An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art

Xia xiaozheng 夏小正

Sep 13, 2013 © Ulrich Theobald

Xia xiaozheng 夏小正 "The small calendar of the Xia" is the oldest astronomical and at the same time the oldest 'scientific' text of ancient China. It has been transmitted as a chapter of the classic text Da Dai Liji 大戴禮記. The bibliographical chapter Jingji zhi 經籍志 in the official dynastic history Suishu 隋書 lists the Xia xiaozheng as a separate text.

See also the Liji 禮記 chapter Yueling 月令, the Chinese calendar, Edicts concerned with seasons, and Books on astronomy.

There is much dispute about the question whether the Xia xiaozheng was really a product of the Xia period 夏 (21th - 17th cent. BCE) or if it was written in later ages, but definitely the text existed already during the Spring and Autumn period 春秋 (770-5th cent. BCE), and it can be assumed that it goes back to much older sources.

For all the twelve months the short text Xia xiaozheng (it is only 463 characters long) notes down the configuration and movement of the stars (the constellations appearing at dawn and at dusk at the horizon, the direction of the ladle of the Big Dipper, or the appearance of the Milky Way), meterorological phenomena, phenology as well as agricultural and political activities.

About the first month, for example, it is said that the star Ju 鞠 appears. At the beginning of dusk the constellation Shen 參 culminates. The tail of the "Northern Dipper" (beidou 北斗) points downwards. At that time favourable wind prevails. It is necessary that there is thunder in the first month. The farmer goes out as soon as the snow is melting. The frost fades, and people remove the remaining dirt. The hibernating animals wake up, the wild goose appears in the northern villages, the pheasant cries excitedly, the fish appear and break the ice, in the gardens sprouts the leek, the voles come out, the otters "offer" fish, the eagles behave like turtledoves. The willows push, the plums, abricots and peaches begin to flower, nodules cover the herb gao 縞, and the chicks breed and feed.

Unfortunately the text of the transmitted Xia xiaozeng is incomplete and here and there contains errors. A number of statements in the received text are quite confused, and indication that it has come into being over a long period of time. The descriptions of the constellations (with Ju 鞠 instead of Liu 柳, Huo 火 instead of Xin 心 and Chen 辰 instead of Fang 房) prove that parts of the text are very old, which can also be seen in the position of the seven stars of the Big Dipper that is different from reports of later times.

Furthermore, later commentaries on the main text have wrongly been incorporated into the main text in later editions, so that it is in some instances difficult to tell the original text from commentary text. In fact, the greatest part of the text consists of a brief original sentence some crucial terms of which are then explained. Therefore some scholars call the received text Xia xiaozheng zhuan 夏小正傳 "Small calendar of the Xia with commentary".

The most important commentators of the Xia xiaozheng were Fu Songqing 傅崧卿 (jinshi degree 1115; Xia xiaozheng Daishi zhuan 夏小正戴氏傳), Gu Fengzao 顧鳳藻 (fl. 1818; Xia xiaozheng jingzhuan jijie 夏小正經傳集解), Huang Pilie 黄丕烈 (1763-1825, comments on Fu Songqing's book), Ren Beilin 任北麟 (c. 1800, Xia xiaozheng buzhu 夏小正補注), Zhuang Shuzu 莊述祖 (1751-1816, Xia xiaozheng dengli wenju yinyi 夏小正等例文句音義), Hong Zhenxuan 洪震煊 (1770-1815, Xia xiaozheng shuyi 夏小正疏義), Gu Fengzao 顧鳳藻 (fl. 1821, Xia xiaozheng jingzhuan jijie 夏小正經傳集解), Wang Yun 王筠 (1784-1854, Xia xiaozheng zhengyi 夏小正正義) and Ma Zhengqing 馬徵慶 (fl. 1868, Xia xiaozheng jianshu 夏小正箋疏).

