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Bianmin tuzuan 便民圖纂

Jan 18, 2022 © Ulrich Theobald

Bianmin tuzuan 便民圖纂 "Illustrated compilation of bringing the people more convenience" is an agricultural treatise compiled by an unknown author of the Ming period 明 (1368-1644). The bibliographical chapter in the official dynastic history Mingshi 明史 mentions the name Kuang Fan 鄺璠 (1465-1505), courtesy name Tingrui 廷瑞, as that of the author. Closer investigations, however, conclude that the book was not compiled by a single person and not during a particular age.

The text with a length of 16 juan deals basically with agricultural matters, but includes also a lot of prognostications that have nothing to do with farming, and can therefore likewise be classified as a text of a mixed genre (zajia lei 雜家類). The part on farming describes methods of cultivation and of horticulture, as well as the breeding of domestic animals, and even aspects of veterinary medicine. It also deals with the preparation of food and beverages. The first section, Nongwu tu 農務圖, presents 15 images of various field work. The second one, Nühong tu 女紅圖, includes 16 illustrations on weaving. The images are accompanied by so-called bamboo twig poems (zhuzhi ci 竹枝詞). Most images are based on the Song-period 宋 (960-1279) edition of the gently illustrated book Gengzhitu 耕織圖.

Figure 1. Harvesting (shouge 收割) and threshing rice (dadao 打稻)
At the top of each figure, a "bamboo-twig poems" (zhuzhi ci 竹枝詞) describes the situation. 1593 edition.

The following chapters deal with farming and harvest, mulberry cultivation and silkworm breeding, arboriculture, miscellaneous divination, monthly divination, prayers, planning for life, daily activities, medical care, cattle breeding, and processing of agricultural produce. Generally seen, farming and divination play the greatest role in the text. The heterogeneity of the compilation somehow reduces its scholarly value, all the more as many technical aspects are explained by superstitious practices.

The Bianmin tuzuan seems to have been a widely read text because it met the particular needs of the local governments. The book was first printed in 1493 of 1502 by Kuang Fan in Jiangsu. The second and best ancient edition, published by Lü Zhong 呂中, appeared in 1544 (there were also editions dated 1527 and 1552), and a third on in 1593. It is quite probable that versions older than the 1544 edition were manuscripts (Xiao 2001).

Whether the illustrated Bianmin tuzuan was an elaborated version of a presumably older text called Bianminzuan 便民纂 cannot be substantiated (Du 2016). There is a thesis that the illustrations served to boost the sales of the book Bianmin zuan. The latter is only preserved in an incomplete version (today owned by the Shanghai Library 上海圖書館) and with a length of 14 juan, including some themes not related to agriculture, like chess or zither play. The author is unknown, and the sequence of chapters differs from the transmitted editions of the Bianmin tuzuan. The value of the illustrations lies in the fact that the Bianmin tuzuan presents the oldest copies of the Gengzhitu illustrations.

A modern print was published in 1959 by the Zhonghua Shuju press 中華書局. The text is also found in the series Zhonguo gudai keji tushu congbian 中國古代科技圖書叢編 and Zhongguo gudai banhua congkan 中國古代版畫叢刊.

Table 1. Contents of the Bianmin tuzuan 便民圖纂
1 農務之圖 Tilling
女紅之圖 Weaving
2 耕獲類 Rice cultivation, harvest, processing, storage; oil and fibre plants
3 桑蠶類 Mulberry cultivation, silkworm breeding
4-5 樹藝類 Fruit trees, flowers, legumes
6 雜占類 Various divination methods, proverbs about weather (often quoting from Tianjia wuxing 田家五行)
7 月占類 Monthly prognostications
8 祈禳類 Monthly prayers
9 治吉類 The arrangement of a lucky career as a farmer
10 起居類 Precautions for daily routine
11-12 調攝類 Medicine (quotations from older texts)
13 牧養類 Domestic animals, veterinary medicine
14-15 制造類 Processing and production (quoting Duoneng bishi 多能鄙事)
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