An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art

Canshu 蠶書

Jun 15, 2013 © Ulrich Theobald

Canshu 蠶書 "The Book of Silkworms" is an agricultural treatise compiled during the Northern Song period 北宋 (960-1126) by Qin Guan 秦觀 (1049-1100), courtesy name Shaoyou 少遊 or Taixu 太虛, style Huaihai jushi 淮海居士.

Qin hailed from Gaoyou 高郵 (today in Jiangsu) and was famous as a friend of the writer Su Shi 蘇軾 (Su Dongpo 蘇東坡, 1037-1101). In the early Yuanyou reign-period 元祐 (1086-1093), he became proofreader (zhengzi 正字) of the Palace Library (mishusheng 秘書省) and junior compiler (bianxiuguan 編修官) of the Historiography Institute (guoshiyuan 國史院) as a secretary of Su Shi, who was himself appointed erudite (boshi 博士) in the National University (taixue 太學). In 1094, Qin was appointed controller-general (tongpan 通判) of Hangzhou 杭州, and then of Leizhou 雷州. When Emperor Huizong 宋徽宗 (r. 1100-1125) ascended to the throne, Qin Guan retired and lived in Tengzhou 藤州, where he died. His collected writings are called Huaihai ji 淮海集 and Niyou ji 逆旅集.

The book Canshu was written on the base of observations Qin Guan made in Yanzhou 兖州 near Gaoyou, and as a result of talks he had with the women occupied with the raising of silkworms and spinning yarn. In that region, nearly all women engaged in silk production, as the preface explains. A closer investigation shows that the text was only brought into the shape of a book by Qin Guan's son Qin Zhen 秦湛 (fl. 1116), courtesy name Chudu 處度.

The Canshu is divided into ten chapters talking about the treatment of the moth's eggs (Zhongbian 種變), xxx (Shishi 時食), (Zhiju 制居), cooking the cocoons (Huazhi 化治), xxx (Qianyan 錢眼), xxx (Suoxing 瑣星), xxx (Tianti 添梯), spinning wheel (Che 車), sacrifices to the Goddess of Silk Can Shen 蠶神 (Qishen 祈神), and silk production along the city states of the Silk Road (Rongzhi 戎治). The text is very short and clear, but comprehensive, so that the statements in the Canshu can be compared with those in the chapter Cansang 蠶桑 of the book Nongshu 農書 by Chen Fu 陳旉 (1075-?). It was therefore appended to this book in its edition in the imperial series Siku quanshu 四庫全書.

The Canshu is China's earliest preserved book describing the business of silk production as a whole. Statements in the early treatises Fan Shengzhi shu 汜勝之書, Qimin yaoshu 齊民要術 or Sishi zuanyao 四時纂要 are very brief and selective, and two Tang-period 唐 (618-907) books with the title Canjing 蠶經 as well as Sun Guangxian's 孫光憲 (896-968) book Canshu are lost.

The Canshu is to be found in the series Shuofu 説郛, Yimen guangdu 夷門廣牘, Bailing xueshan 百陵學山, Zhibuzuzhai congshu 知不足齋叢書, Longwei mishu 龍威秘書, Qingzhaotang congshu 清照堂叢書, Nongxue congshu 農學叢書 and Congshu jicheng 叢書集成.<

Wang Guozhong 王國忠 (1996)."Canshu 蠶書", in Zhongguo xueshu mingzhu tiyao 中國學術名著提要, Vol. Keji 科技 (Shanghai: Fudan daxue chubanshe), 401.
Lin Qixian 林其錟 (1994). "Canshu 蠶書", in Zhongguo xueshu mingzhu tiyao 中國學術名著提要, Vol. Jingji 經濟 (Shanghai: Fudan daxue chubanshe), 170.