About the collection


The Asian collection counts around 366,000 printed volumes of original-language literature and 12,150 manuscripts in the languages Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Mongolian, Tibetan, Singhalese and those of the Indian subcontinent and south-east Asia. These stocks are important sources for research and education on both a national and an international level.

Geographic focus

Geographically, the acquisition of original-language monographs, periodicals and e-media focuses on south Asia, central Asia and east Asia.

Main focuses of content

A broad range of secondary literature in west European languages is acquired. The main focus of the content of original-language acquisitions is on humanities – philosophy, religion (Buddhism, Daoism, Hinduism, Islam in Asia), history, archaeology, linguistics and literature, ethnic studies, architecture and art and classic text editions.


The Oriental and Asian Department manages the Asian manuscripts technically (acquisition, subject information, guided tours, exhibitions), while the Department of Manuscripts and Rare Books administrates them and is in charge of their use. The Oriental manuscripts can be consulted in the Reading Room for Manuscripts and Rare Books.

At present, the acquisition policy for Asian manuscripts is determined by the scholarly relevance of texts and their aesthetic-museological aspect.

The 11,650 Asian manuscripts of the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek originate in the following regions: 1,700 objects are from central Asia, 2,600 from south Asia, 4,100 from south-east Asia and finally 3,250 from east Asia. The manuscripts consist of an unusual variety of materials: paper, leather, palm leaves, dluwang, birch bark, bamboo, wood, textile fabric, ivory, bone, stone, gold, silver and other metals. The Asian manuscripts are categorised in line with the language.

Manuscript catalogues

Literature on individual manuscripts can be found in the "Forschungsdokumentation Handschriften" (research documentation manuscripts).
Forschungsdokumentation Handschriften

Overview of manuscript groups and classification marks

South Asia
Central Asia
South-east Asia
Javanese, BalineseCod.jav.
Thai (Siamese)Cod.siam

History of the Asian collection

17th and 18th century

The beginnings of the Asian collection go back to the first half of the 17th century. Books from east Asia reached Europe via traders, travellers and Christian missionaries. Presumably Jesuit missionaries brought the first volumes from east Asia as presents during the 17th and 18th century, among them also prints by the Christian mission that had been produced in China.

The Asian stocks of the library profited from the abolition of the Jesuit order in 1773 and the secularisation of the Bavarian monasteries in 1803. Also the transfer of the Mannheim court library to Munich in 1803/04 expanded the Asian collection of the Munich court library, adding the "Hongpiao" of 1716 (Cod.sin. 2931), to mention one example.

Hongpiao of 1716  (Cod.sin. 2931)

19th century to 1953

A systematic expansion of the Asian collection started only in the 19th century in connection with the growing interest in Asia and the establishment of relevant departments at the universities.

Collections of Karl Friedrich Neumann and Onorato Martucci

The Asian collection was expanded enormously by the purchase of works which had been brought by the Sinologist Karl Friedrich Neumann (1793 – 1870) from a journey to China in the years 1830/31. These works laid the foundation of the very extensive Chinese collection of the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek. In 1851 Ludwig I, a sponsor and supporter of the Chinese collection, gave 2,700 volumes from the library of the world traveller Onorato Martucci (1774 – 1846) to the then Court- and State Library.

Acquisition of the library of the French Orientalist Etienne Marc Quatremère

The most spectacular acquisition in the history of the collection was the purchase of the huge library of the French Orientalist Étienne-Marc Quatremère (1782 – 1857) in 1858. This gigantic acquisition was not without controversy. In order to fund the purchase of the collection, the library director at the time, Karl Halm (1809 – 1882), sold a number of partly very valuable duplicates, among them a Gutenberg bible, which would on no account be regarded as "duplicates" from today's point of view. Quatremère's book collection originally comprised around 50,000 volumes and 1,250 Oriental manuscripts, plus 250 Occidental manuscripts. After 20,000 duplicate titles had been sorted out still in Paris, the manuscripts and the remaining 30,000 printed works, among them 2,000 volumes in Chinese, Manchurian and Mongolian, were incorporated in the library's collection.

