Bridge Builders: Frances Wood - librarian of treasures

Bridge Builders: Frances Wood - librarian of treasures


Frances Wood was born into a family of linguists – people who loved studying foreign languages. In her childhood and teens she mastered French and Spanish, so by the time she was thinking about what she wanted to study at university she was looking for a new challenge. She chose Chinese at Cambridge and in 1971 following her graduation, she was able to visit China with the first British youth delegation allowed to enter the country for a long time.

When Wood returned to the UK she got a job in the library at SOAS – the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies. She found it wonderful to be surrounded by students and teachers speaking Chinese and being able to choose books about China to equip the library. But Wood was still keen to improve her Chinese spoken language so she returned to China in 1975 on a British Council scholarship for a year.

The pinnacle of her career was to restore the Diamond Sutra. In 1900 a walled-in enclosure was excavated by Wang Yuanlu, a Taoist monk who had long been a custodian of a cave complex in Dunhuang and the treasures contained within them. Inside were thousands of priceless manuscripts dating from the early days of Chinese Buddhism. To fund the restoration, Wang sold some of the manuscripts to foreign scholars. Thousands were brought back to London by an archaeologist called Aurel Stein in 1907, including the Diamond Sutra – an incredible scroll described as the world’s earliest printed book. This remarkable manuscript and the other treasures taken from the caves would keep Wood busy for a large part of her career.

Presenter: Louise Greenwood
Diamond Sutra extract read by Quan Chenchen

Series Producer: Elizabeth Mearns

Producers: Alice Castle, Sun Lan

Sound Editor: Terry Wilson

Bridge Builders Series Editor: Guo Chun

Heart UK