Li shi [Explications of (Inscriptions) in Clerical Script]. Kuo HONG.

A Major Documentary & Scholarly Effort

Li shi [Explications of (Inscriptions) in Clerical Script].

27 juan in 18 vols. Large 8vo, orig. wrappers, new stitching. [China]: Lousong shuwu [“The Tower Pine Library”], 1777-78.

This book by Hong Kuo (1117-84), records the texts of inscriptions on stone monuments dating from the Han-Wei period, which corresponds to the rules of the Han empire (202 BCE-220 CE) and the state of Wei (220-266 CE). The Wei was one of the powers that fought for supremacy in the empire’s wake. The book’s author, Hong Kuo, was born in the Song empire when it controlled all of China but lived in what is now known as the Southern Song, after the state was pushed out of the Chinese heartland by the Jurchen. He was a famous epigrapher, recording many stele inscriptions, most of which have not survived.

The Song was a Confucian state in which the language of state and of most writing was literary Chinese, as had been the case in the Han empire. In the Song period, the script used to write that language was what is called the “regular script” (kaishu), which is still in use today (even, as in the People’s Republic of China and in Singapore, in modified form with simplified characters). The stone inscriptions from the Han period that could still be found in the Song period, however, were written in the “clerical script” (lishu), which, as its name suggests, was associated with Han chancery practices. About a millennium had passed between the height of Han imperial power and the Southern Song, and clerical script texts could not be read easily by people in Hong Kuo’s day. Hong’s collection of clerical script inscriptions represents a major documentary and scholarly effort.

Li shi contains 183 inscriptions gathered in 27 juan (chapters). Hong recorded the inscriptions — collected over years of travel and official service — in the “regular script,” not the “clerical script” in which they were found. This required an interpretative effort on Hong’s part. According to Hong, “when Han-era people wrote in clerical [script], they often liked to use substitute characters or loan characters.” This meant that a reader a thousand years later had to infer which of several possible “regular script” characters was appropriate. Hong recorded the regular character that corresponded to the clerical form in the original, and in each particular case noted which character he believed it stood in for. At times he also noted the pronunciation of characters used in his source text, and relied on that evidence in his interpretation. Toward the end of the book, Hong included lists of inscriptions from other works for reference. Li shi was finished in 1166. Hong later wrote a sequel following the same format.

Hong Kuo (originally named Hong Zao) was from Jiangxi in south-central China. Kuo’s father, Hong Hao, had initially been stranded in the Jurchen-controlled north after the Song retreat, but after his arrival in Chinese-controlled territory, became an official and writer, who was sent on an embassy to the Jurchen state. Hong Kuo’s two younger brothers also distinguished themselves and attained fame in their own time. One of them, Hong Mai — who authored Record of the Listener [Yijian zhi], originally based on stories told by their father — wrote a colophon for Li shi.

Several editions of Li shi have come down to us, including an early example from 1588. The present edition was published in 1777-78 by Wang Rixiu’s Lousong shuwu [“The Tower Pine Library”]; Wang wrote a colophon that is included in our copy.

Nice set, preserved in a hantao. Some minor repairs to several leaves. With the seal “Private Collection of the Nakagawa Family.” Tadateru Nakagawa (1753-1830), was a Japanese official in Nagasaki who wrote several scholarly books on China and assembled an important book collection. Another seal is that of Rohan Koda (1867-1947), the famous Meiji-period writer.

❧ With thanks to Prof. Marten Soderblom Saarela of the Institute of Modern History, Academia Sinica, Taiwan.

Price: $12,500.00

Item ID: 8247

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