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Maoshi caomu niaoshou chongyu shu 毛詩草木鳥獸蟲魚疏

Sep 13, 2013 © Ulrich Theobald

Maoshi caomu niaoshou chongyu shu 毛詩草木鳥獸蟲魚疏 "Commentary on botanical and zoological terms in the Book of Songs" is one of the oldest commentaries on the Confucian Classic Shijing 詩經 (also called Maoshi 毛詩), and specialized in the elucidation of the names of animals and plants mentioned in the songs of this book.

It was compiled by Lu Ji 陸璣, who lived in the state of Wu 吳 (222-280) during the Three Empires period 三國 (220~280). This time specification is to be found in the bibliographic chapter Jingjizhi 經籍志 in the official dynastic history Suishu 隋書, and in the register of the collection Jingdian shiwen 經典釋文, but in the book Shi zhengyi 詩正義 (Ming period 明, 1368-1644), and in the series Jindai bishu 津逮祕書 (also Ming), it is said that Lu Ji lived during the Tang period 唐 (618-907), which is purely and simply wrong. His personal name is sometimes erroneously written 機.

The transmitted version of the book is 2-juan long, but some scholars like Jiao Xun 焦循 (1763-1820) believe that part of this text has been added later, and Lü Zuqian 呂祖謙 (1137-1181) points at some quotations from the book that are not identical to the received text. The compilers of the imperial series Siku quanshu 四庫全書 also support the opinion of a later date of compilation based on fragments quoted in the commentaries Shi benyi 詩本義 and Shi zhengyi. Yet Ding Yan 丁晏 (1794-1875) stressed that the transmitted text is a perfect original which can be seen from the fact that all quotations are identical to the received text.

Irrespective of these discussions, Lu Ji's text is very helpful for the identification of the many plants and animals mentioned in the songs of the Shiji. Many terms were already outdated during the Three Empires period or used only in certain regions of China. That is why Lu Ji's book was used by later commentators, like Chen Qiyuan 陳啟源 (1834-1903) for his book Maoshi jigu bian 毛詩稽古編. It describes 48 different herbaceous plants, 31 kinds of trees, 22 types of birds, 7 "beasts" (shou 獸, i.e. non-domestic mammals), 8 kinds of fish and 16 types of "worms" (chong 蟲, i.e. all small and swarming or creeping animals).

Lu Ji explains, for instance, the expression cenci xingcai 參差荇菜 in the air Guanju 關雎 as follows:

Quotation 1. About the Plant xingcai
荇,一名接餘,白莖,葉紫赤色,正圓,徑寸,餘浮在水上,根在水底。 xing 荇 is also called jieyu 接餘. It has white stalks, and the leaves are purple-reddish and round, and have a diameter of an inch. They float on the water, while the roots of the plant are submerged.
與水深淺等大,如釵股,上青下白,其白莖以苦酒浸之,脆美,可案酒。 The total size of the plant depends on the height of the water. It has the shape of an adorned hairpin, with the upper parts green and the lower parts whitish. The white stalks can be inserted into wine, crisp and delicious as they are, to season table wine.

The Maoshi caomu niaoshou chongyu shu is to be found in the series Xu baichuan xuehai 續百川學海, Han-Wei congshu 漢魏叢書, Tang-Song congshu 唐宋叢書, Gu jingjie huihan 古經解彙函, Baoyantang miji 寶顏堂秘笈, Congshu jicheng chubian 叢書集成初編, and Shuofu 說郛 (Wanwei shantang edition).

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