An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

Xu Qianxue 徐乾學

Sep 22, 2013 © Ulrich Theobald

Xu Qianxue 徐乾學 (1631-1694), courtesy name Yuanyi 原一, style Jian'an 健庵, was a collector and publisher of the early Qing period 清 (1644-1911) . He hailed from Kunshan 昆山, Jiangsu, and crowned his official career with the office of Minister of Justice (xingbu shangshu 刑部尚書).

Xu owned a large library for which he used the turmoils during the early decades of the Qing period to acquire all collectible books that he was able to get. For his large collection he had built a huge building, where all his possessions were stored according to librarian categories. The library was called Chuanshilou 傳是樓, expressing the fact that his books were all that he could hand down (chuan 傳) to his sons. Two other, smaller, libraries of him were called Guanshan Hall 冠山堂 and Bishan Hall 碧山堂. Xu Qianxue compiled two catalogues of his possessions, namely the general bibliography Chuanshilou mulu 傳是樓書目, with a length of 8 juan, and a catalogue specialized on Song 宋 (960-1279) and Yuan 元 (1279-1368) period prints, the Chuanshilou Song-Yuan ben shumu 傳是樓宋元本書目.

He also compiled two overviews of ancient literature, Jiangu jilan 鑒古輯覽 and Guwen yuanjian 古文淵鑒, both written on imperial order. His own scholarly texts are called Duli tongkao 讀禮通考, Guwen Shangshu kao 古文尚書考, Xia-Shang-Zhou sanzhu shuo 夏商周三祝說 (all commentraies on ritual and historiographic aspects in the Confucian Classics), Zizhi tongjian houbian 資治通鑒後編 (a continuation of the history Zizhi tongjian 資治通鑒). Xu's collected writings are Yupu ji 虞浦集, Ciguan ji 詞館集, Bishan ji 碧山集 and Danyuan ji 淡園集 (also written 憺園集).

Xu Qianxue took part in the compilation of the imperial geography Da-Qing yitong zhi 大清一統志, the statecraft encyclopaedia Da-Qing huidian 會典 and the official dynastic history Mingshi 明史.

Xu Qianxue's concept of historiography was broadness and density, concreteness and truthfulness, and he therefore criticised and ancient dynastic history Hanshu 漢書 as in many points too "licentious" (zisi 恣肆), for weakness in the tables (biao 表) that had rather the character of family registers (pudie 普牒) than of informative reports, or for his treatises (zhi 志), where a lot of anachronistic terms were to be found.

The great collector Xu Qianxue was also interested in seals (yin 印) and had different chops produced with which he marked his many books, with inscriptions like Chuanshilou yinji 傳是樓印記, Xushi zhenwan 徐氏珍玩, Xu Qianxue yin 徐乾學印, Kunshan xushi jiacang 昆山徐氏家藏, Jian'an 健庵 or Xu Jian'an 徐健庵.

Liang Zhan 梁戰, Guo Qunyi 郭群一, ed. (1991). Lidai cangshujia cidian 歷代藏書家辭典 (Xi'an: Shaanxi renmin chubanshe), 332.
Yang Zhucai 楊柱才 (1996). "Xu Qianxue 徐乾學", in Zhuzi baijia da cidian 諸子百家大辭典 (Shenyang: Liaoning renmin chubanshe), 237.