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General remarks on the Annals

The Reader has now had the opportunity of making himself acquainted with the Annals of the Bamboo Books. As a specimen of the manner in which Chinese scholars deliver their opinion against them, I may quote the language of Wang Ming-shing. He says:—`It may be assumed as certain that they are a compilation which was imposed on the world by Shuh Sih. The forced versions of events in them, with their additions and combinations, are not only not worthy to be believed, but they are not worthy to be discussed. In every age there have been men capable of such mischief and falsehood. What we have to depend on, is that, while the man of knowledge will altogether reject such books, he who may have doubts about so dealing with them will put them on one side. That is the proper way to pursue in studying them.' 1 I cannot by any means agree in so unfavourable a judgment. The sketch of the discovery of all the Bamboo books, given in the first paragraph of this chapter, is sufficient to prove that they were not fabricated by Shuh Sih, or by any other, at the beginning of the Tsin dynasty. They had, no doubt, been lying for nearly six centuries in the tomb in which they had been first deposited, when they were then brought anew to light.

Corruptions must be admitted in the Text. The causes of them.

At the same time, the usage to which the tablets were subjected on their discovery, led to the loss of some, the mutilation of others, and a general confusion of their order, which leave abundant room for the exercise of critical ingenuity on the Annals as we now have them. The haste, too, with which the ancient writing was deciphered and transcribed in the current characters of the age, gives occasion to doubt whether that important work could have been executed with the care which its difficulty required. I have called attention in the notes to some of the many transpositions of paragraphs of the present text, which are proposed by Hăng Ch`in-fung, the latest editor of the Annals, and an able and voluminous commentator on them. And there are other paragraphs, which he would cast out altogether, as having been incorporated with them from other portions of the mass of documents found in the tomb of king Sëang. What was called `Fragmentary Sayings,' 2 or Narratives, of which there were eleven Books, appears to have supplied most of such additions. From the nature of the paragraphs supposed to be derived from this source, and of other fragments collected from various books where they appear as quotations from `The Bamboo Books' (of which the account of the relations between Yaou and Shun, in note 8, p. 116, may be taken as an example), it appears that, besides the ore of the Annals, the tomb contained a large amount of dross, consisting of the wildest and most ridiculous legends and fables. From this material mainly were composed the long notes which we find interspersed through the Work, the more numerous and the more extravagant and absurd the more distant the times to which they relate. In what must be acknowledged as really belonging to the Annals, there are, moreover, absurdities enow:—entries of prodigious phenomena, showers of gold, monstrous animals, transformations of sex, &c. The reader is often reminded of the marvels in Livy's History. Even if we were sure that we had the chronicle as it was placed in the tomb of king Sëang, we should have to be wary in our treatment of its contents; and much more must we be so, considering that we have it—here with mutilations, and there with additions.

Different characters of different parts of the Annals. Probable date of the compilation of the earliest part.

With the reign of king P`ing, B.C. 769, there is a change in the character of the chronicle. From Hwang-te to that time, the Annals are those of the empire. The sovereigns of the different dynasties are the principal figures, in subordination to whose history the events of the various States are detailed. But from the date mentioned, the princes of Tsin become the principal figures; and they continue to be so, down to B.C. 439, when those of Wei, one of the three States, into which Tsin was dismembered, come into the foreground. From B.C. 769, therefore, the Annals are those of the State of Tsin, composed by its Recorders, and digested subsequently into a more compendious form by one of the officers, bearing that title, of the State of Wei. The earlier chronicle, which is more important and of more general interest, was compiled, probably, about the time that the second portion was commenced, by one of the Recorders of Tsin, and kept in the archives of that State, as an appropriate introduction to its particular affairs.

Conclusion from the Annals against the earlier portions of the Shoo.

This view conducts us to an important conclusion respecting the Shoo. While denying, in the second chapter of these prolegomena, that in the older portions of the Shoo we have contemporaneous records of the events which they relate, I have given my opinion, on p. 66, that `the Tribute of Yu' was, notwithstanding, among the written monuments of the dynasty of Shang, and passed over from its historiographers to those of the dynasty of Chow. I am not going now to retract or modify that opinion; but the fact that these Bamboo Annals contain so little of what the Shoo contains about Shun and Yu, appears to me to have a great significance. The accounts in the Shoo could not have been generally known, or, if known, not generally accepted, when the Annals were made. The character of the two Works is, indeed, different. The Annals give but the skeleton of the history of ancient China; the Shoo gives the flesh and drapery of the body at particular times. The one tells of events simply, in the fewest possible words; the other describes the scenes and all the attendant circumstances of those events. The numerous appointments, however, of officers by Shun, and the grand labours of Yu, all related in the Shoo, ought, according to the plan of the Work, to have their brief commemoration in the Annals. That they are not so corroborated, proves that they were not accepted as matter of veritable history by the author of our chronicle. I shall dwell somewhat more minutely on this point in the next paragraph. It may suffice here to point it out distinctly. In one respect, the compiler of the documents of the Shoo has shown more >discrimination than the compiler of the Anuals. He did well in not attempting to go back into the shadowy age before Yaou; but I submit it to my readers, whether the want of corroboration, in the Annals, of the Shoo's accounts of the government of Shun and the labours of Yu, does not bear out my view, that the latter are merely the devices of philosophical romance, intended to present the first beginnings of Chinese history on a grand scale, and under heroes of sagely wisdom and gigantic achievement, who should be a model to sovereigns in all future ages.


1. 必是束皙偽譔...........其穿鑿附會, 不旦不足信, 亦不足辯也, 大約, 妄人何代?有, 全賴有識者屏黜之,有疑則闕, 方為善讀書. See the 十七史商榷, on the 竹書紀年.

2. 璅語十一篇. See the Books of Tsin, p. 13.

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