An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

Duoneng bishi 多能鄙事

Jan 25, 2022 © Ulrich Theobald

Duoneng bishi 多能鄙事 "Various skills in daily life" is a heterogeneous agricultural treatise believed to have been compiled during the very early Ming period 明 (1368-1644) by Liu Ji 劉基 (1311-1375), courtesy name Bowen 伯溫. He is known as the author of the book Yulizi 郁離子.

It is, however, probable that Liu Ji was not the real author of the book, and the name of this person was only acquired to gain better sales figures. Quite a few paragraphs were copied from the domestic-use encyclopaedia (tongshu 通書) Jujia biyong shilei quanji 居家必用事類全集 from the Yuan period 元 (1279-1368) which might be a sign that the book was in fact an altered and extended extract of this encyclopaedia. Many parts are also identical to the farming book Bianmin tuzuan 便民圖纂. The factual date of compilation is thus rather the mid-Ming rather than the early Ming period.

As usual, many quotations from older books on farming are included, but also novel information based on practical experience.

The texts is divided into twelve chapters or juan covering the themes food and drinking, clothing and adornments, tools and implements, medicine, farming and gardening, domestic animals, the influence of Yin and Yang, divination, as well as the "ten spirits" (shishen 十神). The compilers of the imperial series Siku quanshuy 四庫全書 categorized the Duoneng bishi therefore as heterogenous text (zajia 雜家). It is not included in the series, but only described in the catalogue of existing books (cunmu 存目).

The chapter on farming deals with flowers, fruits, legumes, medical plants, tea and bamboos, and describes various methods of cultivation and propagation. The part on domestic animals includes information on the breeding and medical treatment of mammals (horses, oxen, sheep, dogs, pigs), birds (chicks, geese, ducks) and fishes. From the agricultural aspect, the part on cooking is also interesting because it describes modes of the processing and storage of agricultural produce.

Of particular interest is the part on dyeing in the chapter on clothing and adornments. It describes, for 13 different colours, the necessary dyes, auxiliaries, the dosage and the process in detail. This part of the book can be called the first report of dyeing technique in ancient China.

The oldest print of the Duoneng bishi dates from 1540, and there is another Ming-period print from the very late 16th century. The first lithographic print was published in 1917 by the Ronghua Studio 榮華書局 in Shanghai.

Table 1. Contents of the Duoneng bishi 多能鄙事
1-4 飲食類 Drinking and food
4 服飾類 Clothing and adornments
5 居室類 Living
器用類 Tools and implements
6 百藥類 The hundred herbal medicines
7 農圃類 Farming and horticulture
牧養類 Animal breeding
8-10 陰陽類 Yin and Yang
11 占卜類 Prognostication
12 占斷類 Divination
十神類 The Ten Spirits
Dai Shaosun 戴紹蓀 (1984). "Duoneng bishi 多能鄙事", in Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, part Fangzhi 紡織 (Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe), 37.
Dong Guangbi 董光璧 (1981). "Liu Ji de ta de Duoneng bishi 劉基和他的《多能鄙事》", Zhongguo keji shi zazhi 中國科技史雜志, 1981 (2): 100-101.
Hu Fanying 胡凡英 (1985). "Duoneng bishi zhiyi 《多能鄙事》質疑", Qilu xuekan 齊魯學刊, 1985 (5): 96+95.
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Peng Shijiang 彭世獎 (1995). "Duoneng bishi 多能鄙事", in Zhongguo nongye baike quanshu 中國農業百科全書, Vol. Nongye lishi 農業歷史卷 (Beijing: Nongye chubanshe), 52.
Wang Yuhu 王毓瑚, ed. (1964). Zhongguo nongxue shulu 中國農學書錄 (Beijing: Nongye chubanshe), 135.
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Zhao Feng 趙豐 (1991). "Duoneng bishi ransefa chutan 《多能鄙事》染色法初探", Dongnan wenhua 東南文化, 1991 (1): 72-78.
Zou Xinqiu 鄒新球 (2007). "Cong Duoneng bishi de jieyi lun hongcha de qiyuan 從《多能鄙事》的釋義論紅茶的起源", Fujian chaye 福建茶葉, 2007 (2): 37-38.