An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

Mingshi jishi benmo 明史紀事本末

Jul 11, 2010 © Ulrich Theobald

Mingshi jishi benmo 明史紀事本末 "Historical events from the Ming period in their entirety" is a history of the Ming dynasty 明 (1368-1644) arranged in thematical chapters. The Qing-period 清 (1644-1911) scholar Gu Yingtai 谷應泰 (1620-1690) rearranged the official dynastic history of the Ming dynasty, the Mingshi 明史, which is composed in a biographic-thematic style (jizhuanti 紀傳體), and created a history book in topic-related style (jishi benmo ti 紀事本末體).

Gu Yingtai had taken part in the private compilation of the histories Mingshigao 明史稿, a draft to the Mingshi, and the Guoque 國榷, books which both attracted a wide readership. Following the model of the Tongjian jishi benmo 通鍳紀事本末, Gu Yingtai wrote a similarly composed history of the Ming dynasty with a length of 80 juan, each chapter dealing with one specific event and its circumstances.

The first chapters begin long before the foundation of the Ming dynasty with the rise of Zhu Yuanzhang 朱元璋 (Emperor Taizu 明太祖, r. 1368-1398). The last chapters describe the suicide of the Chongzhen Emperor 崇禎 (r. 1627-1644) after the rebel Li Zicheng 李自成 (1606-1645) had conquered Beijing. Each chapter has a short introduction and a resumé at the end. Because of its nature the book only deals marginally with economic or social history and rather stresses events and politics. It also tries to circumvene disputes about the Manchu rulers' legitimacy. A third point of critique is that it makes use of popular stories whose historical accuratness cannot be proved. The book nevertheless obtained widespread attention because of its easier approach to history than the official dynastic histories, and it was several times republished and is included in the series Siku quanshu 四庫全書.

There is a 6-juan long supplement to the book written by Gu Yingtai himself. It was written as an appendix (buyi 備遺) talking about the rise of the Jurchens in the northeast and the fights of their Manchu empire with the Ming. Later on, Gu Yingtai again took these chapters out of his book in fear that because of their content, the whole book might be prohibited by the Qing government. The respective chapters were, nonetheless, preserved in manuscript form. They contain information about the capital gazette (dibao 邸報), the Ming archives and some information from private sources, and are therefore of great importance for the study of the late Ming period. The appendix is known with its own title of Mingshi jishi benmo buyi 明史紀事本末補遺.

There is a continuation to the Mingshi jishi benmo, Xu Ming jishi benmo 續明紀事本末, written by Ni Zaitian 倪在田 (1842-1916), and also a supplement called Mingchao jishi benmo bubian 明朝紀事本末補編 compiled by Peng Sunyi 彭孫貽 (1615-1673).

In 1977 the Zhonghua shuju press 中華書局 published a modern edition, based on the edition of the Zhuyi Studio 築益堂, and enriched by some additional material, namely the Buyi 補遺 with a length of 6 juan and Peng Sunyi's Bubian 補編 with a length of 5 juan.

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