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1. Having made such frequent reference in the last chapter to the Bamboo Books, I have thought it would be well to devote a chapter specially to them, embodying the text, with a translation, of that portion of them which is most important, and from which the shorter scheme of Chinese chronology is derived. Some Sinologues, like Father De Mailla, have written about them without sufficient discrimination, and have not done them justice; 1 while other students of chronology, like Freret and Bunsen, unable to examine them for themselves, have attached a greater value to them than can be fairly claimed. The student will be glad to have the ancient history of China, as indicated in them, in the same volume with the records of the Shoo; and it will be found that they give important corroboration to some of the views which I have advanced on the older portions of the classic.

What is meant by `The Bamboo Books.'

`The Bamboo Books' is a comprehensive designation. It is not, indeed, so wide as De Mailla represents, when he says:—`It is the general name given to all ancient Books written on tablets of bamboo, before the manner of making paper was discovered.' Such books might be spoken and written of as `Bamboo Books.' The Bamboo Books is the name appropriate to a large collection of ancient documents, discovered in A.D. 279, embracing nearly twenty different Works, which contained altogether between seventy and eighty chapters or Books.

Manner of their Discovery.

The discovery of those Works is thus related in the history of the emperor Woo, the first of the sovereigns of Tsin, whose supremacy over the empire is acknowledged in chronology:—`In the 5th year of his reign under the title of Hëen-ning 2 [= A.D. 279, the year before the chronological commencement of the Tsin dynasty], some lawless parties in the department of Keih dug open the grave of king Seang of Wei [Died B.C. 295], and found a number of bamboo tablets, written over, in the small seal character, with more than 100,000 words; which were deposited in the imperial library.' But before the tablets were placed in the library, they had sustained various injury and mutilation. The emperor referred them to the principal scholars in the service of the government, to adjust the tablets in order, having first transcribed them in modern characters. The chief among these was one Wei Hăng, 3 famous for his knowledge of the old forms of the characters. He was assisted by Shuh Sih,束皙, Ho Këaou,和峤, Seun Heuh荀?, and others,—all men of note in their day. In two years their labours were completed, and the tablets were placed in the library in order. De Mailla says that the scholars reported to the emperor unfavourably of the Bamboo Books:—that `they were filled with reveries, extravagances, and manifest falsities.' I have not found in the Books of Tsin 4 that they gave any such sweeping decision. They made out the names of 15 different Works, the tablets of which, more or less complete, could be arranged together. Some of these Works were, indeed, full of extravagant legends and speculations;—they soon fell into neglect, if they have not entirely perished. There were two among them, however, of a different character:—a copy of the Yih King, in two Books, agreeing with that generally received; and a book of Annals, beginning with the reign of Hwang-te, and coming down to the 16th year of the last emperor of the Chow dynasty, B.C. 298. This was in 12 or 13 chapters.

If the scholars of Tsin sent in to the emperor any formal report of their labours, and of their judgment on the different portions of `the Bamboo Books,' it has not been preserved; but we have the most satisfactory evidence of the points I have just stated, in the appendix or l'envoi affixed by Too Yu to his well known edition of the Tso Chuen. 5 He tells us, that on returning, in A.D. 280, from a military expedition to Woo, he completed his great Work, when his attention was called to the Bamboo Books which had been recently discovered; that, by the carelessness of the parties who first found them, they had suffered much damage; and that, when he saw them in the library, the portions most complete and distinct were a copy of the Yih King, and certain Annals, relating, in the latter part of them, more particularly, the affairs of the State of Tsin.

How the Annals have kept their place in literature.

The reader will be conscious of a disposition to reject at once the account of the discovery of the Bamboo Books. He has read so much of the recovery of portions of the Shoo from the walls of houses, that he must be tired of this mode of finding lost treasures; and smiles when he is now called on to believe that an old tomb opened, and yielded its literary stores, long after the human remains that had been laid in it had mingled with the dust. From the death of king Sëang to B.C. 279 were 595 years;—so long had these Books been in the bosom of the earth. The speed, moreover, with which the tablets were transcribed and arranged was surprising. It is hard to credit that so much work was done in so brief time. Against the improbabilities in the case, however, we have to place the evidence which is given in support of it. The testimony of Too Yu, especially, a witness entirely competent and disinterested, and which was probably in A.D. 281 or 282, seems to place it beyond a doubt, that there had been a large discovery of ancient Works in a tomb a few years before, of which a most valuable portion was that which is now current under the name of `The Annals of the Bamboo Books.' How far some of the other portions have been preserved, I am not able to say; but these Annals have held their place in the literature of China. They are mentioned in the catalogues of the Suy and T`ang dynasties. Shin Yŏ, 6 a scholar and officer of the Lëang dynasty, (A.D. 502—557) published an edition, with a commentary, in the 6th century. Under the Sung dynasty, Choo He made several references to them, not unfavourable. Two scholars of Yuen, Hoo Ying-lin 7 and Yang Shing-gan, 8 laboured upon them; and in the present dynasty five or six different editions and commentaries have been published;—showing that, notwithstanding the generally unfavourable opinion of scholars, the Work has not yet been put out of the court of criticism.

I now subjoin the text and a translation, with a few annotations.


1. See the first of the P. De Mailla's letters to Freret, prefixed to `L'Histoire generale de la Chine.'

2. 咸寧, 五年. See the Books of Tsin, 帝紀第三, p. 13.

3. 衛恆

4. See in particular the history of Shuh Sih, 列傳,第二十一

5. 杜預左傳,後序

6. 沈約,字休文

7. 胡應麟

8. 楊升庵

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IATHPublished by The Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities, © Copyright 2003 by Anne Kinney and the University of Virginia