CLASSICAL SCHOLARSHIP - Minor dynasties (A.D. 200-600)

A History of Chinese Literature - Herbert Allen Giles 1973

Minor dynasties (A.D. 200-600)

IN the domains of classical and general literature HUANGFU MI (A.D. 215-282) occupies an honourable place. Beginning life at the ploughtail, by perseverance he became a fine scholar, and adopted literature as a profession. In spite of severe rheumatism he was never without a book in his hand, and became so absorbed in his work that he would forget all about meals and bedtime. He was called the Book-Debauchee, and once when he wished to borrow works from the Emperor Wu Ti of the Chin dynasty, whose proffers of office he had refused, his Majesty sent him back a cart-load to go on with. He produced essays, poetry, and several important biographical works. His work on the Spring and Autumn Annals had also considerable vogue.

SUN SHU-JAN, of about the same date, distinguished himself by his works on the Confucian Canon, and wrote on the Erh Ya.

HSÜN HSÜ (d. A.D. 289) aided in drawing up a Penal Code for the newly-established Chin dynasty, took a leading part in editing the Bamboo Annals, which had just been discovered in Honan, provided a preface to the Mu T'ien Tzŭ Chuan, and also wrote on music.

KUO HSIANG (d. A.D. 312) occupied himself chiefly with the philosophy of Lao Tzŭ and with the writings of Chuang Tzŭ. It was said of him that his conversation was like the continuous downflow of a rapid, or the rush of water from a sluice.

Kuo P'o (d. A.D. 324) was a scholar of great repute. Besides editing various important classical works, he was a brilliant exponent of the doctrines of Taoism and the reputed founder of the art of geomancy as applied to graves, universally practised in China at the present day. He was also learned in astronomy, divination, and natural philosophy.

FAN YEH, executed for treason in A.D. 445, is chiefly famous for his history of the Han dynasty from about the date of the Christian era, when the dynasty was interrupted, as has been stated, by a usurper, down to the final collapse two hundred years later.

SHÊN YO (A.D. 441-513), another famous scholar, was the son of a Governor of Huai-nan, whose execution in A.D. 453 caused him to go for a time into hiding. Poor and studious, he is said to have spent the night in repeating what he had learnt by day, as his mother, anxious on account of his health, limited his supply of oil and fuel. Entering official life, he rose to high office, from which he retired in ill-health, loaded with honours. Personally, he was remarkable for having two pupils to his left eye. He was a strict teetotaller, and lived most austerely. He had a library of twenty thousand volumes. He was the author of the histories of the Chin, Liu Sung, and Ch'i dynasties. He is said to have been the first to classify the four tones. In his autobiography he writes, "The poets of old, during the past thousand years, never hit upon this plan. I alone discovered its advantages." The Emperor Wu Ti of the Liang dynasty one day said to him, "Come, tell me, what are these famous four tones?" "They are whatever your Majesty pleases to make them," replied Shên Yo, skilfully selecting for his answer four characters which illustrated, and in the usual order, the four tones in question.

HSIAO TUNG (A.D. 501-531) was the eldest son of Hsiao Yen, the founder of the Liang dynasty, whom he predeceased. Before he was five years old he was reported to have learned the Classics by heart, and his later years were marked by great literary ability, notably in verse-making. Handsome and of charming manners, mild and forbearing, he was universally loved. In 527 he nursed his mother through her last illness, and his grief for her death impaired his naturally fine constitution, for it was only at the earnest solicitation of his father that he consented either to eat or drink during the period of mourning. Learned men were sure of his patronage, and his palace contained a large library. A lover of nature, he delighted to ramble with scholars about his beautiful park, to which he declined to add the attraction of singing-girls. When the price of grain rose in consequence of the war with Wei in 526, he lived on the most frugal fare; and throughout his life his charities were very large and kept secret, being distributed by trusty attendants who sought out all cases of distress. He even emptied his own wardrobe for the benefit of the poor, and spent large sums in burying the outcast dead. Against forced labour on public works he vehemently protested. To his father he was most respectful, and wrote to him when he himself was almost at the last gasp, in the hope of concealing his danger. But he is remembered now not so much for his virtues as for his initiation of a new department in literature. A year before his death he completed the Wên Hsüan, the first published collection of choice works, whole or in part, of a large number of authors. These were classified under such heads as poetry of various kinds, essays, inscriptions, memorials, funeral orations, epitaphs, and prefaces.

The idea thus started was rapidly developed, and has been continued down to modern times. Huge collections of works have from time to time been reprinted in uniform editions, and many books which might otherwise have perished have been preserved for grateful posterity. The Record of the Buddhistic Kingdoms by Fa Hsien may be quoted as an example.