An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art

Wenxuan 文選

Jul 3, 2010 © Ulrich Theobald

Wenxuan 文選 "Selected literature" is a literary anthology compiled by the Liang period 梁 (502-557) writer Xiao Tong 蕭統 (501-531), Prince Zhaoming 昭明. The book is therefore also called Zhaoming Wenxuan 昭明文選.
The Liang period was a time when literature flourished. This apogee was already prepared a few centuries earlier, during the Jian'an reign 建安 (196-219) of the late Han period 漢 (206 BCE-220 CE). For the coming two centuries writers refined literary styles and developed new genres. The amount of literature produced between the 3rd and the 6th centuries was tremendeous. During the Sui period 隋 (581-618) the imperial library (see the bibliography Jingjizhi 經籍志) included 249 compendia with a size of 5,224 juan "scrolls". There were also first attempts to think about literary theory during the Liu-Song period 劉宋 (420-479) when scholars of the state-sponosored faculties of Confucianism, Daoism, literature, historiography and mantics tried standardizing the writings of their field. During the Jin period 晉 (265-420) there were the books Wenzhang liubie ji 文章流别集 by Zhi Yu 摯虞 and Hanlinlun 翰林論 by Li Chong 李充, the Liu-Song period scholar Liu Yiqing 劉義慶 wrote the literary anthology Jilin 集林. All three books are unfortunately lost. Only Xiao Tong's Wenxuan has survived.
Xiao Tong assembled a lot of excellent literati and writers in his household with which he regularly conferred about literary theory and the ideal form of writing. He disposed of a large library of almost 30,000 juan. The Prince himself was also an ardent writer, and his collected writings have a size of 20 juan, not including his commentaries and prefaces to other books, with a volume of 10 juan. His anthology of five-syllable poems is a 20 (or 19) juan long book called Wenzhang yinghua 文章英華 (also called Gujin shiyuan yinghua 古今詩苑英華). The Wenxuan is 30 juan long. It might be that Wenzhang yinghua or Gujin shiyuan yinghua are alternative titles of the Wenxuan because there is otherwise no testimony of these books, allegedly lost before the Sui period. Xiao Tong was certainly not the only compiler of the Wenxuan but it must be assumed that he selected the texts together with his retainers, among which persons are found that have also written other commenting works on literature, like Liu Xiaochuo 劉孝綽, Wang Yun 王筠, Yin Yun 殷芸, Lu Chui 陸倕, Dao Qia 到洽 or Liu Xie 劉勰, author of the literary critique Wenxin diaolong 文心雕龙.
In 30 juan the Wenxuan includes 514 writings of 130 authors from earliest times down to the very early Liang period. The writings are arranged in 38 genres, beginning with rhapsodies (fu 賦) and the highly estimated genres of regular poems (shi 詩) and and then going on to many categories of "miscellaneous writings" (zawen 雜文; a more common term would be sanwen 散文 "prose"). Below the level of genres the writings are arranged chronologically. Poems and rhapsodies cover the largest part of the book. Because of their great amount the rhapsodies are therefore divided into 15 sub-categories, referring to places (the capital, palaces) or imperial activities, like offering, hunting, ploughing. The regular poems are divided into 23 groups. The literary categories are very detailed, and the development of these presents a thorough new picture of how belles-lettres could be arranged in various types of writings, which was never done before. Xiao Tong and his team only selected literary works and did not include any parts from the Confucian Classics, historiographic texts, or texts from the famous Warring States period 戰國 (5th cent.-221 BCE) philosophers. Literary comments to such books (zanlun 贊論), nevertheless, were included in the Wenxuan. The criterion thus was literary beauty, well-tasted wording, composition of regular sentences, and an overall harmony. Later scholars often criticized him for including obscure (Tao Yuanming 陶淵明) or less important (Gushi shijiu shou 古詩十九首) poems while omitting other, more important works. Some of the pieces included have later been found out to be forgeries, like Li Ling's 李陵 Da Su Wu shu 答蘇武書 or Kong Anguo's 孔安國 Shangshu xu 尚書序. Some paragraphs entitled as "preface" (xu 序) are not really prefaces, like Emperor Han Wudi's 漢武帝 Qiufeng ci 秋風辭, and some titles have nothing to to with the content, like Liu Jun's 劉峻 Chong da Liu Moling zhao shu 重答劉秣陵詔書. There are also many coying errors in the text of the Wenxuan.
