An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

Xiaoxue ganzhu 小學紺珠

Oct 31, 2010 © Ulrich Theobald

Xiaoxue ganzhu 小學紺珠 "Stringed-up pearls for primary learning" is an encyclopaedia compiled for the purpose of learning language (xiaoxue "the small learning"). It author is the late Southern-Song-period 南宋 (1127-1279) scholar Wang Yinglin 王應麟 (1223-1296), who also compiled the encyclopaedia Yuhai 玉海. The title Xiaoxue ganzhu is derived from a technique allegedly used by the Tang-period 唐 (618-907) scholar Zhang Yangong 張燕公 (Zhang Yue 張説, 667-730), who used pearls, lined up on a thread, and with this rosary-like tool, he was able to remember things by repetitively murmuring them.

The book has a length of 10 juan long and includes 17 themes covering 2,257 topics. The headline of each section includes a number, like liangyi 兩儀 "The Two Orders", sancai 三才 "The Three Crafts", sida 四大 "The Four Great", jiutian 九天 "The Nine Heavens", and so on, and imitates the poem Sibamu 四八目 by Tao Qian 陶潛 (Tao Yuanming 陶淵明, 365-427) from the Jin period 晉 (265-420). The arrangement in numbers is also typical for other books of primary education (mengxue 蒙學).

The arrangement of the Xiaoxue ganzhu is rated as somewhat crude and chaotic, with a missing structure in the sequence of the chapters. The chapter on music and calendar, for example, begins with musical notes and the length and weight measures derived from the length of the pitch pipes, then goes to the seasons and months, before returning to the musical notes and modes, only to speak again of intercalary months thereafter.

The pattern of the Xiaoxue ganzhu itself served later generations for compiling their own handbook for primary learning, like Zhang Jiushao's 張九韶 (1314-1396) Qunshu shituo 群書拾唾, or Gong Mengren's 宮夢仁 (1623-1713) Dushu jishu lüe 讀書紀數略. The Xiaoxue ganzhu is included in the series Congshu jicheng 叢書集成 and Siku quanshu 四庫全書, and appended to the encyclopedia Yuhai 玉海. In 1965, the Taiwan Shangwu Press 台灣商務印書館 published a modern edition, and in 1987 the Zhonghua Shuju Press 中華書局 as well.

Table 1. Contents of the Xiaoxue ganzhu 小學紺珠
1. 天道類 The Way of Heaven
律曆類 Pitch pipes and calendar
2. 地理類 Administrative geography
3. 人倫類 Social relations
性理類 Human character
人事類 Human affairs
4. 藝文類 Literature
5. 歷代類 History
聖賢類 Saints and worthies
6. 名臣類 Great ministers
7. 氏族類 Eminent families
8. 職官類 State offices
治道類 The Way of government
9. 制度類 Regulations and measures
10. 器用類 Tools and implements
儆戒類 Admonitions
動植類 Animals and plants
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Li Bingzhong 李秉忠, Wei Canjin 衛燦金, Lin Conglong 林從龍, eds. (1990). Jianming wenshi zhishi cidian 簡明文史知識詞典 (Xi'an: Shaanxi renmin chubanshe), 583.
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Wang Wenbao 王文寶 (1997). "Xiaoxue ganzhu 小學紺珠", in Men Kui 門巋, Zhang Yanjin 張燕瑾, eds. Zhonghua guocui da cidian 中華國粹大辭典 (Xianggang: Guoji wenhua chuban gongsi), 282.
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Zhao Hankun 趙含坤 (2005). Zhongguo leishu 中國類書 (Shijiazhuang: Hebei renmin chubanshe), 132-133.