An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

Tanyuan tihu 譚苑醍醐

Sep 13, 2013 © Ulrich Theobald

Tanyuan tihu 譚苑醍醐 "Refined butter from the garden of discussions" (also written 譚菀醍醐) is a "brush-notes"-style (biji 筆記) book written during the Ming period 明 (1368-1644) by Yang Shen 楊慎 (1488-1559), who also wrote the book Danqianlu 丹鉛錄.

The book of 9 juan length was finished in 1542. In the preface the author explains that the title has been chosen according to a proverb which says that animals produce milk, milk becomes butter, and butter is turned into clarified butter (tihu 醍醐), which is a symbol of wisdom or purity. Yang Shen wanted to express that his book was something written in his old, "refined" years. It includes a lot of interesting information about ancient texts and adds valuable comments to these. He found out, for instance, that Nangong Shi 南宮適, who is mentioned in the Confucian Classic Shangshu 尚書 "Book of Documents", was the same person as Nangong Baida 南宮百達 (or Nangong Boda 南宮伯達), or that the chart of the Former Heaven (xiantiantu 先天圖) was invented by Xiyi 希夷 (i.e., Chen Tuan 陳摶, 871-989), and that of the Later Heaven (houtiantu 後天圖) by Kangjie 康節 (i.e., Shao Yong 邵雍, 1012-1077), some generations earlier, but in the same line of teachers, which had not been found out by the great Neo-Confucian master Zhu Xi 朱熹 (1130-1200). Another example is the story of how the military strategist Zhuge Liang 諸葛亮 (181-234) built a makeshift bridge of bamboo in order to attack Sima Yi 司馬懿 (179-251) which is not reported in the official history Sanguozhi 三國志, but quoted in the Shuijingzhu 水經注.

In some instances Yang Shen is able to rectify textual errors, like the sentence youjun qinzhen 右軍清真 in the Shishuo xinyu 世說新語 which was erroneously transformed into youjun qinggui 右軍清貴 in some editions. In this case, a quotation in a poem by Li Bai 李白 (701-762) served to unveil the mistake.

The Tanyuan tihu is to be found in the series Siku quanshu 四庫全書 and Hanhai 函海 (in a 8-juan version) that has been reproduced in the Congshu jicheng chubian 叢書集成初編.

Li Xueqin 李學勤, Lü Wenyu 呂文鬰, eds. (1996). Siku da cidian 四庫大辭典 (Changchun: Jilin daxue chubanshe), Vol. 2, 1926.
Ouyang Zhongwei 歐陽忠偉 (1996). "Tanyuan tihu 譚苑醍醐", in Jiang Zuyi 蔣祖怡, Chen Zhichun 陳志椿, eds. Zhongguo shihua cidian 中國詩話辭典 (Beijiing: Beijing chubanshe), 413.
Wu Feng 吳楓, ed. (1994). Zhonghua gu wenxian da cidian 中華古文獻大辭典, Vol. Wenxue 文學卷 (Changchun: Jilin wenshi chubanshe), 743.
Zhu Taiyan 朱太巖 (1988). "Tanyuan tihu 譚苑醍醐", in Zhao Jihui 趙吉惠, Guo Hou'an 郭厚安, eds. Zhongguo ruxue cidian 中國儒學辭典 (Shenyang: Liaoning renmin chubanshe), 456.