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FO: Shih-lu, 1593

The Biblioteca Nacional de España has digitized the only known copy of the Shih-lu, and—with a little prodding from this blogger—made it freely available online. The entire book may be downloaded here: Shih-lu (pdf). To see its bibliographic record, click here: Shih-lu.

Note that, like most books in Chinese, the Shih-lu may be described by those not from China as having been printed back-to-front. This means, concretely, that the Shih-lu's first page is not found at the beginning of the file, but toward the end, specifically page 155. A brief history of this book follows below.

On 20 June 1593, the governor of las Islas Filipinas wrote the following to the king of Spain:

Señor:—En nombre de V. Mag, e dado licencia para que por esta vez, por la gran neçesidad que avia, se ymprimiessen las Doctrinas Xpianas que con esta van, la vna en lengua tagala, que es la natural y mejor destas yslas, y la otra en la china...

[Sire, in the name of Your Majesty, I have for this once, because of the existing great need, granted a license for the printing of the Doctrinas Christianas, herewith enclosed—one in the Tagalog language, which is the native and best of these islands, and the other in Chinese…]
Much more has been written since then about the first two books printed in the Philippines in 1593, but most either refer to just one book—usually the Doctrina Christiana in Spanish, romanized Tagalog and baybayin—or, contrary to the evidence in the governor's letter, even three! Many of the authors apparently had not read Piet van der Loon's "The Manila incunabula and early Hokkien studies" (Asia Major [1966] 12, 1-43), which clearly lays out his reasons for concluding that the third "first book" was actually printed later, perhaps in 1605.

But one of the most problematic assumptions of many who write about the first Philippine imprints, at least to me, is that the Shih-lu was merely a translation of the Spanish-Tagalog Doctrina Christiana. Now that the Shih-lu is available online, and its contents can easily be compared and contrasted with the Doctrina Christiana, even someone with no knowledge of Chinese, Spanish or Tagalog will see right away that the two are very different books.

Special thanks to Lourdes Alonso and Cristina Guillen of the Biblioteca Nacional de España for their effort in making the Shih-lu freely available online, and to Francis Navarro for his assistance in Madrid.

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