An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art

Zhuzuotang ji 著作堂集

Mar 24, 2021 © Ulrich Theobald

Zhuzuotang ji 著作堂集 is a book on 'lower creatures' (chong 蟲) written during the late Ming period 明 (1368-1644) by Tan Zhenmo 譚貞默 (1589-1665), courtesy name Mengxun 孟恂 or Liangsheng 梁生, style Sao'an 埽庵, from Jiaxing 嘉興, Zhejiang. He was clerk in the Ministry of Works (gongbu zhushi 工部主事), but was dismissed, and later served the Hongguang Emperor 弘光帝 (r. 1644-1645) of the Southern Ming 南明 (1644-1661) in the Left Department of the Court of Judicial Review (dalisi 大理寺) and as Vice Chamberlain for the Imperial Stud (taipu shaoqing 太僕少卿).

The author was inspired by the ancient philosopher Zhuangzi's 莊子 belief that small animals were a direct expression of Heaven and nature, and combined this with Tan Qiao's 譚峭 book Huashu 化書 from the early 10th century which was a philosophical interpretation of nature and the constant changes within it. Such changes of forms were particularly visible in small animals and insects. The book is therefore occasionally called Xiaohuashu 小化書.

The book consists of two fascicles with 37 brief chapters, each of which presents information on one type of chong animal in the shape of a short rhapsody (fu 賦), and related commentaries. The texts begins with a general rhaposdy (zongfu 總賦), and ends with a summary of rhapsodies (fuzong 總賦). The 31 descriptive rhapsodies comment on 66 types or species of chong animals (with additional mentions resulting in 90 references), including earthworms (qiuyin 蚯蚓), spiders (zhizhu 蜘蛛), dragonflies (qingting 蜻蜓), qingning 青寧 (a kind of insect living between the roots of bamboos), frogs (wa 蛙), lizards (xiyi 蜥蜴), and bats (bianfu 蝙蝠). Most of these animals were common in the region of Jiaxing, while a few were seawater creatures.

Many descriptions of the Zhuzuotang ji are very detailed and present information not found in earlier books, for instance, flies (ying 蠅) and mosquitoes (wen 蚊), or various stages of development in the case of fireflies (ying 螢). In some instances, insects are mentioned for the first time at all in Tan's book, like Luciola terminalis (huangying 黃螢) or Vespa auraria (huanghufeng 黃胡蜂).

While Tan's book is important as China's earliest book specializing on the "lower creatures" in the animal kingdom, it includes a lot of popular belief which contradicts scientific facts, for instance, the narrative of earthworms making noise or singing during prolonged rain, or attempts to derive the name of spiders (zhizhu) from words resembling the syllables zhi and zhu, like zhu 誅 "execution" or zhu 珠 "pearl". Yet in other cases, such etymologies are correct, like in the case of eumenids (guoying 蜾蠃, Anterhynchium spec.), as slim-waist wasps (hufeng 胡蜂).

The book was first printed around 1643. Of this printed edition, a manuscript copy survives produced by the Lianting Studio 楝亭 of Cao Yinzi 曹寅子. The compilation team of the imperial series Siku quanshu 四庫全書 received a copy with the name Tanzi diaochong 譚子雕蟲 or Diaochong 雕蟲. This version is, in critical form, part of the literary remains Tanzi yishu 譚子遺書.

Gou Cuihua 茍萃華 (1993). "Zhuzuotang ji tiyao《著作堂集》題要", in Gou Cuihua 茍萃華, ed. Zhongguo kexue jishu dianji tonghui 中國科學技術典籍通彙, part Shengwu 生物卷 (Zhengzhou: Henan jiaoyu chubanshe), Vol. 2, 569-570.
蜀漢 (221-263)