A Mas­ter­piece of An­cient Ge­og­ra­phy

Beijing (English) - - CONTENTS - Trans­lated by Cui Hao, pol­ished by Mark Zuiderveld

Shui Jing Zhu is a ge­o­graph­i­cal mas­ter­piece writ­ten by Li Daoyuan (AD 470–527) mir­ror­ing changes in land­scapes and his­tory of the North­ern Wei Dy­nasty (AD 386–534).

Dur­ing the South­ern and North­ern Dy­nas­ties (AD 429–581), Empress Dowa­ger Feng (AD 442– 490) and Em­peror Xiaowen (reign: AD 471–500) of the North­ern Wei Dy­nasty (AD 386– 534) in­tro­duced re­form mea­sures and sini­ci­sa­tion poli­cies to make cul­ture and ed­u­ca­tion more pros­per­ous, which gave rise to nu­mer­ous clas­sics. Shui Jing Zhu (Com­men­tary on the Water­ways Clas­sic), writ­ten by Li Daoyuan (AD 470–527), was a mas­ter­piece of ge­og­ra­phy. Up­right and keen, Li Daoyuan de­voted his life to a com­men­tary on Shui Jing (Water­ways Clas­sic) and suc­ceeded in fin­ish­ing the 300,000-word Com­men­tary on the Water­ways Clas­sic.

Dur­ing Ji­a­jing Reign (1522–1567) of the Ming Dy­nasty (1368–1644), Huang Xing­ceng (1490–1540), a mas­ter of block­printed books, reprinted the Com­men­tary on the Water­ways Clas­sic based on the Song Dy­nasty (AD 960–1279) ver­sion. It was the first ver­sion in the Ming Dy­nasty and served as a ref­er­ence to later ver­sions. With de­scrip­tions of water­ways and moun­tains,

read­ers can see rapids rolling down the cliff and hear mur­mur­ing creeks.

Renowned North­ern Wei Of­fi­cial

In the North­ern Wei Dy­nasty, Em­peror Taiwu ( Tuoba Tao, AD 424–452) top­pled the North­ern Yan (AD 407–436) regime es­tab­lished by Feng Ba (reign: AD 409– 430) and removed his fam­ily from He­bei to the cap­i­tal of Pingcheng (to­day's Da­tong of Shanxi Prov­ince). A girl with the same fam­ily name also moved and be­came a maid­ser­vant in the palace. When Em­peror Taiwu's grand­son Tuoba Jun (reign: AD 452–466) as­cended the throne, the 14-year-old Feng was se­lected for his con­cu­bine while Li was empress. But Li died when the em­peror had a son, Tuoba Hong (AD 454–476), the crown prince, ac­cord­ing to the North­ern Wei tra­di­tion of forc­ing crown prince's mother to com­mit sui­cide for fear that she would take power. So Tuoba Jun crowned his con­cu­bine Feng as the new empress.

In AD 465, Em­peror Wencheng died of ill­ness at 26 and was suc­ceeded by his 12-year- old son Tuoba Hong (as Em­peror Xian­wen, reign: AD 465–471). Five years later, Empress Dowa­ger Feng made Em­peror Xian­wen pass the throne to her four-year- old son Tuoba Hong (as Em­peror Xiaowen, reign: AD 471–500) while Em­peror Xian­wen took the ti­tle of Tais­hang Huang (re­tired em­peror). Five years passed, and Em­peror Xian­wen died sud­denly. Empress Dowa­ger Feng as­sumed rule over Em­peror Xiaowen for over ten years and as­sumed the ti­tle of Grand Empress Dowa­ger. She in­tro­duced Land Equal­i­sa­tion Sys­tem and Three Heads of a Neigh­bour­hood, im­ple­mented a pol­icy of Sini­ci­sa­tion and pop­u­larised Con­fu­cian­ism, pro­mot­ing the coun­try's de­vel­op­ment and in­te­grat­ing of var­i­ous na­tion­al­i­ties.

In AD 490, Grand Empress Dowa­ger Feng died of ill­ness. The 23-year- old Em­peror Xiaowen took the throne and con­tin­ued to push for re­form. Brought up by Empress Dowa­ger Feng, Em­peror Xiaowen was well-versed in Con­fu­cian clas­sics and gath­ered ex­pe­ri­ence in han­dling coun­try af­fairs. In AD 493, un­der the pre­tence of lead­ing a mil­lion soldiers to cru­sade against Qi (AD 479– 502, a state) of the South­ern Dy­nasty (AD 420–589), Em­peror Xiaowen moved the cap­i­tal to Luoyang to fur­ther his cam­paign of Sini­ci­sa­tion. Later, he com­pelled the Xian­bei peo­ple (pro­toMon­gols) to adopt Chi­nese sur­names, forced the pop­u­la­tion to speak Chi­nese and en­cour­aged the Xian­bei peo­ple to in­te­grate with the Han. When he moved to Luoyang, a young of­fi­cial, Li Daoyuan, in Zhuozhou, He­bei fol­lowed him to the new cap­i­tal.

