An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

Edicts and Memorials (zhaoling zouyi lei 詔令奏議類)

Jul 8, 2010 © Ulrich Theobald

The literary type of edicts and memorials (zhaoling zouyi lei 詔令奏議類) is a subcategory to the literary category of historiography (shibu 史部) in traditional bibliographies. Edicts are law-equivalent proclamations by an emperor, while memorials were reports on regular or irregular administrative affairs or even suggestions on politics submitted by ministers or other state officials to the throne.

In many anthologies edicts and memorials are categorized as literature and are included in the belles-lettres section (jibu 集部). The reason for this is that edicts and memorials, before being issued or submitted, and before being included in the archives, underwent a process of language polishing and are thus of a higher literary level than one normally expects from this type of documents.

The bibliographic chapter Jingji zhi 經籍志 in the official dynastic history Suishu 隋書, for instance, lists numerous collections of different types of edicts (zhizhi 制旨, zhao 詔, sheshu 赦書) and memorials (biao 表) in the section of anthologies (zongji 總集), including collections already lost in the early Tang period 唐 (618-907).

"Commands" (ling 令) can be found among the jurisdictional texts because this type of edict constitutes a particular form of case-related arrangement. The same section of the Suishu bibliography also includes "suggestions to the throne" (yi 議), "accusations" (tanshi 彈事) and notes of presentation (zoushi 奏事).

One may count the collection of royal orders in the Confucian Classic Shangshu 尚書 also as an anthology of edicts, presenting the most important canons (dian 典), counsels (mo 謨 ), speeches (shi 誓), announcements (gao 誥), instructions (xun 訓) and charges (ming 命). Apart from this Classic, the earliest prove of collections of memorials and edicts is found in the bibliographic chapter Yiwen zhi 藝文志 in the history book Hanshu 漢書, namely Yizou 議奏 "Discussions and memorials to the throne", in 39 chapters, which gives an overview of the discussions on the Confucian Classics in the Stone Canal Hall (Shiquge 石渠閣) in 51 BCE, and Zoushi 奏事 "Memorials", a collection which included Qin period 秦 (221-206 BCE) memorials and the texts of the famous stone inscriptions made by the First Emperor of Qin 秦始皇帝 (r. 246-210 BCE).

The earliest real bibliographic list of collections of edicts is found in the Xintangshu 新唐書, with nearly two dozen collections, beginning with the 100-juan long Jin za zhao shu 晉雜詔書 "Miscellaneous edicts from the Jin period" and ending with Ma Wenmin's 馬文敏 Wangyan huizui 王言會最 "Selection of important royal words", Tang jiuzhi bianlu 唐舊制編錄 "Collection of old decrees of the Tang dynasty" by a certain Master Fei 費 and the book Nizhuang zhuzhi 擬狀注制, probably a collection of commented drafts of imperial edicts.

The early Song-period 宋 (960-1279) bibliography Chongwen zongmu 崇文總目 makes edicts and memorials part of the zongji section of anthologies and complete collections. It seems that of the ancient collections from the pre-Tang period, not much was left at that time. Instead, the user of the catalogue finds there, for instance, Zhengyuan zhichi shuzou 正元制敕書奏 "Edicts and memorials from the Zhenyuan [s.l. 貞元] reign (785–805)", Yuanhe zhiji 元和制集 "Collected decrees from the Yuanhe reign (806–820)", Za zhizhao ji 雜制詔集 "Collection of miscellaneous decrees and edicts", Zouyi ji 奏議集 "Collected memorials" (by Ma Zong 馬總), Jianshu 諫書 "Remonstrances", Da-Tang zhichen jianzou 大唐直臣諫奏 "Remonstrances by upright officials of the Great Tang" (by Zhang Yi 張易), Zouyi bolun 奏議駁論 "Memorials and critical discussions" or Yuanhe zhice 元和制策 "Decrees from the Yuanhe reign" (by Yuan Zhen 元稹, Dugu Yu 獨孤郁 and Bai Juyi 白居易).

