[Title-page]: Fang yan shu zheng; title at beginning of text: You xuan shi zhe jue dai yu shi bie guo fang yan [The Imperial Light Carriage Emissary Explaining Discursively the Regional Words in Different States through the Ages]. Zhen DAI.
[Title-page]: Fang yan shu zheng; title at beginning of text: You xuan shi zhe jue dai yu shi bie guo fang yan [The Imperial Light Carriage Emissary Explaining Discursively the Regional Words in Different States through the Ages].

A “Book That You in Philology Cannot Do Without”

[Title-page]: Fang yan shu zheng; title at beginning of text: You xuan shi zhe jue dai yu shi bie guo fang yan [The Imperial Light Carriage Emissary Explaining Discursively the Regional Words in Different States through the Ages].

95 (including title printed on purple paper); 99 folding leaves. 13 juan in two vols. 8vo, orig. green wrappers, orig. block-printed title labels on upper covers, new stitching. [China]: Han qing yi, 1882.

Philosopher, mathematician, and philologist, Dai (1724-77), was a pivotal figure in Qing intellectual history and the most noted Confucian scholar of the Qing dynasty.

The present work is a noteworthy study of the Fangyan [Regional Words] by Yang Xiong (53 B.C.-18 A.D.). Yang Xiong’s book, a kind of linguistic mirror of the Han empire, “collected synonyms taken from different dialects and languages, gathered by court messengers who had been sent to various regions of China. It is the oldest known Chinese documentation on languages other than Chinese.”–Françoise Bottero, “Ancient China” in John Considine, ed., Lexicography (Cambridge University Press), p. 57.

During the centuries following its completion, Yang’s pioneering book was often cited and remained well known. Yet the text was corrupted over time, and available editions were not reliable. According to the bibliographical notes to the Qianlong emperor’s massive manuscript library, the Complete Books of the Four Treasuries, the book “had in practice been lost although it was still extant.”

Dai Zhen worked on the Complete Books of the Four Treasuries project, which was what enabled this edition of Fangyan. Dai’s involvement with the Four Treasuries gave him unprecedented access to the Yongle Dadian [Great Canon of the (Reign of) Eternal Joy], the massive manuscript encyclopedia compiled at the court of the Yongle emperor of the Ming dynasty in 1403-08. The encyclopedia was never printed but remained in imperial possession (most of it was later lost during the tumultuous last years of the Qing dynasty). Dai’s work with the encyclopedia led to the recovery of several ancient texts, including a version of Fangyan. Dai compared the Yongle Dadian version with, on the one hand, quotations from Fangyan seen in other early books and, on the other, Ming editions of the text still in circulation. Thus he was able to reconstruct something like the original appearance of Yang Xiong’s text.

Dai began researching Fangyan in 1755. He completed the present book more than 20 years later, in 1776, the year before his death. Later Qing scholars produced editions that corrected or supplemented Dai’s text, but in the words of his student, the eminent philologist Duan Yucai (1735-1815), it is a “book that you in philology cannot do without.” Fine set, preserved in a hantao.

❧ Hummel, ed., Eminent Chinese of the Ch’ing Period (1644-1912), Vol. II, pp. 695-700. For an account of the making of Yang’s Fangyan, see Yong & Peng, Chinese Lexicography. A History from 1046 BC to AD 1911 (Oxford: 2008), pp. 80-84. WorldCat Accession numbers: 1042221370 & 52390832. With thanks to Prof. Marten Soderblom Saarela of the Institute of Modern History, Academia Sinica, Taiwan.

Price: $2,250.00

Item ID: 8125

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