Marx, Karl and Friedrich Engels: GONGCHANDANG XUANYAN. (The Communist Manifesto). Shanghai, 1973. , 92 folded leaves, Chinese style. Single sheet publisher’s explanation inserted. 29x19 cm. Stitched.
Beautifully carved woodblock printed edition of the Chinese translation of the 'Communist Manifesto' produced at the height of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in its centre of power.
There is a great deal that could be said about this remarkable but unassuming item. It can, in a sense, be seen as the bibliographic equivalent of a high leader's perfectly tailored Mao suit in the sartorial domain of actually existing socialism.
It's most striking aspect is perhaps the fact that it was produced at all. What is this book, if not a refined and representative manifestation of the 'old culture', otherwise and elsewhere being 'swept away' during those same years? This is the official Chinese Communist Party translation of Marx and Engels' most famous tract, carefully designed in the manner of the very finest rare and early Chinese books. The colophon tells us (with notable pedantry) that the text is based on the 14th printing of the 6th letterpress edition of the Manifesto as it was issued by the People's Publishing House in 1964. This text has been carved onto woodblocks and printed in the traditional manner for this special edition. The design of the book is carefully calculated. Both the number of columns and characters-per-column, and the choice of typeface itself refer to Song period models - the earliest and most prized form of Chinese printed book. Each page has 10 vertical columns of 20 characters and the font style is fangsongti - Song regular calligraphic style. In fact, the design of the book immediately recalls Song period printed Buddhist sutras, the pre-eminent religious publishing of that period. Other aspects of the design - of the block centre or 'banxin' with running title and leaf numbers on the folded outer edge of the leaf and single upper 'fish tail' - are consistent. Notes are also reproduced in traditional-style doubled columns of smaller characters with the only odd note struck by the carved 'characters' of occasional western references set at 90 degrees. The binding is a further aspect of the overall quality production with brocade covered corners and the whole finished with a book label printed on gold flecked paper.
Perhaps, the only unambiguously 'communist' characteristic of the publication (other than its content) is the complete absence of any reference to named individuals associated with its production. On the face of it, this is a 'collective' effort. The inserted sheet with publisher's explanation attempts a resolution of the item's inherent ideological contradictions. Apparently, the development of woodblock printing technology was stunted or 'halted in mid course' by the 'devastations of reactionary elements'. Apart from the canonical propaganda function of the text itself, the book's production has allowed the survival of a technology and craft carried out by (often, as here, anonymous) workers. Nine young middle school graduates studying woodblock printing were also involved in making the book and this too is cited as a Good Thing (which it is, after all). The finishing (or starting) touch is the good solid Marxist/Cultural Revolution slogan printed in red at the beginning of the work: 'Quan shijie wuchanzhe, lianheqilai!' - Workers of the World Unite!
There is no indication of the extent of the edition for this wonderful item. This is not a work for the masses. Given its quality and rarity, it most likely was presented to high level party officials. This example is in excellent condition, especially considering its relative delicacy, the time of its production and its cultural and ideological ambiguity. Now very rare.
Subjects: Rare Books Communism
Available, as of: 01/09/2019
Was item 483 in printed List 196.
Record produced by Hanshan Tang Books, www.hanshan.com.