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nianpu 年譜, annalistic biography

Feb 13, 2013 © Ulrich Theobald

Nianpu 年譜 are biographies arranged in a strict chronological pattern (years and months) and can therefore be called "annalistic biographies". They often serve as research tools to narrative biographies (zhuanji 傳記), and are often even preferred to the latter because of the easier access to facts in this kind of "curriculum vitae". The person the events of whose life are reported is called puzhu 譜主 "master" or "subject" of the list.

Nianpu include information about the family background, living places, success in state examinations, official career, books and publications, but also private things like friendly relations. Chinese scholars made extensive use of nianpu biographies, and for all important persons in Chinese history and literature, nianpu have been written. Some few nianpu are even autobiographic (like Zhao Guang's 趙光 Zhao Wenkegong ziding nianpu 趙文恪公自訂年譜 [the name Wenkegong is added posthumously]), or were at least written by descendants of the protagonist.

Not all nianpu biographies include the word nianpu in the title. Hu Zi's 胡仔 biography of Confucius, for instance, is called Kongzi biannian 孔子編年. In more recent times the term nianpu is even used for biographies of a more narrative type.

The earliest nianpu date from the Song period 宋 (960-1279): Lü Dafang's 呂大防 Han libu Wengong ji nianpu 韓吏部文公集年譜 (biography of the scholar Han Yu 韓愈), Zhan Zili's 趙子櫟 Du Gongbu nianpu 杜工部年譜 (biography of the writer Du Fu 杜甫); and Cheng Fuxin's 程複心 Mengzi nianpu 孟子年譜 from the Yuan period 元 (1279-1368), that is a biography of the philosopher Meng Ke 孟軻. The genre of nianpu biographies flourished during the Qing period 清 (1644-1911).

Sources:
Li Bingzhong 李秉忠, Wei Canjin 衛燦金, Lin Conglong 林從龍, ed. (1990). Jianming wenshi zhishi cidian 簡明文史知識詞典 (Xi'an: Shaanxi renmin chubanshe), 322.
Wang Yuguang 王余光, Xu Ya 徐雁, ed. (1999). Zhongguo dushu da cidian 中國讀書大辭典 (Nanjing: Nanjing daxue chubanshe), 402.