An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art

Fengya xiaoji 蜂衙小記

Feb 10, 2022 © Ulrich Theobald

Fengya xiaoji 蜂衙小記 "Notes on the bee hive" is a book on beekeping written by Hao Yixing 郝懿行 (1755-1823), who also compiled a book on seafood, Jihaicuo 記海錯, a general book on agriculture, Baoxun 寶訓, as well as a host of commentaries on the Classics, among which Erya yishu 爾雅義疏 is the most important.

The book consists of 15 brief chapters describing the constitution and reproduction of bee colonies, giving recommendations for placement and care, and warns against pests and diseases. It is the only traditional text on bees. Some conceptional errors are in the book, for instance, the belief in male and female bees (xiongfeng 雄蜂, zifeng 雌蜂), or that bees were afraid of elderly people.

The author compares a bee colony with a state, having a sovereign and subjects (jun chen 君臣) who live in a hive (zuo ya 坐衙). The masses obey to the bee king (fengwang 蜂王), swarm out in the morning and return in the evening. In this way, they operate in division of labour and depend on each other. Hao pictures how bees use to collect the pollen of flowers, and that some of them are exhausted by their arduous work. Yet while "bees are excellent in stealing from flowers, man is good in stealing their honey." This happens by use of smoke to repel the bees who might attack the collector of honey. Honey farmers, however, were to see it to leave some honey (fengliang 蜂糧 "the bees' share"), and not take away all of the precious material. Apiarists would have to select a suitable, "auspicious" place to install the hives, namely close to the source of pollen, high, lucid, clear, and open to the air. The hives had to be cleared every fortnight to remove mold and vermin.

The book was first printed in 1879 by the Donglu Studio 東路廳, and is included in Hao's collected writings Haoshi yushu 郝氏遺書.

Table 1. Contents of the Fengya xiaoji 蜂衙小記
識君臣 Difference between king and subjects
坐衙 The holding of court in the hive
分族 The members of the colony
課蜜 On honey
試花 On flowers
割蜜 Harvesting honey
相陰陽 Sun and shadow
知天時 Time and other conditions
擇地利 Selection of suitable places for hives
惡螫人 Bees avoid harming men
祝子 Bees pray for offspring
逐婦 Chasing away females
野蜂 Wild bees
草蜂 Grass bees
雜蜂 Various types of bees
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Peng Shijiang 彭世獎 (1995). "Fengya xiaoji 蜂衙小記", in Zhongguo nongye baike quanshu 中國農業百科全書, Vol. Nongye lishi 農業歷史卷 (Beijing: Nongye chubanshe), 62.
Wang Yonghou 王永厚 (1982). "Hao Yixing de Fengya xiaoji 郝懿行的“蜂衙小記”", Zhongguo yangfeng 中國養蜂, 1982 (4): 28.
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