An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art

Lixue zhinan 吏學指南

Feb 20, 2021 © Ulrich Theobald

Lixue zhinan 吏學指南 "Compass of administrative knowledge", full title Xili youxue zhinan 習吏幼學指南, is a manual on local administration compiled by Xu Yuanrui 徐元瑞 during the Yuan period 元 (1279-1368). Of the author, practically nothing is known, except that he hailed from Wujun 吳郡 or Pingjiang 平江 (both being the names of today's Suzhou 蘇州, Jiangsu). The book with a length of 8 juan was finished in 1301.

In his preface, Xu explained that good government presumed a decent understanding of law and legal procedures (yu zhi bi xian ming yu fa 欲治必先明乎法), and holds – in a very legalist manner – that "clear punishments make the people obedient" (xing ming er qing, min zi fu yi 刑明而清,民自服矣). Xu collected examples form the past and present times to compile a handbook on good government on the local level. He interpreted his own book as a kind of "enlightenment" literature (qimeng 啟蒙), a term normally used for elementary learning.

Even if the author used legalist arguments for local governance, he also held in high esteem the Confucian paradigm of benevolence to compliant subjects. The book consists of 91 small chapters and no less than 2,109 "articles" of quotations from ancient literature each of which is explained in a few words.

Fig. 1. Page from the Lixue zhinan 吏學指南
First page of the chapter on money (taxes) and public construction work (Qianliang zaozuo 錢糧造作). Lemmata are printed in large characters, followed by definitions and examples in smaller ones, like 課程,征稅之曰 xxx.

The book does not only give insight into the procedures and the philosophy of judicial administration of the Yuan period, but also the technical terms of the time. It was part of the anonymous collection Jujia biyong shilei quanji 居家必用事類全集 from the early Ming period 明 (1368-1644), and is listed in the books analyzed (cunmu 存目, "existing texts") by the compilers of the imperial series Siku quanshu 四庫全書, but is not part of the series itself. In 1951, the Tōyōshi kenkyūkai 東洋史研究會 published a modern edition, and in 1979 the Taiwanese Wenha Press 文海出版社。 Contemporary copies survive in Japan and Korea. A modern, annotated edition was published in 1988 by the Zhejiang guji Press 浙江古籍出版社.

Guo Chaoying 郭超颖, Wang Chenglüe 王承略 (2015). "Cong Lixue zhinan kan Yuandai liyuan yishi 从《吏学指南》看元代吏员意识", Jiangxi shehui kexue 江西社会科学, 2015 (2): 114-119.
Li Xueqin 李學勤, Lü Wenyu 呂文郁, ed. (1996). Siku da cidian 四庫大辭典 (Changchun: Jilin daxue chubanshe), Vol. 1, 1430.
Wang Hanqing 汪汉卿, Zhang Shanbin 章善斌 (1992). "Lixue zhinan zhong de falü sixiang 《吏学指南》中的法律思想", Xueshu jie 学术界, 1992 (2): 61-65.
Xia Lingwei 夏令伟 (2017). "Lixue zhinan yu Weizheng jiuyao shi wei er shu bian 《吏学指南》与《为政九要》实为二书辨", Jianghai xuekan 江海学刊, 2017 (6): 161.
Yang Shitie 杨世铁 (2014). "Lixue zhinan de cishu xingzhi 《吏学指南》的辞书性质", Huaibei Shifan Daxue xuebao (Zhexue shehui kexue ban) 淮北师范大学学报(哲学社会科学版), 2014 (5): 47-49.
Ye Xinmin 叶新民 (1988). "Yi bu Yuanchao gongwen yongyu cidian: Lixue zhinan jianjie 一部元朝公文用语辞典——《吏学指南》简介", Neimenggu shehui kexue 内蒙古社会科学, 1988 (6): 68-71.