An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

Yuanchao mingchen shilüe 元朝名臣事略

Sep 13, 2010 © Ulrich Theobald

Yuanchao mingchen shilüe 元朝名臣事略 "Short biographies of eminent officials of the Yuan dynasty" is a collection of biographies of important ministers and state officials of the Yuan period 元 (1279-1368). This 15-juan long book, finished in 1329 had the original title Guochao mingchen shilüe 國朝名臣事略 "Short biographies of eminent officials of Our Dynasty" and was compiled by Su Tianjue 蘇天爵 (1294-1352), courtesy name Boxiu 伯修, style Zixi Xiansheng 滋溪先生.

Su hailed from Zhending 真定 (modern Zhengding 正定, Hebei), became a a student at the Directorate of Education (guozi xuesheng 國子學生) and then rose to the office of assistant administrator (can zhizheng shi 參知政事) of the province of Zhejiang and finally Vice Minister of Rites (libu shilang 禮部侍郎). He died during a military campaign suppressing peasant uprisings. Su Tianue was very familiar with the history of the Khitans and Jurchens and wrote several books on the history of the Song and especially their opponents, the Liao 遼 (907-1125) and Jin 金 (1115-1234) empires in northern China. His most important writings are Wuzong shilu 武宗實錄, Wenzong shilu 文宗實錄, Liao-Jin jinian 遼金紀年, and Guochao wenlei 國朝文類 (Yuanwenlei 元文類). His collected writings are called Zixi wengao 滋溪文稿, and there is also the biji 筆記 "brush notes" style book called Chunfengting biji 春風亭筆記.

Of the 47 persons whose biographies are recorded in the Yuanchao mingchen shilüe, 12 are Mongols and Central Asians (semuren 色目人), the other 35 are northern Chinese (hanren 漢人). Su Tianjue imitated a earlier collections of biographies from the Southern Song period 南宋 (1127-1279), Du Dagui's 杜大珪 Mingchen beizhuan wanyan ji 名臣碑傳琬琰集, and Zhu Xi's 朱熹 (1130-1200) biographic collection Song mingchen yanxing lu 宋名臣言行錄, and there greatest part of his more than 120 sources are tombstone inscriptions, eulogies, and private sources from the families of the persons to be described.

Unlike Du Dagui, Su Tianjue did not simply quote these sources but he used them as sources to compile a virtual biography for each person. Each biography is furthermore headed by an introduction and the text is enrichted by an interpolation of commentaries. This was a thoroughly new type of biographical history Su Tianjue had invented. Su made use of more than 130 different sources, quotations of which have only survived in Su's book and are otherwise lost.

Unfortunately the most widespread editions of the Yuanchao mingchen shilüe, like that in the series Siku quanshu 四庫全書, are full of printing errors. Some parts of the text have even been altered. The Zhonghua shuju press 中華書局 therefore published an edition in 1962 which is based on a qualitatively better text from 1335. The Yuanchao mingchen shilüe is also to be found in the series Congshu jicheng chubian 叢書集成初編.

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