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Chinese Literature
Luoyang mudan ji 洛陽牡丹記 "On the Peonies of Luoyang"


The Luoyang mudan ji 洛陽牡丹記 "Peonies of Luoyang" is a treatise on peonies written by the early Song period 宋 (960-1279) scholar Ouyang Xiu 歐陽修 (1007-1072). It is the earliest Chinese description of garden flowers at all. In older treatises on medical herbs, like the Shen Nong bencao jing 神農本草經, peonies are still treated as medical and not as decorative plants. It is known Emperor Yang 隋煬帝 (r. 604-617) of the Sui dynasty 隋 (581-618) had decorated his gardens with different kinds of peonies. The capitals Chang'an 長安 (modern Xi'an 西安, Shaanxi) and Luoyang 洛陽 (modern Luoyang, Henan) became important centres of peony cultivation.
Ouyang Xiu occupied high positions in the central government and was a renowned historian, writer and poet. His great interest for birds and plants is reflected in many of his poems. The book Luoyang mudan ji is only quite short and divided into three chapters. The first chapter explains the places where 24 types of peonies grow and why the peonies of Luoyang are of an extraordinary quality, in contrast to other places. The second chapter provides details about all types of peonies, explains their names, colours and individual feautres. The last chapter says that in Luoyang all persons of high and low standing use to cultivate and admire this plant. It explains how flowers are, after cutting, preserved and sent along as presents, and gives advice how to propagate and cultivate the peony plant, how to irrigate and to nourish the plant to produce most admirable flowers, and finally, how parts of the plant can be used as medicine.
Peonies were originally wild plants (shanmudan 山牡丹 "mountain peonies") originating in China's barren northwestern region of Shaanxi. The appearance of these wild plants is also described by Ouyang Xiu, which was totally different from the later known garden plants.
The language of the Luoyang mudan ji is very poetic and of high quality. It therefore attracted later scholars who expanded the description, like Zhou Shihou 周師厚 who finished a book with the same title in 1082 (to discern it from Ouyang's book it was called Yinjiang Zhoushi Luoyang mudan ji 鄞江周氏洛陽牡丹記 "The peonies of Luoyang by Master Zhou from Yinjiang"). Similar books were written by Zhang Bangji 張邦基 (Chenzhou mudan ji 陳州牡丹記), Lu You 陸游 (Tianpeng mudan ji 天彭牡丹記), Qiu Daoyuan 丘道源 (Mudan rongru zhi 牡丹榮辱志) from the Song period, as well as Xia Zhichen 夏之臣 (Ping Haozhou mudan 評毫州牡丹), Xue Fengxiang 薛鳳翔 (Haozhou mudan shi 毫州牡丹史) from the Ming period 明 (1368-1644), and Niu Xiu 鈕琇 (Haozhou mudan shu 毫州牡丹述) and Yu Pengnian 余彭年 (Caozhou mudan pu 曹州牡丹譜) from the Qing period 清 (1644-1911).
The Luoyang mudan ji is included in the collected works of Ouyang Xiu, Ouyang Wenzhong gong quanji 歐陽文忠公全集. The most important faksimile prints are to be found in the collectanea Baichuan xuehai 百川學海, Shuofu 說郛, Mohai jinhu 墨海金壺, Zhucong bielu 珠叢別錄, Shanju zazhi 山居雜志, Biyu conglu 筆餘叢錄, Yunzizaikan congshu 雲自在龕叢書, Yipu souqi 藝圃搜奇, Qunfang qingwan 羣芳清玩, Xiangyan congshu 香艷叢書, and many others. It is included in the large collectanea Siku quanshu 四庫全書 and Congshu jicheng 叢書集成.


Sources:
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. 1865.
Zhang Binglun 張秉倫 (1993). "Luoyang mudan ji tiyao 洛陽牡丹記提要", in: Zhongguo kexue jishu dianji tonghui 中國科學技術典籍通彙, Shengwu juan 生物卷, vol. 1, pp. 141-142. Ed. Ren Jiyu 任繼愈/Gou Cuihua 茍萃華. Zhengzhou: Henan jiaoyu chubanshe.


Contents
1. 花品敘 Huapin xu Kinds of flowers (i.e. peonies)
2. 花釋名 Hua shiming Explanation of the names
3. 風俗記 Fengsu ji Customs (of cultivation)
Chinese literature according to the four-category system

November 11, 2010 © Ulrich Theobald · Mail