Reading from the Backside: Digital Excavation of Official Documents from Song-Yuan-Ming Books

It is well known that a variety of Chinese books of Song-Yuan-Ming times were printed upon the backside of used official documents (Masaaki Chikusa, 1973; Sun Jimin, 2017). Traditionally, scholars have to dissamble these rare books in order to read and scan the backside document. And this process, while extremely costly, constantly risks hurting the original book in different ways.

This project explores and develops graphic processing technologies to recover the backside documents from high-resolution photos of the frontside. Based on our tools, we envision that we can decipher 50-80% of the backside contents without dissambling the volumes. Ultimately, the paper work we excavate will shed new light in the routine maintenance of local institutions, on the one hand, and offer a guide for future bibliographical studies, on the other.