The Significance of Gegu yaolun 格古要論

A 14th Century Antiquarian Guide for the Development of China’s Knowledge and Material Culture

  • Bogna Łakomska (Author)

Identifiers (Article)


Gegu yaolun 格古要論 or The Essential Criteria of Antiques by Cao Zhao 曹昭 (pseudonym Cao Mingzhong 曹明仲) is one of the oldest compendia regarding works of art and antiques to be created in China. The author of this book, published in 1388, was an ardent collector and researcher. The translation of Cao Zhao’s text into English was first made in 1971 by Sir Percival David who, in addition to the basic content, also included facsimiles from 1388 and comments from later editions considered lost in the European circles. The whole appeared under the title: Chinese Connoisseurship. The Ko Ku Yao Lun. The Essential Criteria of Antiquities. Sir Percival, in the Introduction to his work, described the intricate history of his own studies on Gegu yaolun, indicating at the same time the dates of subsequent editions of the mysterious book and the authors of extensions and additions. The completion of the book is very important as it tells us about the authority of the original textbook, which is the starting point for further research on collecting in China. The original text written by Cao Zhao was first published in 1387 in Nanjing. It consisted of three juans (chapters), one of which was later quoted in Siku Quanshu 四庫全書 (1773–1782) – the Complete books of the Four Storehouses. The entire text considered thirteen subjects, such as: ancient bronze vessels, painting, calligraphy, rubbings of model inscriptions engraved on stone steles, ancient musical instruments, ink stones, unusual stones (zhuqi 珍奇, or jades, agates, pearls, rhino horn and ivory), metal objects, faience and porcelain, textiles, unusual wooden items and strange stones.