Category Archives: Stories and Treasures

Information and stories about select unique, valuable, or interesting CLIR Project materials.

木魚書 (Mu yu shu) and Cantonese opera lyrics books

Mu yu shu (木魚書), literally “wooden-fish books”, are books of lyrics to certain types of folk songs and narrative songs primarily from Hong Kong and Guangzhou Province in the south of China.  These books were popular in the 19th and early 20th century, but political/cultural changes at that time led to a sharp decline and then cessation of publication.  Only a handful of libraries worldwide hold examples of this fascinating genre.

They are written in a mix of standard written Chinese (but more similar to classical Chinese than standard written Chinese is today) and Cantonese-specific words and phrases.  The songs consist of seven-syllable quatrains (although “padding” syllables are often added) which exhibit patterns of rhyming in the final syllables of the quatrains, along with other structural conventions.  


UW holds 13 boxes labeled as “Mu yu shu”, containing approximately 300 items.  However, through a consultation with Professor Yung, an expert in Chinese ethnomusicology from the University of Pittsburgh, we learned that the first two of these boxes actually contained not mu yu shu, but Cantonese opera.  From Prof. Yung, we learned techniques for differentiating these two genres based on certain structural and notational differences.

The thirteenth “Mu yu shu” box contained a mix of authentic mu yu shu along with various other materials, such as books of narrative prose, Buddhist texts, and more modern books about Chinese opera.  In the course of cataloging the materials from the other boxes, we also discovered 14 other titles which, while intermixed with the authentic mu yu shu, seem not to be straightforward examples of this genre.  We pulled aside these titles for further review and authentication by Prof. Yung or another ethnomusicologist at a later date.

Emily Jantz, Chinese Cataloging Specialist and Student Team Leader for the project, with able assistance from project student workers, cataloged UW’s mu yu shu and Cantonese opera collection.

Original cataloging records were created for UW’s 40 titles of Cantonese opera, and 263 titles of mu yu shu.  (In addition to this original cataloging, some of the volumes of mu yu shu and Cantonese opera items were discovered to be partial or complete duplicate copies—either completely identical or a reprint from the same publisher and woodblock.  An additional approximately 50 titles were identified as likely having an existing cataloging record in OCLC already.)

There were many challenges to cataloging this unique material type, including the challenge of creating good records from the very minimal information on the pieces, challenges of disambiguating between very similar items, the fact that in many cases several unrelated short titles had been later rebound into a single physical volume, and so on.

Additional mu yu shu examples, featuring excellent cover designs:

芥子園畫傳 (Jie zi yuan hua zhuan)

《芥子園畫傳》 五冊

“The Mustard Seed Garden manual of painting” (5 volumes)
Compiled by Shen Xinyou
Published in Jinling in 1800
Woodblock printing (multi-color)


Like UW’s edition of 貴州百苗圖 (Guizhou bai Miao tu), also cataloged for this CLIR project, the color for the illustrations was not added with paint, but rather using a color woodblock printing technique.

銅板音學五書 (Tong ban yin xue wu shu)

《銅板音學五書》 六冊

“Five Books of Chinese Phonology” (6 volumes)
By Gu Yanwu
Published in Guangzhou by Lin Chunqi in 1846
Movable-type edition, printed from bronze type

This edition, printed using bronze movable-type, is one of only eight movable-type books (all dating from the late Qing dynasty through the Republican period) that were discovered and cataloged at UW as part of this CLIR project. It is the only one using bronze movable-type, as opposed to wood or another material.

Wu Xianzi papers: 伍憲子先生遺稿及所藏文件 (Wu Xianzi xian sheng yi gao ji suo cang wen jian)

The Wu Xianzi papers is an archival collection held by UW, consisting of diaries, correspondence, poems, essays, newspaper clippings, and private collections of Wu Xianzi (1881-1959), an influential journalist and political reformist in China in the 20th century. The collection is housed in 16 boxes.

Boxes containing Wu Xianzi archives
Boxes containing the Wu Xianzi archives

The finding aid for this collection, which was created as part of the CLIR Project is available on Archives West, at:  Archives West (previously known as Northwest Digital Archives) offers descriptions of archival and manuscript materials held by institutions in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Alaska, Montana, and Utah.

(The collection-level cataloging record can be found on OCLC WorldCat, here:

Sample item from the archive:

Example screenshots of the finding aid:

Example screenshot of the University Archives Records Transfer List spreadsheet used to  create the finding aid:


Additional impact

The Wu Xianzi papers is the first archival collection in non-Roman script available at Archives West.  Before it was added to the Archives West, only resources in English and Spanish were available.  Therefore, our work was ground-breaking for this archival portal.  

Prior to inputting Chinese data into the spreadsheet template (used to upload data to Archives West), Charlene Chou, the Project Technical Manager, tested its capability for inputting, indexing and displaying Chinese script.  After successful pilot testing, a student input the information about the contents of the 16 boxes into the spreadsheet template.  

It was discovered that the Archives West interface capability for searching Chinese phrases was extremely limited.  Therefore, the Technical Manager accepted advice to submit a list of controlled vocabulary, including personal names, corporate bodies, newspapers and subject terms, to improve the searching function.  In this way, the discovery of Chinese terms in Archives West will be be greatly improved.


