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Minzhong haicuo shu 閩中海錯疏

Oct 23, 2019 © Ulrich Theobald

Minzhong haicuo shu 閩中海錯疏 is a 3-juan long book written by Tu Benjun 屠本畯 (1542-1622), courtesy name Tianshu 田叔, style Binsou 豳叟, finished in 1596. Tu also wrote a text on lychee cultivation in Fujian, Minzhong lizhi pu 閩中荔枝譜, a book on wild edible plants, Yecai jian 野菜箋, and a commentary on seafood, Haiwei suoyin 海味索引. The latter is a revision of a text by Zhang Jiuzong 張九嵕 (jinshi degree 1601) that included descriptions of 16 kinds of seafood.

The first and second fascicle (Linbu 鱗部 "Scaly creatures") of the Mingzhong haicuo shu describe 167 kinds of fishes, the third (Jiebu 介部 "Creatures with shells") 90 kinds of shells, clams, and also turtles. The appendix includes the descriptions of the eggs of the sea slug Bursatella leachii (haifen 海粉, used as medicine), and edible birds' nests (yanwo 燕窩), the one of which is actually no seafood, and the other no food. This makes for a total number of 259 "species". Biologically seen, the book includes fishes, arthropods, molluscs, cnidaria (jellyfish), echinoderms (sea cucumbers) and also amphibians and a few mammals.

The geographical range of the book extends to the shores of Guangdong and Zhejiang, and not only covers the province of Fujian. The text also includes some animals living in fresh water, like carps or different species of frogs and toads. The classifies animals into different larger groups of two or three, as carp-shaped fishes (li 鯉, with the species chengli 頳鯉, huangwei 黃尾, dagu 大姑, jinli 金鯉 and li 鱧) or bream-shaped fishes (ji 鯽, with the species jinji 金鯽, wuyu 烏魚, jingu 金篐, jilie 棘鬛, chizong 赤鬃, fangtou 方頭 and wujia 烏頰).

Tu Benjun's book is one of the rare descriptions of China's economically most important sea animals, as the large yellow croaker (dahuangyu 大黄魚, Pseudosciaena crocea or Larimichthys crocea), small yellow croaker (xiaohuangyu 小黃魚, Pseudosciaena polyactis), Pacific cutlassfish (daiyu 帶魚, Trichiurus lepturus) and cuttlefish (wuzei 烏賊), of various kinds of crabs and shrimps, Tenualosa toli (shiyu 鰣魚, a species of herring), the Chinese herring (leyu 鰳魚 or 勒魚, Ilisha elongata) and the dotted gizzard shad (banji 斑鰶, Konosirus punctatus). For each species the handbook describes its shape, living environment, places of living, taste and preparation methods, as well as characteristics to identify it.

The author quotes from ancient texts, makes use of the fisherfolk's knowledge, and also adds his own findings to it. The species are arranged according to their environment, not to biological relations. Xu Bo 徐𤊹 (1563-1639) wrote a supplement with the title Minzhong haicuo buzhi 閩中海錯補志.

Tu's book on seafood is included in the series Siku quanshu 四庫全書, Yihai zhuchen 藝海珠塵, Nongxue congshu 農學叢書, Wanyou wenku 萬有文庫 and Congshu jicheng chubian 叢書集成初編.

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