Item ID: 9136 Yu xuan Tang-Song shi chun 御選唐宋詩醇 [Finest Pieces of Tang and Song Poetry, Selected by the Emperor]. Emperor of China QIANLONG 乾隆.

Poetry of the Tang & Song Dynasties; Selected by the Qianlong Emperor

Yu xuan Tang-Song shi chun 御選唐宋詩醇 [Finest Pieces of Tang and Song Poetry, Selected by the Emperor].

47 juan & two vols. of index in 25 vols. 8vo, orig. wrappers (some light browning throughout). [China]: after 1760.

An early edition, first printed in 1751, of this selection of poetry by eight famous writers from the Tang (618-907 CE) and (Northern and Southern) Song (960-1279 CE) periods. Nominally the collection was made by the Qianlong emperor, who was himself a productive poet. If one goes by the number of poems published in Qianlong’s name, the emperor “was by far the most prolific poet in Chinese history” (he published more than 42,000 pieces)” (Fang Chao-ying, “Hung-Li,” 371). Those poems probably were not all his creation, however; the man had an empire to run. Similarly, this collection of the poetry of earlier masters probably owed a lot to Grand Secretary Liang Shizheng 梁詩正 (1697-1763), minister of the Board of Personnel, who headed the team of compilers. The woodblock printing reproduces the original calligraphy of the “imperial brush,” however.

The poets in the collection include Li Bai (701-762), Du Fu (712-770), Bai Juyi (772-846), and Han Yu (768-824) of the Tang, as well as Su Shi (1037-1101) and Lu You (1125-1210) of the Song. In the selection of poets and poems, the compilers put emphasis on the expression of “filial loyalty” [zhongxiao 忠孝], a core value for the Confucian monarchy. The styles of the poets were attributed to their lived experience, so that the poems became seen as representing their character.

The collection has been criticized for focusing on only the biggest names of the Tang and Song periods, featuring a selection of only eight poets. Yet the collection was very influential. Its publication preceded the reinstitution of a poetry element in the civil service examinations, which retroactively drew attention to the book. Notably, this fact was highlighted by the famous statesman and zealous Neo-Confucian Chen Hongmou (1696-1771), then governor of Jiangsu, when he requested and received permission to reprint it in the province in 1760 (whence this copy; see below). Furthermore, in two separate sessions of the civil service examinations during the Qianlong reign — one local examination and one high-level examination — the collection was mentioned in the policy section of the exam. Prospective candidates would have taken note of such mentions, and this collection liley ended up on the reading lists of many hopefuls. For a time, the collection was prescribed reading for new Hanlin Bachelors at the Qing court, and among the reading population writ large, it helped establish Su Shi’s and Lu You’s reputations as poets.

The book was finished in 1750 and printed the following year. As mentioned above, it was reprinted in Jiangsu in 1760. It is possible that this copy belongs to this reprint edition, even though the actual printing, using the same blocks, might be later. The book was reprinted (again as a woodblock printing) in Zhejiang in 1877. Later copies based on this edition carry the date 1877 after the imperial preface.

Very good set, preserved in four hantao. Minor spotting here and there and occasional light dampstaining.


Blog post by “Shanben guji” entitled “Shanben guji huozi taoyin ben Yuxuan Tang Song wenchun, shichun kaolüe,”

Fang Chao-ying. “Hung-Li.” In Eminent Chinese of the Ch’ing Period. Edited by Arthur W. Hummel. Vol. 1. Washington, D.C.: United States Printing Office, 1944.

Price: $10,000.00

Item ID: 9136