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Chinese Literature
Qinjing 禽經 "The Classic of Birds"

The Qinjing 禽經 "Classic of birds" is attributed to a Spring and Autumn period 春秋 (770-5th cent. BCE) author called Shi Kuang 師曠. Shi Kuang, courtesy name Shi Ziye 師子野, was a blind musician at the court of Duke Dao 晉悼公 (r. 572-558) of the state of Jin 晉. His acustic skills were said to have a divinatory aspect, so that he was able to prognosticate who will be the victorious army on the battlefield by analyzing the sound of fighting, or to foresee the downfall of a dynasty from the type of its court and ritual music. From this point alone it seems quite improbable that he has authored a book on birds. There is a commentary attributed to the Western Jin period 西晉 (265-316) scholar Zhang Hua 張華, courtesy name Zhang Maosheng 張茂先, who came from Fanyang 范陽 (modern Gu'an 固安, Hebei ). He was Director of the Imperial Secretariat (zhongshuling 中書令) and cavalier attendant-in-ordinary (sanji changshi 散騎常侍). He urged Emperor Wu 晉武帝 (r. 265-289) to conquer the last of the Three Empires, the empire of Wu 吳 in southwest China. After the victory over Wu he was rewarded with the title of Marquis of Guangwu 廣武侯. Under the reign of Emperor Hui 晉惠帝 (r. 290-306) he was appointed Junior Mentor of the Heir Apparent (taizi shaofu 太子少傅), Right Master for Splendid Happiness (you guanglu dafu 右光祿大夫). Zhang Hua was killed by Prince Lun of Zhao 趙王倫 and Sun Xiu 孫秀. Of Of his many writings not much has survived, and fragments of them were collected in the book Zhang Sikong ji 張司空集. Zhang Hua had a wide knowledge of all scholarly fields and has written the short encyclopedia Bowuzhi 博物志. Strangely enough the alleged commentary to the Qinjing by Zhang quotes sources from the Eastern Jin period 東晉 (317-420) must therefore have been compiled at a later date. The first book mentioning Shi Kuang's Qinjing is the Song period 宋 (960-1279) dictionary Piya 埤雅 by Lu Dian 陸佃, where authorship is attributed to Shi Kuang. That of the commentary was attributed to Zhang Hua by Zuo Gui 左圭, compiler of the reprint series Baichuan xuehai 百川學海. The book and the commentary must have been written after the Tang period 唐 (618-907) which can be seen in the names of places and regions. The descriptions in the book mainly mention regions in the north of China. Cases of forgery of the Qinjing even reached secondary levels, for instance, in Wang Mao's 王楙 book Yeke congshu 野客叢書 from the Song period where sentences of the Qinjing are mentioned said to be quoted in the Piya. Yet the latter book was not yet written during Wang Mao's times. In spite of all these uncertainties the Qinjing was a relatively widespread and popular text, and does not lack a scholarly character. It was therefore included in the imperial series Siku quanshu.
There are, the Qinjing postulated, 360 kinds of birds, of which the master is the phoenix (feng 鳳 male phoenix and huang 凰 female phoenix). The Qinjing mentions the relation of the climate and the birds living the diverse regions. The author has observed the seasonal migration of birds. He observes a relationship between the food and the shape of the beak.
The Qinjing is an important source for all later encylopedias dealing with birds. There were numerous prints of the Qinjing, and it is included in all important reprint series, like Baichuan xuehai, Shuofu 說郛, Tang-Song congshu 唐宋叢書, Han-Wei congshu 漢魏叢書, Gezhi congshu 格致叢書, Bai mingjia shu 百名家書 or Yimen guangdu 夷門廣牘.

Li Xueqin 李學勤, Lü Wenyu 呂文鬰 (1996). Siku da cidian 四庫大辭典, Changchun: Jilin daxue chubanshe, vol. 2, p. 1864.
Qian Yanwen 錢燕文, Zhu Jing 朱敬 (1993). "Qinjing tiyao 禽經提要", in: Zhongguo kexue jishu dianji tonghui 中國科學技術典籍通彙, Shengwu juan 生物卷, vol. 1, pp. 101-104. Ed. Ren Jiyu 任繼愈/Gou Cuihua 茍萃華. Zhengzhou: Henan jiaoyu chubanshe.

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November 7, 2010 © Ulrich Theobald · Mail