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VGK collection

Identifier: ubl302

Scope and Contents

The VGK Collection comprises a wide range of subjects. It includes both printed books and manuscripts. Among them are the oldest Chinese printed book (1420), and the first Chinese books acquired by the Leiden University Library (1609). The collection contains most of the Chinese library owned by the first professor of Chinese, J.J. Hoffmann, appointed as titular professor of Chinese and Japanese in 1855. Almost all of his books are bound in blue hard covers. Most books that arrived before 1886 are listed in G. Schlegel’s catalogues and in the revised edition, entitled G. Schlegel’s Catalogues of Chinese books in the Leiden University Library (1883, Supplement 1886) (Kuiper, 2016a).

The VGK Collection also includes the rare books formerly kept in the Locked Cabinet Shelf. This Locked Shelf was created after 1950 to keep Robert van Gulik’s Mixi tukao and other rare Chinese books and manuscripts.

The books and manuscripts with the call numbers SINOL. VGK 5806.13 to 59 and SINOL. VGK 5805.70 to 74 belong to the Collection of old Manchu and Mongolian books and manuscripts.


  • Creation: 1420-now

Language of Materials

Chinese, Manchu, Mongolian

Conditions Governing Use

Regulations that apply during the use of these materials can be found on the website of Leiden University Library.

Biographical / Historical

In 1981, when the library of the Leiden Sinological Institute moved from the Eerste Binnenvestgracht 33a to the Arsenaalstraat 1, a special room was created for the Van Gulik Collection, called Van Gulik Kamer (Van Gulik Room). From that time on, the librarians started moving other rare or special Chinese books from the open stacks to this room, thereby creating the present VGK Collection. The transfer of rare or fragile books from the general sinological library to the Van Gulik Room has continued until July 2016.


600 printed books and manuscripts (circa)

Abstract in Dutch

De VGK-collectie bevat oude en bijzondere Chinese gedrukte werken en handschriften over tal van onderwerpen, die werden bewaard in een speciale kamer, oorspronkelijk ingericht voor de Collectie Van Gulik, in de bibliotheek van het Leidse Sinologisch Instituut (Arsenaal), genaamd Van Gulik Kamer.

Abstract in English

The VGK Collection contains old, rare and special Chinese printed books and manuscripts on a wide range of subjects, that were kept in a special room, originally created for the Van Gulik Collection, in the library of the Leiden Sinological Institute (Arsenaal), called Van Gulik Kamer (Van Gulik Room).


The contents can be divided in the following general sections. For details, see the Harvard-Yenching system (K’ai-ming Ch’iu 1943).

Section Subsection HY numbers
Classics 1-999
Philosophy 1000-
Ethics 1650-
Religion 1700-
Buddhism 1800-
Taoism 1920-
Christianity 1975-
Historical sciences 2000-
Geography and history 2300-
South East Asia 3520-
Social sciences 4000-
Politics and law 4600-
Dutch East Indies, etc. 4805-
Chinese language 5000-
Instruction books 5160-
Dictionaries 5170-
Chinese literature 5200-
Drama 5661-
Fiction 5731-
Mongolian books 5805
Manchu books 5806
Fine arts 6000-
Natural sciences 7000-
Medical sciences 7800-
Agriculture and technology 8000-
Encyclopedias 9290-
Bibliographies 9500-

Physical Location

Leiden University Library, Special Collections

Other Finding Aids

Most items can be found in the online catalogue and requested for consultation, the shelfmarks begin with "SINOL. VGK". For an an introduction and catalogue see also Kuiper 2016b, which lists for every item: Call number, Year, Title in Chinese Classics and transcription, Place and Publisher, Pages/Volumes.

Custodial History

In 1930, most of the about 850 Chinese books in Leiden University Library at Rapenburg (described by G. Schlegel in 1881 and 1886) were transferred to the library of the Sinological Institute. Some books were already in the library since the 1600s, but most were acquired after the 1870s. From the 1930s, the director of the Sinological Institute, Prof. J.J.L. Duyvendak, also actively acquired many rare and special editions in China.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

In July 2016 the Van Gulik Room was closed and its contents were moved to the Special Collections Department in Leiden University Library at Witte Singel.


Future additions are to be expected.

Related Materials

Old, rare and special Chinese books and manuscripts can also be found in the Robert van Gulik Collection, KNAG collection, Go Collection, Hulsewé Collection, Gützlaff Collection and the Collection Chinese and Sino-Western manuscripts.


  • K’ai-ming Ch’iu, A., A classification scheme for Chinese and Japanese books, Washington 1943.
  • Kuiper, K., G. Schlegel's Catalogues of Chinese books in the Leiden University Library (1883; Supplement 1886), Leiden 2016a. (digital version)
  • Kuiper, K., The VGK Collection. Introduction and Catalogue. Leiden 2016b. (pdf)


The material can be requested in the online catalogue. It can be consulted in the Special Collections Reading Room.

Processing Information

After transfer to the Van Gulik Room, all items kept their call numbers in the Harvard-Yenching system. At first the call numbers were prefixed by "v. Gulik Kamer" or "Kamer v. Gulik". Now this has been changed to "VGK" for most of these, resulting in the call number SINOL. VGK [HY systematic number] [serial number]. Rare old journals are classified as SINOL. VGK Journals.

The criteria for placing books in the Van Gulik Room were: all old books dating before 1795 (shanben 善本), and later rare or fragile books and manuscripts, including many traditional Chinese books (guji 古籍) bound in a Western style hard cover. A few relatively modern works were also placed here. However, many other old books remained in the general library and the distinction between the two is not absolute. In some cases, two copies of the same old book may even be separately shelved in the Sinological Library and in the Van Gulik Room.

Collection guide of the VGK collection (1420-now)
Collectie VGK
Koos Kuiper and Silvia Compaan-Vermetten, 2016
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note
Beschrijving is in het Engels.

Revision Statements

  • 1 November 2017: latest update

Repository Details

Part of the Leiden University Libraries Archives & Collections Repository

Witte Singel 27
Leiden 2311 BG Netherlands
+31 71 527 2857