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Excerpts of History Books (shichao lei 史鈔類)

Jul 8, 2010 © Ulrich Theobald

Excerpts of History Books (shichao lei 史鈔類) is a subcategory in traditional Chinese bibliographies and part of the category of Historiography (shibu 史部).

The literary type of excerpts of history books is said to have been based on Confucius' editing of ancienct historiographic texts, of which he chose one hundred chapters that became the Classic Shangshu 尚書. The Shangshu might therefore be called the first excerpt of a (putative) corpus of 3,240 texts. The rest was allegedly lost, and only a few fragments might survive in alternative histories (bieshi 別史) like Shangshu dazhuan 尚書大傳 or Yizhoushu 逸周書.

The bibliographic chapter in the official dynastic history Songshi 宋史 is the first catalogue that included a distinct category for such excerpts, but a closer look at earlier catalogues shows that the type of excerpts from histories was older: The bibliographic chapter (Jingji zhi 經籍志) in the Suishu 隋書, for instance, lists among the miscellaneous histories (zashi 雜史) the books Shiyao 史要 by Wei Sa 衛颯 (Han period) which was an excerpt of the history Shiji 史記, and Zhang Wen's 張溫 (3rd cent.) Sanshi lüe 三史略, which seems to have been excerpts from the histories Shiji, Hanshu 漢書 and Houhanshu 後漢書.

Ge Hong 葛洪 (283-343 or 363) wrote the excerpt Hanshu chao 漢書鈔, Zhang Mian 張緬 (6th cent.) Jinshu chao 晉書鈔 and Houhan lüe 後漢略, and Ruan Xiaoxu 阮孝緒 is credited with the excerpt Zhengshi xiaofan 正史削繁, with a length of 94 juan, presenting the most important passages of the official dynastic histories written until that time.

In the catalogue of the Songshi, four great excerpt texts are listed, namely Tongjian zonglei 通鑒總類 by Shen Shu 沈樞 (fl. 1163-1189), Shiqishi xiangjie 十七史詳節 by Lü Zuqian 呂祖謙 (1137-1181), Shi-Han jingyu 史漢精語 (anonymous? XXX) and Yang Kan's 楊侃 Liang-Han bowen 兩漢博聞. The spirit of these texts follows, according to the descriptive bibliography Siku quanshu zongmu tiyao, Han Yu's 韓愈 (768-824) postulation to reduce texts to the core of their statements, leaving out all debaucheries.

Excerpts presenting the quintessence of important history books were to be distinguished from specialized studies like Ni Si's 倪思 (1147-1220) Ban-Ma tongyi 班馬異同 (being a comparative study of expressions in the Shiji and Hanshu, Ban and Ma are abbreviations of the authors' names Ban Gu 班固 and Sima Qian 司馬遷), Lou Ji's 婁機 (1133-1212) Ban-Ma zilei 班馬字類 (being a phonetic study of these two texts), or the anonymous Sanguozhi wenlei 三國志文類, which only assembled literary writings quoted in the Sanguozhi, and not historical facts.

The imperial collectanea Siku quanshu 四庫全書 includes only 4 texts of the category of excerpts from history, while the cunmu 存目 part ("list of existing books") in the bibliography Siku quanshu zongmu tiyao describes 40 books, of which nearly half are disputable whether they do not belong to the category of historical critique (shiping 史評).

Before the creation of the shichao category, some of this type of text were integrated into the shiping category, for instance Yang Kan's Liang-Han bowen in the catalogue Junzhai dushu zhi 郡齋讀書志.

Earlier bibliographies list more texts of this ambiguous sort. The bibliographic chapter in the Songshi, which is the largest catalogue inside dynastic histories at all, lists 74 books of this type, the Qianqingtang shumu 千頃堂書目 still 58.

Chen Di's 陳第 (1541-1617) catalogue Shishantang cangshu mulu 世善堂藏書目錄 includes a special type of excerpt, namely excerpts from tongjian texts (jianxuan 鑑選, refers to Sima Guang's 司馬光 universal history Zizhi tongjian 資治通鑑), including the Lidai tongjian zuanyao 歷代通鑑纂要 by Li Dongyang 李東陽 (1447-1516), and Lidai tongjian xuanyao 歷代通鑑選要 that both later served as blueprintes for the official textbook Lidai tongjian jilan 歷代通鑑輯覽.

Table 1. Excerpts of History Books
兩漢博聞 十二卷 Liang-Han bowen (Song) 楊侃 Yang Kan
通鑑總類 二十卷 Tongjian zonglei (Song) 沈樞 Shen Shu
十七史詳節 二百七十三卷 (存目) Shiqishi xiangjie (Song) 呂祖謙 Lü Zuqian
南史識小錄 八卷 Nanshi shixiao lu (Qing) 沈名蓀 Shen Mingsun, 朱昆田 Zhu Kuntian
北史識小錄 八卷 Beishi shixiao lu (Qing) 沈名蓀 Shen Mingsun, 朱昆田 Zhu Kuntian

* not included in the collectanea Siku quanshu 四庫全書, the catalogue Siku quanshu zongmu tiyao 四庫全書總目題要, nor the Xuxiu siku quanshu 續修四庫全書.