An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

Fengsu tongyi 風俗通義

Jul 17, 2010 © Ulrich Theobald

Fengsu tongyi 風俗通義 "Comprehensive meaning of customs and habits" is an enyclopaedical collection of various matters compiled during the Later Han period 後漢 (25-220) by Ying Shao 應劭 (d. c. 203 CE), courtesy name Zhongyuan 仲瑗.

Ying Shao hailed from Runan 汝南 (modern Xiangcheng 項城, Henan) and was made a court gentleman (lang 郎) in 173 and rose then to the post of magistrate (ling 令) of Xiao 蕭, then of Yingling 營陵, and was finally promoted to governor (taishou 太守) of the commandery of Taishan 泰山. He ruthlessly suppressed the uprising of the Yellow Turbans 黃巾, when it inundated his district. In the aftermath, he prepared to receive the warlord Cao Song 曹嵩 (d. 194, the father of the famous Cao Cao 曹操) and his son Cao De 曹德 (d. 194), but before they arrived in Taishan, they were killed by general Tao Qian 陶謙 (132-194). Fearing revenge by Cao Cao, Ying Shao fled to the territory of the powerful general Yuan Shao 袁紹 (d. 202), who made him commandant for military counsel (junmou xiaowei 軍謀校尉). Ying Shao compiled several books, like Zhonghan jilu 中漢輯錄, Hanguan yi 漢官儀 (see Hanguan jiuyi 漢官舊儀) or Liyi gushi 禮儀故事, as well as some short comments to the Hanshu 漢書. He seems to have specialized in the administrative history of the Han dynasty.

The 10-juan-long Fengsu tongyi was written in the aftermath of the Yellow Turban uprising in the hope that the encyclopaedia might be useful for the reconstruction of the shattered fundaments of the empire. Ying Shao expounded numerous common matters valid as knowledge among the population, with the incentive to establish a standard of what was important for common knowledge and state administration. His chapters Yanli 愆禮 and Guoyu 過譽 are critical towards the lavishness of his times and the superfluous aspects of many rituals and open praises made at the court. The chapter Shengyin 聲音 is very important for the history of music. The chapter Shanze 山澤 is a valuable supplement for the history of ancient China's rivers. Parts of the chapter Guaishen 怪神 served as source for the collection Soushenji 搜神記. The Fengsu tongyi was praised as a rich source on many aspects of Han period life. Later it was almost forgotten and is barely investigated.

The received versions have all 10 juan. Only the version in Wu Wan's 吳琯 (jinshi degree 1571) Gujin yishi 古今逸史 has 4 juan. Yet the imperial bibliography Jingji zhi 經濟志 in the official dynastic history Suishu 隋書 speaks of 31 juan, including one additional fascicle of "records" (lu 錄). The bibliographies in the histories Jiutangshu 舊唐書 and Xintangshu 新唐書 list the book with a length of 30 juan.

The size of 10 juan is documented in Song-period 宋 (960-1279) sources. Su Song 蘇頌 (1020-1101) during that time wrote a critical preface, the Jiao Fengsu tongyi tixu 校風俗通義題序. A lot of chapters were apparently lost before the Song period. Of the 20 lost chapters, at least the names are known from records by Su Song and Lu Xinyuan 陸心源 (1834-1894), but their order is unknown. Kang Zongrong's 康仲容 Zichao 子抄 from the Liang period 梁 (502-557) and Ma Zong's 馬總 (d. 823) Yilin 意林 from the Tang period 唐 (618-907) both quote from the Fengsu tongyi. Other parts of the text can be reconstructed or testified by quotations in the large Song-period encyclopaedia Taiping yulan 太平御覽.

The oldest print dates from the Dade reign-period 大德 (1297-1307) of the Yuan era 元 (1279-1368) which is based on an earlier edition by Ding Fu 丁黼 (1166-1236), who had used two different versions of the Fengsu tongyi for his lost edition. The Yuan print was reproduced during the Ming period 明 (1368-1644) by Yao Ruo 姚若.

The Fengsu tongyi is included in the series Han-Wei congshu 漢魏叢書, Gezhi congshu 格致叢書, Gujin yishi 古今逸史, Bai mingjia shu 百名家書, Zishu baizhong 子書百種, Mishu ershiyi zhong 秘書二十一種, Siku quanshu 四庫全書 and Sibu congkan 四部叢刊. There is a chapter on families (Xingshi pian 姓氏篇) in the Zhangshi congshu 張氏叢書. In 1980, the Tianjin Renmin Press 天津人民出版社 published Wu Shuping's 吳樹平 commentary Fengsu tongyi jiaoshi 風俗通義校釋.

Table 1. Contents of the Fengsu tongyi 風俗通義
1 皇霸 Huangba Emperorship and hegemony
2 (6) 正失 Zhengshi Right and wrong
3 (8) 愆禮 Yanli Indulgence in rituals
4 (7) 過譽 Guoyu Extravagant honouring
5 (9) 十反 Shifan The ten reverses
6 (13) 聲音 Shengyin Sounds and tones
7 (15) 窮通 Qiongtong Exhaustingly covering
8 (20) 祀典 Sidian Sacrificial statutes
9 (31) 怪神 Guaishen Strange events and deities
10 (24) 山澤 Shanze Mountains and swamps
Lost chapters
心政 Xinzheng The rule of the heart
古制 Guzhi Ancient government institutions
陰教 Yinjiao Teachings about women
辨惑 Bianhuo Discourses on doubtful matters
折當 Zhedang Decision for the proper
恕度 Shudu Measures for benevolence
嘉號 Jiahao Good terms
徽稱 (穢稱) Huicheng Designations
情遇 (恃遇) Qingyu (Shiyu) About emotions
姓氏 Xingshi Family names
諱篇 Huipian Posthumous names
釋忌 (釋忘) Shiji (Shiwang) Forgetfulness
輯事 Jishi Collected statements
服妖 Fuyao Subjection of evil spirits
喪祭 Sangji Funeral offerings
宮市 Gongshi Palaces and capital markets
市井 Shijing Markets and field allotment
數紀 Shuji Mathematics
新秦 Xin Qin A new assessment of the state of Qin
獄法 Yufa Penal law
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Zhang Ying 張影, Wu Xiaodong 鄔曉東 (2023). "Fengsu tongyi zhong de xiaoshuo yinsu tanxi 《風俗通義》中的小說因素探析", Mingzuo xinshang 名作欣賞, 2023 (35): 54-57.