An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

Guyaoyan 古謠諺

May 19, 2011 © Ulrich Theobald

Guyaoyan 古謠諺 "Ancient ballads and common sayings" is a collection of ancient popular verses (yaoyan 謠諺) compiled during the late Qing period 清 (1644-1911) by Du Wenlan 杜文瀾 (1815-1881), courtesy name Xiaofang 小舫, from Xiushui 秀水, Zhejiang. He was a circuit intendant (daoyuan 道員) in Jiangsu and salt distribution commissioner (yanyunshi 鹽運使) of the Liang-Huai region 兩淮. Famous for his skills in poetry, he compiled the books Caixiangci 采香詞 and the critical commentary Cilü jiaokanji 詞律校勘記. He also authored a book on education, Chuxue shilun hebian 學史論合編, a history of the Taiping rebellion, Pingding yuekou jilüe 平定粵寇紀略, and a book on orchids, Yilan 藝蘭.

According to Liu Yusong's 劉毓崧 (1818-1867) preface, the Guyaoyan must have been finished in 1861. The collection includes popular ballads and common sayings from oldest times to the Ming period 明 (1368-1644). It is the first collection of products of this literary genre and therefore an important contribution to the preservation of ancient literature, all the more as Du Wenlan begins his collection with a definition of the two genres and an investigation of the literary, historiographical and social significance. Of the common sayings, both popular verses and such of literary refinement were included. The commentary part of the collection also includes "variations" (yiwen 異文) providing information about the time and place of origin and the history of transmission.

While a part of the entries is anonymous, there are also some whose authors are known, as well as the text citing them. Du added notes on each entry referring to the place of origin of a particular saying (yaoyan 謠諺). As to popular "songs" or "ballads" (geyao 歌謠), the editor decided only to include such texts that are not accompanied by music (tuge 徒歌), in other words, texts whose melodies are lost. As a third type, proverbs (yanyu 諺語) can be divided into farmer's proverbs (nongyan 農諺) or proverbs of the common folks (suyan 俗諺), and such formulated by literati (yanshi 彥士) and written in elegant and sophisticated language. Du also adds variations of individual sayings and critically sketches the history or the local character of some proverbs.

The collection with more than 3,300 entries is arranged according to the four traditional categories of literature and thus to the original source of sayings, instead of according to the topic. The larger part of the sayings and proverbs refer to aspects of agricultural or daily life, and touches fields as farming activities, weather and seasons, local customs or societal affairs. Yet there are also some nursery rhymes (or sayings alleging to be such; tongyao 童謠). The main text consists of 85 juan and 15 fascicles of appendix (Fulu 附錄), and 1 fascicle of discussion (Jishuo 集說), resulting in a total length of 100 juan.

The first print of the Guyaoyan of 1892 was included in the series Mantuoluohuage congshu 曼陀羅華閣叢書. In 1958 the Zhonghua shuju press 中華書局 published a new edition with a commentary by Zhou Shaoliang 周紹良.

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Wang Yi 王軼 (2010). "Guyaoyan jiaowu, buji 《古謠諺》校誤、補輯", Huangshan Xueyuan xuebao 黄山學院學報, 2010 (2): 43-45.
Xu Yu 許鈺 (1986). "Guyaoyan 古謠諺", 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, 196.
Yang Sixian 楊思賢 (2014). "Guyaoyao de xueshu shi kaocha: Yi xu he fanli zuo tantao 《古謠諺》的學術史考察——以“序”和“凡例”作探討", Nanjing Shifan Daxue Wenxueyuan xuebao 南京師範大學文學院學報, 2014 (2): 51-56.