This two-volume manuscript, consisting of twelve hundred pages, was created in Beijing in 1745 and was donated by Sir George Staunton to the Royal Asiatic Society in 1824. The volumes were given to Staunton by Padre Adeodato di Agostino, an Augustinian missionary who worked in China for almost thirty years. The dictionary is Latin-Chinese, arranged alphabetically according to the Latin terms, with the Chinese equivalents given along with a phonetic translation in roman script.
The manuscripts are exceptionally rare and are representative of the history of the interaction between Britain and China. Staunton was, in effect, the first British sinologist, having accompanied the 1792 embassy of Lord Macartney to China at the age of twelve. He later entered the employ of the East India Company where he was a pioneer translator most notably of the Qing legal code. After his return to England he became involved in the Royal Asiatic Society, donating a number of manuscripts and books that now form a core part of the collection.
There has been an increased interest in the manuscript dictionaries held by the Society, not only from scholars based in Great Britain but also from China and the USA reflecting current research in the scholarly activities of missionaries in China in this period. In this context, these volumes are of considerable importance, and conservation was essential for them be consulted or digitised.
The manuscripts were clearly used by missionaries and perhaps by Staunton as working documents, and were subject to ‘wear and tear’. Probably in an effort to reduce this, thin strips of paper were added to repair and support one side of all the page edges and the spine folds of every folio. This attempt at strengthening the page in fact resulted in the opposite effect. The added strips of paper created a hard sharp edge along which the manuscript paper split, producing almost knife-like cuts to the folios. The manuscript had reached a point where every time a folio was turned there was a probability of the page splitting along the paper repair strips.
The conservators will remove all of these paper strips, thus preventing further splitting of the folios, reducing the spine swelling, and allowing the bound books to open freely without causing further damage. The splits, tears and losses to the substrate will be repaired. As the binding structures of each volume had failed, they will be rebound in the same style as their original structures. The volumes will also be re-covered, while repairing and revealing the original Chinese coverings (one of which is blue Chinese cloth, the other of which is leather).