The Wenxuan was, inspite of these shortcomings, a path-breaking book for the study of literary genres in the field of belles-lettres. The study of the Wenxuan even developed into an own discipline (wenxuanxue 文選學). The vast development of the regular poem during the Tang period 唐 (618-907) can not be understood without the important study of Xiao Tong in this field. The ability to write poems became part of the state examinations, and this must be led back to the importance Xiao Tong posed on this type of literature. A profoundly educated literatus had to study the Wenxuan. Scholars also commented the Wenxuan. Of the circa 90 commentaries from the Sui and Tang periods only very few have survived. The oldest commentary was written by Xiao Gai 蕭該 during the Sui period, called Wenxuan yinyi 文選音義. A phonetic commentary with the same title was written during the early Tang by Cao Xian 曹憲. Both are lost. The oldest surviving – and most famous – commentary is Li Shan's 李善 Wenxuan zhu 文選注. In a lot of modern editions it is included into the main text of the Wenxuan. Li Shan's commentary is of an extraordinary quality. He used more then 1,700 books to revise and explain the difficult texts of the writings included in the Wenxuan. The Wenxuan zhu was submitted to the throne in 658. In general, it is a more text-critical commentary than an explanation of the literary works. Li Shan's commentary includes a lot of older commentaries to the particular writings, for instance, Xue Zong's 薛綜 commentary to the rhapsody Erjing fu 二京賦, or Wang Yi's 王逸 commentary to Qu Yuan's 屈原 elegies. Another book of Li Shan on the Wenxuan, the Wenxuan bianhuo 文選辨惑, is lost.
Another important Tang period commentary to the Wenxuan is the Wuchen zhu Wenxuan 五臣注文選 "Commentaries of the Five Masters" from the mid-8th century, a compound edition of commentaries by five persons, namely Lü Yanji 呂延濟, Liu Liang 劉良, Zhang Xi 張銑, Lü Xiang 呂向 and Li Zhouhan 李周翰. This commentary is rated as of a minor quality compared to Li Shan's commentary. During the Song period 宋 (960-1279) the five commentaries and Li Shan's commentary were put together as Liuchen zhu 六臣注. Later scholars again distilled out Li Shan's book. Most modern publications containing Li Shan's commentary are based on these extractions. There is another Tang period commentary by an unknown master, the Wenxuan jizhu 文選集注 surviving in a fragment of 23 juan. It quotes from the other commentaries, but also by notes of Lu Shanjing 陸善經 and the books Wenxuan chao 文選鈔 and Wenxuan yinjue 文選音決, which are both lost.
During the Song period the study of the Wenxuan became less important. There were, nonetheless, a few specialized research tools written, like Wenxuan shuangzi leiyao 文選雙字類要 or Wenxuan leilin 文選類林. Some few studies can also be found scattered in various Song period essays.
The Song period encyclopedia Wenyuan yinghua 文苑英華 is often called a continuation of the Wenxuan. It is arranged in a similar style and largely copies the literary categories of the Wenxuan.
There is the Yuan period 元 (1279-1368) commentary Xuanshi buzhu 選詩補注 by Liu Lü 劉履 and the Ming period 明 (1368-1644) book Wenxuan zuanzhu 文選纂注 by Zhang Fengyi 張鳳翼. The wave of textual critique developing during the Qing period 清 (1644-1911) also caught the Wenxuan studies, and a few books from that time have to be mentioned: Wang Shihan's 汪師韓 Wenxuan lixue quanyu 文選理學權輿, Sun Zhizu's 孫志祖 Wenxuan lixue quanyu bu 文選理學權輿補, Hu Kejia's 胡克家 Wenxuan kaoyi 文選考異, Zhang Yun'ao's 張雲璈 Xuanxue jiaoyan 選學胶言, Liang Zhangju's 梁章鉅 Wenxuan pangzheng 文選旁證, Zhu Jian's 朱珔 Wenxuan jishi 文選集釋, Hu Shaoying's 胡紹瑛 Wenxuan jianzheng 文選箋證, Xu Xuanxing's 許巽行 Wenxuan biji 文選筆記, He Zhuo's 何焯 Yimen du shuji 義門讀書記, Yu Guanghua's 于光華 Wenxuan jiping 文選集評, Gao Buying's 高步瀛 Wenxuan Li zhu yishu 文選李注義疏 and Lu Hongkai's 駱鸿凱 Wenxuanxue 文選學.
