An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

Quan shanggu Sandai Qin Han Sanguo Liuchao wen 全上古三代秦漢三國六朝文

August 11, 2022 © Ulrich Theobald

Quan shanggu Sandai Qin Han Sanguo Liuchao wen 全上古三代秦漢三國六朝文 is a complete collection of prose writings from oldest antiquity to around 600. It was compiled by Yan Kejun 嚴可均 (1762-1843).

The concept for this book is directly tied to the project Quantangwen 全唐文, a complete collection of Tang-period 唐 (618-907) prose in which Yan participated, but only in an inferior position in which he was entrusted with the collection and collation of stele inscriptions not included in Wang Chang’s 王昶 (1725-1806) seminal collection Jinshi cuibian 金石萃編. This task gave Yan Kejun the occasion to view pre-Tang inscriptions which he began to collect on a private base. In the coming three decades he strove to assemble as much pre-Tang prose writings as possible. Yan died before the project was finished, and the drafts for the book were left unattended until 1897, when Wang Yuzao 王毓藻 (1837-1900) revived the project and realized its publication.

There had been some earlier projects with a similar aim as Yan Kejun’s collection, but on a much smaller scale, namely Mei Dingzuo’s 梅鼎祚 (1549-1615) Lidai wenji 歷代文紀 and Zhang Pu’s 張溥 (1602-1641) Han Wei Liuchao baisan mingjia ji 漢魏六朝百三名家集.

The book, encompassing 15 collections (ji 集), is divided along dynastic periods as conceptualized in the official dynastic histories, from highest antiquity and the "Three Dynasties" (Sandai 三代, i.e. Xia 夏, Shang 商 and Zhou 周, 11th cent.-221 BCE), the Qin 秦 (221-206 BCE), (Former) Han 漢 (206 BCE-8 CE, incl the reign of Wang Mang 王莽), Later Han 後漢 (25-220 CE), Three Empires 三國 (220~280 CE), Jin 晉 (265-420), (Liu)-Song 宋 (420-479), (Southern) Qi 齊 (479-502), Liang 梁 (502-557), Chen 陳 (557-589), Later (i.e. Northern) Wei 後魏 (386-534), Northern Qi 北齊 (550-577), Later (i.e. Northern) Zhou 後周 (557-581), Sui 隋 (581-618), and pre-dynastic Tang (xian-Tang 先唐).

In each section, persons are arranged according to their social standing, beginning with emperors, their consorts, princes, high functionaries, "normal" functionaries (huanguan 宦官), females, anonymous texts, foreigners, Buddhist monks, Daoist masters, and finally "spirits" (guishen 鬼神). Inside each of these categories, chronological order prevails. Each single person is introduced by a brief biography. The writings themselves are arranged according to the traditional sequence of genres (see, for instance, the anthology Wenxuan 文選), beginning with rhapsodies (fu 賦) and elegies (sao 騷), and ending with texts for mourning and commemoration. The whole collection includes the writings of no less than 3,500 persons.

Yan’s collection is not just remarkable for its comprehensive character, but also for the inclusion of texts (and even fragments) not transmitted in widely circulating books and anthologies. It also selected literally remarkable introductions (xu 序) and critical appraises (zan 贊) in popular writings. Among the "lost texts" (yiwen 佚文), are, for instance, four texts from the Hanfeizi 韓非子, five from Sunzi bingfa 孫子兵法, and a passage of Liu Xiang’s (79-8 or 77-6 BCE) 劉向 Shuoyuan 説苑. In some instances, only titles are presented to demonstrate to the reader what texts were lost, for instance, Emperor Sui Yangdi’s 隋煬帝 (r. 604-617) rhapsodies Guifan fu 歸藩賦 and Shenshang fu 神傷賦.

Of great importance is Yan Kejun’s consistent method to point at the sources of the texts he quotes and the many critical comments in case of textual variants. Cao Pi’s 曹丕 (Emperor Wen 魏文帝, r. 220-226) literary theory Lunwen 論文 (the only surviving part of his book Dianlun 典論), for instance, is derived from the encyclopaedia Beitang shuchao 北堂書鈔, and has been critically compared with its quotations in the history book Sanguozhi 三國志 and the encyclopaedia Yiwen leiju 藝文類聚. With the help of such sources, Yan Kejun was able to prove that the famous anthology Wenxuan abbreviated many texts. Yan also demonstrated that a fragmentary rhapsody called Linyu fu 霖雨賦 had been written by Cai Yong 蔡邕 (132-192), and not by Cao Zhi 曹植 (192-232).

In spite of this critical spirit, Yan Kejun sometimes abstained from consequently eliminating texts of antiquity that were traditionally wrongly attributed to persons, like the agricultural text Shen Nong shu 神農書, allegedly a writing of the Red Emperor (Yandi 炎帝, i.e. Shen Nong 神農), or the rhapsody Di fu 笛賦, wrongly attributed to the famous southern-style poet Song Yu 宋玉 (298-222 BCE).

