February 2013 | Jeremy Howell

East Asian Exhibit at the California Book Fair

At three o'clock on Friday, the California International Antiquarian Book Fair opened its doors to the public for the 46th time. This was to be my first visit to the fair that I had heard called, "the biggest and best book fair in America."  

When I arrived at five o'clock the fair was in full swing. Hundreds of expectant dealers and eager buyers had gathered inside the massive Concourse Exhibition Center for the first of the three day festivities. After making my rounds and chatting with a few dealers, it became clear that most were anticipating a great show.


Something that made this book fair unique was an interesting exhibition presented by the C.V. Starr East Asian Library at the University of California at Berkeley.  Founded in 1947, the library now boasts over nine hundred thousand Japanese, Korean, Chinese works as well as others East Asian volumes.

The exhibition at the California Book Fair features works that spanned hundreds of years.  One of particular interest was tucked away on the bottom shelf in the display's last case.  The book was striking in that it was opened to a page with beautifully pressed Chinese characters on one side and an illustration of a man in a strange contortion on the other.  The book, named Works on the Cultivation of Longevity, was a 16th century work on healthy living.


This work is interesting because it is an example of late Ming Dynasty commercial printing (the dynasty spanned from 1368 to 1644). Much of the commercial printing during this period supported and enhanced the lives of citizens. This was a work published to sell and be read by the masses.  It was during this period in China that books became not just works of scholarship but tools for the common man.  This printed work, tucked in a corner of the fair, is possibly one of the more important works in the fair and was among the books that made the journey to California so worthwhile.