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Weishu 魏書

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The Weishu 魏書 is the official dynastic history (zhengshi 正史) of the Northern Wei dynasty 北魏 (386-534), as well as of the two successing dynasties of Eastern Wei 東魏 (534-550) and Western Wei 西魏 (535-556). It was written by Wei Shou 魏收, a scholar of the Northern Qi period 北齊 (550-577). It is 124 juan "scrolls" long, of which 12 juan imperial biographies (benji 本紀), 92 juan normal and collective biographies (liezhuan 列傳), and 20 juan treatises (zhi 志). The original text contained 131 juan, of which a part was lost during the Northern Song period 北宋 (960-1126). The biography of Emperor Taizong 魏太宗 (r. 409-423; 3 Taizong Mingyuandi Si ji 太宗明元帝嗣紀) and two parts of the treatise on astronomy (105 Tianxiang zhi 天象志) have been reconstruced from Wei Dan's 魏澹 Weishu from the Sui period 隋 (581-618) and Zhang Taisu's 張太素 Weishu from the Tang period 唐 (618-907). Other chapters were reconstructed from the dynastic history of the Northern Dynasties 北朝 (386~581), the Beishi 北史, Gao Jun's 高峻 Xiaoshi 小史 and the encyclopedia Xiu wendian yulan 修文殿御覽. These are the juan 12-15, 17-20, 22, 25, 33-34, 81-83, 85-87, 89, 101-104. Juan 84 and 91 could not be completed. The ten first juan of treatises are lost. Unlike in most other dynastic histories the treatises are put at the end of the book, which is actually more reasonable than to interrupt the flow of biographies between the section of the imperial biographies and that of other persons.
Wei Shou was an official in the historiographic bureau of the Wei dynasty and therefore had access to the sources. Also under the Eastern Wei dynasty he continued working in the imperial archives. The next short-lived dynasty, the Northern Qi, entrusted him with the compilation of the official history of the Northern Wei dynasty. Wei Shou willingly took over this task although he concurrently occupied the post of the capital magistrate. He had an assisting staff with members like Fang Yanyou 房延祐, Xin Yuanzhi 辛元植, Diao Rou 刁柔, Pei Angzhi 裴昂之, Gao Xiaogan 高孝干, Zuanmu Huaiwen 纂毋懷文 and Sui Zhongrang 眭仲讓, but as an experienced historiographer most of the work must have been made by himself. In 554 the book was submitted to the throne. The quick completion of the Weishu was only possible because the imperial diaries (qijuzhu 起居注) of the Wei dynasty were complete through all reign eras. The only parts not covered with such a rich source material were the years after the division of the Wei empire in east and west. Information about the Eastern Jin period 東晉 (317-420) and the time of the Sixteen States 十六國 (300~430) was taken from older histories, like Cui Hong’s 崔鴻 Shiliuguo chunqiu 十六國春秋 "Spring and autumn of the Sixteen States", Sun Sheng’s 孫盛 Jinyang qiu 晉陽秋 "The chronicle of the region of southern Jin", or Tan Daoluan's 檀道鸞 Xu Jinyang qiu 續晉陽秋 "Sequel to the Jinyang qiu". He had surely read Shen Yue's 沈約 Songshu 宋書, the official dynastic history of the Liu-Song dynasty 劉宋 (420-479), and Xiao Zixian's Nanqishu 南齊書, that of the Southern Qi dynasty 南齊 (479-502), but the times of these two dynasties were not too far away so that it was easier to obtain information about those two dynasties ruling southern China. Compared with other dynastic histories the Weishu contains an extremely low amount of literary sources, like quotations from prose writings or poetry.
As a northerner Wei Shou supported the Northern Dynasties' claim for legitimacy and dispised the southern rulers of the Song, Qi, and Liang 梁 (502-557) dynasties as "barbarian" usurpers. The Weishu calls them daoyi 島夷 "barbarians from the southern islands" (97-98), while the Eastern Jin dynasty is termed wei 偽 "false" (96). The Chen dynasty 陳 (557-589) is not mentioned at all. Buddhism and Daoism are granted a very eminent position by writing a separate treatise for these two religions (114 Shi-Lao zhi 釋老志). This is unique among all dynastic histories: In the Songshu the biographies of Buddhist monks are included in the chapter for barbarians (Songshu 97 Yiman liezhuan 夷蠻列傳), while in the Sanguozhi, the official dynastic history of the Three Kingdoms 三國 (220-280), information about Buddhism is provided in Pei Songzhi’s 裴松之 commentary at the end of the chapter on the eastern barbarians (Sanguozhi 30). During the sinification process of the Northern Wei dynasty it was common to replace the traditional tribal and clan names of the Turkic and other Non-Chinese peoples living in the Wei state with Chinese family names. A list for those conversions is preserved in the treatise on state offices (113 Guanshi zhi 官氏志).
There are two weak points in the Weishu, inspite of its overall quality: It is a very one-sided source concerning the history of the years following the downfall of the Northern Wei. As an official of the Eastern Wei Wei Shou neglected the economically and culturally more important western part of northern China. The second is his biased attitude towards some of his collegues and contemporaries with the result that their biographies are not written very favourable. The Weishu was therefore sometimes also dubbed as weishu 穢書 "the evil (or false) book".

Source: Zhou Yiliang 周一良 (1992), "Weishu 魏書", in Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, Zhongguo lishi 中國歷史 (Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe), Vol. 3, pp. 1211-1212.

July 15, 2010 © Ulrich Theobald · Mail
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