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Historic exhibit comes to Queens

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The history of the written and printed word in China - more than 3,000 years old - will be told in the exhibition, "Visible Traces: Rare Books and Special Collections from the National Library of China," opening Friday at Queens Central Library.

Featuring material never before seen in China, let alone the United States, "Traces" contains 68 objects charting the evolution of China's ancient writing and printing tradition, from the development of a unified writing system to the discovery of cheaper, longer-lasting writing material - today known as paper.

The exhibit spanning and embracing the centuries, harkens back to some of the earliest examples of the printed word; oracle bones, engravings in tortoise shell or ox bone, dating back to the Shang dynasty (approximately 1600 bc). Other items on view will include the "Sutra of the Lotus of the Wonderful Law," a sacred Buddhist text discovered in a cave in the earlier part of this century, said to date back to 695; The "Outlaws of the Marsh from the Hall of Loyalty and Righteousness;" an historical novel of the Wanli period of the Ming dynasty (1571-1619); examples of printing innovations (such as embossed designs), as well as a series of historical maps, the earliest dating back to 1247 B.C.

To underscore the exhibition's significance, there will be a Feb. 19 symposium at the Flushing Library, featuring presentations by various scholars of Chinese books, maps, rubbings and illustrations.

"We've been receiving calls from around the country. The interest in this exhibit and the symposium is tremendous." said Mindy Krazmien, library exhibitions manager, who explained that the symposium features three speakers and a long list of people who want to speak on the exhibit.

The National Library of China contains some 300,000 volumes of rare books and writings, 35,000 rubbings, 30,000 maps and the largest collection of texts and illustrations by China's ethnic minorities. The library, with a total of 22,000,000 or so volumes, represents the largest collection of its kind. The decision to unveil this exhibit is according to Krazmien, "the result of an exclusive partnership between the National Library of China and the Queens Borough Public Library."

According to Krazmien, Gary Strong, the director of the Queens Borough Public Library, met with Zhou He Ping, deputy director of the National Library of China, two years ago, during a trip to mainland China. From this meeting, the two parties reached an agreement to exchange exhibit resources materials now and in the future.

"It is a tremendous honor for us to be hosting this exhibit," Krazmien said, continuing that past trips to Asia by Strong have resulted in similar rich cultural partnerships between the Queens Borough Public Library and the Library of Korea and the Shanghai Library.

"Visible Traces" is on view through March 15, 2000, at the Central Library, 89-11 Merrick Blvd., Jamaica. For information, call 990-0817 or visit www.queenslibrary.org/gallery.

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