An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

Benshishi 本事詩

Jun 18, 2012 © Ulrich Theobald

Benshishi 本事詩 "Stories in verses" is a critical collection of novellas compiled by the Tang period 唐 (618-907) scholar Meng Qi 孟棨 (also written 孟啟; jinshi degree 875), courtesy name Meng Chuzhong 孟初中, who was a local government official in Wuzhou 梧州 and later became director of the Bureau of merit titles (sixun langzhong 司勛郎中). The short book Benshishi includes poetic versions of stories that were often known in prose form. The stories are divided into seven categories, namely Qinggan 情感 "Sentiments", Shigan 事感 "Affectful matters", Gaoyi 高逸 "Hidden worthies", Yuanfen 怨憤 "Sadness and anger", Zhengyi 徵異 "Inquiry into strange things", Zhengjiu 徵咎 "Inquiry into calamities"and Chaoxi 嘲戲 "Jokes". Only two stories play during the Liu-Song period 劉宋 (420-479), the others during the Tang period. The author argues that poems are more able to arouse sentiments than prose. Meng Qi was not the author of these poems but collected such stories as Wang Wei's 王維 Xi furen 息夫人 or Zhang Jiuling's 張九齡 Haiyan 海燕. In such poems it is often not very easy to reconstruct the story behind it, but there are also more lucid stories as the love between Han Hong 韓翃 and Ms Liu 柳氏, or the laments of Cui Huo 崔護 for his deceased lover. Many stories were even very popular among many generations, like that of Princess Lechang's 樂昌公主 shattering her mirror, the poem of Hongye 紅葉, a lady-in-waiting of the Shangyang Palace 上陽宮, or Liu Yuxi's 劉禹錫 admiration of peach flowers from the Xuandu Tower 玄都觀. The Benshishi provides wonderful insights of the life and fate of many famous poems and members of the educated society in Tang China. Part of the stories is, nevertheless, too phantastic to reflect historical truth, as Luo Binwang's 駱賓王 continuation of the poem "Lingyin Monastery" 靈隱寺 or Li Bai's 李白 criticism of Du Fu's 杜甫 diet.
The Benshishi was later imitated by other writers, like in Chu Changzi's 處常子 Xu benshishi 續本事詩 from the Five Dynasties period 五代 (907-960), which is lost apart of a few fragements quoted in the book Shihua zonggui 詩話總龜, or Nie Fengxian's 聶奉先 Xuguang benshishi 續廣本事詩. Nie's book consists of 15 detailed records (zhaji 札記), some of which are "records of affairs" (jishi 記事), and others critical investigations of poems (kaozheng shiju 考證詩句, jieshi shici 釋解詩詞), all written in a short, yet refined way. Each of the paragraphs is very short, and the book was therefore not appreciated by scholars. It is to be found in the collectanea Shuofu 說郛, and was published in 1959 by the Gudian wenxue press 古典文學出版社 as a appendix to the Benshishi.
The Benshishi is included in the collectanea Gujin yishi 古今逸史, Gushi sishi jia xiaoshuo 顧氏四十家小說, Jindai mishu 津逮秘書 and Lidai shihua xubian 歷代詩話續編. A modern edition was published in 1959 by the Zhonghua publishing house 中華書局, as part of the book Lidai shihua xubian.

Fu Shousun 富壽蓀 (1986). "Benshishi 本事詩", in Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, part Zhongguo wenxue 中國文學 (Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe), Vol. 1, 42.
Wu Feng 吳楓, ed. (1994). Zhonghua gudian wenxian da cidian 中華古文獻大辭典, Vol. Wenxue 文學卷 (Changchun: Jilin wenshi chubanshe), 651.