An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art

Shishuo xinyu 世說新語

Jul 18, 2010 © Ulrich Theobald

Shishuo xinyu 世說新語 "New account of tales of the world", shortly called Shishuo 世說, is a collection of dialoges and stories circulating around a dozen of literati from the Later Han 後漢 (25-220) to the Southern Dynasties 南朝 (420~589) period. It was written Liu Yiqing 劉義慶 (403-444), Prince (wang 王) of Linchuan 臨川 and member of the ruling family of the Liu-Song dynasty 劉宋 (420-479). He was Director of the Palace Library (bishujian 秘書監), Left Vice Director of the Imperial Secretariat (shangshu zuo puye 尚書左僕射), Director of the Imperial Secretariat (zhongshu ling 中書令) and regional inspector (cishi 刺史) of Jingzhou 荊州 and finally of Nanchongzhou 南充州. In spite of his high position in the power structure of the empire Liu Yiqing was known as a benevolent and amiable person who patronized a lot of scholars and writers like Yuan Shu 袁淑, Lu Zhan 陸展, He Changyu 何長瑜 and Bao Zhao 鮑照. Liu Yiqing has also written the Xuzhou xianxian zhuanzan 徐州先賢傳贊 "Biographies and praise to the former worthies of the province of Xuzhou", a book called Dianxu 典叙 "Statutory introductions", and two collections of phantastic stories called Youminglu 幽明錄 and Xuanyanji 宣驗記. His collected writings Linchuan wang Yiqing ji 臨川王義慶集 are lost.
The early Han period scholar Liu Xiang 劉向 had once written a book with the title Shishuo 世說, which is lost. The words xinyu 新語 "new speeches" were therefore added to Liu Yiqing's book by later scholars in order to distinguish the two books. The Shishuo xinyu originally was 8 juan "scrolls" long, together with Liu Xiaobiao's 劉孝標 commentary 10 juan. The book has been revised by Tang period 唐 (618-907) scholars and is not preserved in the original shape. The received version is arranged in 3 juan and 36 chapters under which the stories are grouped. This is the result of a rearrangement by the Song period 宋 (960-1279) scholar Yan Shu 晏殊.
The discussions of the protagonists mainly center around persons and their human qualities, but also touch on mystical matters of cosmology as relied on by the "School of the Mystery" (xuanxue 玄學). What the Shishuo xinyu is most famous for is the style of the discussions which are not philosophical tractates but easy-going and quick-witted conversations, the so-called qingtan 清談 "pure conversations". Although the personalities are all historical, their conversation must be seen as fiction, partially with philosophical content, but some stories have also a touch of phantasy. Liu Yiqing included his own views towards the particular persons into the stories and conversations. Persons from the end of the Later Han period 後漢 (25-220) are generally highly regarded by him, whereas his stance towards the Cao-Wei 曹魏 (220-265) and Jin 晉 (265-420) periods scholars like Le Guang 樂廣, Ruan Ji 阮籍, Wang Yan 王衍, or Huan Xuan 桓玄, is quite ambivalent. The characters of persons are often vividly described, like Zu Yue 祖約 and Ruan Fu 阮孚. The conversational part is sometimes written in verses, and sometimes in vernacular language and thus not easy to understand, like, for instance, the southern dialect word qing 渹 "cold". Besides philosophical or moral themes the text contains a lot of information on politics, literature and culture of these times.
The Shishuo xinyu is traditionally classified as a novella (xiaoshuo 小說) and not as a kind of history. Nevertheless it can give an impression of the life and thought of the upper social class during the Southern Dynasties period.
Contemporaries of Liu Yiqin continued compiling books in the style of the Shishuo xinyu, of which the most important are Pei Qi's 裴啟 Yulin 語林 "The forest of speeches", and Guo Chengzhi's 郭澄之 Guozi 郭子 "Master Guo". Both books are lost, just like Wang Fangqing's 王方慶 Xu shitan xinshu 續世談新書 from the Tang period. Later imitations are Wang Dang's 王儻 Tangyulin 唐語林 and Kong Pingzhong's 孔平仲 Xu shishuo 續世說 from the Song period, He Liangjun's 何良俊 Heshi yulin 何氏語林 and Li Zhongwen's 李仲文 Ming shishuo xinyu 明世說新語 from the Ming period 明 (1368-1644), and Wang Zhuo's 王晫 Jin shishuo 今世說 and Zhang Fugong's 章撫功 Han shishuo 漢世說 from the Qing period 清 (1644-1911). The modern writer Yi Zongkui 易宗夔 has written the Xin shihuo 新世說. A lot of stories recorded in the Shishuo were even transformed into novellas or theatre plays, like Zhou Chu chu san hai 周處除三害, Mi Heng ji gu ma Cao 禰衡擊鼓罵曹 or Wang mei zhi ke 望梅止渴.
