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Shen Nong shu 神農書

Jun 1, 2013 © Ulrich Theobald

Shen Nong 神農 or Shen Nong shu 神農書 "Book of the Divine Husbandman" was a treatise on agriculture written by an unknown author at an unknown point of time. The "Divine Husbandman" Shen Nong 神農 is a mythological person to whom the invention of agriculture and herbal medicine are attributed. The book was twenty chapters long but went lost at an early point of time. The bibliographical chapter Yiwen zhi 藝文志 in the official dynastic history Hanshu 漢書 calls the book briefly Shen Nong. The Tang-period 唐 (618-907) master Yan Shigu 顏師古 (581-645), commenting on the Hanshu, quotes a note of the bibliographer Liu Xiang 劉向 (79-8 or 77-6 BCE), who assumed that the legalist masters Li Kui 李悝 or Shang Yang 商鞅 (c. 390-338 BCE) might have been the authors or initiators of the book. Yet this assumption cannot be substantiated.

The Qing-period 清 (1644-1911) scholar Ma Guohan 馬國翰 (1794-1857) collected fragments of it quoted in the books Guanzi 管子, Lüshi chunqiu 呂氏春秋, Huainanzi 淮南子, Liuzi xinlun 劉子新論, and, most important, the Tang-period 唐 (618-907) book Kaiyuan zhanjing 開元占經, an astrological text. These fragments are to be found in Ma Guohan's series Yuhanshanfang jiyi shu 玉函山房輯佚書.

Sources:
Gao Liushui 高流水 (1996). "Shen Nong shu 神農書", in Feng Kezheng 馮克正, Fu Qingsheng 傅慶升, eds. Zhuzi baijia da cidian 諸子百家大辭典 (Shenyang: Liaoning renmin chubanshe), 447.
Li Xueqin 李學勤, Lü Wenyu 呂文鬰, eds. (1996). Siku da cidian 四庫大辭典 (Changchun: Jilin daxue chubanshe), Vol. 2, 1644.