An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

Guwen guanzhi 古文觀止

May 14, 2011 © Ulrich Theobald

Guwen guanzhi 古文觀止 "Finest [examples] of ancient literature" is a collection of literary high-standing works from the Spring and Autumn period 春秋 (770-5th cent. BCE) to the late Ming period 明 (1368-1644). It was compiled during the Qing period 清 (1644-1911) by Wu Chucai 吳楚材 (1655-1719) and his nephew Wu Diaohou 吳調侯 and then revised by their teacher Wu Xingzuo 吳興祚 (1632-1698). The Guwen guanzhi was finished in 1694 and printed a year later. It contains 222 short prose writings arranged in 12 juan. The texts were intentionally selected to serve as model texts for education, and the Guwen guanzhi was projected as a kind of text book. Wu Chucai has also compiled a textbook to the philosopher Zhu Xi's 朱熹 (1130-1200) famous historical critique Tongjian gangmu 通鑑綱目, the Gangjian yizhi lu 綱鑒易知錄. The term guanzhi is derived from a story in the chronicle Zuozhuan 左傳 (Xianggong 襄公 29).

Almost all texts included in the Guwen guanzhi are prose text, and only a small portion belongs to the genre of rhymed prose of the couplet style (pianwen 駢文). Compared to other classical anthologies like the Wenxuan 文選, the Guwen guanzhi comprises texts from a much broader timeframe and does not focus on different literary genres, as the Wenxuan does. The contents of the texts are thus much more differentiated as in the Wenxuan. The texts are accordingly arranged chronologically, divided into seven ages roughly corresponding to dynasties. The selection of certain authors and their style of writing is a very important aspect of the Guwen guanzhi. Excellent writers thus can serve as models for future generations. All texts are shortly commented to give the reader an impression of its general character and meaning.

The texts of the anthology Guwen guanzhi are not only important as exemplary pieces of high-standing literature but were also important texts during their time. A large part of the writings has political implication sor reflects critical debates of the time. The Guwen guanzhi is thus a source collection for literature, philosophy and history. The many commentaries of the two Wus help the reader to grasp the significance of each single piece in its historical context.

The oldest edition is that of the Huaijing Hall 懷涇堂 edition (1768), followed by the Yangxue Hall 映雪堂 (1774) and the Hongwen Hall 鴻文堂 edition (1789). The most famous Republican editions are that of the Shanghai Shenheji Shuju 上海沈鶴記書局 (1943) and Guangyi Shu 廣益書局, both with translations into modern Chinese. The Zhongshua Shuju 中華書局 published two editions with translations into modern Chinese (1959, 1987).

Wang Wenxu 王文濡 (1867-1935) did not just publish the first modern critical edition of the Guwen guanzhi (Shanghai Zhonghua Shuju, 1916), but also compiled a supplement, Xu guwen guanzhi 續古文觀止, published in 1924 (Shanghai Wenming Shuju 上海文明書局). It has a length of 8 juan and includes only texts from the Qing period, beginning with the philosopher Gu Yanwu 顧炎武, who was also politically active, to the journalist Liang Qichao 梁啟超 (1873-1929). The collection presents 173 texts from 65 writers. The structure is the same as in the modern editions of the Guwen guanzhi, with reading helps for each sentence, commentaries and punctuation, but Wang also added at the beginning of the book brief biographies of each writer. The book was reprinted in 1985 by the Guji Shudian 古籍書店 in Changchun 長春, Jilin.

Table 1. Contents of the Guwen guanzhi 古文觀止
1.-3. 周文 Literature from the Zhou period
4. 秦文 Literature from the Qin period
5.-6. 漢文 Literature from the Han period
7. 六朝唐文 Literature from the Six Dynasties and Tang periods
8. 唐文 Literature from the Tang period
9. 唐宋文 Literature from the Tang and Song periods
10.-11. 宋文 Literature from the Song period
12. 明文 Literature from the Ming period
Chen Qihong 陳埼泓, Zhang Zetong 張則桐 (2020). "Gu wenci leizuan yu Guwen guanzhi bianxuan yitong weitan 《古文辭類纂》與《古文觀止》編選異同微探", Xiamen Litong Xueyuan xuebao 厦門理工學院學報, 2020 (6): 79-85.
Durrant, Stephen (1986). "Ku-wen kuan-chih 古文觀止", in William H. Nienhauser, ed. The Indiana Companion to Traditional Chinese Literature (Bloomington/Indianapolis: Indiana University Press), 500-501.
Fan Rong 樊榮 (2012). "Lun Guwen guanzhi de xuanwen biaozhun 論《古文觀止》的選文標準", Wenxuejie (Lilun ban) 文學界(理論版), 2012 (6): 175-176.
Lin Fei 林非, ed. (1997). Zhongguo sanwen da cidian 中國散文大辭典 (Zhengzhou: Zhongzhou guji chubanshe), 359, 430.
Shi Ping 施平 (2010). "Guwen guanzhi dui yuwen jiaocai jianshe de qishi 《古文觀止》對語文教材建設的啟示", Guangxi Shifan Xueyuan xuebao (Zhexue shehui kexue ban) 廣西師範學院學報(哲學社會科學版),2010 (3): 68-72.
Wang Bing 王兵 (2005). "Jianguo yilai Guwen guanzhi yanjiu shulüe 建國以來《古文觀止》研究述略", Jiang-Huai luntan 江淮論壇. 2005 (3): 150-154.
Wang Yingzhi 王英志 (2004). "Puji de jingdian: Jianshuo Guwen guanzhi 普及的“經典”——簡說《古文觀止》", Gudian wenxue zhishi 古典文學知識, 2004 (6): 93-95.
Wang Yuguang 王餘光, Xu Yan 徐雁, eds. (1999). Zhongguo dushu da cidian 中國讀書大辭典 (Nanjing: Nanjing daxue chubanshe), 1212.
Xu Yimin 許逸民 (1986). "Guwen guanzhi 古文觀止", in Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, Zhongguo wenxue 中國文學 (Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe), Vol. 1, 194-195.
Zhang Chanjuan 張嬋娟 (2020). "Guwen guanzhi banben yanju 《古文觀止》版本研究", Tushuguan jianshe 圖書館建設, 2020 (5): 33-37+4.
Zhou Shengwei 周聖偉 (1998). "Guwen guanzhi 古文觀止", in Zhang Dainian 張岱年, ed. Zhongguo wenshi baike 中國文史百科 (Hangzhou: Zhejiang renmin chubanshe), Vol. 2, 944.