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The Pitt News

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Opinion | Believe victims even if you don’t like them
Opinion | Believe victims even if you don’t like them
By Delaney Rauscher Adams, Staff Columnist • July 12, 2024
Opinion | Women pop stars and the pressure to evolve
By Livia LaMarca, Assistant Opinions Editor • July 10, 2024

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Opinion | Believe victims even if you don’t like them
Opinion | Believe victims even if you don’t like them
By Delaney Rauscher Adams, Staff Columnist • July 12, 2024
Opinion | Women pop stars and the pressure to evolve
By Livia LaMarca, Assistant Opinions Editor • July 10, 2024

East Asian Library holds open house, displays rare items

The+East+Asian+Library+Open+House+in+Hillman+Library+on+Wednesday+afternoon.
Kaylee Uribe | Staff Photographer
The East Asian Library Open House in Hillman Library on Wednesday afternoon.

Kuan is one of the earliest examples of paper money, which China began printing in the late 1300s. Pitt’s East Asian Library had an original Kuan note on display for visitors to see during their open house event Wednesday afternoon. 

“There was a shortage of copper, and so they started to print money on something more available — paper,” Runxiao Zhu said. “This piece was worth 1,000 copper coins. And anyone who was caught making counterfeit notes was beheaded.”

About 30 people gathered on the third floor of Hillman library to hear Runxiao Zhu and Hiroyuki Good discuss some highlights of Pitt’s East Asian Library’s extensive collection. In the Archives and Special Collections Instruction Room, Zhu and Good led a brief presentation on the display items and then invited visitors to wander around the room and look further at the items. 

Zhu, the head of the East Asian Library, said Pitt has never displayed many of these pieces before. However, Zhu and Good chose to display them because photos simply do not capture what makes them special.

“The original idea to have an East Asian Library Open House is to help Pitt students, faculty and community to learn more about our collections and what we can offer,” Zhu said. “So our Japanese Librarian Mr. Hiroyuki Good and I picked some of our favorite pieces from our Archival and Special Collections to showcase our rare materials.”

The librarians displayed a collection of papers made using the traditional techniques of paper making — some came from Asia, and some were made in the U.S.

The display also featured samples of bleached and unbleached paper as well as paper made from different trees which, according to Zhu, changes the characteristics of the final product.

“The unique materials, different fibers, softness, patterns, lines inside of those paper samples can be seen under a microscope and be felt with one’s hand,” Zhu said. “The experience of seeing and touching can help you understand the distinction of each paper.” 

Zhu said the Pitt Library System owns the largest collection of Japanese color woodblock prints depicting the Noh theater created by the artist Tsukioka Kōgyo held outside of Japan. Good, the Japanese Studies Librarian, went through and highlighted some of the Japanese woodblock prints in Pitt’s collection. 

Qian Zhang, a graduate student in the Katz School of Business, spent a decade living in Japan. He said he found the collection very interesting as someone familiar with the culture and history of East Asian countries. 

“We have a lot of really original pieces, so that really blows my mind. I never thought we would have this kind of collection,” Zhang said. “This is the first time I’ve seen many of these documentations, which is really nice. These are the life stories of historical members. It’s really crazy that we have them.”

Lilly Winning, a Pitt Librarian in the Engineering Library, said she attended the open house because she had interest in learning some new history and seeing the art. She complimented the two librarians’ archival collection, and felt she could sense their deep care for these artifacts in their presentation. 

“It felt like a passion project as well as their work,” Winning said. “I really enjoy when you can tell that someone is really passionate about what they do and both of them have.”

Visitors had the opportunity to flip through a 1667 print of a Chinese mythology book called the Shan-hai Jing, or Classic of Mountains and Seas, and look at hand drawn illustrations of classic Chinese fictional creatures. The prints featured illustrations of unicorns, a snake with nine heads which resemble human heads and a man without a head and a face in his torso. 

“The texts themselves were compiled around the fourth century BCE,” Zhu said. “But our copy was printed in 1667 CE during the Qing dynasty with traditional woodblock print in thread-bind. In this book, there are many mythic places and beasts, all with vivid descriptions and illustrations.”

Abigail Jacobsen, who works in Media Services at the library, said the condition of many pieces looked remarkable for their age — some 400 years old and even older. 

“I am amazed at how well preserved some of these objects are,” Jacobsen said. “There’s a book from the 17th century that we can flip through.”

Zhu said she really enjoyed presenting some of the East Asian Libraries collection, but she is only a few months into her role and hopes to present again when she’s worked through more of their extensive collection. 

“There are several rare items from other libraries I didn’t have enough time to work on,” Zhu said. “I hope in the future we can make them available for the public to view.”

About the Contributor
Colm Slevin, Assistant News Editor