A more complete picture of ancient (and lost) collections of edicts and memorials is found in the bibliographic chapter of Zheng Qiao's 鄭樵 alternative history Tongzhi 通志. Zheng created several subcategories, Zhigao 制誥, Biaozhang 表章, Junshu 軍書 and Zouyi 奏議, which are all part of the belles-lettres section (Wenlei 文類) of his bibliography. The memorials section includes many collections of documents presented by one individual person, like Lu Xuangong zouyi 陸宣公奏議 (memorials of Lu Zhi 陸贄) or Fan Wenzhenggong zouyi 范文正公奏議 (memorials by Fan Zhongyan 范仲淹), but also such by many different ministers, like Han mingchen zou 漢名臣奏 (Han period 漢, 206 BCE-220 CE, officials), Jin zhugong zou 晉諸公奏 (Jin period 晉, 265-420, court officials), Tang jianzheng ji 唐諫諍集 "Collection of remonstrances of the Tang period" (by Zhao Yuangong 趙元拱) or Quannong zouyi 勸農奏議 "Memorials adhorting to farming".

The first catalogue in which edicts have a separate subcategory is the late Song period bibliography Zhizhai shulu jieti 直齋書錄解題 by Chen Zhenxun 陳振孫. It includes only eight texts, all of which were compiled during the Song period. Most of them reproduce contemporary edicts, but two collections assemble surviving edicts from the Former 前漢 (206 BCE-8 CE) and the Later Han 後漢 (25-220 CE) periods, namely Lin Fu's 林虙 Xihan zhaoling 西漢詔令 and Lou Fang's 樓昉 Donghan zaoling 東漢詔令. Memorials (zhangzou 章奏) are found at the very end of the catalogue, behind the belles-lettres collections. This section includes collections of memorials of such persons, of which no other writings were surviving, or old collections that were circulating as separate publications for a long time. The total number of books in this section is 43.

Of Ni Si 倪思 (1147–1120) alone five collections are listed: Qizhai zouyi 齊齋奏議, Yiyuan jiaolun 掖垣繳論, Yintai zhangzou 銀臺章奏, Taijianlun 臺諫論 and Kunming yuangui shuo 昆命元龜說. This is quite an extraordinary example that both types of writings, edicts as well as memorials, were given their own place in literary categorization. Later catalogues follow the older principle of embedding them into the belles-lettres section.

Table 1. Collections of Edicts and Memorials (zhaoling zouyi 詔令奏議)
Part of Siku quanshu 四庫全書
Part of Xuxiu siku quanshu 續修四庫全書
1. 詔令之屬 zhaoling Edicts
唐大詔令集 百七卷 Tang da zhaoling ji (Song) 宋敏求 Song Minqiu (comp.)
兩漢詔令 二十三卷 Liang-Han zhaoling (Song) 林慮 Lin Lü, 樓昉 Lou Fang (comp.)
宋大詔令集 二百四十卷 (續修) Song da zhaoling ji (Song) 宋綬 Song Shou (comp.)
2. 奏議之屬 zouyi Memorials
宋名臣奏議 百五十卷 Song mingchen zouyi (Song) 趙汝愚 Zhao Ruyu
歷代名臣奏議 三百五十卷 Lidai mingchen zouyi (Ming) 楊士奇 Yang Shiqi, 黃淮 Huang Huai (et al. comp.; imp. ord.)
天聰朝臣奏議 * Tiancong chao chen zouyi (Qing) (comp.)
河防疏略 二十卷 (續修) Hefang shulüe (Qing) 朱之錫 Zhu Zhixi (comp.)
皇清奏議 六十八卷 (續修) Huang-Qing zouyi (Qing/Rep) (comp.)
* not included in the series Siku quanshu 四庫全書, the catalogue Siku quanshu zongmu tiyao 四庫全書總目題要 (Cunmu 存目 section), nor the Xuxiu siku quanshu 續修四庫全書.

The Siku quanshu again gives them a distinct status. The edicts and memorials section in that series includes 10 collections of edicts and 29 books containing memorials. The descriptive catalogue Siku quanshu zongmu tiyao 四庫全書總目提要 does not only describe these books, but also a further 6 edict collections and 90 collections of memorials.

The introduction to the subcategory explains that in ancient times the scribe to the right (youshi 右史) was responsible for the imperial diary (qijuzhu 起居注), recording the activities of the ruler, while the left one (zuoshi 左史) recorded his words. Much of this was worthless, except edicts and commands, which were of political importance. The writings of state officials, particularly memorials to the throne, were likewise valuable sources for the study of history, and could not be "downgraded" to writings of only aesthetical significance or regarded in the same way as private correspondence.