An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art

Qinjing 禽經

Nov 7, 2010 © Ulrich Theobald

Qinjing 禽經 "Book of birds" is attributed to an author of the Spring and Autumn period 春秋 (770-5th cent. BCE) called Shi Kuang 師曠 courtesy name Ziye 子野, a blind musician at the court of Duke Dao 晉悼公 (r. 572-558) of the state of Jin 晉. His acoustical skills were said to have a divinatory aspect, so that he was able to prognosticate which one would be the victorious army on the battlefield. He did this by analyzing the sound of fighting. He was also believed to foresee the downfall of a dynastic house from the type of its court and ritual music. From this point alone it seems quite improbable that he has authored a book on birds.

There is a commentary attributed to the Western-Jin-period 西晉 (265-316) scholar Zhang Hua 張華(232-300), who is known better for his brief encyclopaedia Bowuzhi 博物志. However, the commentary to the Qinjing quotes sources from the Eastern Jin period 東晉 (317-420) and must therefore have been compiled at a date later than 317.

The first book mentioning Shi Kuang's Qinjing is the Song-period 宋 (960-1279) dictionary Piya 埤雅 by Lu Dian 陸佃 (1042-1102), who attributed the authorship of the book to Shi Kuang and that of the commentary to Zuo Gui 左圭 (fl. 1273), compiler of the series Baichuan xuehai 百川學海. At any rate, the book and the commentary must have been written after the Tang period 唐 (618-907) which can be seen in the names of places and regions and from the fact that the text in not mentioned in book catalogues until the early Song period.

The descriptions in the book mainly mention regions in the north of China. The book postulates that there were 360 species of birds whose master was the phoenix (feng 鳳 "male phoenix", and huang 凰 "female phoenix"). The Qinjing mentions the relation of the climate with the birds living the diverse regions of China. The author observed the seasonal migration of birds and the relationship between the food and the shape of the beak, for instance, the long beaks of water birds who eat living creatures, and the short beaks of birds eating grain. The habitat of pelicans (ti 鵜) was water, while woodpeckers (lie 鴷) lived among trees.

In spite of all textual uncertainties and the inclusion of non-scientific aspects the Qinjing was a relatively widespread and popular text and does not lack a scholarly character. It was therefore included in the imperial series Siku quanshu. The Qinjing is an important source for all later encylopedias dealing with birds. There were numerous prints of the Qinjing, and it is included in all important reprint series, like Baichuan xuehai, Shuofu 說郛, Tang-Song congshu 唐宋叢書, Han-Wei congshu 漢魏叢書, Gezhi congshu 格致叢書, Bai mingjia shu 百名家書 or Yimen guangdu 夷門廣牘.

Li Shuihai 李水海, ed. (1994). Zhongguo xiaoshuo da cidian 中國小說大辭典, Vol. Xian-Qin zhi Nanbeichao 先秦至南北朝卷 (Xi'an: Shaanxi renmin chubanshe), 346.
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. 1864.
Sun Zhaoliang 孫兆亮, Xu Weitong 徐維統 (1996). "Qinjing 禽經", in Zhou Gucheng 周谷城, ed. Zhongguo xueshu mingzhu tiyao 中國學術名著提要, Vol. Keji 科技卷 (Shanghai: Fudan daxue chubanshe), 689.
Tie Yanwen 鐵燕文, Zhu Jing 朱敬 (1993). “Qinjing tiyao 《禽經》題要” in Gou Cuihua 茍萃華, ed. Zhongguo kexue jishu dianji tonghui 中國科學技術典籍通彙, part Shengwu 生物卷 (Zhengzhou: Henan jiaoyu chubanshe), Vol. 1, 101-104.
蜀漢 (221-263)