Li Daoyuan was born into an of­fi­cial fam­ily. His fa­ther Li Fan served as Ping­dong Gen­eral and pro­vin­cial gov­er­nor in Qingzhou due to his out­stand­ing mil­i­tary ser­vice. Li Daoyuan lived with his par­ents in Qingzhou, Shan­dong since child­hood. Li Daoyuan read widely, mainly on ge­ol­ogy. As he reached adult­hood, he served as as­sis­tant min­is­ter in the gov­ern­ment. Af­ter Em­peror Xiaowen moved the cap­i­tal to Luoyang, he fol­lowed the em­peror to ad­vance the cam­paign fur­ther north. Up­right, he was pro­moted to court cen­sor. But his tough ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fended big­wigs in the court. He was soon de­moted and as­signed to Jizhou ( Ji Pre­fec­ture), where his harsh law en­force­ment com­pelled awe among the pub­lic, scar­ing thieves in Jizhou to flee to other places. In three years, Jizhou wit­nessed a har­mo­nious time. Af­ter that, he was ap­pointed a satrap in Luyang, a re­mote area. But Li Daoyuan's ar­rival trans­formed the area. He built schools and ed­u­cated vil­lagers. Soon, peo­ple in Luyang leaned to­wards po­etry and rit­ual mu­sic.

Dur­ing the reign of Em­peror Ming (AD 516– 528) of the North­ern Wei Dy­nasty, Li held the post of He­nan Yin and ad­min­is­tered Luoyang,

the cap­i­tal of He­nan. He was later granted the ti­tle of Ju­nior Cen­sor by Em­peror Ming for sup­press­ing the re­bel­lion led by Yangzhou gov­er­nor Yuan Faseng (AD 454– 536). As ju­nior cen­sor, Li had more can­dour and fair­ness, which in­fu­ri­ated royal mem­bers. Yuan Wei, a mem­ber of the royal fam­ily, framed a case against his un­cle Yuan Yuan. Af­ter learn­ing this, Li Daoyuan sought out the truth and re­ha­bil­i­tated Yuan Yuan. There­fore, Yuan Wei then held a grudge against Li. At that time, Qiu Nian, a favourite of Yuan Yue ( king of Ru­nan), was ig­no­rant and wan­ton while in charge of ap­point­ing of­fi­cials. Li con­ducted an in­ves­ti­ga­tion of Qiu Nian and put him in prison. Yuan Yue re­ported to the Empress Dowa­ger and pleaded for his life, but it was too late. Qiu Nian had been killed be­fore Li re­ceived the empress's or­der. Li even de­nounced Yuan Yue for his vi­o­la­tion of the law, which in­fu­ri­ated Yuan.

In AD 527, the Yongzhou pro­vin­cial gov­er­nor Xiao Baoyin (AD 486–530) was plot­ting an in­sur­gence. Yuan Wei and Yuan Yue per­suaded Empress Dowa­ger Hu to send Li to Chang'an to keep an eye on Xiao Baoyin, in­tend­ing to kill Li at the hands of Xiao. Empress Dowa­ger Hu granted the pe­ti­tion and ap­pointed Li am­bas­sador of Guanyou (west of Shaanxi) to ex­am­ine Xiao Baoyin's troops in Guanzhong (the cen­tral Shaanxi plain). Learn­ing Li's ar­rival in Chang'an, Xiao, fully aware of the Li's dis­po­si­tion, was afraid of be­com­ing an­other Yuan Faseng, whose re­bel­lion was crushed by Li Daoyuan. So, Xiao or­dered the gen­eral Guo Zi­hui to be­siege Li at Yin­pan Sta­tion (to­day's Lin­tong of Xi'an, Shaanxi Prov­ince) and as­sas­si­nate him as well as his two broth­ers and two sons. As a re­sult, Li died at Yin­pan Sta­tion. In the fol­low­ing year, the gov­ern­ment re­cap­tured Chang'an. Li was brought back to Luoyang to be buried, posthu­mously awarded ti­tles of Di­rec­tor of the Board of Rites and Jizhou Pro­vin­cial Gov­er­nor. Although Li died with ha­tred, his ge­o­graph­i­cal mas­ter­piece Com­men­tary on the Water­ways Clas­sic spread through­out ages.

