An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art

Bowuzhi 博物志

Jul 6, 2010 © Ulrich Theobald

Bowuzhi 博物志 "Vast records about different topics" is a collection of short stories arranged in an encyclopedical manner. It was written by the Western Jin period 西晉 (265-316) writer Zhang Hua 張華 (232-300), courtesy name Zhang Maoxian 張茂先. He came from Fangcheng 方城 in the commandery of Fanyang 范陽 (modern Gu'an 固安, Hebei) and is said to have made his life as a shepherd in his younger years. In the last decade of the Wei period 曹魏 (220-265) he was able to obtain the post of assistant editorial director (zuo zhuzuolang 佐著作郎) and then section director in the Imperial Secretariat (zhongshu lang 中書郎). When the Jin dynasty was founded he was made gentleman attendant at the palace gate (huangmen shilang黃門侍郎). In the court dispute about the military campaign against the empire of Wu 吳 (222-280) in south China Zhang Hua took side with Emperor Wu's 晉武帝 (r. 265-289) advisor Yang You 羊祐 and took part in the war of unification. After the victory he was rewarded with the title of Marquis of Guangwu 廣武侯. During the reign of Emperor Hui 晉惠帝 (r. 290-306) Zhang Hua was appointed Junior Mentor of the Heir Apparent (taizi shaofu 太子少傅) and then Minister of Works (sikong 司空). He refused to participate in Prince Sima Lun's 司馬倫 (Prince of Zhao 趙) rebellion (see Rebellion of the Eight Princes) and was therefore killed.
Zhang Hua was famous for his wide knowledge and his expertise in all types of writings. After his death his family had nothing to live on, but only a large amount of books that Zhang had collected. He was an excellent poet (like his early rhapsody Jiaoliao fu 鷦鷯賦), and more than 30 poems have survived that are to be found in a fragmentary collection of his writings, the Zhang Sikong ji 張司空集.
The Bowuzhi mainly records stories of strange events and supernatural phenomena. It can thus be called the ancestor of the large Song period 宋 (960-1279) encyclopedia Taiping guangji 太平廣記. The stories include reports about geography, historical persons, strange plants and animals, as well as tales of fairies, gods and immortals. Most stories are quoted from ancient sources of very different literary types, including geographical treatises, historical persons, or reports of abnormous plants and animals, as well as biographies of Daoist immortals, or fairy tales. The most famous story is probably the tale of Zhinü 織女 and Niulang 牛郎, the Weaving Maid and the Cowherd. The content of the Bowuzhi is very heterogenous and is arranged in a very accidental manner. Many stories can also be found in other books like Liezi 列子, Soushenji 搜神記, Baopuzi 抱樸子 or Xu qixie ji 續齊諧記. It might be that part of the tales in the Bowuzhi were inserted in later ages. What makes out the individual character of the Bowuzhi is the large number of accounts on mountains, rivers, animals plants and human affairs. It stands therefore out among the many collections of phantastic stories and has a more "scholary" or even "scientific" character than these. From some stories like Bayue fucha 八月浮槎 or Dongfagn Shuo tou tao 東方朔偷桃 the author explicitly points at their fictional character. The Republican scholar Lu Xun 魯迅 therefore stressed the "new spirit" (xinyi 新意) of the Bowuzhi, although it was always characterized as a collection of stories (xiaoshuo jia 小說家).
One source, the book Shiyiji 拾遺記, says that an original version of the Bowuzhi was 400 juan "scrolls" long, but Emperor Wu 晉武帝 (r. 265-289) ordered to shorten it to 10 juan of length. This size corresponds to the reveiced version. If the original was really this long, can not be known, but there are many quotations in later literature which are not included in the received version of the Bowuzhi.
The earliest commentary to the Bowuzhi was written by the Song period 宋 (960-1279) scholars Zhou Riyong 周日用 and a certain Master Lu 盧氏. The Bowuzhi is included in the reprint series Shiliju congshu 士禮居叢書, Longxi jingshe congshu 龍溪精舍叢書, Sibu beiyao 四部備要, Gujin yishi 古今逸史, Guang Han-Wei congshu 廣漢魏叢書, Gezhi congshu 格致叢書, Siku quanshu 四庫全書, Baihai 稗海, Kuaige cangshu 快閣藏書, Zengding Han-Wei congshu 增訂漢魏叢書, Zishu baijia 子書百家, Fenxinge congshu 紛欣閣叢書 (with a supplement written by Zhou Xinru 周心如),Zhihai 指海 and Congshu jicheng chubian 叢書集成初編 (with a collection of fragments compiled by Qian Xizuo 錢熙祚). There is a commentary and text-critical edition of the Bowuzhi by Fan Ning 范寧, the Bowuzhi jiaozheng 博物志校證, published in 1980 by the Zhonghua shuju press 中華書局 in the series Gu xiaoshuo congkan 古小說叢刊.
Greatrex, Roger (1987). The Bowu Zhi: An Annotated Translation (Stockholm: Föreningen för Orientaliska Studier, Stockholm University).

