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Donation of personal archive and collection of Leiden Sinologist Robert van Gulik

The family of the famous diplomat, sinologist and writer Robert van Gulik has donated his personal archive and part of his collection to Leiden University Libraries (UBL). The collection and archive provide insight into the life and work of Robert van Gulik, who became known among the general public for his Judge Dee novels. In addition, the family has set up the Robert van Gulik Fund, part of the Leiden University Fund, to stimulate research into the life and work of Robert van Gulik.

Robert van Gulik

Robert van Gulik (1910-1967) studied Sanskrit, Chinese and Japanese at Leiden University and Utrecht University. After his promotion -cum laude- in 1935, he entered the diplomatic service. He held various posts in China and Japan. To this day, he is the only European to be recognized as "literate" in China. Van Gulik embodied the Chinese ideal of the scholar-official, which manifested itself in his practice of calligraphy, playing of the classical Chinese musical instrument Qin, and collecting antiquities and art. Robert van Gulik's publications are as diverse and versatile as his personality; he wrote about horse culture in Tibet, about Chinese scroll paintings, about baboons, gastronomy and Chinese eroticism. Robert van Gulik has had an enormous influence on Sinology, the art history of China and the Chinese culture of his time.

Judge Dee novels

For most people, the name of Robert van Gulik is inextricably linked to the popular series of detective stories about the historical figure of Judge Dee. Van Gulik's fascination started with the book he published in 1949: Dee Goong An, his translation of (half of) an eighteenth-century Chinese detective novel about the judge, living at the time of the Tang Dynasty. Van Gulik himself provided the illustrations and cover design for the book, which was published in Tokyo. Van Gulik got a taste for this kind of storytelling and decided to breathe new life into the character of Judge Dee. In the 1950s and 1960s he published a whole series of new stories about Judge Dee, set in his beloved era of the Ming Dynasty. The stories enjoyed great popularity worldwide and are reprinted to the present day.

Archive and collection

Robert van Gulik managed to build a phenomenal collection in the field of Chinese history, language and culture in his short life, with a special focus on music and folk literature. In addition to his work as a diplomat in China and other Asian posts, he was an avid collector of manuscripts and books, which reflect his broad interests. In addition to extremely rare prints and manuscripts, his interest was in calligraphy and printmaking, but also in gastronomy and eroticism. His collection therefore includes special cookbooks and also an extremely rare collection of erotic scenes, published by Van Gulik himself in Tokyo (1951) in only a few copies.

Robert van Gulik Fund

Concurrently with the donation to the UBL, the family decided to set up a fund with the Leiden University Fund. The Robert van Gulik Fund is intended to stimulate research into the life and work of Robert van Gulik, for example through fellowships, but also by supporting the opening up and digitisation of the archive and collection. Sinologists, writers, diplomats and others who support the work of Robert van Gulik are expressly invited to contribute to the fund. This will make the collection more available for education and research, and this outstanding Leiden scholar can receive the attention he deserves.

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