An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

Wenyuange shumu 文淵閣書目

Feb 19, 2011 © Ulrich Theobald

Wenyuange shumu 文淵閣書目 "Catalogue of the Hall of Literary Profundity" is a book catalogue of the library in the Wenyuan Hall in the Imperial Palace. It was compiled during the Ming period 明 (1368-1644) by Yang Shiqi 楊士奇 (1365-1444), actual name Yu 寓 (Shiqin being his courtesy name), style Dongli 東里, posthumous title Wenzhengong 文貞公.

Yang Shiqi became in 1399 a member of the Hanlin Academy 翰林院 and participated in the compilation of the "veritable records" (shilu 實錄) or official annals of the founder of the Ming dynasty, the Taizu shilu 太祖實錄. He climbed up the ladder of career to the position of Minister of War (bingbu shangshu 兵部尚書). In 1421 he moved to the new capital Beijing in the north where he took care for the imperial library that was housed in the Wenyuan Hall. Yang was posthumously granted the title of Grand Preceptor (taishi 太師)

The original place of the Wenyuan Hall was near the Fengtian Gate 奉天門 in the Imperial Palace in Nanjing. When the Emperor Chengzu 明成祖 (r. 1403-1424) moved the capital to Beijing, the whole palace structure was transmitted to the new capital. The Wenyuan Hall was inaugurated in the right wing of the southern part of the new place compound. In 1421 the books were transferred from Nanjing to Beijing, where they were first stored in a corridor next the Zuoshun Gate 左順門.

During the Xuande reign-period 宣德 (1426-1435) the imperial library included books of about 1 million juan. During the Zhengtong reign-period 正統 (1436-1449) the library was transferred to the Wenyuan Hall, where Yang Shiqi compiled the catalogue.

The Wenyuan Hall was still used as the imperial library under the Qing dynasty 清 (1644-1911). In 1774-1776, a new building was constructed behind the Wenhua Hall 文華殿 in imitation of the Tianyi Library 天一閣 in Ningbo 寧波, Zhejiang. This building was serving as the new Wenyuan Hall where since 1782 the main copy of the imperial book series Siku quanshu 四庫全書 was stored, the so-called Wenyuan Hall copy 文淵閣本. The Hall also housed the encyclopaedia Gujin tushu jicheng 古今圖書集成 from the Kangxi reign-period 康熙 (1662-1722).

The 4-juan (or 12-juan) long catalogue of Yang Shiqi does, unfortunately, not include all books of the library. It was later printed in an abridged version by Bao Tingbo 鮑廷博 (1728-1814). The catalogue also includes the shelf numbers of the books, following the sequence of characters in the Qianziwen 千字文. The whole arrangement is therefore different than in the traditional system of the four sections of Chinese literature.

The first part (character tian 天) covers the dynastic history of the Ming (guochao 國朝), and only the second part the Confucian Classics (characters di 地, xuan 玄, and huang 黃), including books on lexicography and music. In the traditional system, the Classics occupied the first position.

The third part (characters yu 宇 and zhou 宙) includes historiographic books and the fourt part (characters hong 洪 and huang 荒) the "Masters and philosophers". Histories and masters are only divided into the main category, miscellaneous texts, and appendices (like shi 史 "history", shi fu 史附 "history, appended", shi 史雜 "history, miscellaneous").

The fifth part (characters ri 日 and yue 月) are prose belles-lettres (wenji 文集) and poems (shici 詩詞), the sixth part (character yin 盈) encyclopaedias (leishu 類書), the seventh part (character ze 昃) rhyme dictionaries (yunshu 韻書) and family registers (xingshi 姓氏), the eight part (character chen 辰) calligraphic books (fatie 法帖) and books on painting (huapu 畫譜).

The character su 宿 covers books on administration (zhengshu 政書), books on law (xingshu 刑書), military treatises (bingfa 兵法) and books on mathematics and astronomy (suanfa 算法).

The character lie 列 stands for books on divination (yinyang 陰陽), medicine (yishu 醫書) and agriculture (nongpu 農圃), the character zhang 張 for Daoist books, and the character han 寒 for Buddhist writings.

The last part of the catalogue (characters lai 來, shu 暑, and wang 往) includes essays or treatises, divided into "ancient and new treatises" (gujinzhi 古今志), "old treatises" (guzhi 舊志) and "contemporary treatises" (xinzhi 新志).

The categories of the catalogue of the Wenyuan Library are only partially identical with the common patters. Books on calligraphy and painting, for example, are entirely new. The sequence of the main sections of the Confucian Classics, histories, masters and philosophers, and finally belles-lettres, is not adhered to. Some categories are very comprehensive, like the histories and the masters, while others are more detailed, like the last part, the treatises, or the rhyme dictionaries, which are normally subsumed under the lexicographic books.

The catalogue is also very simple. It does not list the names of the authors and does not comment the books in respect to their history or content, but at least provides the information if the book was complete or only present in parts, or totally missing. Inspite of these shortcomings the catalogue is an important list of books available at that time. It includes 7,256 books in total, of which about one third were printed, the rest were manuscripts.

The oldest print of the catalogue was produced in 1800, distributed over 20 juan or fascicles. It was part of the series Duhuazhai congshu 讀畫齋叢書 of Gu Xiu 顧修. This edition does not include the postface by Bao Tingbo. Later editions were published in the series Guoxue jiben congshu 國學基本叢書 and Congshu jicheng chubian 叢書集成初編.

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