An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

Literary Category of Historiography (shibu 史部)

The literary category of historiography (shibu 史部) is the second of the four categories (sibu 四部) in the traditional system of traditional literary genres in China. In the series Siku quanshu 四庫全書, the corpus of historiographic writings is divided into 15 subcategories, including various types of history books, namely those written in the "official" biographic-thematic style (zhengshi 正史), such written in an annalistic style (biannian 編年), theme-related histories (jishi benmo 紀事本末), alternative histories (bieshi 別史), "miscellaneous" histories (zashi 雜史), extracts from history books (shichao 史鈔), regional histories (zaiji 載記), collections of edicts and memorials (zhaoling zouyi 詔令奏議), biographies of eminent persons (zhuanji 傳記), books on administrative and descriptive geography (dili 地理), on state offices and regulations on such (zhiguan 職官), regulations for all aspects of statecraft (zhengshu 政書), books of historical critique (shiping 史評), as well as the subcategory of bibliographies and catalogues (mulu 目錄).

Table 1. Subcategories of Historiography and Statecraft
正史 Zhengshi Official Dynastic Histories
編年 Biannian Annals and Chronicles
紀事本末 Jishi benmo Historical Events in their Entirety
別史 Bieshi Alternative (Unofficial) Histories
雜史 Zashi Histories on Miscellaneous Topics
詔令奏議 Zhaoling zouyi Edicts and Memorials
傳記 Zhuanji Biographies
史鈔 Shichao Excerpts from History Books
載記 Zaiji Regional Histories and such of Autonomous States
時令 Shiling Edicts Concerned with the Seasons
地理 Dili Geography
職官 Zhiguan Books on State Offices
政書 Zhengshu Writings on Statecraft and Administration
目錄 Mulu Bibliographies and Catalogues
史評 Shiping Historical Critique

The Origins of the Historiographical Category

Historiography was traditionally seen as based on two different texts of the Classics canon, namely the "Book of Documents" (Shangshu 尚書), where the speeches and instructions of the ancient kings of the "Three Dynasties" of antiquity (sandai 三代: Xia 夏, Shang 商 and Zhou 周) were recorded, and the "Spring and Autumn Annals" Chunqiu 春秋, the chronicle of the dukes of the regional state of Lu 魯. In the oldest surviving bibliography, the chapter Yiwen zhi 藝文志 in the official dynastic history Hanshu 漢書, historiographical texts are therefore directly attached to the Chunqiu, and have no category of their own.

The first catalogue that did include a section for history was Xu Xun's 荀勗 (also written 荀勖, 231-289) Zhongjing xinbu 中經新簿, where the user was able to find the categories (official) books on history (shiji 史記), books on "ancient matters" (jiushi 舊事), statecraft documents (huanglan bu 皇覽簿), and texts on miscellaneous matters (zashi 雜事). These writings are found in the third place of the whole catalogue, and not, as in other catalogues, in the second place, which might be more appropriate when considering that history was seen as a "derivate" of the Confucian Classics.

In Wang Jian's 王儉 (452-489) catalogue Qizhi 七志 and Ruan Xiaoxu's 阮孝緒 (479-536) Qilu 七錄 (both lost today), history books have their own place, but Wang still subsumes this type of text under the heading jingdian zhi 經典志 "Classics and canons", while Ruan already used a very detailed pattern of subcategories (under the heading jizhuan lu 記傳錄 "records and biographies") of which most remained in use until the compilation of the Siku quanshu.

Ruan's subcategories were dynastic histories (guoshi 國史), "commented chronologies" (zhuli 注歷), "ancient affairs" (jiushi 舊事), books on state offices (zhiguan 職官), on court rituals (yidian 儀典), jurisdictional matters (fazhi 法制), histories of "illegal" dynasties (weishi 偽史), "miscellaneous" biographies (zazhuan 雜傳), stories of ghosts and spirits (guishen 鬼神), books on geography (tudi 土地), genealogies (puzhuang 譜狀), and catalogues (bulu 簿錄). Stories of supernatural occurrences were often included in the biographies section, but are in many cases found among the section of "story-tellers" (xiaoshuojia 小說家) in the "Masters and philosophers" category. The section of "ancient histories" (gushi 古史) was later transformed into that of annals and chronicles (biannian 編年), but the bibliographic chapters in the Suishu 隋書 (Jingji zhi 經籍志) and the Jiutangshu 舊唐書 still use this term.

Books on "Ancient Matters"

The term jiushi "ancient affairs" or "ancient matters" is used for unofficial histories, compiled not by the imperial historiography institute, but by various administrative agencies, and kept in their archives. This genre is from the bibliography of the Xintangshu 新唐書 on known as gushi 故事, but the category was dissolved in the Qing period 清 (1644-1911).

