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The Literature of Asia

The library's very rich stocks of books, periodicals and newspapers in Oriental languages are concentrated in the Department of the Literature of Asian and African Countries, totalling more than two million items. The best represented language is Chinese with almost 50,000 publications. These embrace the complete corpus of Chinese classical literature, a very broad range of works by modern writers, as well as books on history, art, linguistics and medicine. There are quite a number of rare, unique publications: a complete encyclopaedia of Chinese culture — the 1,360-volume Tu shu chi ch'eng (18th century), two large "universal library" series known as Ssu pu ts'ung k'an and Ssu pu pei yao, a celebrated history of the Ch'ing dynasty in some 900 volumes, and more.

The Chinese stocks include the exceptionally valuable sinological collection of the eminent St Petersburg scholar V.V. Petrov which the library acquired in 1987. It consists chiefly of Chinese publications covering a broad timespan and a wide variety of subjects: philology, history, philosophy and art. The reference section contains language, biographical and other dictionaries, encyclopaedias, bibliographical publications and catalogues from the end of the last century and from recent times. The collection is rich in the traditional Chinese literature and the fiction of the 1920s and 1930s, which is often a blank spot in Russian libraries. The great writer Lu Xun (1881-1936) accounts for 500 volumes of his own works and literature about him.

The Japanese stocks are also extensive and rich. Among them are the works of such famous writers as Akutagawa Ryunosuke, Natsume Soseki and Ishikawa Takuboku; splendid series — Modern Japanese Literature (90 volumes) and Literature of the Showa Era (60 volumes); major works on linguistics, philosophy and economics; numerous reference publications, such as the 15-volume Historical Encyclopaedia or the 20-volume Complete Dictionary of the Japanese Language; catalogues of the largest libraries in Japan; and periodicals (1,700 titles) covering various fields of learning.

The Indian stocks contain books, periodicals and newspapers in the numerous languages of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal. Most of the publications are in the areas of fiction and philology, with complete sets of works by great Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore and other writers. The library possesses almost the entire oeuvre of Premchand, a major figure in Hindi literature. The Sanskrit section is valuable and varied, embracing copies of the Vedas, Upanishads, Mahabharata, Ramayana and other ancient Indian classics, as well as the first printed books in Indian languages.

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The Arabic stocks contain printed material from the Arabic-speaking world. Mainly they are books on philosophy, history and art, works of mediaeval Arabic literature, and also publications by modern and contemporary authors. There are some unique sixteenth- and seventeenth-century editions here, including the Vita Timuri (1636) by Ahmad ibn Muhammad ibn Arabshah. Notable too is The Book of Songs (1868) a 20-volume collection of verse by Abu'l-Faradj al-Isfahani.

The National Library's Jewish stocks are some of the largest in the world: 45,000 books, more than 900 different periodicals and a large quantity of newspapers. The main sections — Hebrew and Yiddish — contain literature published in this country and abroad from the fifteenth century to the present day. The most complete category of works are Hebrew books produced in Russia, from the first early-nineteenth-century examples onwards. Especially precious are the early printed works, which include incunabula and palaeotypes. The Yiddish section also consists chiefly of Russian publications. It includes, apart from books, the first Russian "jargon" magazines and newspapers, and also early Soviet periodicals. In the Jewish stocks too one can find rare material in Ladino, Judaeo-Persian and Judaeo-Tadjik, as well as Samaritan, Syriac and other Semitic languages.

The library can boast an extremely rich collection of "Orientalia" — books and periodicals in the field of Oriental studies in Western European languages. Rare printed works have been accumulating here since the early nineteenth century: scholarly editions of classic works of Eastern literature, linguistic researches, dictionaries, catalogues of the largest manuscript repositories. Quite a number of them date from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

This department also possesses literature in Korean, Vietnamese, Mongolian, Persian, Turkish and many other Asian and African languages.

Another part of what was until 1953 the single Oriental Department is the national literature section. This comprises the world's largest, most comprehensive and varied stocks of publications in the languages of the peoples living across the immense, multinational country that was the Russian Empire and then the Soviet Union. They form an extremely valuable collection of items in 86 languages from seventeenth-century publications to modern works in all spheres of learning. One can find here books, periodicals, newspapers and other documents relating to each of the nationalities. Among them are a great many rarities: the first printed books in Georgian and Armenian produced in Paris (1624), Rome (1629, 1643) and Amsterdam (1668-69), or in Chuvash and Tatar printed in St Petersburg in 1769 and 1780 respectively. The stocks of periodicals include items which have not survived even at their place of publication. This section of the library gives a complete picture of the development of book-printing in relation to the various peoples of the former USSR and presents highly interesting material for a general study of their histories, economics, languages, cultures and literatures. Online exhibitions from the Asian and African collections:

 
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