An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art

Yin Yun xiaoshuo 殷芸小說

Sep 29, 2012 © Ulrich Theobald

Yin Yun xiaoshuo 殷芸小說 "Stories by Yin Yun" is a collection of short stories compiled by the Liang period 梁 (502-557) scholar Yin Yun 殷芸 (471-529), courtesy name Yin Guanshu 殷灌蔬, who came from Chenjun 陳郡 (modern Xihua 西華, Henan). He was famous for his high-minded spirit and his excellent knowledge in all fields. Emperor Wu 齊武帝 (r. 482-493) of the Southern Qi dynasty 南齊 (479-502) therefore appointed him 行参军 of the Prince of Yidu 宜都. Whith the foundation of the Liang dynasty he became a secretary (sheren 舍人) of the Prince of Linjiang 臨江. He also served as gentleman cavalier attendant (sanji shilang 散騎侍郎), left ministerial aide (shangshu zuocheng 尚書左丞), secretary in the Imperial Secretariat (Zhongshu sheren 中書舍人), professor in the Directorate of Education (guozi boshi 國子博士) and reader-in-waiting (shidu 侍讀) of Prince Zhaoming 昭明太子. He was finally appointed director of the Palace Library (mishujian 秘書監) and then left administrator in the Ministry of Education (situ zuo zhangshi 司徒左長史).
His 10 juan "scrolls" long book Xiaoshuo is the oldest Chinese text that is called xiaoshuo 小說 "talks about petty matters". It evolved as a collection of stories that could not be included in official histories because of their irrelevance to political questions. Yin Yun decided not to discard these stories but to collect them in a separate volume as semi-historical stories. The borderline between fact and fiction can therefore not clearly be seen in the stories of Yin Yun's Xiaoshuo. They cover the time from the Zhou period 周 (11th. cent.-221 BC) down to the Southern Qi and are arranged according to ages, but partially also according to rulers, which are positioned at the beginning of the book (Rulers; Zhou to Former Han 前漢; Later Han 後漢; Wei 曹魏; Wu 吳 and Shu 蜀; Jin 晉 and north China; Song 劉宋 and Qi). The novellas in his book were to a large extent not invented by Yin Yun but were based on quotations and short paragraphs of a wide range of ancient books. Yin Yun enlarged these stories and brought them into a literary form. Only a small part has been created by Yin Yun himself. The content is not only historiographical but also includes ghost stories, tales, personal stories, or reports about local customs. The language is very descriptive and brings the Xiaoshuo into the vicinity of high-standing literature as the Shishuo xinyu 世說新語.
The original book was 30 juan "scrolls" long but two thirds were already lost in the early Tang period 唐 (618-907). During the Song period 宋 (960-1279) the book was called Shang Yun xiaoshuo 商芸小說, in order to avoid the word 殷, which is homophonic to the personal name of the dynastic founder, Zhao Kuangyin 趙匡胤 (Emperor Taizu 宋太祖, r. 960-975). The Republican scholar Lu Xun 魯迅 believed that the rest of the book still existed at the beginning of the Ming period 明 (1368-1644) . He was nevertheless able to collect 135 fragments of the Xiaoshuo quoted in other books. Yu Jiaxi 余嘉錫 has assembled 154 fragments that formed 10 juan of surviving paragraphs. Yu's collection is called Yin Yun xiaoshuo jizheng 殷芸小說輯證 and is included in his book Yu Jiaxi lunxue zazhu 余嘉錫論學雜著. The collection of Lu Xun is to be found in his reprint series Gu Xiaoshuo gouchen 古小說鉤沉. In 1984 Zhou Lengjia 周楞枷 has published a modern edition that it based on these two earlier collections.

Li Xueqin 李學勤, Lü Wenyu 呂文鬰 (1996). Siku da cidian 四庫大辭典, vol. 2, p. 2172. Changchun: Jilin daxue chubanshe.