An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

Shushi huiyao 書史會要

Aug 30, 2012 © Ulrich Theobald

Shushi huiyao 書史會要 "Important matters in the history of calligraphy" is a book on calligraphy written during the Ming period 明 (1368-1644) by Tao Zongyi 陶宗儀 (1322-1403).

The book of 9 juan length and with an supplementary appendix of 1 juan, is arranged chronologically and discusses oeuvres and skills of 450 ancient calligraphers from mythological times to the Yuan period 元 (1279-1368). The last juan includes a theoretical discussion on the art of calligraphy.

The individual discussions begin with a short biography of the artist and a description of the individual character, which was very common in historical biographies in China. Not all biographies are helpful because of quite a few persons, only the name has survived. Tao Zongyi then goes on to discuss the professional skills of each person. His book is very important to gain an overview on the lives and creations of ancient calligraphers. It provides information that is not to be found in other books, like the ornamental script in the kedou 蝌蚪 (also written 科斗) "tadpole" style thought to have been created by Cang Jie 倉頡, the mythological inventor of the Chinese script. Tao Zongyi also explains that before the invention of ink an brush, people used to write with bamboo twigs, used lacquer and painted on bamboo slips.

The Shushui huiyao also explains foreign scripts (Waiyu 外域), like those of India (Tianzhu 天竺), Japan, that of the Western Xia 西夏 (Tanguts), the kingdom of Dali 大理, and the Persian script used by the Muslims (Huihui 回回) in the Western regions.

Figure 1. Alphabet of the Phags-pa script as presented in the Shushi huiyao 書史會要
Alphabet of the 'Phags-pa script. Siku quanshu 四庫全書 edition.

The Shushui huiyao was first printed during the early Ming period, and then by Zhu Tonghong 朱統鉷, who published this book together with his father's (Zhu Mouyin 朱謀垔, 1584-1628) supplement Shushi huiyao xubian 書史會要續編. The private library Baqianjuanlou 八千卷樓 owned a manuscript version. It is also included in the series Baichuan xuehai 百川學海 and Siku quanshu 四庫全書. In 1984 the Shanghai Shudian Press 上海書店 published a modern version, based on the first printed edition.

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