The oldest surviving texts of the Wenxuan are the above-mentioned Wenxuan jizhu from the Tang period, a plain text (without commentaries) from the Tang period, a version including Li Shan's commentary, and a phonetic commentary Wenxuan yin 文選音. All have survived as fragments discovered in Dunhuang 敦煌. Part of these fragments is included in the collections Mingshashishi guji congcan 鳴沙石室古籍叢殘 and Dunhuang miji liuzhen xinbian 敦煌秘籍留真新編. The oldest print of the Wenxuan was made during the Northern Song period 北宋 (960-1126). It is surviving as a facsimile in the collectanea Sibu congkan 四部叢刊, including the six commentaries. The Zhonghua shuju press 中華書局 has published a reprint of an edition from 1181 made by You Mao 尤袤, including Li Shan's commentary. The most common version is the Qing period print by Hu Kejia 胡克家, based on You Mao's print. It has been republished in 1977 by the Zhonghua shuju press, enriched by a short text-critical study at the end.

Table 1. Contents of the Wenxuan 文選
1-2 賦甲 fu rhapsodies I 京都上 jingdu A
3-4 賦乙 fu rhapsodies II 京都中 jingdu B
5-6 賦丙 fu rhapsodies III 京都下 jingdu C
7 賦丁 fu rhapsodies IV 郊祀 jiaosi
耕藉 gengjie
畋獵上 mulie A
8 畋獵中 mulie B
9 賦戊 fu rhapsodies V 畋獵下 mulie C
紀行上 jixing B
10 紀行下 jixing B
11 賦己 fu rhapsodies VI 遊覽 youlan
宮殿 gongdian
12 江海 jianghai
13 賦庚 fu rhapsodies VII 物色 wuse
鳥獸上 niaoshou A
14 鳥獸下 niaoshou B
志上 zhi A
15 賦辛 fu rhapsodies VIII 志中 zhi B
16 志下 zhi B
哀傷 aishang
17 賦壬 fu rhapsodies IX 論文 lunwen
音樂上 yinyue A
18 音樂下 yinyue B
19 賦癸 fu rhapsodies X qing
詩甲 shi lyric poetry I 補亡 buwang
述德 shude
勸勵 quanli
20 獻詩 xianshi
公讌 gongyan
祖餞 zujian
21 詩乙 shi lyric poetry II 詠史 yongshi
百一 baiyi
遊仙 youxian
22 招隱 zhaoyin
反招隱 fan zhaoyin
遊覽 youlan
23 詩丙 shi lyric poetry III 詠懷 yonghuai
哀傷 aishang
贈答一 zengda A
24 贈答二 zengda B
25 詩丁 shi lyric poetry IV 贈答三 zengda C
26 贈答四 zengda D
行旅上 xingyou A
27 詩戊 shi lyric poetry V 行旅下 xingyou B
軍戎 junrong
郊廟 jiaomiao
樂府上 yuefu A
28 樂府下 yuefu B
挽歌 wange
雜歌 zage
29 詩己 shi lyric poetry VI 雜詩上 zashi A
30 雜詩下 zashi B
30b 詩庚 shi lyric poetry VII 雜擬上 zani A
31 雜擬下 zani B
32 騷上 sao elegic poems I
33 騷下 sao elegic poems II
34 七上 qi sevens I
35 七下 qi sevens II
zhao edicts
ce patents of nobility
36 ling commands
jiao instructions
wen [examination] texts
37 表上 biao memorials I
38 表下 biao memorials II
39 上書 shangshu letters of submission
qi communications
40 彈事 tanshi accusations
jian memoranda
奏記 zouji notes of presentation
41 書上 shu letters I
42 書中 shu letters II
43 書下 shu letters III
44 xi military proclamations
45 對問 duiwen response texts
設論 shelun hypothetical discourses
ci southern style poems
序上 xu prefaces I
46 序下 xu prefaces II
47 song eulogies
zan encomia
48 符命 fuming mandates through prophetic signs
49 史論上 shilun treatises from the histories I
50 史論下 shilun treatises from the histories II
史述贊 shishuzan evaluations from the histories
51 論一 lun treatises I
52 論二 lun treatises II
53 論三 lun treatises III
54 論四 lun treatises IV
55 論五 lun treatises V
連珠 lianzhu linked pearls
56 zhen admonitions
ming inscriptions
誄上 lei dirges I
57 誄下 lei dirges II
哀上 ai laments I
58 哀下 ai laments II
碑文上 beiwen epitaphs I
59 碑文下 beiwen epitaphs II
墓誌 muzhi grave memoirs
60 行狀 xingzhuang conduct descriptions
弔文 diaowen condolences
祭文 jiwen sacrificial texts
Sheng Yucheng 沈玉成 (1986). "Wenxuan 文選", in: Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, Vol. Zhongguo wenxue 中國文學 (Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe), Vol. 2, 936-938.