Ancient books are a significant recording of China’s time-honored history and culture.
Unlike the “forever young” digital writings of today, they deteriorate with age, making their conservation process a challenging job. It has to be done in a scientific and standardized way, and one place to check the preservation work of age-old books is the National Library of China in Beijing.
In the Ancient Books Preservation Laboratory located in one corner of the National Library, the technicians are buried in the work of repairing books dating back to hundreds of years.
With the help of brushes, hammers and microscopes, they are more like surgeons operating on patients.
The 19-member team is currently devoting their efforts to preserving “Tian Lu Lin Lang,” a book with over 40 volumes collected during emperor Qianlong’s reign during the Qing Dynasty.
Previously, they repaired historical literature including the “Yongle Encyclopedia,” the largest encyclopedia in pre-modern China, and “Dunhuang Manuscripts,” a cache of about 20,000 valuable scrolls dating from the eighth and ninth centuries AD.
Conservation of ancient books is an interdisciplinary field of study, involving chemistry, biology, paper-making and history. In addition to the traditional tools inherited from the forerunners, the professional personnel are also equipped with advanced scientific facilities.
To rescue the country’s cultural relics, their movements have to be delicate and small, but their mission is demanding and big.