Histories of Illegal States, Topic-Related Histories, and "Miscellaneous" Histories

Histories of "illegal" states and dynasties were also called bashi 霸史 "history of hegemons". Alternative histories (bieshi 別史) were seen as alternatives to the official dynastic histories. This type if first found in Chen Zhensun's 陳振孫 (c. 1183-c. 1262) catalogue Zhizhai shulu jieti 直齋書錄解題. A further type of the "great" history books are histories in their entirety (jishi benmo 紀事本末), in which history is narrated focusing on events, and not on persons or chronological sequence. Although topic-related jishi benmo histories were written since the Song period 宋 (960-1279), they were only given an own section in the Siku quanshu. "Miscellaneous" histories (zashi 雜史) are dedicated to particular themes, and not reporting the history of a whole age.

Documentary Texts

While the just-mentioned types of texts are narrative history books, there were also some categories of documentary texts, namely imperial diaries (qijuzhu 起居注), first found as a distinct category in the Suishu, "veritable records" (shilu 實錄), as a distinct category first found in the Chongwen zongmu 崇文總目 by Wang Yaochen 王堯臣 (1003-1058), imperial edicts (zhaoling 詔令), first found in the Zhizhai shulu jieti, and memorials to the throne (zouyi 奏議), first found as a category of its own in the bibliographic chapter Yiwen lüe 藝文略 in the history book Tongzhi 通志 by Zheng Qiao 鄭樵 (1104-1162).

"Seasonal Commands"

Close to these documentary texts are the "seasonal commands" (shiling 時令, sometimes called suishi 歲時) that constitute an own section since the Song period, but with interruptions, because not a few authors believed such texts to belong to books on agriculture.

Administrative Regulations

A further group of historiographic texts were administrative regulations, like books on state offices, on court rituals, on jurisdiction, or geographies. The latter includes both descriptive texts on the physical and human geography, and such on administration, including overviews on the administrative history of the described place, and name lists of governors. The Zhizhai shulu jieti introduced a new category of "books on statecraft" (diangu 典故, later called zhengshu 政書) which constituted complex descriptions of all aspects of government. In earlier bibliographies, such books were found among the miscellaneous histories. They included also regulations on state rituals and jurisdiction, for which reason these two subcategories were in the Siku quanshu merged with the zhengshu category.

Biographies, Genealogies and Family Chronicles

Biographies, individual as well as collective ones, played continuously such an important role in historiography that not only the official dynastic histories are in fact collections of biographies, but there were also several types of writings dedicated to individuals and their extended families ("clans"), namely biographies in the proper sense (zhuanji or zazhuan 雜傳), genealogies (puxi 譜系, pudie 譜牒), and books on family names (xingshi 姓氏).

Historical Critique

The oldest section on historical critique (shiping 史評, also called shixue 史學) is found in the catalogue Junzhai dushu zhi 郡齋讀書志 by Chao Gongwu 晁公武 (c. 1105-1180).

"Food and Commerce"

In some bibliographies, the history section includes a subcategory called Shihuo 食貨 "Food and commerce". It included descriptions of collectibles, and books on gardening and tea. The compilers of the Siku quanshu created an own subcategory for this type of books in the "Masters" section (zibu 子部), the treatises and lists on material culture and study of natural history (pulu 譜錄).

Book Catalogues and Registers of Inscriptions

Unlike these, book catalogues and registers of inscriptions (bulu 簿錄, mulu 目錄) remained in the historiography section.

The Evaluation of Historiography by the Siku quanshu Compilers

The general introduction to the historiography section (shibu zongxu 史部總敘) in the descriptive catalogue Siku quanshu zongmu tiyao 四庫全書總目提要 begins with an explanation of the character of the Chunqiu and the commentary Zuozhuan 左傳. History books, it is said, have to be brief, while commentaries may be detailed. This was exactly the case in the two writings. The former was a paradigm of how to "write history" (zuo shi 作史), the latter of how to "read/interprete history" (du shi 讀史). Although not a few Confucian scholars liked to follow the principle of "discarding the commentaries in order to search in the Classics" (she zhuan yi qiu jing 舍傳以求經) a successful history book like Sima Guang's 司馬光 (1019-1086) universal history Zizhi tongjian 資治通鑑 was based on no less than 222 secondary sources ('commentaries') and was first compiled in a long-version draft which to store it took no less than two complete rooms in a library in Luoyang, as Zhang Xinfu 張新甫 was once able to observe.

The genre of genealogies (pudie) had once flourished during the Southern and Northern Dynasties period 南北朝 (300~600), but the "study of genealogy" (puxue 譜學) gradually lost its popularity, and books of this type were not any more published, but only kept privately.

The Zongmu tiyao also comments on private histories that flourished between the Song and the Ming 明 (1368-1644) periods. This type of writing was the origin of deviating and even heterodox interpretations of history, and therefore not a favourable type of historiography. Yet with the help of critical research, such texts might well serve as sources for historians. Zhang Shidi's 張師棣 (i.e. Zhang Siyan 張思顏) Nanqianlu 南遷錄, for instance, was totally unreliable concerning other states than the Jurchen-Jin 金 (1115-1234), of whose history it describes a certain period, while Zhao Yushi's 趙與峕 (1172-1228) Bintuilu 賓退錄, superficially only a collection of stories, was a reliable source on the administrative system of the Jin state.