An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

xingzhuang 行狀, descriptions of conduct

Aug 19, 2022 © Ulrich Theobald

Xingzhuang 行狀 “description of conduct”, also called xingshu 行述, yinshu 引述 or shizhuang 事狀, is a literary genre related to biographies. It records the genealogical affiliation and achievements of a deceased person. Descriptions of conduct were usually written by kinsmen, friends or disciples. On the backdrop of Confucian ethics, xingzhuang have a certain focus on moral conduct (xing 行), like filial piety, loyalty or charity, but also on scholarly merits. Descriptions of conduct thus served as blueprints for tomb inscriptions or sources for official biographies. The first xingzhuang texts were composed during the Han period 漢 (206 BCE-220 CE), and were in use though all ages. The word zhuang 狀 actually denoted detailed records or registers of achievements and merits, the most important of which found entrance into the descriptions.

The most famous examples are Hu Gan’s 胡干 Yang Zhibo xingzhuang 楊之伯行狀, Han Yu’s 韓愈 (768-824) Zeng Taifu Dong Gong xingzhuang 贈太傅董公行狀 (for Dong Jin 董晋, 724-799), Li Ao’s 李翱 (772-841) Han Wengong xingzhuang 韓文公行狀 (for Han Yu), Wang Anshi’s 王安石 (1021-1086) Bingbu yuanwanlang zhi zhigao Xie Gong xingzhuang 兵部員外郎知制誥謝公行狀 (for Xie Jiang 謝絳, 994-1039), Gui Youguang’s 歸有光 (1507-1571) Duchayuan Zuo Fudu Yushi Li Gong xingzhuang 都察院左副都御史李公行狀 (for Li Xianqing 李憲卿, 1506-1562) or Chen Yongguang’s 陳用光 (1768-1835) Yao Xibao Xiansheng shizhuang 姚惜抱先生事狀 (for Yao Nai 姚鼐, 1732-1815).

Compared to official biographies, descriptions of conduct are more detailed and livelier and are written in flowery and elegant language. Another difference is that while official biographies usually render positive and negative aspects of a person, descriptions of conduct stress the positive aspects of the life of a person.

Lin Fei 林非, ed. (1997). Zhongguo sanwen da cidian 中國散文大辭典 (Zhengzhou: Zhongzhou guji chubanshe), 77.
Yan Jinghan 閻景翰, ed. (1990). Xiezuo yishu da cidian 寫作藝術大辭典 (Xi’an: Shaanxi renmin chubanshe), 1346.