Bai Huawen 白化文 (1986). "Bowuzhi 博物志", in: Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, Zhongguo wenxue 中國文學, vol. 1, pp. 46-47. Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe.
Greatrex, Roger (2015). "Bowu zhi", in Cynthia L. Chennault, et al., eds. Early Medieval Chinese Texts: A Bibliographical Guide (Berkeley: Institute of East Asian Studies, University of California, Berkeley), 32-38.
Li Xueqin 李學勤, Lü Wenyu 呂文鬰 (1996). Siku da cidian 四庫大辭典, Changchun: Jilin daxue chubanshe, vol. 2, p. 2167.

Xu bowuzhi 續博物志

Xu bowuzhi 續博物志 is an encyclopedia compiled by the Southern Song period 南宋 (1127-1279) scholar Li Shi 李石. It was traditionally attributed to a certain Li Shi 李石 from the Jin period 晉 (265-420). The 10 juan "scrolls" long Xu bowuzhi is a supplement to the loose encyclopedia Bowuzhi 博物志 written by the Jin period scholar Zhang Hua 張華. The general composition of Li's supplement follows the paradigm of the Bowuzhi, that means that the book is not clearly divided into chapters, but goes through different themes in the course of the text. While the Bowuzhi focuses on geography, Li Shi was more interested in astronomy. Li Shi copies the original text of his sources, without undergoing a textual critique. For this reason, he indicates his sources, which are in many cases not taken from old original books, but from quotations in contemporary collections of various stories and informations.
There is a Ming period 明 (1368-1644) print by He Zhitong 賀志同, and one by Wang Shihan 汪士漢. The Xu bowuzhi is included in the reprint series Siku quanshu 四庫全書, Gujin yishi 古今逸史, Gezhi congshu 格致叢書, Baihai 稗海, Mishu ershiyi zhong 秘書二十一種, Zishu baijia 子書百家, Tang-Song congshu 唐宋叢書, Zhishu ershi zhong 致書二十種 and Congshu jicheng 叢書集成.

Li Xueqin 李學勤, Lü Wenyu 呂文鬰 (1996). Siku da cidian 四庫大辭典, vol. 2, p. 2167. Changchun: Jilin daxue chubanshe.

Bowuzhi bu 博物志補

Bowuzhi bu 博物志補 is an encyclopaedia compiled by the Ming period 明 (1368-1644) scholar You Qian 游潛 (fl. 1515). The 2 juan "scrolls" long book is a supplement to the Bowuzhi 博物志 of the Jin period 晉 (265-420) scholar Zhang Hua 張華. Compared to another supplement to that book, Li Shi’s 李石 Xu bowuzhi 續博物志 from the Song period 宋 (960-1279), the Bowuzhi bu is much more a piecemeal collection of miscellaneous informations.
There is a print from the Wanli reign 萬曆 (1573-1619), and another Ming period print included in a collection of You Qian's writings, the Mengjiao sanzhong 夢焦三種.

Li Xueqin 李學勤, Lü Wenyu 呂文鬰 (1996). Siku da cidian 四庫大辭典, Changchun: Jilin daxue chubanshe, vol. 2, p. 2156.