second mission played an important role in the field of science: construction of the Zi-ka-wei observatory in Shanghai in 1873, astronomical, meteorological, geological studies etc. This scientific work was supplemented by an educational effort, with the creation in 1903, also in Shanghai, of the Jesuit university, the Aurore. Publications testify to these scientific activities, in particular this study on Le typhon du 31 juillet 1879 (Shanghai, 1879) by Father Marc Dechevrens, nicknamed the “father of typhoons” due to the accuracy of his forecasts.

Although incomplete, this collection gives us some idea of the range of work undertaken by the Jesuits.