The classification according to dynasties and social standing leads to chronological confusion, as for instance, in the case of Wang Xizhi 王羲之 (303-361), whose writings are listed before than those of Lu Ji 陸機 (261-303) and Pan Yue 潘岳 (247-300), who had lived half a century earlier.

Studies with critical remarks on Yan’s collection were presented by Zhang Taiyan 章太炎 (1869-1936), Quan shanggu Sandai Qin Han Sanguo Liuchao wen jiaoping 全上古三代秦漢三國六朝文校評 (rep. 1980), Yao Daxue 姚大榮 (jinshi degree 1883), Bian Yan Tieqiao ji shangu zhi Sui quanwen rang mei zhi wu 辯嚴鐵橋輯三古至隋全文攘美之誣 (1913), Liu Pansui 劉盼遂 (1896-1966), Sanjia bu Yan Tieqiao Quan shanggu Sandai Qin Han Sanguo Jin Nanbeichao wen jimu 三家補嚴鐵橋全上古三代秦漢三國晉南北朝文輯目 (1931), Chen Qiyun 陳啟雲 (1933-2020), Du Yan Kejun Quan shanggu Sandai Qin Han Sanguo Liuchao wen 讀嚴可均全上古三代秦漢三國六朝文 (1958), Zhang Yan 張巖, Yan Kejun Quan shanggu Sandai Qin Han Sanguo Liuchao wen bianci deshi pingyi 嚴可均〈全上古三代秦漢三國六朝文〉編次得失平議 (1959), Qian Zhongshu 錢鍾書 (1986) and Cheng Zhangcan 程章燦, Lun Quan shanggu Sandai Qin Han Sanguo Liuchao wen zhi quewu 論〈全上古三代秦漢三國六朝文〉之闕誤(1995).

Indexes for Yan’s vast collection were published by the library Yanjing Daxue Tushuguan 燕京大學圖書館 in 1932, and the Zhonghua Shuju Press 中華書局 in 1965.

The collection has a total length of 741 juan, but the fascicles are only numbered inside each of the fifteen collections. Each of the collections can thus be regarded as a book of its own. A draft copy of 150 juan is owned by the Shanghai Library 上海圖書館. The book was first printed in 1894 in Guangzhou by Master Wang of Huanggang 黄岡王氏 (i. E. Wang Yuzao’s Guangya Shuju 廣雅書局). The most widespread edition is the print of the Zhonghua Shuju 中華書局 from 1958 that is based on Wang’s edition.

Table 1. Contents of the Quan shanggu Sandai Qin Han Sanguo Liuchao wen 全上古三代秦漢三國六朝文
全上古三代文 十六卷 Quan shanggu Sandai wen High antiquity and Three Dynasties (Xia, Shang, Zhou) 206 persons
全秦文 一卷 Quanqinwen Qin 26
全漢文 六十三卷 Quanhanwen (Former) Han 334
全後漢文 一百六卷 Quanhouhanwen Later Han 470
全三國文 七十五卷 Quansanguowen Three Empires 294
全晉文 一百六十七卷 Quanjinwen Jin 830
全宋文 六十四卷 Quansongwen (Liu)-Song 278
全齊文 二十六卷 Quanqiwen (Southern) Qi 131
全梁文 七十四卷 Quanliangwen Liang 204
全陳文 十八卷 Quanchenwen Chen 63
全後魏文 六十卷 Quanhouweiwen Later (i.e. Northern) Wei 302
全北齊文 十卷 Quanbeiqiwen Northern Qi 84
全後周文 二十四卷 Quanhouzhouwen Later (i.e. Northern) Zhou 61
全隋文 三十六卷 Quansuiwen Sui 168
先唐文 一卷 Xiantangwen Pre-dynastic Tang 54
Chen Zhenghong 陳正宏 (1999). "Quan shanggu Sandai Qin Han Sanguo Liuchao wen 全上古三代秦漢三國六朝文", in Zhou Gucheng 周谷城, ed. Zhongguo xueshu mingzhu tiyao 中國學術名著提要, Vol. Wenxue 文學卷 (Shanghai: Fudan daxue chubanshe), 95.
Gao Sili 高思莉 (2015). "Quan shanggu Sandai Qin Han Sanguo Liuchao wen yanjiu zongshu 《全上古三代秦汉三国六朝文》研究综述", Changzhou Gongxueyuan xuebao (Sheke ban) 常州工学院学报( 社科版), 2015 (6): 35-39.
Knechtges, David (2015). "Quan shanggu Sandai Qin Han Sanguo Liuchao wen", in Cynthia L. Chennault, et al., eds. Early Medieval Chinese Texts: A Bibliographical Guide (Berkeley: Institute of East Asian Studies, University of California, Berkeley), 242-244.