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Official Dynastic Histories (zhengshi lei 正史類), literally "correct or orthodox histories", is a subcategory to the literary category of historiography (shibu 史部) in traditional Chinese bibliography. The term zhengshi first appears in the imperial bibliography Jingjizhi 經籍志 in the official dynastic history Suishu 隋書. The Siku quanshu includes all zhengshi histories from the Shiji 史記 to the Mingshi 明史, in total 24 books (called Ershisi shi 二十四史), together with commentaries and notes 38 books.
The first universal history of China was the Shiji 史記 "Records of the Grand Scribe", written by Sima Tan 司馬談 (d. ca. 110 BCE) and his son Sima Qian 司馬遷 (145-86 BCE), who both were "court astrologers" (taishi 太史) under the Former Han Dynasty (206 BCE-8 CE).
The pattern of Sima Qian's historiographic work was unique and should serve as model for the official standard histories (zhengshi 正史) of the imperial dynasties for the next two thousand years. The official histories of China are collected in the corpus of the "Twenty-four histories" (Ershisi shi 二十四史). After the end of imperial China in 1911 the Qingshigao 清史稿 "Draft to a history of the Qing dynasty" (1644-1911) was added to this corpus. The Qingshigao is of course not an "offical" dynastic history because there was no emperor any more promulgating it as a such. These are the "Twenty-five histories" (Ershiwu shi 二十五史). A further history came into this collection with the Xin Yuanshi 新元史 "New history of the Yuan dynasty" (1279-1368), leading to the title of "Twenty-six histories" Ershiliu shi 二十六史.
Sima Qian used a biographic-thematic type (jizhuanti 紀傳體) of historiography instead of a more "natural" annalistic year-by-year type (biannianti 編年體). This has to do with the high value of persons and genealogies in Chinese history. The history of a dynasty is in first line the history of a family and not that of a country.
Additionally to three different types of biographies Sima Qian added tables and treatises. His book consequently consists of five types of chapters:
Although the later dynastic histories follow this pattern, not every book makes use of the full range of these five types: Benji are to be found in each of the official dynastic histories. Shijia (also called zaiji 載記) are only to be found in the Shiji, the Jinshu 晉書 "Book of the Jin dynasty" (265-420; feudal biographies for the Sixteen "Barbarian" States 五胡十六國, 300~430), and the Xin Wudaishi 新五代史 "New history of the Five Dynasties" (907-960, for the Ten States 十國, 902-979). Tables are not found in all histories from the Houhanshu 後漢書 "Book of the Later Han dynasty" (25-220 AD) to the Jiutangshu 舊唐書 "Old book of the Tang Dynasty" (618-907), and not in the Jiu Wudaishi 舊五代史 "Old history of the Five Dynasties". Treatises are not found in the Sanguozhi 三國志 "The Three Kingdoms" (220-280), Liangshu 梁書 "Book of the Liang dynasty" (502-557), Chenshu 陳書 "Book of the Chen dynasty" (557-589), Beiqishu 北齊書 "Book of the Northern Qi dynasty" (550-577), Zhoushu 周書 "Book of the (Northern) Zhou dynasty" (557-581), Nanshi 南史 "History of the Southern Dynasties" (420~589), and Beishi 北史 "History of the Northern Dynasties" (386~581).
- 本紀 benji (short: ji 紀) Imperial biographies of rulers/emperors
- 表 biao Tables
- 書 shu (later called zhi 志, sometimes kao 考) Treatises
- 世家 shijia Biographies of the houses of the feudal lords, competitor dynasties and of eminent persons
- 列傳 liezhuan (short: zhuan 傳) Biographies of ordinary persons and collective biographies like that of empresses, officials, scholars, usurpers, or reports of foreign countries
The themes of the treatises multiply in the course of the centuries; these chapters are the basis for the upcome of encyclopedias (leishu 類書) and the overviews of the political-administrative system of the dynasties (huiyao 會要). The themes of the treatises range from rituals and state offerings to ritual music, imperial robes and carriages, official measures and the calendar, river conservancy, political economy, penal law, central and local administration, the military, description of strange phenological events, bibliographies, as well as the description of the recruitment system and the state examinations. The Qingshigao is the only one of the official dynastic histories providing treatises about communications (149-152 交通志 Jiaotong zhi) and foreign relations (153-160 邦交志 Bangjiao zhi).
The types of treatises are:
The first four official dynastic histories, the Shiji, Hanshu, Houhanshu and Sanguozhi are subsumed under the title "The four histories" (Sishi 四史).
- 禮 li Rites
- 樂 yue Ritual music
- 儀衛 yiwei Courtly etiquette
- 律 lü Measures
- 曆 li Calendar
- 天文 tianwen Astronomy
- 封禪 fengshan Offerings to Heaven and Earth
- 符瑞 furui Omina and portents
- 五行 wuxing The five processes
- 河渠 hequ River conservancy
- 平準 pingzhun Agronomical matters
- 刑法 xingfa Penal law
- 食貨 shihuo Food and commerce
- 祭祀 jisi State offerings
- 地理 dili Local administration
- 選舉 xuanju State examinations
- 百官 baiguan State offices
- 兵 bing Military
- 營衛 yingwei Garrisons
- 輿服 yufu Chariots and robes
- 藝文 yiwen Literature
- 釋老 Shi-Lao Buddhism and Daoism
- 交通 jiaotong Traffic and communication
- 邦交 bangjiao Diplomatic relations
Although each of the northern and southern dynasties during the time of division have their distinct dynastic history (except the Western Wei 西魏 [535-556] and Eastern Wei 東魏 [534-550] whose history is included in the Weishu 魏書 "Book of the [Northern] Wei dynasty" [386-534]) there are two compound histories for the Southern Dynasties (Nanshi) and the Northern Dynasties (Beishi). The so-called Sixteen Barbarian States (Shiliuguo 十六國 [300~430]) were not officially granted the status of dynasties and are dealt with in the hereditary biographies of the Jinshu and the Weishu. The so-called Ten States (Shiguo 十國 [902~979]) face the same fate and their history is dealt with in the hereditary biographies of the Jiu Wudaishi and the Xin Wudaishi.
According to politial circumstances the "barbarian" dynasties of the Liao 遼 (907-1125, Khitans) and Jin 金 (1115-1234, Jurchens) were treated with as equal to the Chinese Song dynasty and were written an official dynastic history (Liaoshi 遼史 "The history of the Liao dynasty" and Jinshi 金史 "The history of the Jin dynasty"). Surprisingly this was not done for the Western Xia dynasty (Xixia 西夏, Tanguts, 1038-1227).
The Song period scholar Ouyang Xiu 歐陽修 has rearranged the histories of the Tang and the Five Dynasties, for which therefore an old version and a new version exists (Jiutangshu 舊唐書, Xintangshu 新唐書, Jiu Wudaishi 舊五代史, Xin Wudaishi 新五代史), which in some points differ significantly.
From the great Song dynasty on the official histories were called shi 史 "history" instead of shu 書 "book", like before, probably in order to distinguish the history of the great Song from that of the small southern Liu-Song. The titles of the two Wudaishi are of a later date. The original titles were Liang-Tang-Jin-Han-Zhou shu 梁唐晉漢周書 and Wudai shiji 五代史記, respectively.
Overview of the treatises (pdf).
Overview of the collective biographies (pdf).
July 8, 2010 © Ulrich Theobald · Mail
Chinese Literature over time