Episode 147: Sunbathe Books

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In many countries in the world including Asia and Europe, people still dry their clothes under the sun. Although in the U.S., most people dry their clothes with laundry dryer due to its convenience and some laws. In the ancient time, before the washing machine and dryer were invented, people use the sun as a “natural sanitizer.”

In ancient China, people not only dried their clothes under the sun but also books as a way of maintenance and protection. I am talking about after the paper is invented. Because before the paper was invented, Chines people used Bamboo and wooden slips 简牍 for writing documents and there were other ways to protect them including waxing and sealing with mud.

Paper-making was documented in China during the Eastern Han period, between 2 ~ 220 CE attributed to Cai Lun 蔡伦and spread to Islamic world then Europe. After paper was invented, paper books came out. How to protect them especially bookworms were a huge problem. Chinese people had this idea to give books a sunbathe to prevent bookworms and these tradition has been around for more than 2000 years. In the book SiMinYueLing 四民月令, it says on the 7th day of the 7th month in the lunar calendar, put books and clothes under the sun to prevent worms. During the Song dynasty 宋朝, this tradition became a get together of scholars. They put out their books under the sun and talk about poems and articles just like a book club.


Today we will tell an anecdotes from the book A New Account of the Tales of the World 世说新语, complied and edited during the year 420 ~ 479 of the Northern and Southern dynasties 南北朝. The book has more than 1000 historical mostly fictional anecdotes of people lived in the Han dynasty 汉朝and Wei-Jin periods 魏晋.

This story is about a scholar called Hao Long 郝隆 from the Easter Jin dynasty东晋, who is famous for his knowledge and humor. It says, on the 7th day of the 7th month when people take their clothes and books under the sun except Hao Long. He was having a sunbathe himself lying on his back. People asked him what’s going on. He replied, “I am sunbathing books.”




四民月令 SiMinYueLing

世说 新语A New Account of the Tales of the World

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