An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

Ma Guohan 馬國翰

May 6, 2012 © Ulrich Theobald

Ma Guohan 馬國翰 (1794-1857), courtesy name Cixi 詞溪, style Zhuwu 竹吾, was a late Qing period 清 (1644-1911) collector and publisher. His ancestors hailed from Zhangqiu 章丘, Shandong, but later moved to Licheng 歷城 near Jinan 濟南. As a young boy Ma Guohan accompanied his father to Shanxi to visit important libraries. In 1831 he earned the juren degree and was appointed magistrate of a series of districts in Shaanxi. After a phase of recreation he became prefect of Longzhou 隴州, Shaanxi.

Ma Guohan was such an ardent collector of books that he spent half of his salary to increase his library, the famous Yuhan shanfang 玉函山房 "Mountain Studio of the Jade Case". He was particularly interested in text-critical editions and fragments of ancient texts. Until 1849, Ma had acquired more than 57,000 juan of books that were listed in his catalogue Yuhan shanfang cangshu bulu 玉函山房藏書簿錄. This 25-juan long catalogue was organised like Chao Gongwu's 晁公武 Junzhai dushu zhi 郡齋讀書志 from the Song period 宋 (960-1279) and was divided according to the four traditional categories of literature. A great part of his books were encyclopaedias that were immensely helpful for his own research in transmitted fragments.

The result of this research is the series Yuhan shanfang jiyi shu 玉函山房輯佚書 that includes the fragments of 594 lost books written before the Song period. The collection is the earliest private compilation on literary fragments. Some contemporaries doubted that Ma Guohan was the compiler of this collection and attributed it to Zhang Yongyuan 章宗源 (1751-1800). Ma Guohan did not have a son, and so his library went lost. His private writings include the books Nongyan 農諺, Xia xiaozheng shizhu 夏小正詩注, Yuhan shanfang wenji 玉函山房文集 (collected prose writings), Yuhan shanfang shiji 玉函山房詩集 (collected poems), Yueling qishier hou shi zizhu 月令七十二候詩自注, Mugengtie 目耕帖, Zhuruyi 竹如意, and Hong'ouhuaxuan quanpin 紅藕花軒泉品.

Li Yu'an 李玉安, Chen Chuanyi 陳傳藝, ed. (1989). Zhongguo cangshujia cidian 中國藏書家辭典 (Wuhan: Hubei jiaoyu chubanshe), 255.