2022 Confucius Academy Four Seasons Debate (Round One) Collation of Ancient Books in the New Era: Paper Book Publishing vs. Digitization

2022-08-15

  On August 6, round one of the 2022 Confucius Academy Four Seasons Debate was held at Mingde Hall, Minglun Hall of Guiyang Confucius Academy. Mr. Zhang Yongquan, senior professor of liberal arts and Director of the Center for Dunhuang Studies of Zhejiang University, Mr. Shu Dagang, Director and professor of the Ancient Books Collation Institute of Sichuan University, Mr. Liu Shi, Dean and professor of the School of Humanities of Tsinghua University and Mr. Zhou Xunlong, Executive Director and editor of Zhonghua Book Company were invited to participate in the debate and share their views. The topic of the debate was “collation of ancient books in the new era: paper book publishing vs. digitization”. The debate was moderated by Mr. Liao Kebin, Director and professor of the Center for Ancient Chinese Classics & Archives, Peking University.

  On April 11, 2022, the General Office of the CPC Central Committee and the General Office of the State Council printed and issued the Opinions on Promoting Ancient Books-related Work in the New Era. The Opinions made arrangements for ancient books-related work in the new era, which reflected the great importance attached by the Party and the government to ancient books-related work. Reading paper books has a long tradition and special effects, while electronic reading has become an important method of reading for modern people, especially teenagers. When collating ancient books in the new era, which should play a bigger role, paper books or electronic books?

  At the debate site, Editor Zhou Xuanlong held that “collation” is the most important content when we collate ancient books. We should do a good job in in-depth collation so as to give new cores and added value to ancient books, and realize the cultural dissemination value of publishing. To date, ancient paper books are still very important for many readers and scholars to understand and study Chinese traditional culture. For some basic ancient books, we must do in-depth research and interpretation. Different publishing methods should be adopted for different types of ancient books. The publishing of paper books upon in-depth collation should always be the direction that the publishing industry adheres to.

  Professor Liu Shi analyzed and debated from the perspective that “digitized collation of ancient books is more important”. According to his introduction, the collation of ancient books through indexing is a “new publishing” method currently under way in addition to the two forms of digitized literature (the PDF version and the automatic identification version). “In addition to simple reading, digitization can also connect one or several ancient books from different angles and in different ways. Readers can get all the relevant knowledge through information retrieval, and this is the important significance of the digitization of ancient books.”

  What should the collation of ancient books in the new era focus on? Professor Shu Dagang believed that the focus of ancient book collation should be different in different stages of the new era. Meanwhile, for different types and levels of ancient books, different main collation and publishing methods should also be adopted. Therefore, he suggested that the state should have the ancient books and literatures at the national level digitized in the next ten years, and local governments of provinces and cities should have local literatures digitized so as to preserve and use them well. Large-scale literatures arrangement should be mainly digitized, and classical and basic literatures should be mainly published as paper books.

  As an expert in the collation of ancient books, Professor Zhang Yongquan expounded on his views both as a reader and as an author. “Digitization is the general trend, but my suggestion is that an ‘access system’ should be adopted for the publishing of digital books, so as to put an end to chaotic digital publishing, maximize the role of digital publishing, and promote the ‘standardization’ of digital publishing.”

  The professors believed that, no matter how one chooses between paper and digital books, the most important thing is to achieve “effective reading”. As for whether young people prefer paper or digital publishing, and what is the difference between the effects of digital reading and the reading of paper books, these questions await further investigations.