Liu Xiaobiao, the commentator to the Shishuo, was also a member of the imperial family of the Song. He lived for a while in China's north, under the rule of the Northern Wei dynasty 北魏 (386-534), before he returned to the south – which was meanwhile reigned by the Qi dynasty 齊 (479-502) - and started translating Buddhist writings into Chinese. In his commentary to the Shishuo xinyu he used text-critical methods similar to Pei Songzhi 裴松之 in his commentary to the official dynastic history Sanguozhi 三國志, adding missing parts and correcting errors. For his work Liu Xiaobiao made use of more than 400 sources. The quality of his commentary is so valuable that it became an integral part of the Shishuo xinyu. Later commentaries were written by Yu Jiaxi 余嘉錫 (Shishuo xinyu jianshu 世說新語箋疏), Xu Zhen'e 徐震諤 (Shishuo xinyu jiaojian 世說新語校箋), and Yang Yong 楊勇 (same title).
The oldest surviving print dates from the Song period (960-1279) and was produced by Dong An 董葊. It has been preserved in the Library of Kanazawa 金沢文庫 in Japan and was reprinted as a facsimile in 1955 by the Beijing wenxue guji kanxing she 北京文學古籍刊行社. In Japan, too, some fragments from a Tang period manuscript have survived. The Shuishuo xinyu is included in the reprint series Sibu congkan 四部叢刊, which reproduces the Ming period print from the Jiaqu Hall 嘉趣堂, as well as in the reprint series Xiyinxuan congshu 惜陰軒叢書, Longxi jingshe congshu 龍溪精舍叢書, Sibu beiyao 四部備要, Zhuzi jicheng 諸子集成 and Siku quanshu 四庫全書.
The Shishuo has been translated in many languages, from Japanese and English to French. The most comfortable is that of Richard B. Mather (1976), Shih-shuo hsin-yü: A New Account of Tales of the World, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Contents of the Shishuo xinyu
1. 德行 Dexing Virtuous conduct
2. 言語 Yanyu Speech and conversation
3. 政事 Zhengshi Affairs of state
4. 文學 Wenxue Letters and scholarship
5. 方正 Fangzheng The square and the proper
6. 雅量 Yaliang Cultivated tolerance
7. 識鑒 Shijian Insight and judgement
8. 賞譽 Shangyu Appreciation and praise
9. 品藻 Pinzao Classification according to excellence
10. 規箴 Guizhen Admonitions and warnings
11. 捷悟 Jiewu Quick perception
12. 夙惠 Suhui Precocious intelligence
13. 豪爽 Haoshuang Virile vigor
14. 容止 Rongzhi Appearance and behaviour
15. 自新 Zixin Self-renewal
16. 企羨 Qixian Admiration and emulation
17. 傷逝 Shangshi Grieving for the departed
18. 棲逸 Qiyi Living in retirement
19. 賢媛 Xianyuan Worthy beauties
20. 術解 Shujie Technical understanding
21. 巧藝 Qiaoyi Skill and art
22. 寵禮 Chongli Favours and gifts
23. 任誕 Rendan The free and unrestrained
24. 簡傲 Jian'ao Rudeness and contempt
25. 排調 Paidiao Taunting and teasing
26. 輕詆 Jingdi Contempt and insults
27. 假譎 Jiaju Guile and chicanery
28. 黜免 Chumian Dismissal from office
29. 儉嗇 Jianse Stiniginess and meanness
30. 汰侈 Taiyi Extravagance and ostentation
31. 忿狷 Fenyuan Anger and irascibility
32. 讒險 Chanxian Slander and treachery
33. 尤悔 Youhui Blameworthiness and remorse
34. 紕漏 BiluoCrudities and slips of the tongue
35. 惑溺 Huoruo Blind infatuations
36. 仇隙 Chouxi Hostility and alienation
Cao Daoheng 曹道衡 (1986). "Shishuo xinyu 世說新語", in: Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, Zhongguo wenxue 中國文學, vol. 2, pp. 750-751. Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe.
Li Xueqin 李學勤, Lü Wenyu 呂文鬰 (1996). Siku da cidian 四庫大辭典, Changchun: Jilin daxue chubanshe, vol. 2, p. 2170.
Mather, Richard B. (1986). "Shih-shuo hsin-yü 世說新語", in William H. Nienhauser, ed. The Indiana Companion to Traditional Chinese Literature (Bloomington/Indianapolis: Indiana University Press), 704-705.
Qian, Nanyiu (2015). "Shishuo xinyu", in Cynthia L. Chennault, et al., eds. Early Medieval Chinese Texts: A Bibliographical Guide (Berkeley: Institute of East Asian Studies, University of California, Berkeley), 296-301.
Zhou Yiliang 周一良 (1992). "Shishuo xinyu 世說新語", in: Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, Zhongguo lishi 中國歷史, vol. 2, p. 943. Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe.
Tang shishuo xinyu 唐世說新語

