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Qunfangpu 群芳譜

Jun 17, 2011 © Ulrich Theobald

Qunfangpu 群芳譜 "Notes on all various herbs", full title Erruting Qunfangpu 二如亭群芳譜, is a compendium on plants compiled during the Ming period 明 (1368-1644) by Wang Xiangjin 王象晉 (1561-1653), courtesy name Jinchen 盡臣 or Zijin 子進, style Kangyu 康宇, Mingnong Yinshi 明農隱士 or Haosheng Jushi 好生居士.

Wang hailed from Xincheng 新城 (modern Hengtai 桓臺, Shandong) and obtained the jinshi degree in 1604. The highest office he occupied was that of administration commissioner (buzhengshi 布政使) of Zhejiang. Between 1607 and 1627, Wang stayed at home and took over the management of the family possessions that included large tracts of cultivated land. During that time he was able to gain experience in agricultural matters part of which he noted down over a long period of time. Apart from the Qunfangpu, he also authored the books Qingwuzhai xinshang bian 清悟齋欣賞編, Jiantong zaibi 翦桐載筆 and Qin Zhang shiyu hebi 秦張詩餘合璧.

The 30-juan-long Qunfangpu assembles important knowledge about the most useful plants that could be grown in everyone's garden. The book is the result of both studies of older literature on that topic as well as private experience. The book is divided into 12 chapters covering the themes weather and seasons, grain, vegetables, fruits, tea and bamboo, mulberry and hemp, cotton and ramie, medical plants, trees, flowers, grasses, as well as useful zoological information of cranes and fishes. For each of the 400 described objects or species, Wang Xiangjin notes down the appearance and the conditions under which they grow, as well as how they could be consumed, and in the case of medical plants, how they are applied. For some of them, stories and literary statements are also provided.

Very interesting is the large collection of different names for various plants, which helps to identify them in a confusing nomenclature. Some scholars criticized the book for its focus on the medical use of plants and the negligence of concrete cultivation methods. Wang Xiangjin quoted from a lot of ancient books that were later lost. Fragments of them are thus only preserved in the Qunfangpu. A substantial part of Wang Xiangjin's book is quite probably based on a Song-period 宋 (960-1279) writing, the Quanfang beizu 全芳備祖 compiled by Chen Yong 陳詠 (b. c. 1201).

The compendium was first printed in 1621, and there is another print from the late Ming period preserved in a revised Qing-period 清 (1644-1911) edition, as well as a Ming-period print in 29 chapters produced by the Shacun Caotang Studio 沙村草堂.

In 1708, an imperially commissioned enlarged version of the book was published, Wang Hao's 汪灝 Guang qunfangpu 廣群芳譜 (also known as Peiwenzhai guang qunfangpu 佩文齋廣群芳譜).

The Qunfangfu has not been included in the imperial series Siku quanshu 四庫全書 because the quotations are of a very short and unreliable style.

Table 1. Contents of the Qunfangpu 群芳譜
1.-3. Heaven
4.-7. The seasons
8. Grains
9.-10. Vegetables
11.-14. Fruits
15.-17. 茶竹 Tea and bamboos
18. 桑麻葛苧 Mulberry and various kinds of hemp
19.-21. Medical herbs
22.-24. Trees
25.-27. Flowers
28.-29. Grasses
30. 鶴魚 Birds and fishes
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