An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art

Shiyiji 拾遺記

Nov 28, 2010 © Ulrich Theobald

Shiyiji 拾遺記 "Records of picked-up leftovers" is a collection of phantastic stories compiled by the Eastern Jin period 東晉 (317-420) writer Wang Jia 王嘉, courtesy name Wang Zinian 王子年. The book is also known under the name Wang Zinian shiyi ji 王子年拾遺記 or Shiyilu 拾遺錄. According to his biography in the official dynastic history Jinshu 晉書 Wang Jia came from Anyang 安陽 in the commandery of Longxi 隴西 (modern Weiyuan 渭源, Gansu) and was a famous Daoist master of his time. He lived in the valley of Dongyang 東陽, refrained from eating grain, wore unadorned clothes and ingested breath as his diet. He had several hundred disciples that all lived in mountain caves. Later on he moved to Mt. Zhongnan 終南, then to Mt. Shoushan 獸山. Fu Jian 苻堅 (r. 356-384), emperor of the Former Qin dynasty 前秦 (351-394), several times invited him to a court audience, but Wang Jia declined. It is said that Wang Jia was able to predict the future and was killed when he announced an unpleasant future to Yao Chang 姚萇 (r. 384-393), emperor of the Later Qin 後秦 (384-417).
The received version was probably rearranged by the Liang period 梁 (502-557) scholar Prince Xiao Qi 蕭綺 who says in the preface that the original version was 19 juan "scrolls" long and incluced 22 chapters. Part of the book was lost during the disturbances in northern China after the disintegratin of the Former Qin empire. From that time on the book was only 10 juan long and was known with the title Shiyilu. The Ming period 明 (1368-1644) scholar Hu Yinglin 胡應麟 was therefore of the opinion that the book was a forgery by Xiao Qi and not a compilation of Wang Jia, but this assumption cannot be supported.
The first nine chapters include stories of supernatural events and persons of superhuman abilities from the times of mythology (Pao Xi 庖犧, Shen Nong 神農 or the Yellow Emperor 黃帝) down to Wang's own time (Eastern Jin dynasty and the Later Zhao dynasty 後趙, 319-350). Some of the stories about persons from the Han 漢 (206 BCE-220 CE) and Cao-Wei 曹魏 (220-265) periods have nevertheless some historiographical character. The last chapter includes a description of eight mountains and islands where a lot of immortals were said to live, namely the Kunlun Range 崑崙, Penglai 蓬萊, Fangzhang 方丈, Yingzhou 瀛洲, Yuanjiao 員嶠, Huoyu 貸輿, Kunwu 昆吾 and Dongting 洞庭.
The Shiyiji belongs to the literary category of "stories of strange events" (zhiguai 志怪). A lot of the stories (Guanyue cha 貫月槎 or Lunbo zhou 淪波舟) are of high literary value, not only because of the language, but also because of the phantastic plots. The stories are therefore often quoted by later authors, especially the story how the Han period librarian Liu Xiang 劉向 was visited at night by the appearance of an old man, or that of Jia Kui 賈逵 who at the age of 5 was able to recite the Six Classics after he had heard them read aloud by a neighbour, or the story of Lü Meng 呂蒙 studying the Yijing 易經 "Book of Changes" or that of a white monkey (baiyuan 白猿) transforming into a man.
The oldest surviving print is that of the Shide Hall 世德堂 from 1534. The Shiyiji is included in the reprint series Baihai 稗海, Gujin yishi 古今逸史, Han-Wei congshu 漢魏叢書, Guang Han-Wei congshu 廣漢魏叢書, Mishu ershiyi zhong 秘書二十一種, Gujin xiaoshi 古今小史, as well as in the Siku quanshu 四庫全書. There is a modern commentary written by Qi Zhiping 齊治平 and published in 1981 by the Zhonghua shuju press 中華書局.

Bai Huawen 白化文 (1986). "Shiyiji 拾遺記", in: Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, Zhongguo wenxue 中國文學, vol. 2, p. 744. Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe.
Lei, Jin (2015). "Shiyi ji", in Cynthia L. Chennault, et al., eds. Early Medieval Chinese Texts: A Bibliographical Guide (Berkeley: Institute of East Asian Studies, University of California, Berkeley), 302-305.
Li Xueqin 李學勤, Lü Wenyu 呂文鬰 (1996). Siku da cidian 四庫大辭典, Changchun: Jilin daxue chubanshe, vol. 2, p. 2169.