An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

(Qinding) Sishuwen (欽定)四書文

Sep 10, 2013 © Ulrich Theobald

(Qinding) Sishuwen 欽定四書文 is an anthology of essays written in the eight-legged style (baguwen 八股文) used to comment on the Four Books (Sishu 四書) during the sessions of the state examinations.

The anthology was compiled on imperial order by Fang Bao 方苞 (1668-1749), courtesy name Fengjiu 鳳九, style Linghao 靈皋 or Wangxi 望溪. He hailed from Tongcheng 桐城, Anhui, and was a member of the compilation team of the imperial geography Da-Qing yitong zhi 一統志 during the Yongzheng reign 雍正 (1722-1735). After the end of this project, Fang was appointed Right Vice Minister in the Ministry of Rites (libu you shilang 禮部右侍郎). He is counted among the "three great writers from Tongcheng" (Tongcheng san da jia 桐城三大家), together with Liu Dakui 劉大櫆 (1698-1779) and Yao Nai 姚鼐 (1732-1815). His collected writings are called Fang Wangxi quanji 方望溪全集.

The collection has a length of 41 juan and is divided into two parts, with four collections (ji 集) of eight-legged essays from the late Ming period (明 (1368-1644; 486 pieces), and one collection of essays from the Qing period 清 (1644-1911). The so-called "eight-legged" style was the literary standard form for arguments in the interpretation of the Classics during the metropolitan state examinations.

Fang's anthology served as a handbook of models presenting standard essays of this type. According to the compilers of the imperial series Siku quanshu, the authors of the essays in the anthology used "words that reached logic and refinement" (ci da li chun 詞達理醇) and able to "permeate the whole world" (chuan shi xing yuan 傳世行遠). Two of Fang's criteria for the selection of essays was that they changed with the need of time, and that they were of a pure elegance.

The Sishuwen was first printed in 1740, and then again in 1776 and 1779.

An Dongqiang 安東强 (2012). "Qinding Sishuwen bianzuan de liyi ji fanxiang 《欽定四書文》編纂的立意及反響", Zhongshan Daxue xuebao (Shehui kexue ban) 中山大學學報(社會科學版), 2012 (1): 37-47.
Jiaoyu da cidian bianzuan weiyunahui 《教育大辭典》編纂委員會, ed. (1991). Jiaoyu da cidian 教育大辭典, part 8, Zhongguo gudai jiaoyu shi 中國古代教育史 (Shanghai: Shanghai jiaoyu chubanshe), Vol. 1, 260.
Li Xueqin 李學勤, Lü Wenyu 呂文鬰, eds. (1996). Siku da cidian 四庫大辭典 (Changchun: Jilin daxue chubanshe), Vol. 2, 2842.
Tian Ruiwen 田瑞文 (2016). "Ruan Yuan Sishuwen wei wen zhi zhengtong lun 阮元四書文為文之正統論", Beifang luncong 北方論叢, 2016 (5): 76-80.