An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

Yeke congshu 野客叢書 and Yelao jiwen 野老紀聞

Aug 28, 2013 © Ulrich Theobald

Yeke congshu 野客叢書 "A collection of conversations with guests from the villages" is a "brush-notes"-style book (biji 筆記) written during the Southern Song period 南宋 (1127-1279) by Wang Mao 王楙 (1151-1213), courtesy name Mianfu 勉夫. He hailed from Changzhou 長洲 (near modern Suzhou 蘇州, Jiangsu) and had to support his mother as a widow. Only after he death he was free to begin preparing for the state examinations, and therefore withdrew into his Fending Study 分定齋. Yet in the end he never tried to take part in the examinations, but produced a lot of scholarly writings, like Chaojie gaobi 巢睫稿筆 or Xiaoming quanzi 小名犬子.

The Yeke congshu is his only surviving book. It has a length of 30 juan and includes and appendix called Yelao jiwen 野老紀聞 "Records of hearsay from the old man in the village". The texts consists of 681 short chapters and mainly comments on ancients texts, from the Confucian Classics to books on history, inscriptions of stelae, geographic treatises, philology, poems, and various themes from the administrative system, economy, customs and habits, and many different objects and stories. There are two prefaces written by the author, one written in 1195, and one in 1202. Wang Mao was a widely knowledgeable scholar who had carefully read the texts he commented on. His book is therefore exceptionally helpful and was compared by the compilers of the imperial series Siku quanshu 四庫全書 with similar writings like the Mengxi bitan 夢溪筆談, Xiangsu zaji 緗素雜記 or Rongzhai suibi 容齋隨筆, a statement that Li Ciming 李慈銘 (1830-1895) later found somewhat exaggerated. He prefers to compare the Yeke congshu with books like Yongyou xianping 甕牖閒評, Xuezhai zhanbi 學齋占畢, Oujian 寓簡 or Shupu 鼠璞.

In fact it can be seen in many chapters that the author failed to use the right texts to bring forward his arguments and instead often relies on doubtful scholarly sources like the books Kongcongzi 孔叢子, Hanwu gushi 漢武故事 or Liexianzhuan 列仙傳, all of which were not original sources but later forgeries. He also made a substantial number of factual errors and wrong attributions when quoting from poems, and even linguistic errors (like the use of the conjunction 即 as a coordinative in the histories Shiji 史記 and Hanshu 漢書, and not as a temporal or modal conjunction).

The appendix Yelao jiwen was written by Wang Mao's father Wang Dacheng 王大成. It is 39-paragraphs-long and provides stories about the history of the Song dynasty, especially during the Yuanyou reign-period 元祐 (1086-1093), but it also includes some remarks on literature. The text has not been revised by Wang Mao, but he imitated the structure of the Shangu ji 山谷集 where Huang Tingjian 黃庭堅 (1045-1105) added the writings of his father Huang Shu 黄庶, the Fatanji 伐檀集, as a supplement to his own book.

The Yeke congshu is transmitted in several different versions. The series Baihai 稗海, Siku quanshu, Biji xiaoshuo daguan 筆記小說大觀 and Congshu jicheng chubian 叢書集成初編 include a 30-juan version, the Baoyantang miji 寶顏堂秘笈 a 12-juan version, and the Shuofu 說郛 a heavily abridged version. In 1987 the Zhonghua Shuju Press 中華書局 published a critical modern edition with annotations by Wang Wenjin 王文錦, as part of the collection Xueshu biji congkan 學術筆記叢刊. In 1991 the Shanghai Guji Press 上海古籍出版社 published a critical edition with annotations by Zheng Ming 鄭明 and Wang Yiyao 王義耀 in the series Songdai biji congshu 宋代筆記叢書.

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