See Da-Tang xinyu 大唐新語.

Xu shishuo 續世說

The Xu shishuo "Continued tales of the world", full title Xu shishuo xinyu 續世說新語, also called Nanbeishi xu shishuo 南北史續世說 "Continued tales of the world from the Southern and Northern Dynasties period", is a collection of stories about scholars of the Southern and Northern Dynasties period (300~600), probably written by the Song period 宋 (960-1279) scholar Li Hou 李垕 (?-1179). It is in many bibliographies attributed to a Song period scholar called Kong Pingzhong 孔平仲. The 10 juan "scrolls" long book is introduced by a preface written by the Ming period 明 (1368-1644) scholar Yu Anqi 俞安期, in which the author says that the book had been owned by An Jieqing 安茂卿 (An Qi 安期) in a manuscript version. It is not mentioned in Tang 唐 (618-907) and Song period bibliographies, but the oldest surviving copy dates from the Song. Any older compilation, as suggested in the catalogue Sunshi citing shumu 孫氏祠堂書目, must be doubted. Li Hou is likely to have been a son of the Southern Song period 南宋 (1127-1279) historian Li Tao 李燾 and so had access to semi-historiographical sources. Wang Yinglin 王應麟 says in his book Kunxue jiwen 困學紀聞 that the Xu shishuo includes stories that are not to be found in the official histories of that period, nor in the famous history Zizhi tongjian 資治通鑒. The book is written in the same style as Liu Yiqing's 劉義慶 Shishuo xinyu 世說新語 from the Liu-Song period 劉宋 (420-479), but Li Hou added some further categories of scholars, namely Boqia 博洽 "Knowledgeable", Jiejie 介潔 "Distinct and clean", Bingce 兵策 "Military strategies", Xiaoyong 驍勇 "Bravery", Youxi 游戲 "Pastimes", Shijiao 釋教 "Buddhist teachings", Yanyan 言驗 "Effectful speaking", Zhiguai 志怪 "Records of strange things", Gandong 感動 "Easily affected", Chinong 癡弄 "Silly and tricky" and Xiongbei 兇悖 "Violent and perverse".

