A Historical Digest for Students

Gan er shi zong bian 廿二史綜編 [Comprehensive Edition of the Twenty-Two Histories].

Eight vols. 8vo, orig. wrappers, orig. stitching. [China]: 1853.

Rare copy of a commercial edition of a historiographical work. The “twenty-two histories” of the title refer to the so-called dynastic or standard histories (zhengshi 正史), a retrospective bibliographical category encompassing books written between the early first century CE and the Mingshi 明史 [History of the Ming] from the 18th century. Both the scope and the format of the histories made them inaccessible to readers into the late imperial period, which motivated commercial abridgments such as our book. “Despite the much greater availability of the Histories during and after the seventeenth century, they still remained expensive, especially to poor young scholars…Even as late as the 1840s, one poor scholar…acquire[d] not a set of the 24 Histories (then available), but a complete set of the 17 Histories in Canton…Half a century later the situation was no better, despite the fact that lithography had been introduced in Shanghai and other major cities” (Wilkinson, Chinese History, 636-39).

This state of affairs explains why a book like Tao’s Comprehensive Edition of the Twenty-Two Histories would have found a receptive readership. The book’s contents show that it catered to students. At the beginning of the book, a “jingle on the dynastic names throughout the ages” (lidai guohao ge 歷代國號歌), gives a brief narrative account of the succession of various rulers and imperial houses from earliest times to the writer’s own day, in seven-syllable rhymed couplets. In a similar didactic vein, for each dynasty there is a “general discussion” (zonglun 總論) intended to give the reader an overview of the period in question. Tao’s Preface is dated 1831 (Daoguang 11). We can find no information about the author’s life.

Fine set, preserved in a hantao.


Wilkinson, Endymion. Chinese History: A New Manual. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Asia Center, 2013.

Price: $5,000.00

Item ID: 9800

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