Writ­ing a Clas­sic af­ter Field In­ves­ti­ga­tion

Li demon­strated an early in­ter­est in ge­og­ra­phy. He of­ten vis­ited moun­tains and wa­ters with his fa­ther, and con­ducted painstak­ing re­con­nais­sance on wa­ter flow each time. Li made use of his po­si­tion as a busi­ness of­fi­cial in dif­fer­ent places to see moun­tains, un­der­stand­ing lo­cal rivers and lakes. In his spare time, he car­ried out field in­ves­ti­ga­tions. Wher­ever he went, he tried to col­lect lo­cal books and maps and, based on these doc­u­ments, ex­am­ined rivers, trib­u­taries and the ge­o­graph­i­cal land­scape.

He trav­elled over moun­tains and wa­ters, vis­ited his­tor­i­cal sites, traced the source of rivers and col­lected folk songs, proverbs, di­alects and leg­ends, writ­ing down de­tailed in­for­ma­tion. He got large amounts of first-hand ma­te­ri­als. He even read and stud­ied many an­cient books on ge­ol­ogy. He had a good grasp of books, striv­ing to un­der­stand ev­ery point in the book. In com­par­ing the same phe­nom­e­non doc­u­mented dif­fer­ently in var­i­ous books, he in­sisted on find­ing out rea­sons. In ad­di­tion to Com­men­tary on the Water­ways Clas­sic, Li claimed to be au­thor of other books, but all were lost.

Through field­work and study­ing ge­o­graph­i­cal texts, Li found older books as too sketchy. Many lo­cal works were myths and leg­ends with fic­ti­tious re­gions, fall­ing short of rig­or­ous ge­o­graphic works. Water­ways Clas­sic, cred­ited to Sang Qin dur­ing the Three King­doms pe­riod (AD 220–280), kept a sim­ple record of rivers rather than ge­o­graphic con­di­tions with some omis­sions. More­over, ge­o­graph­i­cal con­di­tions changed over time, such as di­ver­sion of rivers, change in ge­o­graphic names, and the rise and fall of vil­lages. Li felt it nec­es­sary to write a com­plete ge­o­graph­i­cal book on the ba­sis of the Water­ways Clas­sic in the form of a

com­men­tary to show the land­scape and his­tor­i­cal change in the North­ern Wei pe­riod, as an­cient ge­o­graph­i­cal lit­er­a­ture could not meet the needs of peo­ple in bet­ter un­der­stand­ing ge­og­ra­phy.

Li cited up to 480 lit­er­ary works with 109 ge­o­graph­i­cal ones. Over years of work, he fi­nally fin­ished the ge­o­graph­i­cal book Com­men­tary on the Water­ways Clas­sic, in which he em­pha­sised the paramount im­por­tance of field work in the pref­ace to the book, which pre­sented many find­ings. Li trav­elled a lot, leav­ing his foot­prints among cen­tral China and ac­cu­mu­lat­ing prac­ti­cal ex­pe­ri­ence and ge­o­graph­i­cal in­for­ma­tion. Water­ways Clas­sic, con­tain­ing 15,000 Chi­nese char­ac­ters, cov­ered 137 rivers while Li's 300,000- char­ac­ter ver­sion men­tioned 1,252 rivers. Com­men­tary on the Water­ways Clas­sic was di­vided into rivers sec­tions, each fully de­scribed with ge­ol­ogy, land­scape, soil, cli­mate, cus­toms and con­ven­tions, his­tory of towns, ar­chae­ol­ogy and fairy tales be­sides hy­dro­log­i­cal con­di­tions.

Such a de­tailed de­scrip­tion of ge­o­graph­i­cal con­di­tions cre­ated a new form of com­pre­hen­sive works on ge­og­ra­phy. The mas­ter­piece cov­ered a wide range of ge­o­graph­i­cal area. Li, de­spite the con­fronta­tion be­tween the North­ern Dy­nasty and the South­ern Dy­nasty, turned his eyes be­yond the scope dom­i­nated by North­ern Wei and de­tailed China's ge­o­graph­i­cal con­di­tions with rivers as the key link. The book cov­ered some for­eign rivers, which re­flected Li's wide travel and broad hori­zon.