The collections of Müller, Haug, Trumpp and Jolly

A short time later, the library managed to acquire the collection of the Orientalist Marcus Joseph Müller (1809 – 1874), which contained important Zend manuscripts, and that of the Indologist Martin Haug (1827 – 1876), which stood out for its 343 Sanskrit manuscripts. The series of important purchases was continued by the collections of the Semitist Ernst Trumpp (1828 – 1885) and of the Indologist Julius Jolly (1849 – 1932), which predominantly added manuscripts in Indian languages to the library's collection.

Purchasing trip in the 1920s to China, Japan and Korea

A very important acquisition was made by Georg Reismüller (1882 – 1936) during a purchasing trip to China, Japan and Korea at the end of the 1920s.

Purchase of the library of the Sinologist Carl Hentze

In 1953, the Chinese collection was complemented by the acquisition of the library of the Sinologist Carl Hentze (1883 – 1975).

Acquisitions since 1970

Since 1973, the number of Oriental and Asian manuscripts has quintupled from 3,300 to 18,400 today. In the process, particular emphasis was laid on expanding valuable and extensive source collections from central and south Asia, from south-east Asia and the Far East. Up to this time, the library held only a small number of items from these regions. Partly by consistently purchasing individual items and small groups of items, partly by purchasing complete, large collections, 51 language subdivisions could be established until today.

Manuscripts from Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Thailand, Sanskrit and Oriya codices, Chinese manuscripts, Tibetan book covers, manuscripts from Japan

The establishment of particularly extensive stocks started in 1976 for manuscripts from Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Thailand. In 1977 stocks followed from India for Sanskrit and Oriya codices and manuscripts from Tibet. As of 1978, a number of partly very valuable Chinese manuscripts were added. The collection of ornately carved or painted Tibetan book covers was started in 1980. In the meantime, it has grown to more than 100 objects and is unique also on a worldwide scale. A medium-sized, but all the more valuable group has been established for manuscripts from Japan since 1984.

Japanese prints before 1868, reprints of the Siku quanshu and the Manchurian Kanjur

With the aid of third-party funds, the stock of Japanese prints from before 1868, the year of Japan's opening towards the West, was extended significantly by more than 2,000 volumes in the 1980s. Between 1984 and 2004, the library managed to purchase a reprint of the Siku quanshu, the largest book collection on Chinese culture and history and probably the most ambitious editorial endeavour in world history, and reprints of all follow-up publications, again thanks to generous third-party funds. Moreover, a reprint of the Manchurian Kanjur in 108 volumes could be acquired.

Palm leaf manuscripts from Bali, Tamil manuscripts from southern India, Yao collection, Mongolian and Tibetan manuscripts

The next great purchases, not only in view of high quality, but also large quantity, have taken place in the form of the acquisition of palm leaf manuscripts from Bali since 1984, and of Tamil manuscripts from southern India since 1987. A substantial collection of works from the Yao people native to southern China and various south-east Asian states, has been added step by step since 1989, and finally, after the fall of communism, a collection of Mongolian manuscripts could be established as of 1996. In 2005, the collection was complemented by Tibetan music manuscripts that can be found only very rarely on the antiquarian market, and in 2006 by a convolute of highly valuable Tibetan manuscripts from Mongolia and further Tibetan sheet music.

Block prints of the Buddhist canon

An important focus of the collection is on block prints of the Buddhist canon in various Asian languages. Special mention should be made of the Lhasa Kanjur in 100 volumes (2 L.tibet 1) and of the Derge Tanjur in 212 volumes (2 L.tibet. 50a), which were printed from the original printing blocks.


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Rebhan, Helga: Orientalische und asiatische Handschriften und seltene Drucke der Bayerischen Staatsbibliothek. In: Ceynowa, Klaus; Hermann, Martin (ed.): Bibliotheken: Innovation aus Tradition: Rolf Griebel zum 65. Geburtstag. Berlin: De Gruyter Saur, 2014. p. 322-333. Available on: http://dx.doi.org/10.1515/9783110310511 [Last access 21.03.2016].


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