The historiographical genre of edicts concerned with seasons (shiling 時令) originates in the "Book of Documents" (Shangshu 尚書), where it is said that Emperor Yao 堯 "delivered respectfully the seasons" to the people and ordered Xi Zhong 羲仲 to adjust and arrange the labours of the spring, Xi Shu 羲叔 to arrange the transformations of the summer, He Zhong 和仲 to adjust and arrange the completing labours of the autumn, and He Shu 和叔 to examine the changes of the winter (according to the translation of James Legge).
His eventual successor, Emperor Shun 舜, was appointed "General Regulator" (baikui 百揆), he arranged the affairs of each department in their proper seasons and reduced to a harmonious system the movements of the Seven Directors (i.e. the seven celestial bodies Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Saturn, and Jupiter). It was believed that emperors had the duty to instruct the farming people about the tasks they had to fulfil in each month of the year.
Concrete descriptions are found in the chapter Yueling 月令 "Proceedings of government in the different months" in the Confucian Classic Liji 禮記, and in the somewhat older calendrical treatise Xia xiaozheng 夏小正 "Small calendar of the Xia", which is part of the semi-classic Da Dai Liji 大戴禮記.
In practice, texts on the "monthly edicts" were much more concerned with court rituals, as can be seen, for instance, in the Yueling, where it is said: "In this month [the first of the year] there takes place the inauguration of spring. Three days before this ceremony, the Grand recorder informs the son of Heaven, saying, 'On such and such a day is the inauguration of the spring. The energies of the season are fully seen in wood. On this the son of Heaven devotes himself to self-purification, and on the day he leads in person the three ducal ministers, his nine high ministers, the regional rulers (who are at court), and his Great officers, to meet the spring in the eastern suburb; and on their return, he rewards them all in the court. He charges his assistants to disseminate (lessons of) virtue, and harmonise the governmental orders, to give effect to the expressions of his satisfaction and bestow his favours; down to the millions of the people. Those expressions and gifts thereupon proceed, every one in proper (degree and direction). He also orders the Grand recorder to guard the statutes and maintain the laws, and (especially) to observe the motions in the heavens of the sun and moon, and of the zodiacal stars in which the conjunctions of these bodies take place, so that there should be no error as to where they rest and what they pass over; that there should be no failure in the record of all these things, according to the regular practice of early times.'" (transl. Legge).
Similar statements about the seasons and the activities of the court and the people during these are also found in the syncretist collection Lüshi chunqiu 呂氏春秋.
The term shiling itself is already used in the Han period 漢 (206 BCE-220 CE).
The bibliographic chapter in the official dynastic history Jiutangshu 舊唐書 includes the seasonal commands in the subcategory of miscellaneous writings (zajia 雜家) in the Masters section, namely Zong Lin's 宗懍 (c. 501–565) Jing-Chu suishi ji 荊楚歲時記, a book of the same title written by Du Gongzhan 杜公瞻 (or 杜公贍), then Du Taiqing's 杜臺卿 (fl. 600) Yuzhu baodian 玉燭寶典 and the Sishulu 四時錄 by Master Wang 王氏.
In the bibliographic chapter of the Xintangshu 新唐書, this type of writings is found among the agricultural treatises (nongjia 農家), along with Cui Shi's 崔寔 (c. 103-170) Simin yueling 四民月令, Sun Simiao's 孫思邈 (541 or 581－682) Sunshi qianjin yualing 孫氏千金月令, Xue Deng's 薛登 (fl. 700) Sishiji 四時記, Pei Cheng's 裴澄 (late 8th cent.) Chengyu yueling 乘輿月令, Li Chuo's 李綽 (d. 862) Qinzhong suishi ji 秦中歲時記 or Wei Xinggui's 韋行規 (9th cent.) Baosheng yuelu 保生月錄.
The bibliography Chongwen zongmu 崇文總目 is the first catalogue that created an own category for this type of writings, called suishi 歲時 "seasons of the year", with 15 texs, including - apart from the already mentioned texts - Guochao shiling 國朝時令 by Jia Changchao 賈昌朝 (998-1065), Li Yong's 李邕 (674-746) Jingu yuanji 金谷園記, Liu Anjing's 劉安靖 (dates unknown) Shijian xinshu 時鑒新書, Han E's 韓鄂 (Tang) Sishi zuanyao 四時纂要 and Suihua jili 歲華紀麗, Sixu zongyao 四序總要, Sishulu 四時錄, Zhoushu yueling 周書月令, Yueling xiaoshu 月令小疏 (an anonymous commentary to the Yueling), Shi'eryue zuanyao 十二月纂要, and Qiren yueling 齊人月令 by or attributed to Sun Simiao.
The catalogue Junzhai dushu zhi 郡齋讀書志 again shifts these texts to the agricultural section, while Zheng Qiao 鄭樵 (1104–1162), with his elaborate classification in the univeral history Tongzhi 通志, created a separate section for texts on the Yueling chapter, where books on the seasonal commands are to be found.
From the late Song period 宋 (960-1279) on, all bibliographies have own chapters for the shiling texts, but the classification of the individual texts is different. The catalogue Zhizhai shulu jieti 直齋書錄解題, for instance, classifies the Sishi zuanyao as a text on agriculture. Huang Yuji's 黃虞稷 (1629-1691) catalogue Qianqingtang shumu 千頃堂書目 includes in this category - as is often the case in this catalogue - rare books that are not found in other bibliogrpahies, like Huang Jian's 黃諫 (1412-1471) Yueling tongzuan 月令通纂, Lu Han's 盧翰 (early 15th cent.) Yueling tongkao 月令通考, Yuan Zhi's 袁袠 (1502-1547) Suishiji 歲時記, Xu Zhongyu's 許仲譽 (late 16th cent.) Yueling shiji 月令事紀, Chen Jingbang's 陳經邦 (1537-1615) Yueling zuanyao 月令纂要 or Wu Jiayan's 吳嘉言 (1507-1585) Siji xuzhi 四季須知.
The imperial collectanea Siku quanshu 四庫全書 includes only two full texts of the seasons edicts genre, namely Chen Yuangui's 陳元靚 Suishi guangji 歲時廣記, and the actual, imperially commissioned, Yueling jiyao 月令輯要, compiled by Li Guangdi 李光地 (1642-1718) and others. The descriptive catalogue Siku quanshu zongmu tiyao 四庫全書總目提要 describes eleven more texts in the cunmu 存目 part, all compiled during the Ming 明 (1368-1644) and early Qing 清 (1644-1911) periods. The Jing-Chu suishi ji is to be found among the geographies, and the other ancient texts (Simin yueling, Sishi zuanyao or Yuzhu baodian) not at all.
|夏小正||Xia xiaozheng (part of → Da Dai Liji 大戴禮記)||(Zhou) NN|
|月令||Yueling (part of → Liji 禮記)||(Zhou) NN|
|歲時廣記 四卷||Suishi guangji||(Song) 陳元靚 Chen Yuanjing|