大唐三藏聖敎序 (Da Tang San zang sheng jiao xu)

大唐三藏聖敎序 (民國拓片)

“Preface to the Buddhist Canon” (Rubbing, Republic of China period)
Original calligraphy by Chu Suiliang
Stele erected in 653

Da Tang San zang sheng jiao xu2

This rubbing is from a Tang dynasty stele at the Big Wild Goose Pagoda in Xi’an. On this stele is engraved the Preface to the Buddhist Canon (commonly known as 大唐三藏聖敎序 , 慈恩寺聖教序, or 雁塔聖教序) by Chu Suiliang (596-658). Chu Suiliang’s Preface is one of the most famous Buddhist works in the history of Chinese calligraphy and has served as a model for many generations of calligraphers.

關中八景碑 (Guanzhong ba jing bei)

關中八景碑 (民國拓片)

“Eight scenic spots in central Shaanxi” (Rubbing, Republic of China period)
Original painting and calligraphy by Zhu Jiyi
Stele erected in 1680, now held in the Xi’an Forest of Steles

This rubbing is from a Qing dynasty stele that depicts eight scenic spots in the central area of Shaanxi Province, and incorporates calligraphy, painting, and poetry as a whole. The original design was painted and handwritten by Zhu Jiyi (fl. 17th century). The stele was erected in 1680, and is now preserved in the Forest of Steles in Xi’an.

崇禎皇帝賜楊嗣昌詩碑 (Chongzhen huangdi ci Yang Sichang shi bei)

崇禎皇帝賜楊嗣昌詩碑 (民國拓片)

“Poem by the Chongzhen Emperor to Yang Sichang” (Rubbing, Republic of China period)
Original calligraphy by Sizong Zhu Youjian (Chongzhen Emperor)
Stele erected in 1640, now held in the Xi’an Forest of Steles

This rubbing is from a Ming dynasty stele of a poem that Emperor Chongzhen of the Ming dynasty wrote to his minister Yang Cichang (1588-1641) in 1640. The original stele was erected in 1640, and is now preserved in the Forest of Steles in Xi’an.

元暉墓誌 (Yuan Hui mu zhi)

北魏神龜三年[520]葬, 1926年河南洛陽陳凹村出土

“Yuan Hui tomb inscription” (Rubbing, Republic of China period)
The first line lists the titles, posts, and courtesy name of the deceased
Tomb from 520, unearthed in 1926, now held in the Xi’an Forest of Steles

Yuan Hui muzhi1

This rubbing is from the tomb epitaph of Yuan Hui. Yuan was a high official of the Northern Wei dynasty, who died in 520. The tomb was unearthed in Luoyang, Henan Province in 1926. This epitaph is now preserved in the Forest of Steles in Xi’an.

吳道子繪觀音像 (Wu Daozi hui Guanyin xiang)


“Portrait of Guanyin painted by Wu Daozi” (Rubbing, Republic of China period)
Painting copying attributed to Ye Chengtiao, from original by Wu Daozi
Stele erected in 1664, now held in the Xi’an Forest of Steles

This rubbing is from a Qing dynasty stele that contains a full-length portrait of the Buddhist deity, Guanyin (Avalokiteśvara). The famed painter, Wu Daozi (689-759), purportedly painted a portrait of Guanyin, and then it was copied by Ye Chengtiao in 1664. The original stele was erected in 1664, and is now preserved in the Forest of Steles in Xi’an.

Five rare books from the Ming dynasty

The oldest books cataloged at UW as part of the CLIR project are these five books dating from the Ming dynasty (1368–1644).

顏魯公文集 (Yan Lugong wen ji)

Yan Lugong wen ji


《顏魯公文集》 四冊

“Collected works of Yan Lugong” (4 volumes)
By Yan Zhenqing (also known as Yan Lugong)
Published in 1589 by Liu Sicheng
Woodblock printing



朱文公校昌黎先生文集 (Zhu Wen gong xiao Changli xian sheng wen ji)

Zhu Wen gong xiao Changli xian sheng wen ji


《朱文公校昌黎先生文集》 四冊

“Collected works of Han Yu, verified by Zhu Xi” (4 volumes)
By Han Yu (also known as Han Changli)
Published between 1605 and 1644 by Tian de tang
Woodblock printing



眉公筆記 (Meigong bi ji)

Meigong bi ji


《眉公筆記》 二冊

“Meigong’s notes” (2 volumes)
By Chen Jiru (also known as Chen Meigong)
Published between 1573 and 1620 by Shen shi shang bai zhai
Woodblock printing



松陵集 (Song ling ji)

Song ling ji


《松陵集》 五冊
陸龜蒙, 皮日休[等]

“Song ling ji” (5 volumes)
By Lu Guimeng, Pi Rixiu, etc.
Published between 1621 and 1644 by Mao Jin’s Ji gu ge
Woodblock printing
Collection of poetry from Tang dynasty writers including Lu Guimeng and Pi Rixiu


輟畊錄 (Chuo geng lu)

Chuo geng lu


《輟畊錄》 八冊

“Chuo geng lu” (8 volumes)
By Tao Zongyi
Published between 1628 and 1644 by Guang wen tang
Woodblock printing
Selected anecdotes on history, culture, military, and politics from 1100 to 1368