Source: Li Xueqin 李學勤, Lü Wenyu 呂文鬰 (1996). Siku da cidian 四庫大辭典, vol. 2, p. 2174. Changchun: Jilin daxue chubanshe.

Jin shishuo 今世說

The Jin shishuo 今世說 "Modern tales of the world" is a literary collection of speeches and discourses compiled by the early Qing period 清 (1644-1911) scholar Wang Zhuo 王晫 (1636-?), actual name Wang Fei 王棐, style Mu'an 木庵, Danlu 丹麓 or Songxizi 松溪子. He came from Hangzhou 杭州, Zhejiang and was an ardent collector of ancient books. He has compiled the books Suishengji 逐生集, Xiajutang ji 霞舉堂集, Zashu shizhong 雜書十種 and Qiangdongcaotang ci 墻東草堂詞. His 8 juan "scrolls" long Jin shishuo is an imitation of Liu Yiqing's 劉義慶 famous Shishuo xinyu 世說新語 from the Liu-Song period 劉宋 (420-479), and accordingly narrates the speeches of scholar and literati living during the late Ming 明 (1368-1644) and early Qing periods. The chapters follow the pattern of the Shishuo xinyu. At the end of each story, Wang Zhuo provides some information about the persons involved in the discourses. The language is lucid and very clear and was therefore highly recommended by the 20th century writer Lu Xun 魯迅. The only difference to the Shihuo xinyu is that Wang Zhuo himself takes also part in the discourses as an active person.
The Jin shishuo is included in the reprint series Yueyatang congshu 粵雅堂叢書, Qingdai biji congkan 清代筆記叢刊, Biji xiaoshuo daguan 筆記小説大觀 and Congshu jicheng 叢書集成. It was published in a modern edition in 1957 by the Gudian wenxue press 古典文學出版社.

Source: Li Xueqin 李學勤, Lü Wenyu 呂文鬰 (1996). Siku da cidian 四庫大辭典, vol. 2, p. 2161. Changchun: Jilin daxue chubanshe.

Han shishuo 漢世說

The Han shishuo 漢世說 "Tales of the world from the Han period" a literary collection of speeches and discourses compiled by the Qing period 清 (1644-1911) scholar Zhang Fugong 章撫功. The 14 juan "scrolls" long book imitates the style of Liu Yiqing's 劉義慶 famous Shishuo xinyu 世說新語 from the Liu-Song period 劉宋 (420-479) and is thought as a kind of pre-cursor to the latter, with Han period 漢 (206 BCE-220 CE) persons as the discussants. Zhang Fugong based his discourses on records in the histories Shiji and Hanshu. The chapters are more or less identical to those of the Shishuo xinyu. The literary value of the Han shishuo is, compared to the great Shishuo, not very high. It is included in the reprint series Siku quanshu cunmu congshu 四庫全書存目叢書.

Source: Li Xueqin 李學勤, Lü Wenyu 呂文鬰 (1996). Siku da cidian 四庫大辭典, vol. 2, p. 2161. Changchun: Jilin daxue chubanshe.

Shishuo xinyu bu 世說新語補

The Shishuo xinyu bu 世說新語補 is a supplement to the famous ancient book Shishuo xinyu 世說新語 that had been written by the Liu-Song period 劉宋 (420-479) scholar Liu Yiqing 劉義慶. The 20 juan "scrolls" long supplement was allegedly authored by the Ming period 明 (1368-1644) collector and publisher Wang Shizhen 王世貞, as the bibliography chapter in the official encyclopedia Xu wenxian tongkao 續文獻通考 and the book description in the reprint series Siku quanshu 四庫全書 say, but it must be assumed that the Shishuo xinyu bu is in fact an abbreviated version of He Liangjun's 何良俊 book Heshi yulin 何氏語林 in which the publishers misused the name of Wang Shizhen to yield better selling numbers.

Source: Zheng Yunbo 鄭雲波 (1992). Zhongguo gudai xiaoshuo cidian 中國古代小說辭典, Nanjing: Nanjing daxue chubanshe, p. 463.