An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

Huashi zuobian 花史左編

Feb 28, 2022 © Ulrich Theobald

Huashi zuobian 花史左編 "Left compilation on the history of flowers", short Huashi 花史, is a book on flowers written by Wang Lu 王路 (fl. 1621), courtesy name Zhongzun 仲遵, style Danyun 澹雲 or Taizuan Shi'an Sheng 太原是岸生, from Jiaxing 嘉興, Zhejiang..

Even if the descriptive catalogue Siku quanshu zongmu tiyao 四庫全書總目提要 says, the book had a length of 27 juan, the local gazetteer Zhejiang tongzhi 浙江通志 only lists Wang Lu's Huashi 花史 with an indicated length of 24 juan. The preface, written by Li Rihua 李日華 (1565-1635), dates from 1621, even if the book was finished in 1617. Moreover, the Siku catalogue does not mention the preface of Li, but instead quotes from Chen Jiru's 陳繼儒 (1558-1639) preface, which speaks just of 24 juan.

The chapters 25 (Hua zhi you 花之友) and 27 (Hua zhi qi 花之器) bear different names of authors in their title, namely that of Tan Yunxuan 潭雲宣, and the alias Baihua Zhuren 百花主人, respectively. It can thus be presumed that the original book had a length of just 24 juan, while ch. 22, 25, and 27 were added later.

Another difficulty concerning the history of the book is that the commentaries (xiaoyin 小引) of Wang in the book also mention a "right compilation" (youbian 右編) called Hua zhi cihan 花之辭翰, with a length of approx. 12 juan. There are no traces of this book anywhere else, perhaps because it was never finished.

The main content of the book are species and types of flowers and ancient statements or stories related to flowers. The book is divided into chapters, and the wording is rated as "frivolous and joking" (qingtiao xixue 輕佻戲謔), and thus just in the line of the vivid, yet vernacular language of scholarly books in the late Ming Dynasty 明 (1368-1644). The literary character of the book is thus a great enrichment for the text and its many recommendations for the cultivation of flowers.

The chapter Hua zhi bian 花之辨 analyses names and designations of flowers with various colours and shapes of petals, fruits, and odours. The part Hua zhi hou 花之候 is dedicated to care and nourishment of chrysanthemums, orchids, hibiscus, etc .through the year, while Hua zhi yi 花之宜 gives recommendations for irrigation, protection, propagation and rating of chrysanthemums. The prevention of diseases and care in case of pest infestation are the focus of the chapter Hua zhi ji 花之忌. Eatable or consumable fruits like pomegranates, coconut magnolia, yulan magnolia, gardenia or peonies are analysed in the chapter Hua zhi wei 花之味.

Apart from these chapters which have a scientific use, the parts Hua zhi yao 花之妖, Hua zhi qing 花之情, Hua zhi shi 花之事, and Hua zhi ni 花之似 belong to the field of literature.

There was another book with the title Huashi 花史 and a length of 10 juan. It was written by Wu Yankuang 吳彥匡. The Siku quanshu zongmu tiyao assumes that this book was a combination of a book called Huabian 花編, written in the Jiujiangyang Studio 就蔣養庵 and Cao Jieren's 曹介人 (Cao Fan 曹蕃) Huapin 花品. In Wu's book, each flower was classified according to a system of six classes, namely "divine" (shenpin 神品), wonderful (miaopin 妙品), outstanding (jiapin 佳品), adequate (nengpin 能品), practical (jupin 具品), and "leftovers" (yipin 逸品).

Li Xueqin 李學勤, Lü Wenyu 呂文郁, ed. (1996). Siku da cidian 四庫大辭典 (Changchun: Jilin daxue chubanshe), Vol. 2, 1869.
Nongye da cidian bianji weiyuanhui 《農業大詞典》編輯委員會, ed. (1998). Nongye da cidian 農業大詞典 (Beijing: Zhongguo nongye chubanshe), 676.
Wang Yuhu 王毓瑚, ed. (1964). Zhongguo nongxue shulu 中國農學書錄 (Beijing: Nongye chubanshe), 176.
Wu Feng 吳楓, ed. (1987). Jianming Zhongguo guji cidian 簡明中國古籍辭典 (Changchun: Jilin wenshi chubanshe), 389.
Yang Baolin 楊寶霖, ed. (1995). "Huashi zuobian 花史左編", in Zhongguo nongye baike quanshu 中國農業百科全書, Vol. Nongye lishi 農業歷史卷 (Beijing: Nongye chubanshe), 145.