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Menshi xinhua 捫虱新話

Aug 28, 2013 © Ulrich Theobald

Menshi xinhua 捫虱新話 "New discourses by approaching annoying problems" is a "brush-notes"-style book (biji 筆記) compiled during the Southern Song period 南宋 (1127-1279) by Chen Shan 陳善 (d. 1169), courtesy name Jingfu 敬甫 or Zijian 子兼, style Qiutang 秋塘. Chen hailed from Luoyuan 羅源 near Fuzhou 福州 (modern Fuzhou, Fujian), but about his life not much is known. In the preface written by Chen Yi 陳益 it is said that the original title of the book was Chuangjian jiwen 窗間紀聞 "Records of hearsay from among the windows", but he changed the title into the present, more meaningful form when the book was published.

The 15-juan-long book is concerned with the Confucian Classics, historiographic writings and poetry, and points out errors in ancient texts. The Menshi xinhua is divided into several categories (lei 類) with more than 200 small chapters. The compilers of the imperial series Siku quanshu 四庫全書 criticize the Menshi xinhua for its many errors and its one-sided perspective that prefers Buddhism and supports the Northern-Song-period 北宋 (960-1126) reformer Wang Anshi 王安石 (1021-1086), while negating the merits of scholars like Ouyang Xiu 歐陽修 (1007-1072), Yang Shi 楊時 (1053-1135), Chen Dong 陳東 (1086-1127) or Ouyang Che 歐陽澈 (1091-1127). His criticism of the "triad" Su Xun 蘇洵 (1009-1066) and his sons Su Shi 蘇軾 (1037-1101) and Su Zhe 蘇轍 (1039─1112) is extremely heavy by comparing them to the warlord Cao Cao 曹操 (155-220), who made an end to the Han dynasty 漢 (206 BCE-220 CE). Concerning person of past eras, Chen's attacks charge the writer and thinker Han Yu 韓愈 (768-824) and the ancient philosopher Mengzi 孟子. The writer Zhou Bangyan 周邦彥 (1056-1121) is charged with factionalism because he supported the powerful Counsellor Cai Jing 蔡京 (1047-1126). These factions at the Song court rose about the question of reforming parts of the administration. Because Chen Shan hails Wang Anshi and bashes his enemies at the court, the Menshi xinhua was considered as not worth being included in the Siku quanshu, yet because the author's critical remarks to ancient texts are useful, his philosophical views on Han Yu and Mengzi are methodically consistent, and the parts on the reform politics of Wang Anshi include valuable information about the court discussions at that time, the Menshi xinhua must be regarded as a helpful source.

Qian Zeng 錢曾 (1629-1701) says in his book Dushu minqiu ji 讀書敏求記 that there were two different editions of the Menshi xinhua, namely one that was not divided into fascicles (bu fen juan zhi 不分卷帙) and included a postface (ba 跋) dated 1149 that was written by the author himself, and one edition divided into 15 juan but left out the postface. Yet the compilers of the Siku quanshu found a 15-juan version with the postface. In the transmitted versions, the postface is dated either 1149 or 1157. From the text of the postface it can be known that the original version of the book, the Chuangjian jiwen, consisted of one single wrapper (zhi 帙), but after revision, the Menshi xinwen was divided into two collections (ji 集).

The arrangement of the text in fascicles varies widely in the editions of the Menshi xinhua, although the text remains identical through all editions. The version in the Jindai mishu 津逮秘書 and Songren xiaoshuo 宋人小說 (including a supplement Buyi 補遺) is 15-juan-long, that in the Ruxue jingwu 儒學警悟, Congshu jicheng chubian 叢書集成初編 has 8 juan (in two collections), that in the Tang-Song congshu 唐宋叢書 and the Wanwei Shantang 宛委山堂 edition of the Shuofu 說郛 represents an excerpt of 1 juan, while the excerpt in the Shangwu Yinshuguan 商務印書館 edition of the Shuofu is not divided into fascicles at all.

Sources:
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