I was debating whether to get rid of a little book of “Chinese Sayings” (i.e., four-character expressions) when I looked in the back and saw with a pang of nostalgia the label of Caves Book Co., where I bought so many cheap (mostly pirated) books thirty years ago. On a whim I googled [“Caves Book” taipei], and the first hit was this, a long page that has the exact label I was looking at (the green one, about a quarter of the way down). It turns out Greg Kindall’s Seven Roads has a Gallery of Book Trade Labels that I could happily lose myself in for days. I suspect anyone who loves books as physical objects has a soft spot for what Greg calls “these small and sometimes beautiful labels pasted more or less discreetly into the endpapers.” Aside from the alphabetical index, you can navigate the collection geographically here; I’m sorry to see that his scanty Argentine collection doesn’t include the librería Pygmalion in Buenos Aires where I spent so many happy hours in the mid-’60s (alas, never running into Borges, who frequented the place during the same period)—maybe I’ll scan one and send it in.

The Seven Roads site also has a sporadically updated blog and various arcana like a Complete Serial List of Everyman’s Library Titles and De Ludis et Hortis: A translation into Latin of R. L. Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses; I highly recommend it to your attention.


  1. A lot of those Cave’s editions have some “For Sale On Taiwan Only” disclaimers along with the original copyright information. I always thought Cave’s had some special right to sell reprints of certain titles. Were they all bogus? Could you get out-and-out bootlegs there back in the old days when piracy was rampant?
    The “For Taiwan Only” titles are disappearing. I was there about a year ago and there were still a few such dusty sinological tomes there, but not in the numbers there were in the past. I remember buying the translation of the Honglou meng there a few years ago, and I could only find cheapies for 2-3 of the 5-volume set–for the rest, I had to buy the standard Penguin editions. I’ve heard of people snapping up a whole set of Science and Civilization in China there for super-cheap way back when.

  2. True, a lot of them are Taiwan editions, but my Mathews is definitely pirated.

  3. Calling #6 from the Child’s Garden (Rain) Felix Britannia is a stroke of genius.

  4. John Emerson says

    I was in Taiwan in 1983 and obvious, unapologetic pirate editions were common. I have 2 vols. of Needham.
    There also were authorized Taiwan editions, as well as Taiwan reprints of public domain books. Public domain books in Asian studies from India are still cheap. Unfortunately there seems to be no central aggregation of English publishers.
    To me “cheng-yu” should be translated “cliche”. But China has a systematized body of cliches (up to 20,000) gathered over 2500+ years, so quite intelligent conversations can be conducted entirely in cliches, as long as you know enough of them. Especially since it’s allowed to coin cliches based on the common culture and the literature. I’d love to see a colection of post-Mao Chinese cliches.

  5. John Emerson says

    “Of Indian publishers”.

  6. There are many clichés, not all of which are expressed in four characters. “Mao Tsetung’s thought is our guiding light” is a cliché but not a cheng-yu.

  7. John: Were the obvious and unapologetic pirate editions available at Cave’s, alongside the authorized Taiwan editions?
    By the way, LH, I just turned to the back of the book I am reading to find a label reading “Shida shuyuan,” another one you may remember.

  8. I’m pleased to learn that Caves Book Co. is still in existence, even if merged, renamed (to Caves Books Co., Ltd), expanded, and relocated.

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