The "Yiwen zhi" [phrase omitted] (Treatise on Arts and Letters) Bibliography in Its Own Context.

Author:Hunter, Michael
Position:Critical essay


The basic facts and history of the "Yiwen zhi" are well established. (1) As recounted in the bibliography's preface and elsewhere in the Hanshu, Emperor Cheng [phrase omitted] (r. 33-7 BCE) in the year 26 BCE ordered Imperial Household Grandee (guanglu dafu [phrase omitted]) Liu Xiang [phrase omitted] (79-8 BCE) to "oversee the collation of the Five Classics and reserve writings within [the imperial archives]" [phrase omitted]. (2) Liu Xiang's specific remit was the collation of "canons and commentaries, [writings of] the masters, and poetic compositions" ,[phrase omitted] [phrase omitted] Working alongside him were Infantry Colonel (bubing xiaowei [phrase omitted]) Ren Hong [phrase omitted] Director of Archives (taishi ling [phrase omitted]) Yin Xian [phrase omitted], and Attending Physician (shiyi [phrase omitted] ) Li Zhuguo [phrase omitted], who oversaw the collation of military writings (bingshu [phrase omitted]), algorithmic and technical texts (shushu [phrase omitted]), and medical texts (fangji [phrase omitted]), respectively. (3)

One product of their efforts was a reference work entitled the Bielu [phrase omitted] (Separate Listings), which described each work's collation and summarized its content. The Hanshu records that Liu Xiang was further assisted by Ban Gu's great-uncle, Ban You [phrase omitted]. (4) A few years after Liu Xiang's death in 7 BCE, his son and Palace Attendant and Chief Commandant of Imperial Equipages (shizhong fengche duwei [phrase omitted]) Liu Xin [phrase omitted] (50 BCE-23 CE) at the behest of Emperor Ai [phrase omitted] (r. 7-1 BCE) continued his father's work by "collecting the texts of the Six Arts and various other works and classifying them as the Seven Surveys" [phrase omitted] [phrase omitted]. (5) Like the Bielu, the Qiliie was presented to the throne upon its completion. Where the Bielu seems to have been a compilation of discrete bibliographical records, the Qiliie was probably the earliest effort to "categorize" (zhongbie [phrase omitted]) and "synthesize" (zong [phrase omitted]) the collection as a whole. (6)

Today, the Bielu and Qiliie exist only in fragments, including a handful of Liu Xiang's "listings" (lu [phrase omitted]) preserved as prefaces to other works. (7) Consequently, the bulk of our knowledge of the activities of the late Western Han bibliographers is derived from Ban Gu's later version of Liu Xin's Qiliie--the "Yiwen zhi." The question of the relationship between the "Yiwen zhi" and the Bielu and Qiliie is a difficult one. In his commentary to the "Yiwen zhi," Yan Shigu [phrase omitted] (581-645) supplemented the text with more than twenty quotations from the Bielu and Qiliie, thus revealing the "Yiwen zhi" as a significantly abbreviated version of its predecessors. (8) Since the earlier works' disappearance towards the end of the Tang period (618-907), various scholars have compiled more extensive collections of fragments. (9) Another difference has to do with textual loss. In its entry for a Shi Zhou [phrase omitted] (Scribe Zhou) text in fifteen fascicles, the "Yiwen zhi" notes that "six fascicles were lost during the Jianwu reign period [25-56 CE]" [phrase omitted], presumably due to the sacking of Chang'an [phrase omitted] and the transfer to the Eastern Han capital at Luoyang [phrase omitted]. (10) In two other instances, Ban Gu noted that he "had [Liu Xiang's] listing but not the text [itself]" [phrase omitted]. (11) Ban Gu also supplemented Liu Xin's catalogue with new texts by Yang Xiong [phrase omitted] (53 BCE-18 CE) and a handful of others. (12)

Figure 1 presents the entirety of the "Yiwen zhi" reduced to two-point font. As seen there and in the table below, the bibliography consists of six major divisions: the "Six Arts" (liu yi [phrase omitted]), (1) (3) "Masters" (zhuzi [phrase omitted]), "Poetic Compositions" (shifu [phrase omitted]), "Military Writings" (bingshu [phrase omitted]), "Algorithmic and Technical Texts" (shushu [phrase omitted]), and "[Medical] Recipes and Techniques" (fangji [phrase omitted]). Together with a "general survey" (ji lue [phrase omitted]) that doubles as an introduction, these categories comprise the seven "surveys" (lue [phrase omitted]) of Liu Xin's Qiliie. Each major division is split into further subdivisions or "categories" (zhong [phrase omitted]):

