The first part of the video focuses on a case study from Dunhuang, located in northwestern China – a wrapper and Buddhist scroll from the Mogao caves currently held at Princeton (Gest Collection, Rare Books Collection, Princeton East Asian Library). The hemp wrapper, which has a loop, a button hole, and a long tie, provides clues regarding how it might have been wrapped around scrolls. An archival photograph published in 1912 shows how scrolls were completely enveloped inside such wrappers. Yet, a tenth-century Dunhuang painting of a monk carrying bundles of scrolls illustrates a different style of sutra wrapper, in which the wrapper did not completely cover the rolled texts, but instead left the ends exposed. The textile wrappers may have served as protection for the text, a covering to bundle texts and ease transport, and a device for labelling and classifying texts. Scholars have noted that the same character can mean either “wrapper” or “bundle (of scrolls)” based on translation choices from Chinese. The scroll is part of the Buddhist text, Light-Emitting Perfection of Wisdom Sutra, in Chinese script. Although the seal impression on the scroll is the same as that on the wrapper, questions remain regarding whether or not the wrapper and scroll originally belonged together as many scrolls and wrappers were separated after their discovery in the early 20th century and deposited in either library or museum collections. The second part elaborates on the Qisha Canon. This massive project was first collated, carved and printed in the Qisha Cloister near Suzhou, from 1216- 1322. The silk textile cover of the Princeton holding suggests that the volumes may have been produced in the late-16th century. This brings up the important point that the dating of Chinese books can vary according to the cutting of the woodblocks or the printing. A further issue regarding dating is raised when observing that many of the volumes in the Princeton Qisha Canon are handwritten manuscripts from 1600 or 1602, and while their paper is different from the printed volumes, their silk covers are similar. The presentation also touches on examples of Mongolian Ganjur with silk windows protecting images of deities, textile wrappers for Burmese palm-leaf from Gujarat, Burmese sazigyo (woven binding tapes), and printed cotton coverings for vertically hung Shan manuscripts from Burma.
This research was aided by consultation with textiles scholars from the Victoria and Albert Museum – Sau Fong Chan, Rosemary Crill, Jennifer Wearden, and Clare Browne – Silk Roads textile scholar Helen Persson, and Philip Sykas from Manchester Metropolitan University.
The contents of this pre-workshop video were discussed by panelists during the workshop on June 2-3.