An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art

Cangshu 藏書

Mar 18, 2012 © Ulrich Theobald

Cangshu 藏書 "Concealed book", also called Lishi Cangshu 李氏藏書, is an historical critique written by the Ming period 明 (1368-1644) philosopher Li Zhi 李贄 (1527-1602). Li Zhi was a leading critic of the political circumstances of his time. He therefore retired from office and dedicated himself to teaching. The 68-juan long Cangshu was written during the 1580s and not intended to be published, yet because Li Zhi's friends had access to the book, he was more or less compelled to have it printed in 1599.

The Cangshu is a critical collection of biographies from the Warring States 戰國 (5th cent.-221 BCE) to the Yuan period 元 (1279-1368). It sources are mainly the official dynastic histories and the universal history Zizhi tongjian 資治通鑒. It is divided according to the bureaucratic and social position of persons, each section being introduced by a preface and finished by a critical discussion, in which Li Zhi brings forwards his own political standpoint. 8 juan include biographies of emperors, while the other biographies are divided into grand ministers (dachen 大臣), eminent officials (mingchen 名臣), Confucian scholars (ruchen 儒臣), military officials (wuchen 武臣), rapacious officials (zeichen 賊臣), relatives in offices (qinchen 親臣), intimate officials (jinchen 近臣) and officials of the local administration (waichen 外臣).

Li Zhi attacked high ministers for the greed for power and the Confucians for their lack of realism and a missing willingness to learn from the past and even brings forward doubts about the Confucians' abilities to govern an empire. He furthermore criticised the social cementation created by Neo-Confucian ideology. His book was therefore forbidden to circulate.

Li Zhi also wrote a 27-juan long supplement to his book called Xu cangshu 續藏書. This book analyses historical events of the Ming period, with a total sum of more than 400 biographies in 14 categories, namely "famous officials" and "meritorious officials of the dynastic founder" (kaiguo mingchen 開國名臣, kaiguo gongchen 開國功臣), "officials having died for the cause of the state" (xunguo mingchen 遜國名臣, during the Jianwen reign-period 建文), "famous officials" and "meritorious officials during the restoration period" (jingnan mingchen 靖難名臣, jingnan gongchen 靖難功臣, during the usurpation of Emperor Chengzu 明成祖), members of the central government (neige fuchen 內閣輔臣), members of the nobility (xunfeng mingchen 勛封名臣), Neo-Confucian scholars (lixue mingchen 理學名臣), literati (wenxue mingchen 文學名臣), "pure and upright persons" (qingzheng mingchen 清正名臣), "loyal and sincere persons" (zhongjie mingchen 忠節名臣), "filial and cultured persons" (xiaowen mingchen 孝文名臣), and persons of the local administration (junxian mingcheng 郡縣名臣).

Li's text is very detailed and provides rich information beyond official historiography. It was first printed in 1611, but was proscribed during the Ming and Qing period. It was nonetheless widely known. In 1959, the Zhonghua Book Company published commented editions of both books.

Ding Xiaozhi 丁孝智 (1994). "Cangshu 藏書", in Zhou Gucheng 周谷城, ed. Zhongguo xueshu mingzhu tiyao 中國學術名著提要, Vol. Lishi 歷史卷 (Shanghai: Fudan daxue chubanshe), 232.
Ding Xiaozhi 丁孝智 (1994). "Xu cangshu 續藏書", in Zhou Gucheng 周谷城, ed. Zhongguo xueshu mingzhu tiyao 中國學術名著提要, Vol. Lishi 歷史卷 (Shanghai: Fudan daxue chubanshe), 235.
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, 928.
Wu Feng 吳楓, ed. (1987). Jianming Zhongguo guji cidian 簡明中國古籍辭典 (Changchun: Jilin wenshi chubanshe), 823, 945.