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Chuxueji 初學記

Oct 31, 2010 © Ulrich Theobald

Chuxueji 初學記 "Notes to first learning" is an encyclopaedia written during the Tang period 唐 (618-907) on imperial order by a team of compilers under the supervision of Zhang Yue 張說 (667-731), Xu Jian 徐堅, Wei Shu 韋述 (d. 757), She Qin 佘欽, Shi Jingben 施敬本, Li Rui 李銳, and Sun Jiliang 孫季良.

The book was finished in 728. Its purpose was to provide a handbook for the imperial princes for the first steps of studying. It consists of 30 juan in 23 parts covering 313 topics. The book quotes from pre-Tang literature as well as from belles-lettres of the first century of the Tang period. The quotations were selected according to literary quality. The Chuxueji is therefore a great help for a text-critical study of received texts also quoted in this encyclopaedia. The topics covered are not as vast as in the much more famous Yiwen leiju 藝文類聚, but the quality of the Chuxueji is higher.

Each topic is explained in three steps, firstly with a general introduction (xushi 敘事), secondly by an explanatory part written in double-pairs of sentences (shidui 事對), an finally by the quotation of ancient poems and prose literature (shiwen 詩文). The Chuxueji is of a very high value because it quotes from a lot of sources on history, geography and social and cultural questions that are long since lost.

Prints from the Song period 宋 (960-1279) are lost, but there are still three prints from the Ming period 明 (1368-1644) available (one from 1531 by the Guipi Studio 桂坡館, one from 1534 by Jin Pan 晉藩, and one from 1583 by Xu Shouming's 徐守銘 Ningshou Studio 寧壽堂), as well as the print from 1888 by Master Huang's 黃氏 Yunshi Studio 蘊石齋. The Chuxueji is included in the series Guxiangzhai xiuzhen ben congshu 古香齋袖珍本叢書 and Siku quanshu 四庫全書. The Zhonghua Shuju Press 中華書局 has published a modern edition in 1962, reprinted in 1979.

Table 1. Contents of the Chuxueji 初學記
1.-2. Heaven and astronomy
3.-4. 歲時 Seasons and time
5.-7. The earth
8. 州郡 Administrative geography
9. 帝王 Rulers
10. 中宮 The central palace
諸宮 Other palaces
帝戚 Imperial relatives
11.-12. 職官 State offices
13.-14. Rituals
15.-16. Music
17.-19. Man
20. 政理 Politics
21. Civilian affairs
22. Military affairs
23. 道釋 Daoism and Buddhism
24. 居處 Architecture
25. 器物 Tools and utensils
26. 服食 Clothing and food
27. 寶器 (花草附) Jewels (app. Flowers and herbs)
28. 果木 Fruits and trees
29. Beasts
30. 鳥 (鱗介蟲附) Birds (app. Scaly and creeping animals)
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