1[phrase omitted] [phrase omitted]; (Changes), 2--Shu [phrase omitted] (Documents), 3--Shi [phrase omitted] (Odes), 4--Li [phrase omitted] (Rituals), 5--Yue [phrase omitted] (Music), 6--Chunqiu [phrase omitted]; (Annals), 7--Lunyu [phrase omitted] (Analects), 8--Xiaojing #E? (Classic of Filial Piety), 9--xiaoxue [phrase omitted] (elementary learning) 2 [phrase omitted] 1--rujia [phrase omitted] (Ru), 2--daojia [phrase omitted] (Daoists), 3--yinyangjia [phrase omitted] (yin-yang experts), 4--fajia [phrase omitted] (legalists), 5--mingjia [phrase omitted] (terminologists), 6--Mojia [phrase omitted] (Mohists), 7--zonghengjia [phrase omitted] (strategists), 8--zajia [phrase omitted] (syncretists), 9--nongjia [phrase omitted] (agriculturalists), 10--xiaoshuo [phrase omitted] (folklorists) 3 [phrase omitted] 1---fit [phrase omitted] (rhapsodies [after Qu Yuan [phrase omitted]), 2--fu [phrase omitted] (rhapsodies [after Lu Jia [phrase omitted]), 3--fii [phrase omitted] (rhapsodies [after Sun Qing [phrase omitted] or Xunzi [phrase omitted]]), 4--zafu [phrase omitted] (miscellaneous fu), 5--geshi [phrase omitted] (lyrics) 4 [phrase omitted] 1--quanmou [phrase omitted] (tactics and strategems), 2--xingshi [phrase omitted] (exigencies and circum- stances), 3--yinyang [phrase omitted] (yin and yang), 4--jiqiao [phrase omitted] (techniques and technology) 5 [phrase omitted] 1--tianwen [phrase omitted] (heavenly patterns), 2--lipu [phrase omitted] (calendars and tables), 3--wuxing 3I [phrase omitted] (five phases), 4--shigui [phrase omitted] (milfoil and plastron divination), 5--zazhan [phrase omitted] (miscellaneous prognostications), 6--xingfa [phrase omitted] (morphoscopy) 6 [phrase omitted] 1--yijing [phrase omitted] (medical classics), 2--jingfa [phrase omitted] (pharmacology), 3--fangzhong [phrase omitted] (in the bedroom), 4--shenxian [phrase omitted] (spirit transcendence) In the remainder of the paper, I shall use this numbering scheme to reference particular sections, e.g., 5/1 for "heavenly patterns."

Entries within each subdivision (indicated by O in Figure 1, with entries listed in clockwise order from the top edge of each subdivision) are arranged in a hybrid chronological/subject/genre order. (14) Where possible, the bibliographer listed earlier works first and like works together, e.g., placing the earlier Zuozhuan [phrase omitted] (Zuo Traditions) ahead of the Gongyang [phrase omitted] and Guliang [phrase omitted]: commentaries to the Chunqiu or splitting the shigui [phrase omitted] subdivision into two halves, the first on plastron divination and the second on milfoil divination. (15) Within the "Six Arts" division, he also ordered texts according to their genre and status, listing the "classics" (jing [phrase omitted]) first, followed by their commentarial "traditions" (zhuan [phrase omitted]), "chapter-and-verse" commentaries (zhangju [phrase omitted]), and various other exegetical formats.

The amount of information included within individual entries varies. All entries include at least a title and ajuan [phrase omitted] (roll) or pian [phrase omitted] (fascicle). (16) (In Figure 1, the thickness of each subdivision border is relative to the total number of fascicles or rolls listed for that subdivision.) A number of entries (indicated by [??] in Figure 1) include additional information about a work's author, chronology, and/or content. In a few instances, the bibliographer also noted when such information was "unknown" (bu zhi [phrase omitted]) or when a work was "lost" or "missing" (wang [phrase omitted], wu [phrase omitted]). (17) Lines tabulating the total number of juan, pian, and jia [phrase omitted] ("individuals" or "textual lineages") are included for all subdivisions and major divisions as well as for the "Yiwen zhi" as a whole. (18) The final count includes "6 major divisions, 38 subdivisions, 596 jia, and 13,269 Juan" [phrase omitted]. However, owing to the addition and subtraction of certain texts by Ban Gu, the actual numbers are slightly different. (19) It has been estimated that more than three-quarters of the works listed in the bibliography are no longer extant. (20)

All major divisions and subdivisions (the poetic subdivisions excepted) are capped with prose summaries ranging from twenty characters to over five hundred characters in length. (In Figure 1, these are the diamond-shaped boxes at the end of each division.) Many of these summaries open with a canonical quotation, most often from the Classic of Changes or Analects. Within the "Masters" division, the summaries trace the origin of each school to a particular office within the idealized bureaucracy of the Zhou [phrase omitted]] dynasty (e.g., the Daoists to "scribal offices" [shiguan [phrase omitted]]). Many relate a genre's history from the time of the ancient sage kings through the "decline of the Zhou" [phrase omitted], the "Qin burning of the books" [phrase omitted] [phrase omitted], and the "rise of the Han" [phrase omitted], in addition to listing the most important moments and figures in its Han reception.


The more difficult questions concern the nature of the "Yiwen zhi," its ideological agenda, and its historical value.

The limitation of the "Yiwen zhi" as a source is a common theme within the Chinese scholarly tradition. Implicit in Yan Shigu's effort to supplement the text with quotations from the Qiliie and Bielu was the recognition that the "Yiwen zhi" did not include as much information as it could (or should) have. Following Yan Shigu's lead, some scholars have used the received...

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