An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

Suishu 隋書

Jul 10, 2010 © Ulrich Theobald

Suishu 隋書 "Book of the Sui" is the official dynastic history (zhengshi 正史) of the Sui dynasty 隋 (581-618). It is 85-juan long, of which 5 juan are imperial annals-biographies (benji 本紀), 30 juan treatises (zhi 志), and 50 juan normal and collective biographies (liezhuan 列傳). The book covers the time frame from 581 to 618, when the Tang dynasty 唐 (618-907) was founded.

The imperial decree to compile the official history of the Sui was issued in 629. The compilation of the biographies was supervised by Wei Zheng 魏徵 (580–643, courtesy name Xuancheng 玄成), and the leaders of the compilation team were Yan Shigu 顏師古 (581–645), Kong Yingda 孔穎達 (574–648) and Xu Jingzong 許敬宗 (592–672). The book was completed in 636. The treatises were compiled by Yu Zhining 于志寧 (588–665), Li Chunfeng 李淳風 (602–670), Li Yanshou 李延壽 (dates unknown) and Yan Shigu, the supervision was taken over by Linghu Defen 令狐德芬 (who was also author of the dynastic history Zhoushu 周書), later by Zhangsun Wuji 長孫無忌 (594–659), and they were finished in 656.

The treatises were not only compiled separately, but were also dealt with as a separate book, Wudaishi zhi 五代史志 "Treatises to the five dynastic histories" (not the Five Dynasties!), namely Liang 梁 (502-557), Chen 陳 (557-589) , Northern Zhou 北周 (557-581), Northern Qi 北齊 (550-577), and Sui. This book was only later directly attached to the Suishu.

The particular histories of these dynasties, the Liangshu 梁書, Chenshu 陳書, Zhoushu 周書 and Beiqishu 北齊書, contain no treatises, but information on the administrative policy of these dynasties is to be found in the Suishu, although in a not very reliable state.

While the treatise on measures, mathematics and calendar (16-18 Lüli zhi 律曆志), for instance, also deals with the Southern and Northern dynasties 南北朝 (300~600), the geography treatise (29-31 Dili zhi 地理志) reflects the administrative situation of the Sui period. The bibliographic treatise (32-35 Jingji zhi 經籍志) in the Suishu is of great importance because it is the first library catalogue after that of the Later Han period 後漢 (25-220 CE), the Yiwen zhi 藝文志 of the history Hanshu 漢書. It includes information on the size of books and remarks if some of them were still recorded in Liang period catalogues but were lost until the beginning of the Tang period.

The other treatises deal with rituals and ceremonies (6-12 Liyi zhi 禮儀志), court music (13-15 Yinyue zhi 音樂志), musical tuning and calendar (26-28 Lüli zhi 律曆志), astronomy (19-21 Tianwen zhi 天文志), the Five Agents (22-23 Wuxing zhi 五行志), food and commodities (24 Shihuo zhi 食貨志), penal law (25 Xingfa zhi 刑法志), and state offices (26-28 Baiguan zhi 百官志).

The collective biographies narrate the lives of imperial consorts (36 Houfei zhuan 后妃傳), the imperial house (43-45, 59), persons of a sincere and modest character (71 Chengjie zhuan 誠節傳), persons of filial conduct (72 Xiaoyu zhuan 孝義傳), benevolent officials (73 Xunli zhuan 循吏傳), cruel officials (74 Kuli zhuan 酷吏傳), Confucian scholars (75 Rulin zhuan 儒林傳), writers (76 Wenxue zhuan 文學傳), scholars living in seclusion (77 Yinyi zhuan 隱逸傳), magicians and diviners (78 Yishu zhuan 藝術傳), kinsmen of imperial consorts (79 Waiqi zhuan 外戚傳), outstanding women (80 Lienü zhuan 列女傳), and "barbarians" (81 Dongyi zhuan 東夷傳, 82 Nanman zhuan 南蠻傳, 83 Xiyu zhuan 西域傳, 84 Beidi zhuan 北狄傳).

The last chapter (85) includes the biographies of half a dozen of rebels.

There was already an older history of the foundation of the Sui dynasty, with the same title, written by Wang Shao 王劭 and a length of 80 juan. The extant Suishu surely relied on this source, and this fact gives some of the biographies great reliability and a vivid style because of the short time distance between the writings and the events they describe. Zhang Dasu 張大素 also wrote a Suishu (30 or 32 juan), and Zhao Yi 趙毅 the chronicle Sui Daye lüeji 隋大業略記 (3 juan, covering the events of the reign-period Daye, 605–616). A book called 隋史 (20 juan) was written by Wu Jing 吳兢. Two more books on the Sui dynasty are to be found in the bibliographic chapter of the universal history Tongzhi 通志: Suiji 隋紀 (20 juan) by Lü Cai 呂才 and a book of the same title (10 juan) written by Qiu Qiqi 邱啟期. The same catalogue also lists a book called Suizhi 隋志, with a length of 30 juan. This book is nothing else than the above-mentioned collection of treatises, Wudaishi zhi.

The first print of the Suishu was produced in 1024, but no copy has survived. Two other Song period printings have only survived in fragments. The Suishu version of the Bona edition 百衲本 is based on a print from the Yuan period 元 (1279-1368). The most widespread version during the Qing period 清 (1644-1911) was the print of the imperial Hall of Military Glory (Wuyingdian 武英殿). In 1973 the Zhonghua Book Company 中華書局 published a modern print.

Xiong, Victor Cunrui (2015). "Sui 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), 330-324.
Zhang Zexian 張澤咸 (1992). "Suishu 隋書", 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, 1043.