A History of Chinese Literature - Herbert Allen Giles 1973

The Sung Dynasty (A.D. 900-1200)


SEVERAL dictionaries of importance were issued by various scholars during the Sung dynasty, not to mention many philological works of more or less value. The Chinese have always been students of their own language, partly, no doubt, because they have so far never condescended to look at any other. They delight in going back to days when correspondence was carried on by pictures pure and simple; and the fact that there is little evidence forthcoming that such a system ever prevailed has only resulted in stimulating invention and forgery.

A clever courtier, popularly known as "the nine-tailed fox," was CH'ÊN P'ÊNG-NIEN (A.D. 961-1017), who rose to be a Minister of State. He was employed to revise the Kuang Yün, a phonetic dictionary by some unknown author, which contained over 26,000 separate characters. This work was to a great extent superseded by the Chi Yün, on a similar plan, but containing over 53,000 characters. The latter was produced by Sung Ch'i, mentioned in chap, iii., in conjunction with several eminent scholars.

TAI T'UNG graduated in 1237 and rose to be Governor of T'ai-chou in Chehkiang. Then the Mongols prevailed, and Tai T'ung, unwilling to serve them, pleaded ill-health, and in 1275 retired into private life. There he occupied himself with the composition of the Liu Shu Ku or Six Scripts, an examination into the origin and development of writing, which, according to some, was published about A.D. 1250, but according to others, not until so late as the year 1319.

From the rise of the Sung dynasty may be dated the first appearance of the encyclopaedia, destined to occupy later so much space in Chinese literature. Wu SHU (A.D. 947-1002), whose life was a good instance of "worth by poverty depressed," may fairly be credited with the production of the earliest work of the kind. His Shih Lei Fu dealt with celestial and terrestrial phenomena, mineralogy, botany, and natural history, arranged, for want of an alphabet, under categories. It is curiously written in the poetical-prose style, and forms the foundation of a similar book of reference in use at the present day. Wu Shu was placed upon the commission which produced a much more extensive work known as the T'ai P'ing Yü Lan. At the head of that commission was LI FANG (A.D. 924-995), a Minister of State and a great favourite with the Emperor. In the last year of his life he was invited to witness the Feast of Lanterns from the palace. On that occasion the Emperor placed Li beside him, and after pouring out for him a goblet of wine and supplying him with various delicacies, he turned to his courtiers and said, "Li Fang has twice served us as Minister of State, yet has he never in any way injured a single fellow-creature. Truly this must be a virtuous man." The T'ai P'ing Yü Lan was reprinted in 1812, and is bound up in thirty-two large volumes. It was so named because the Emperor himself went through all the manuscript, a task which occupied him nearly a year. A list of about eight hundred authorities is given, and the Index fills four hundred pages.

As a pendant to this work Li Fang designed the T'ai P'ing Kuang Chi, an encyclopaedia of biographical and other information drawn from general literature. A list of about three hundred and sixty authorities is given, and the Index fills two hundred and eighty pages. The edition of 1566—a rare work—bound up in twelve thick volumes, stands upon the shelves of the Cambridge University Library.

Another encyclopædist was MA TUAN-LIN, the son of a high official, in whose steps he prepared to follow. The dates of his birth and death are not known, but he flourished in the thirteenth century. Upon the collapse of the Sung dynasty he disappeared from public life, and taking refuge in his native place, he gave himself up to teaching, attracting many disciples from far and near, and fascinating all by his untiring dialectic skill. He left behind him the Wên Hsien T'ung K'ao, a large encyclopaedia based upon the T'ung Tien of Tu Yu, but much enlarged and supplemented by five additional sections, namely, Bibliography, Imperial Lineage, Appointments, Uranography, and Natural Phenomena. This work, which cost its author twenty years of unremitting labour, has long been known to Europeans, who have drawn largely upon its ample stores of antiquarian research.

At the close of the Sung dynasty there was published a curious book on Medical Jurisprudence, which is interesting, in spite of its manifold absurdities, as being the recognised handbook for official use at the present day. No magistrate ever thinks of proceeding to discharge the duties of coroner without taking a copy of these instructions along with him. The present work was compiled by a judge named Sung Tz'ŭ, from preexisting works of a similar kind, and we are told in the preface of a fine edition, dated 1842, that "being subjected for many generations to practical tests by the officers of the Board of Punishments, it became daily more and more exact." A few extracts will be sufficient to determine its real value:—

(1.) "Man has three hundred and sixty-five bones, corresponding to the number of days it takes the heavens to revolve.

"The skull of a male, from the nape of the neck to the top of the head, consists of eight pieces—of a Ts'ai-chou man, nine. There is a horizontal suture across the back of the skull, and a perpendicular one down the middle. Female skulls are of six pieces, and have the horizontal but not the perpendicular suture.

"Teeth are twenty-four, twenty-eight, thirty-two, or thirty-six in number. There are three long-shaped breastbones.

"There is one bone belonging to the heart of the shape and size of a cash.

"There is one 'shoulder-well' bone and one 'rice-spoon' bone on each side.

"Males have twelve ribs on each side, eight long and four short. Females have fourteen on each side."

(2.) "Wounds inflicted on the bone leave a red mark and a slight appearance of saturation, and where the bone is broken there will be at each end a halo-like trace of blood. Take a bone on which there are marks of a wound, and hold it up to the light; if these are of a fresh-looking red, the wound was inflicted before death and penetrated to the bone; but if there is no trace of saturation from blood, although there is a wound, it was inflicted after death."

(3.) "The bones of parents may be identified by their children in the following manner. Let the experimenter cut himself or herself with a knife, and cause the blood to drip on to the bones; then if the relationship is an actual fact, the blood will sink into the bone, otherwise it will not. N.B.—Should the bones have been washed with salt water, even though the relationship exists, yet the blood will not soak in. This is a trick to be guarded against beforehand.

"It is also said that if parent and child, or husband and wife, each cut themselves and let the blood drip into a basin of water, the two bloods will mix, whereas that of two people not thus related will not mix.

"Where two brothers, who may have been separated since childhood, are desirous of establishing their identity as such, but are unable to do so by ordinary means, bid each one cut himself and let the blood drip into a basin. If they are really brothers, the two bloods will coagulate into one; otherwise not. But because fresh blood will always coagulate with the aid of a little salt or vinegar, people often smear the basin over with these to attain their own ends and deceive others; therefore always wash out the basin you are going to use, or buy a new one from a shop. Thus the trick will be defeated."

(4.) "There are some atrocious villains who, when they have murdered any one, burn the body and throw the ashes away, so that there are no bones to examine. In such cases you must carefully find out at what time the murder was committed, and where the body was burnt. Then, when you know the place, all witnesses agreeing on this point, you may proceed without further delay to examine the wounds. The mode of procedure is this. Put up your shed near where the body was burnt, and make the accused and witnesses point out themselves the exact spot. Then cut down the grass and weeds growing on this spot, and burn large quantities of fuel till the place is extremely hot, throwing on several pecks of hemp-seed. By and by brush the place clean; then, if the body was actually burnt on this spot, the oil from the seed will be found to have sunk into the ground in the form of a human figure, and wherever there were wounds on the dead man, there on this figure the cil will be found to have collected together, large or small, square, round, long, short, oblique, or straight, exactly as they were inflicted. The parts where there were no wounds will be free from any such appearances."