An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

Yanfanlu 演繁錄

Nov 7, 2011 © Ulrich Theobald

Yanfanlu 演繁錄 "Records of evolving luxuriance", also written 演繁露 "Evolving luxuriant dew", also called Chengshi yanfan lu 程氏演繁錄, is a "brush-notes"-style essay collection (biji 筆記) written during the Southern Song period 宋 (960-1279) by Cheng Dachang 程大昌 (1123-1195), courtesy name Taizhi 泰之, from Huizhou 徽州, Anhui. He obtained his jinshi degree in 1151. He was educational instructor (jiaoshou 教授) in the prefecture of Taiping 太平, proofreader (zhengzi 正字) in the Palace Library (mishusheng 秘書省), assistant editorial director of the Imperial Secretariat (zhuzuo zuolang 著作佐郎), senior compiler (xiuzhuan 修撰) of the Imperial Archives (mige 秘閣), Vice Director of the Palace Library (mishu shaojian 秘書少監), drafter in the Imperial Secretariat (zhongshu sheren 中書舍人), Libationer (jijiu 祭酒) in the Directorate of Education (guozijian 國子監) and finally Minister of Personnel (libu shangshu 吏部尚書). Cheng Dachang's posthumous title is Revered Master Wenjian 文簡公. Because of his excellent education and wide scholarship people said that he was even admired by the great Neo-Confucian Master Zhu Xi 朱熹 (1130-1200). He has also written the books Shilun 詩論, Yiyuan 易原, Yugong shanchuan dili tu 禹貢山川地理圖, Yonglu 雍錄, Kaogubian 考古編 and Beibian beidui 北邊備對, the first few being books about some Confucian Classics, the latter books on geography and historiography.

The book was originally 16-juan-long, but only one juan has survived. The title is derived from Dong Zhongshu's 董仲舒 (179-104 BCE) treatise Chunqiu fanlu 春秋繁露 from the Han period 漢 (206 BCE-220 CE), but the essay Yanfanlu has nothing to do with this metaphysical interpretation of government and history. Yet the Chunqiu fanlu was partially lost during Cheng's time, and he was inspired to write a supplement to this ancient book to clarify some incorrect statements in many later books like the Tang-period encyclopaedia Tongdian 通典 and the Song encyclopaedia Taiping yulan 太平御覽.

The Yanfanlu is based on the Neo-Confucian precept that the ultimate meaning of the principle of the world and society can be found out by engaging in the study of all things and to obtain perfect knowledge (gewu zhizhi 格物致知). The oldest book that was compiled with the attempt to "encompass" the world was the Han-period glossary Erya 爾雅 that was, although belonging to the scholarly métier of "lesser learning" (xiaoxue 小學) counted among the Confucian Classics. The second book fulfilling this task was, in Cheng Dachang's eyes, the Chunqiu fanlu, but after the Han period it had largely been neglected. Cheng Dachang therefore brought together 488 paragraphs dealing with all different matters on earth from ancient times to the Song period.

Cheng Dachang was ridiculed by his contemporary Lou Yue 樓鑰 (1137-1213) because he had written an imaginary text instead of searching for quotations of fragments of the Chunqiu fanlu in various books. Cheng's method had made a writer of fiction out of a Confucian philosopher. The writer Zhou Mi 周密 (1232-1298) explains in his book Qidong yeyu 齊東野語 how Gao Sisun 高似孫 (1158-1231) rediscovered the lost parts of the Chunqiu fanlu that were of course, something totally different from what Cheng had produced. Yet the compilers of the imperial series Siku quanshu 四庫全書 in the late 18th century still rated this discovery as an apocryphal text, and continued paying reverence to Cheng Dachang by defending him to write “with the spirit” of Dong Zhongshu (yet in a Neo-Confucian interpretation), and not with his brush. In fact, there are many errors in the way in which Cheng Dachang used older sources for his book that can easily be criticized. Yet the Yanfanlu is a collection of remarks and thoughts about many different matters that have a high historiographical value (like horse trading, river drainage, or the lending of oxen by peasants), while others deal with customs and habits of the local populations, their products and dialects.

The Yanfanlu was first printed by the Pangong Hall 泮宮 in Quannan 泉南 by the author himself, and then again by his son Cheng Tan 程覃 in 1220 and a descendant called Cheng Xu 程煦 in 1551.

The Yanfanlu is included in the series Siku quanshu, Ruxue jingwu 儒學警語, Tang-Song congshu 唐宋叢書, Xu guyi congshu 續古逸叢書, Shuofu 說郛 and Xuejin taoyuan 學津討原.

There is a 6 juan long supplement called Xu yanfanlu 續演繁露, also written by Cheng Dachang. Unlike the Yanfalu, this supplement is divided into four parts speaking about the themes administrative system (Zhidu 制度), prose writings (Wenlei 文類), poetry (Shishi 詩事), and "topics of conversation" (Tanzhu 談助), with 229 paragraphs.

Li Xueqin 李學勤, Lü Wenyu 呂文鬰, eds. (1996). Siku da cidian 四庫大辭典 (Changchun: Jilin daxue chubanshe), Vol. 2, 1919.
Wu Feng 吳楓, ed. (1994). Zhonghua gu wenxian da cidian 中華古文獻大辭典, Vol. Wenxue 文學 (Changchun: Jilin wenshi chubanshe), 742.