Through­out his life, Li Daoyuan grew con­cerned for the coun­try and af­firmed his loy­alty to the court. Af­ter his death, his third son Li Xiaoyou in­her­ited the ti­tle of no­bil­ity, thus cir­cu­lat­ing tran­scripts of Com­men­tary on the Water­ways Clas­sic. When the Sui Dy­nasty (AD 581– 618) uni­fied China, the court be­gan to sort out a na­tional col­lec­tion of books. Com­men­tary on the Water­ways Clas­sic found its first record in the vol­ume of Sui Shu (“book of Sui”), read­ing that the book had 40 volumes. Dur­ing the North­ern Song Dy­nasty (AD 960– 1127) when block print­ing was widely used, the book was printed twice but none still ex­ist. Dur­ing the South­ern Song Dy­nasty ( 1127– 1279), Com­men­tary on the Water­ways Clas­sic was reprinted, how­ever, only less than one third of its con­tent sur­vived. Now the in­com­plete book is in the pos­ses­sion of Na­tional Li­brary of China. When Yon­gle Da­dian ( Yon­gle En­cy­clopae­dia) was compiled in the Ming Dy­nasty, it in­cor­po­rated the Com­men­tary on the Water­ways Clas­sic. The ver­sion has been passed down, and at­tained the ti­tle “Yon­gle En­cy­clopae­dia Ver­sion.” It was the ear­li­est ex­tant man­u­script. Com­men­tary on the Water­ways Clas­sic had three ver­sions dur­ing the Ming Dy­nasty, the first of which was Huang Xing­ceng's block- printed edi­tion in 1534.

Two Clas­sics In­te­grated by Huang Xing­ceng

The mid- Ming era wit­nessed a cor­rupt gov­ern­ment ruled by eu­nuchs. Dur­ing the reign of Em­peror Ji­a­jing, the em­peror was a de­voted fol­lower of Tao­ism, hop­ing to find medicines to pro­long his life. Ig­nor­ing state af­fairs, he re­lied on eu­nuch Yan Song ( 1480– 1569) to dom­i­nate the gov­ern­ment, which im­mersed the court in in­ter­nal and ex­ter­nal troubles and fi­nan­cial strug­gle. Un­der con­trol of such a gov­ern­ment, so­ci­ety de­te­ri­o­rated and the pub­lic grew fu­ri­ous. Heresy run­ning counter to the doc­trines of Zhu Xi ( 1130– 1200) soon emerged. An­cient lit­er­a­ture was ad­vo­cated while deca­dent ones were dis­carded. A retro style en­cour­aged growth in copy­ing works dur­ing the Song Dy­nasty, and block- printed edi­tions of this pe­riod were called the “Ji­a­jing Ver­sion.”

Suzhou was home to block print­ing an­cient works. Huang Xing­ceng, a block- print­ing mas­ter born in Suzhou, was known for his in­tel­li­gence and dili­gence since child­hood. Com­ing from an af­flu­ent fam­ily, Huang Xing­ceng and his el­der brother squan­dered money on books. He par­tic­i­pated in the im­pe­rial ex­am­i­na­tion sev­eral times but failed, thus turn­ing his at­ten­tion from of­fi­cial­dom to restora­tion of an­cient lit­er­a­ture. Based on the Song ver­sion, he block printed a few books in­clud­ing Chuci Zhangju (“com­men­tary on the songs of Chu”). In the thir­teenth year of the Ji­a­jing reign, he in­te­grated Com­men­tary on the Water­ways Clas­sic and Shan Hai Jing ( The Clas­sic of Moun­tains and Seas), for moun­tains and wa­ters, he thought, were insep­a­ra­ble. Since then, Com­men­tary on the Water­ways Clas­sic has en­joyed wide cir­cu­la­tion. The Ji­a­jing Ver­sion block- printed by Huang Xing­ceng be­came a rare edi­tion ow­ing to its sten­cil tis­sue pa­per of tough­ness and neater char­ac­ters in the style of Ouyang Xun (AD 557– 641, a cal­lig­ra­pher of the Tang Dy­nasty).

Com­men­tary on the Water­ways Clas­sic ex­panded Water­ways Clas­sic to a great ex­tent and stood as both a ge­o­graph­i­cal and lit­er­ary work. Shen De­qian (1673–1769), fa­mous poet of the Qing Dy­nasty (1644–1911), paid re­spect for Li Daoyuan af­ter read­ing Com­men­tary on the Water­ways Clas­sic, prais­ing Li as one that read thou­sands of books and trav­elled thou­sands of miles; ar­ti­cles writ­ten by him were un­par­al­leled.

Though Li was dead, Com­men­tary on the Water­ways Clas­sic has been passed down and cir­cu­lated among the pub­lic, telling sto­ries of the 1,252 rivers more than 1,400 years ago.

A Ming Dy­nasty ( 1368–1644) block printed edi­tion of the Com­men­tary­on­the­wa­ter­waysclas­sic

The Ming Dy­nasty (1368– 1644) cut block for print­ing

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