An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

Songshu 宋書

Jul 3, 2010 © Ulrich Theobald

Songshu 宋書 "Book of the Song Dynasty" is the official dynastic history (zhengshi 正史) of the Song dynasty 劉宋 (420-479) that was founded by Liu Yu 劉裕 and is therefore commonly called Liu-Song 劉宋, in order to distinguish it from the great Song 宋 (960-1279), the official dynastic history of which is called Songshi 宋史.

The Songshu was written by the scholar and poet Shen Yue 沈約 (441–513). Shen Yue also wrote a history of the Jin period 晉 (265-420) that has not survived. The Songshu comprises 10 juan of imperial annals-biography (benji 本紀), 30 juan of treatises (zhi 志), and 60 of normal and collective biographies (liezhuan 列傳). A part of the chapters was destroyed over time, and is therefore in modern editions supplemented by chapters from the Nanshi 南史, a parallel history covering the whole Southern Dynasties period 南朝 (420-589).

The position of some of the treatises was originally at the end of the book, but they were later placed in-between the two types of biographies. The treatises cover the themes musical tuning and calendar (11-13 Lüli zhi 律曆志), state rituals (14-18 Li zhi 禮志), court music (19-22 Yue zhi 樂志), astronomy (23-26 Tianwen zhi 天文志), omens and portents (27-29 Furui zhi 符瑞志), the Five Agents (30-34 Wuxing zhi 五行志), administrative geography (35-38 Zhoujun zhi 州郡志) and state offices (39-40 Baiguan zhi 百官志).

The biographies include collective ones on the imperial consorts and their relatives (41 Houfei liezhuan 后妃列傳), the imperial house (51 Zongshi liezhuan 宗室列傳, 61, 68, 72, 79, 80, 90), persons of filial conduct (91 Xiaoyi liezhuan 孝義列傳), benevolent officials (92 良吏列傳), scholars living in seclusion (93 Yinyi liezhuan 隱逸列傳), imperial favourites (94 Enxing liezhuan 恩倖列傳), and "barbarians" (95 Suolu liezhuan 索虜列傳, 96 Xianbei Tuyuhun liezhuan 鮮卑吐谷渾列傳, 97 Yiman liezhuan 夷蠻列傳, and 98 Dihu liezhuanEr xiong 二凶, 99), the princes Liu Shao 劉劭 and Liu Jun 劉濬, and the postface, combined with a biography, by the author (100 Zixu 自序).

Shen Yue submitted his Songshu to the throne in 487. His history is based on an earlier book of the same title, compiled by He Chengtian 何承天, Su Baosheng 蘇寶生 and Xu Yuan 徐爰. This book was already written during the Liu-Song period, and Shen Yue supplemented the missing ten-odd years until the end of the dynasty. His first version had only 70 juan and he only added the treatises later.

The Songshu is a relatively long book in relation to the years it covers. His has a lot to do with the accurateness with which the biographies of the families of the local elites are described.

The bibliographic chapter Jingji zhi 經籍志 in the dynastic history Suishu 隋書 lists two more books with the title Songshu (both 65-juan long), one written by Xu Yuan 徐爰 (394–475), and the other by Sun Yan 孫嚴. Yet another Songshu with a length of 61 juan was written during the Daming reign-period 大明 (457–464). It was already lost in the early Tang period 唐 (618-907). The bibliographic chapters in the Jiutangshu 舊唐書 and Xintangshu 新唐書 furthermore lists Wang Zhishen's 王智深 Songji 宋紀 or Songshu (30 juan). Among the chronicles the Suishu bibliography lists two history books on the Liu-Song period, namely Pei Ziye's 裴子野 Songlüe 宋略 (20 juan) and Wang Yan's 王琰 Song chunqiu 宋春秋 (20 juan). A further book with the title Song chunqiu is attributed to Bao Hengqing 鮑衡卿.

Chittick, Andrew (2015). "Song shu", in Cynthia L. Chennault, et al., eds. Early Medieval Chinese Texts: A Bibliographical Guide (Berkeley: Institute of East Asian Studies, University of California, Berkeley), 320-323.
Zhou Yiliang 周一良 (1992). "Songshu 宋書", in Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, Zhongguo lishi 中國歷史 (Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe), Vol. 2, 1021.