Ancient Chinese libraries (as seen in "Hero")

Well, we just got back from Hero, which we quite enjoyed, but I had a question about the library in the calligraphy school. It seemed to be made of Jenga-ish stacks of rolled, er, placemat things - I assume a scroll is rolled up in a bamboo-slat map, and then stacked in rows of three at right angles, and can be pulled out just like a Jenga piece? I noticed hanging tags on some of the scrolls, I assume as some form of call number or identification?

Is this a normal Chinese library of any historical period, and when? The subtitle mentioned “bookshelves”, which was obviously not the actual word - is there a more literal translation for what to call these things? How many scrolls make up a document? From the movie it seemed it would be hard to take out the scrolls parallel to the viewer - would an actual library have had stacks farther apart? Could you just take out one or would you have to remove more?

I do hope somebody knows more about this - I’m pretty aware of the historical evolution of Western books and scrolls and the furniture they’re put on, but know virtually nothing of how it is and was done in the East.


Nothing? Not even a “me too”? I thought it was really interesting!

I saw the movie, but didn’t believe the scene for even half a second. The whole thing was CGI nonsense.

Bamboo scrolls were quite real, but no sane individual would stack them in a way to make them inaccessible. AFAIK, all scroll libraries work pretty much the same way.

This page has some history of scrolls in China.

And Google answers gives some more background.

Obviously a real library would not have a million identical objects rolled up.

I have seen a library of scrolls in Asia, not an enormous one like you seem to be describing [sorry I haven’t seen the movie].

It appeared to be scrolls stacked into cabinets not unlike wineracks, I have also seen more swish cabinets with glass doors but they were effectively the same in how the scrolls were stacked. They also had notations on the visable ends to help with identification, (I assume, they were very small chinese characters) and those refering to the scrolls could quite handily reach and locate what they wanted. That’s how it seemed to me.

I also saw very special scrolls which were given more precious treatment. Usually a special (elaborately decorated) box or sometimes a stand not unlike a gunrack.

Hope it helps.

I just saw that movie, and thought to myself during that scene: “How the hell do they take out a scroll at the bottom? I be that would make a good Dope question…”

I’d figured they’d either do as undergrads do today with, say, microfilm - realize it’s at the bottom of the stack and say “Uh, I guess I don’t need that one”, or they’d get really drunk and go “Jenga! Jenga! Jenga!”

I should have guessed it was entirely fictional and that the reality was more like the Alexandria scroll model, but it seemed like such a neat and crazy idea…