An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

Zangshu 葬書

Dec 1, 2012 © Ulrich Theobald

Zangshu 葬書 "Book of burial", also called Zangjing 葬經, is a book on geomancy traditionally attributed to the Jin-period 晉 (265-420) scholar Guo Pu 郭璞 (276-324), who is known for his expertise as a magician and geomancer, as described in his biography in the official dynastic history Jinshu 晉書, as well as in Gan Bao's 干寶 (286-336?) story collection Soushenji 搜神記. The latter narrates how Guo Pu analyzed the most ideal burying place for his mother. This story is also mentioned in the book Shishuo xinyu 世說新語. Yet in fact it is far from sure whether Guo Pu was the real author of the Zangshu or not.

The earliest surviving bibliographies in the histories Jiutangshu 舊唐書 and Xintangshu 新唐書 list the books Zangshu dimai jing 葬書地脈經 and Zangshu wuyin 葬書五陰, but do not list an author. Guo Pu is first mentioned as the author of the book Zangshu in the bibliography in the history Songshi 宋史.

The short text is written in a very concise and crude language, which also shows that it was not written by a famous literate person as Guo Pu. It includes 20 chapters and became one of the most prominent books on traditional geomancy in China. During the Song period, Cai Yuanding 蔡元定 (1135-1198) shortened it to twelve chapters. It was again revised during the Yuan period (1279-1368) by Wu Cheng 吳澄 (1249-1333), who selected the most important and clearly written parts to build the "inner chapters" (neipian 內篇), while those written in a less refined style and of minor importance were to constitute the "outer chapters" (waipian 外篇). Parts of inferior quality were appended in the so-called "miscellaneous chapters" (zapian 雜篇). This is also the structure of the transmitted text.

The result of this resivion a text whose first part is written in a concise, yet elegant language. It describes the method to use places of vital energy for tombs. These energies would pacify the remains of a corpse and profit the living. The importance of water for tombs was rater higher as that of winds (the Chinese word of geomancy is fengshui 風水 "wind and water"). The Zangshu is the first Chinese book that mentions the term fengshui. Based on these premises the text describes concrete methods to select an ideal and auspicious burying place.

The Zangshu is included in the series Siku quanshu 四庫全書, Xuejin taoyuan 學津討原, Dili daquan 地理大全 and Jindai mishu 津逮秘書. In most of these collections the Zangshu is called Zangjing 葬經 "Classic of burial". This is somewhat misleading because there is also another book called Zangjing that was written by a master called Qingwuzi 青烏子 "Master Green Crow", who is sometimes identified with Prince Chulizi 樗里子 from the state of Qin 秦.

There is a translation by Stephen Field (2003-2009), The Zangshu or Book of Burial (Trinity University, San Antonio, TX), and another one by Juwen Zhang (2004), A Translation of the Ancient Chinese : the Book of Burial (Zang Shu) by Guo Pu (276-324) (Lewiston, NY: Mellen).

Chen Yongzheng 陳永正, ed. (1991). Zhongguo fangshu da cidian 中國方術大辭典 (Guangzhou: Zhongshan daxue chubanshe), 664.
Dong Defu 董德福 (1992). "Zangshu 葬書", in Zhou Gucheng 周谷城, ed. Zhongguo xueshu mingzhu tiyao 中國學術名著提要, Vol. Zhexue 哲學卷 (Shanghai: Fudan daxue chubanshe), 747.
Li Xueqin 李學勤, Lü Wenyu 呂文鬰 (1996). Siku da cidian 四庫大辭典 (Changchun: Jilin daxue chubanshe), Vol. 2, 1784.
Wang Zhenfu 王振復 (1996). "Zangshu 葬書", in Zhou Gucheng 周谷城, ed. Zhongguo xueshu mingzhu tiyao 中國學術名著提要, Vol. Yishu 藝術卷 (Shanghai: Fudan daxue chubanshe), 974.