Quotation 1. The First Month (Zhengyue 正月)
N.B. Translation according to Grynpas (1972: 243ff.).
啟蟄。言始發蟄也。 The hibernators awake. This means, the hibernators begin to reappear.
鴈北鄉。先言鴈而後言鄉者,何也?見鴈而後數其鄉也。鄉者,何也?鄉其居也,鴈以北方為居。何以謂之(為居)?生且長焉爾。[...] The wild goose [reappears] in the northern villages. Why is it first said, "the wild goose", and only then "the northern villages"? Because on first perveices the geese, and then concludes where they go to. What means "villages"? It is where they [usually] live. Their habitat is the north. Why is it called their habitat? Because they are born and grow up there.[...]
雉震呴。震也者,鳴也。呴也者,鼓其翼也。正月必雷,雷不必聞,惟雉為必聞。何以謂之雷?則雉震呴,相識以雷。 The wild pheasant, excited, cries. Its excitement makes it cry. It cries by beating with its wings. In the first month, thunder is normally rumbling, but it is not necessarily audible [for men], yet the pheasant can hear it in any case. Why does one speak of thunder? Because the pheasant is excited by thunder and cries, so one learn that it is thundering.
魚陟負冰。陟,升也。負冰云者,言解蟄也。 The fish appear and break the ice. "Appear" means, they rise. The words "break the ice" refer to the awakening of the hibernants.
農緯厥耒。緯,束也。束其耒云爾者,用是見君之亦有耒也。 The landlord mends his plough. "To mend" means, to tie. The words "ties his plough" means, that even a prince uses to deal with his plough.
初歲祭耒始用𣈱。[...]或曰:祭韭也。 At the beginning of the year one offers to the plough, and for the first time uses chang wine. [...] It is also said that leeks are offered.
囿有〔見〕韭。囿也〔者〕,園之藩者也。 In the gardens, the leek appears. "Gardens" are encircled places of repose.
時有俊風。俊者,大也。大風,南風也。何大於南風也?曰:合冰必於南風,解冰必於南風,生必於南風,收必於南風,故大之也。 At times good wind appears. "Good" means, great; the great wind is the southern wind. What is "great" with the southern wind? The condensation (i.e. formation) of the ice happens by all means by the southern wind, and the same is true for its melting, for the generation [of new life], and for the time of harvest. This is why it is called "great".
寒曰滌,凍塗。滌也者,變也,變而煖也。凍塗〔也〕者,凍下而澤上多也。 The cold ceases, and the ice [remains] in the mud. "Cease" means, a change [occurs]; it changes and becomes warm. "Ice [remains] in the mud means, the ice stays beneath the abundant water [of molten ice].
田鼠出。田鼠者,嗛鼠也。記時也。 The field mice appear. "Field mice" are hamsters. It signifies the season [of spring].
農率均田。率者,循也。均田者,始除田也。言農夫急除田也。[...] The country[man] proceeds and levels the fields. "To proceed" means, to go through step by step. "Level the fields" means, he begins to arrange the fields. This will say the landlord hastens to arrange the fields. [...]

As a separate text the Xia xiaozheng can be found in the collectanea Dainange congshu 岱南閣叢書 and Congshu jicheng chubian 叢書集成初編 which both include Sun Xingyan's 孫星衍 (1753-1818) commented text Xia xiaozheng zhuan, and also the Cuilangganguan congshu 翠琅玕館叢書, Shuofu 說郛 (Wanwei shantang edition), Xiaofanghuzhai congshu 小方壺齋叢書 and Yuyuan congshu 芋園叢書.

Li Xueqin 李學勤, Lü Wenyu 呂文鬰, ed. (1996). Siku da cidian 四庫大辭典 (Changchun: Jilin daxue chubanshe), Vol. 1, 233.

Grynpas, Benedykt (1967). Un legs confucéen: fragments du Ta Tai Li Ki (Kortrijk: Groeninghe).
Grynpas, Benedykt (1972). Les écrits de Tai l'ancien et le petit calendrier des Hia: textes confucéens taoisants (Paris: Librairie d'Amérique et d'Orient).

Further reading:
Chen Jiujin 陈久金 (1982). "Lun Xia xiaozheng shi shiyue taiyang li 论《夏小正》是十月太阳历", Ziran kexue shi yanjiu 自然科学史研究, 1982/4.
Einoo, Shingo (2005). "Ritual Calendar: Change in the Conception of Time and Space", Journal asiatique, 293/1: 99-124.
Guan Minyi 管敏义 (2002). "Cong Xia xiaozheng dao Lüshi chunqiu Shi'er ji: Zhongguo nianjian de chuxing 从《夏小正》到《吕氏春秋·十二纪》——中国年鉴的雏形", Ningbo daxue xuebao (Renwen kexue ban) 宁波大学学报(人文科学版), 2002/2.
Hu Tiezhu 胡铁珠 (2000). "Xia xiaozheng xingxiang niandai yanjiu 《夏小正》星象年代研究", Ziran kexue shi yanjiu 自然科学史研究, 2000/3.
Kurihara, Keisuke, tr. by Barry Steben (1992). "The Hsia Hsiao-cheng, the Earliest Chinese Agricultural Calendar", in Bernard Hung-Kay Luk, ed. Contacts between Cultures, Vol. 4. Eastern Asia: History and Social Sciences (Lewiston, NY: Mellen), 276-278.
Li Diandian 林甸甸 (2014). "Xian-Qin yueling wenti yanjiu 先秦月令文体研究", Beijing shifan daxue xuebao (Shehui kexue ban) 北京师范大学学报(社会科学版), 2014/4.
Sun Xiaochun, Jacob Kistemaker (1997). The Chinese Sky During the Han: Constellating Stars and Society (Leiden: Brill).
Zhao Zhuangyu 赵庄愚 (1986). "Xia xiaozheng xingxiang niandai kao 《夏小正》星象年代考", Ziran zazhi 自然杂志, 1986/4.