A rare Chinese manuscript displayed at the Beaver Falls Historical Museum has turned out to be a potentially 200-year-old masterpiece. The woodblock manuscript on rice paper was found five years ago after decades in a basement storage closet in the Beaver Falls Historical Museum in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania. Historians think it was donated by a well-to-do Chinese couple, who had come to Beaver Falls as translators for the Chinese laborers who worked from 1872 to 1877 for the Beaver Falls Cutlery Co. The book, considered a curiosity, was placed in a display cabinet with cutlery in the historical society.
A few years ago, a couple from Kent State University in Ohio visited the Beaver Falls Historical Museum in Pennsylvania. They were both of Chinese ancestry. When the curator showed them the book, the man noted that it was being displayed upside down! He then looked closer and told the curator that she was in possession of “one of the four most important books in China.”
The discovery has garnered worldwide attention, especially in the Chinese community. The book is called “The Story of the Stone/A Dream of Red Mansions,” written by Cao Xueqin in the mid-18th century during the Qing dynasty. It has close to 400 characters and is written in vernacular Chinese. It first circulated in woodblock manuscripts until its first print publication in 1791. The fictional love story chronicles the rise and fall of an aristocratic family in Beijing.
Once word of the discovery spread, it attracted the attention of a Chinese language television network, who produced a documentary on the manuscript, as well as the history of the Chinese laborers in Beaver Falls.
The book is now stored in a bank vault and can only be seen by appointment.