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Chinese Literature
Yugong 禹貢

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Yugong 禹貢 "The Tribute of Yu" is a chapter of the Confucian Classic Shangshu 尚書. It is often seen as the oldest geography of China, yet it belongs not to the oldest texts in the corpus of the Shangshu but was probably compiled during the Warring States period 戰國 (5th cent.-221 BCE). Sima Qian 司馬遷, author of the history Shiji 史記, was of the opinion that the text originated in the time of the Xia dynasty 夏 (17th-15th cent. BCE), whose first ruler Yu the Great 大禹 was believed to have been. It was even believed that the Yugong was written by Yu the Great himself and later revised by Confucius. Late Qing period 清 (1644-1911) scholars like Wang Guiwei 王國維 and even the modern scholar Xin Shuzhi 辛樹幟 still thought the Yugong to be a product of the early Zhou period 周 (11th cent.-221 BCE), written by the royal grand historian (taishi 太史). Kang Youwei 康有爲 and Wang Chengzu 王成祖 thought it to be a writing of Confucius himself and explained that the text reflected the economical and geographical situation of the late Spring and Autumn period 春秋 (770-5th cent. BCE). Gu Jiegang 顧頡剛 and Hou Renzhi 侯仁之 were of the opinion that the author of the text hailed from the state of Qin 秦 and the text was compiled about sixty years before the unification of the empire in 221 BCE. Shi Nianhai 史念海 thinks that the text was not written before 480 BCE.
The Yugong describes how Yu the Great travelled through the "nine provinces" of China (jiuzhou 九州: Jizhou 冀州, Yanzhou 兖州, Qingzhou 青州, Xuzhou 徐州, Yangzhou 揚州, Jingzhou 荊州, Yuzhou 豫州, Liangzhou 梁州 and Yongzhou 雍州). The text can be divided into three parts: The first describes the rivers and mountains in these provinces. The second one (called Daoshan 導山 "guiding the mountains") narrates how Yu the Great traveled along the most important mountain ranges, and the third one, Daoshui 導水 "guding the rivers" explains how he followed the courses of nine rivers—each representing one province—and so explored the geography of China. This part also reports which local products he found that could be presented to Emperor Shun 舜 as tributes (gong 貢), of what quality the soil was, and which swamps were to be found. The part Wufu 五服 "the five domains" makes the provinces and their territories appear as belonging to one coherent empire, which is very interesting because the book was written in a time when China was divided into several feudal states. Of all geographical descriptions, that of the Yellow River is quite detailed, while the regions of the Yangtze and Huai Rivers are only described very crudely.
The text of the Yugong is written in clear words that in a repetive way render facts about the regions of China. As a geographic treatise it is written very clear and logically. The concept of the nine provinces reflects numerological thinking, similar to the four topological components mountains, rivers, swamps and seas. Each of the nine provinces disposed of these components. Many traditional scholars tried to identify places mentioned in the Yugong with contemporary places. Today the Yugong is hailed as the earliest "scientific" treatise of China, yet on the background of numerology it must be seen that the selection of places was made to meet the rules of philosophy, and not according to geographic reality. Modern scholars also praise the Yugong as a forerunner of economic geography and a treatise on waterways in early China, with the Yellow River in its centre.
There is a vast amount of commentaries on the Yugong chapter, the most important of which are Mao Huang's 毛晃 Yugong zhinan 禹貢指南 and Cheng Dachang's 程大昌 Yugong lun 禹貢論 and Yugong shanchuan dili tu 禹貢山川地理圖 from the Song period 宋 (960-1279), and the Qing period texts Yugong zhuizhi 禹貢錐指 by Hu Wei 胡渭, Yugong shuo 禹貢說 by Wei Yun 魏源 and Yugong huijian 禹貢會箋 by Xu Wenjing 徐文靖. The Republican (1911-1949) scholar Gu Jiegang 顧頡剛, who is known as a critic of ancient mythology, compiled the commentary Yugong zhushi 禹貢注釋. In 2006 the Xi'an ditu press 西安地图出版社 published a collectaneum including all important commentaries. It is called Lidai yugong wenxian jicheng 歷代禹貢文獻集成.
During the Republican period several historians and geographer founded the Yu Gong Society (Yugong shehui 禹貢學會). It was inaugurated in February 1934 by Gu Jiegang 顧頡剛 and Tan Qixiang 譚其驤 in Beiping 北平 (modern Beijing), but its real foundation took place in May 1936, with Gu as its director (lishizhang 理事長). Most members were professors and teachers at Beijing University 北京大學, Yanjing University 燕京大學 or Furen University 輔仁大學. The society's aim was to compile and publish scholarly writings on geography in historical perspective, maps on history, dictionaries on historical placenames and various peoples in China through history, furthermore the investigations of historical borders and river conservation through the ages, the critical revision of the treatises on geography (dilizhi 地理志) in the official dynastic histories, the compilation of historiographical sourcebooks on geography, and cooperation with experts of other disciplines. The most important of their publications was the semi-monthly magazin Yugong 禹貢 (Yu Kung) whose first number appeared in March 1934. Until July 1937, 82 numbers appeared that were later published with hardcover binding in 7 volumes. It includes articles to historical geography and the history of border peoples. Many issues focused on one special theme. It was the most important publishing organ for the discipline of historical geography in the 1930s. The English translation was therefore also called The Evolution of Chinese Geography, and from issue no. 24 on Chinese Historical Geography. Except this journal, the society published a lot of maps on ancient China, its borderlands and on travels in ancient times. The most famous is probably Tan Qixiang's (1911-1992) eight-volumes atlas Zhongguo lishi ditu ji 中國歷史地圖集, published between 1982 and 1988. The magazine Yugong was reprinted in 1972 by the Datong Press 大通書局 in Taibei and in 1994 by the Huashan wenyi press 花山文藝出版社 in Shijiazhuang, Hebei.

Sources: Li Yaming 李亞明 (1996), "Yugong 禹貢", in Fu Qingsheng 傅慶升, Feng Kezheng 馮克正 (ed.), Zhuzi baijia da cidian 諸子百家大辭典 (Shenyang: Liaoning renmin chubanshe), p. 457. ● Xu Zhaokui 徐兆奎 (1992), "Yugong shehui 禹貢學會", in: Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, Dilixue 地理學 (Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe), p. 469. ● Zhongguo da baike cidian bianweihui 中國百科大辭典編委會 (1990), Zhongguo da baike cidian 中國百科大辭典 (Beijing: Huaxia chubanshe), p. 825. ● Zhou Yao 周躍 (1993), "Yugong 禹貢", in Shi Quanchang 石泉長 (ed.), Zhonghua baike yaolan 中華百科要覽 (Liaoyang: Liaoning renmin chubanshe), p. 965. ● Zhu Shunlong 朱順龍 (1992), "Yugong 禹貢", in Zhongguo xueshu mingzhu tiyao 中國學術名著提要, Lishi 歷史卷 (Shanghai: Fudan daxue chubanshe), p. 635.

December 21, 2013 © Ulrich Theobald · Mail
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