An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art

Erya yintu 爾雅音圖

Mar 25, 2022 © Ulrich Theobald

Erya yintu 爾雅音圖 is a book providing information on the pronunciation of words included in the ancient glossary Erya 爾雅 as well as illustrations of many objects. The book of 3 juan length was written by the famous scholar Guo Pu 郭璞 (267-324).

The original images drawn by Guo (or his colleagues) were still extant during the early Tang period 唐 (618-907), as the book is recorded in the bibliographical chapter Jingji zhi 經籍志 of the official dynastic history Suishu 隋書. It is quite probable that the phonetic commentaries and the drawings were two separate books (Erya zan 爾雅贊 and Erya tu 爾雅圖).

The Qing-period 清 (1644-1911) publisher Zeng Yu 曾燠 (1760-1831), courtesy name Shufan 庶蕃 or Bingu 賓谷, made use of Song-period 宋 (960-1279) prints for his edition that was published in 1801 by Zeng's Yixue Studio 藝學軒. This means that the images of the Qing-period version originate in drawings from the Song and perhaps the Yuan period 元 (1279-1368), as Zeng explains in his preface. However, the composition of the images might be the same as in Guo's original.

Figure 1. Drawings of animals and plants in the Erya yintu 爾雅音圖

The transmitted Erya yintu thus includes the core text of the Erya, notes and phonetic explanations by Guo Pu, as well as images for many terms from chapter 5 (Shi gong 釋宮) on. In the last chapters (beginning with Shi cao 釋草), each lemma has an image of its own. The drawings are put at the beginning of each chapter.

Li Xueqin 李學勤, Lü Wenyu 呂文郁, eds. (1996). Siku da cidian 四庫大辭典 (Changchun: Jilin dauxe chubanshe), Vol. 1, 639.