An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art

Xin Wudaishi 新五代史

Jul 3, 2010 © Ulrich Theobald

Xin Wudaishi 新五代史 "New history of the Five Dynasties" is the second official dynastic history (zhengshi 正史) of the Five Dynasties 五代 (907-960). Correctly said it is an alternative history (bieshi 別史), but belongs nevertheless to the corpus of the dynastic histories.

It was compiled by Ouyang Xiu 歐陽修 (1007-1072) and is 74-juan long, of which 12 are imperial annals-biographies (benji 本紀), 45 normal and collective biographies (liezhuan 列傳), and 3 treatises (kao 考), as well as 11 biographies of hereditary houses (shijia 世家) and 3 collective biographies of barbarians, i.e. foreign countries and peoples.

The original title of the book was Wudai shiji 五代史記 "Historical records of the Five Dynasties", but it was soon renamed Xin Wudaishi in order to distinguish it from the older Wudaishi 五代史 written by Xue Juzheng 薛居正 (912–981) that was then accordingly renamed Jiu Wudaishi 舊五代史.

The Xin Wudaishi is the last of the 24 dynastic histories compiled by one single person. While Xue Juzheng arranged his history of the Five Dynasties as a series of five practically separate books (the original title was therefore Liang-Tang-Jin-Han-Zhou shu 梁唐晉漢周書), Ouyang Xiu saw his new history as a compact single book.

Compared to the Jiutangshu Ouyang Xiu's book is rigidly abbreviated (only half as long as the Jiu Wudaishi). He eliminated quotations from imperial decrees and shortened the narrative parts. Although Ouyang Xiu wrote his history as a single entity he arranged different groups of persons under headings pointing at their affiliation to one of the five subsequent ruling dynasties. The imperial annals are therefore united at the beginning of the book (1-12), thus pretending that the Five Dynasties constituted one coherent unit. They are followed by the normal and collective biographies, but in a chronological order, beginning with the imperial consorts (here called jiaren 家人) of the Later Liang 後梁 (907-923; ch. 13), then that of the Later Tang 後唐 (923-936; ch. 14-16), the Later Jin 後晉 (936-946; ch. 17), the Later Han 後漢 (947-950; ch. 18) and finally the Later Zhou dynasty 後周 (951-960; ch. 19-20).

The chapters proceed with the subjects (chen 臣) of the Later Liang (21-23), then that of the Tang, etc. (until 31). Chapters 32 to 38 are collective biographies of persons with a certain social status or excellent moral behaviour, namely persons dying for their country (32 Sijie zhuan 死節傳), persons dying for a noble cause (33 Sishi zhuan 死事傳), persons of superior morale (34 Yixing zhuan 一行傳), persons of proper moral conduct (36 Yi'er zhuan 義兒傳), masters of musical entertainment (37 Lingguan zhuan 伶官傳) and eunuchs (38 Huanzhe zhuan 宦者傳). One exception is chapter 35 that only contains six subjects of the Tang dynasty 唐 (618-907; ch. 35 Tang liuchen zhuan 唐六臣傳).

Chapters 39 to 57 are "miscellaneous" biographies (zazhuan 雜傳). The biographies of hereditary houses deal with the Ten States 十國 (902~979) that ruled over southern China during that time. Chapter 71 is a chronologic overview written in the shape of annals (nianpu 年譜).

The Xin Wudaishi is the only one of the dynastic histories that used the term kao "investigation" for the treatises, and not zhi 志 "record". The only book also using this term is the statecraft encyclopaedia Wenxian tongkao 文獻通考 that was written around the same time. Unfortunately the Xin Wudaishi only covers two themes in treatises, namely astronomy (58-59 Sitian kao 司天考) and state offices (50 Zhifang kao 職方考).

The biographies of hereditary houses (61-70) are headed by the name of the state whose history is described (like 61 Wu shijia 吳世家), while in the Jiu Wudaishi, the focus was lying on the biographic character of these chapters (like Jiu Wudaishi 134 [Biography of] Yang Xingmi 樣行密 etc.).

The last part of the Jiu Wudaishi, as a kind of appendix, is dedicated to foreign countries (72-74).

Ouyang Xiu tried to follow the pattern established in the Confucian Classic Chunqiu 春秋 "Spring and Autumn Annals", where persons acting in history were blamed or praised for their behaviour. Ouyang's language is plain and straighforward, as a consequence of his own support of a movement for simplicity in literary language, like it had supposedly been common in antiquity (the guwen 古文 "old syle"). It is quite interesting to see that the terminology for the types of chapters deviates substantially from other official dynastic histories, and makes the Xin Wudaishi quite an extraordinary book. Even the original title, Wudai shiji, proudly underlines its importance, namely as a successor of the ancient history Shiji 史記.

From 1207 on the Xin Wudaishi became one of the dynastic histories, by decree of Emperor Zhangzong 金章宗 (r. 1189–1208) of the Jin dynasty 金 (1115-1234). There was an old commentary on the Xin Wudaishi written by Xu Wudang 徐無黨 (1024–1086, original name Xu Guang 徐光), and a textual critique pointing to errors written by Wu Zhen 吳縝 (dates unknown, courtesy name Tingzhen 廷珍), Wudaishi zuanwu 五代史纂誤, of which only 3 juan survive. The Qing period 清 (1644-1911) scholars Peng Yuanrui 彭元瑞 (1713–1803) and Liu Fenghao 劉鳳浩 wrote a further commentary, Wudai shiji zhu 五代史記注. In 1974 the Zhonghua Book Company 中華書局 published a modern edition.

Liu Naihe 劉乃和 (1992). "Xin Wudaishi 新五代史", in Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, Zhongguo lishi 中國歷史 (Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe), Vol. 3, 1325.