The Local Chronicle of Shuntian Prefecture
The 130-volume edition of Shuntianfu zhi, compiled by Miao Quansun during the Qing Dynasty (1644–1911), boasts the most comprehensive content and exquisitely carved printing woodblocks.
During the early Ming Dynasty (1368–1644), Zhu Yuanzhang (1328–1398), Emperor Hongwu, approved the establishment of Beiping Prefecture, subsequently renamed Shuntian Prefecture since the reign of Emperor Yongle (reign: 1402–1424). Since then, the Beijing region was called Shuntian Prefecture during the Ming and Qing (1644–1911) dynasties and the administrative office of the prefecture was located in present- day Gulou East Street.
The Ming government began to compile Shuntianfu zhi (“local chronicle of Shuntian Prefecture”) as early as Emperor Yongle's reign. Afterwards, the chronicle was amended and updated several times, but no complete edition of the chronicle was passed on until the early reign of Emperor Guangxu (reign: 1871–1908) of the Qing Dynasty. Some high-ranking officials were disappointed, including Li Hongzhang 1823–1901) and Zhang Zhidong (1837–1909).
In 1886, Miao Quansun (1844–1919), the founder of modern Chinese libraries, compiled and printed an accurate local chronicle of Shuntian Prefecture, which became the largest one among all the annals regarding Beijing.
The Capital’s Long History
Beijing boasts a more-than-3,000-year history as a city and an over-800-year history as a capital. The regime of the Liao Dynasty (AD 916–1125) upgraded Beijing to the status of Youdu Prefecture and later renamed it Xijin Prefecture, and left behind the chronicle Xijin zhi (“local chronicle of Xijin”). In the Jin Dynasty (1115–1234), Beijing was built as Zhongdu (“central capital”) and promoted to the status of Daxing Prefecture.
After China's reunification in the Yuan Dynasty (1271–1368), the Yuan established Beijing as its capital and upgraded it to the status of a general prefecture of Yuan Dadulu, the title of an administrative office to manage the whole city. The Dadulu administrative office was temporarily located in a large temple early and established an office building on today's Gulou East Street after buying a plot of land covering 1.27 hectares from the Zhou family.
After the founding of the Ming Dynasty, Zhu Yuanzhuang changed the general prefecture of Yuan Dadulu into Beiping Prefecture and placed it under Shandong Province's jurisdiction. A year later, the central government established Beiping Province and subordinated it under the province. After Emperor Yongle ascended the throne, he renamed Beiping as Beijing and upgraded it to the status of Shuntian Prefecture to govern Beijing and its surrounding areas.
In 1421, Emperor Yongle moved the capital to Beijing and named the Beijing region as “Shuntian Prefecture of Beijing Capital” so that Shuntian Prefecture became the centre of the country. At that time, divided by the Central Axis, eastern Beijing and its outskirts were under the jurisdiction of Daxing County; western Beijing and neighbouring suburbs were under the administration of Wanping County; the office of Shuntian Prefecture remained on Gulou East Street.
During the reign of Emperor Zhengtong (reign: 1436–1449), the office building of Shuntian Prefecture was renovated to comprise the front, middle and back halls (each with five, three and five rooms). In addition to gate houses and wing rooms, the building had a total of 58 rooms. The main hall of the building still exists.
The Qing Dynasty continued the name of Shuntian Prefecture as well as its administrative system. In 1676, the imperial court integrated 19 counties and county-level prefectures into Shuntian Prefecture, including Changping and Liangxiang. In 1723, the imperial court added an official to Shuntian Prefecture to govern civil affairs. Emperor Yongzheng (reign: 1723–1735) considered defence and development of the capital important and once made for Shuntian Prefecture an inscription of “su qing ji dian,” meaning officials in Shuntian Prefecture should be decent and impartial. He dictated, “Shuntian Prefecture, home to the capital, must have political transparency.” The post of the chief of Shuntian Prefecture was usually assumed by prestigious highranking officials or princes.
In 1743, the imperial court had Shuntian Prefecture govern five countylevel prefectures of Tongzhou, Jizhou, Zhuozhou, Bazhou and Changping and 19 counties such as Daxing, Wanping, Liangxiang and Fangshan. The administrative system of Shuntian was finalised until the end of the Qing Dynasty. As Shuntian Prefecture was a local administrative body with jurisdiction over the capital, and its chief was usually superior to other prefecture chiefs. The post of its chief was concurrently taken by a minister or other high-ranking official.
Although the 24 county-level prefectures and counties of Shuntian Prefecture were within the territory of the Viceroy of Zhili, they were not subject to his jurisdiction. The areas of Shuntian Prefecture out of Beijing's city walls were under joint governance of the governments of Shuntian
Prefecture and Viceroy of Zhili but those within the city wall were only governed by the government of Shuntian Prefecture. The administrative system of Beijing in the Qing Dynasty featured division of residential areas and governance of the Manchu and Han people. Manchu people lived in the Inner City and western suburbs and Han and other ethnic groups settled in the Outer City of Beijing.
The ancients considered local chronicles important. For example, Zhang Xuecheng (1738–1801), a scholar from the Qing Dynasty, remarked in his book Wenshi tongyi (“theory of literature and history”) that “Local chronicles can reflect detailed and accurate information of localities.” Usually, local chronicles document administrative establishment, historical evolution, land taxes and compulsory labour, landforms, folk traditions and ethnic groups, celebrities and officials, defence preparations and troops and other information of local areas. Moreover, most of the local chronicles were compiled by local scholars at the invitation of officials, which stressed accuracy. Printing woodblocks of those chronicles were also exquisite. Some people were fond of compiling chronicles on their own.
Since Beijing moved up to the status of Shuntian Prefecture, the Ming and Qing dynasties focused on compiling local chronicles of Shuntian Prefecture. The 130-volume Shuntianfu zhi compiled by Miao Quanshun and his fellows was the best of its kind.
Painstaking Six-year Compilation
With Beijing's tradition of compiling chronicles, earlier ones such as Yan shu (“book of Yan”) and Youzhou tujing (“illustrated book of Youzhou Prefecture”) prove to be exemplary. Miao called Yan chunqiu (“spring and autumn of Yan”), Yan shishi (“ten events of Yan”) and Yan danzi (“Prince Dan of Yan”) “three Yan-related books” and regarded them as Beijing's earlier chronicles. Xiong Mengxiang (years of birth and death unknown) from the Yuan Dynasty wrote Xijin zhi, a relatively complete chronicle and also the first ever local chronicle of Beijing authored by a scholar without official authorisation or commission. During the early Ming Dynasty, Shuntianfu zhi was compiled and printed but only seven volumes of the book were preserved until the reign of Emperor Guangxu. Few people knew this chronicle. Miao Quansun learned of the seven volumes from Yongle dadian
( The Yongle Canon) when he compiled Shuntianfu zhi of the Qing Dynasty. Miao recorded his findings in the book Yifeng cangshu ji (“notes of book collection”). The seven volumes found by Miao in The Yongle Canon were from the seventh to fourteenth of Shuntianfu zhi of the Ming Dynasty. As excerpts of this chronicle were included in The Yongle Canon, but weren't listed in the Wenyuange shumu
(“book catalogue of Wenyuange”) made in the reign of Emperor Zhengtong, the chronicle had to be compiled in the early reign of Emperor Yongle. This Shuntianfu zhi was the earliest edition. However, it has been lost.
During the reign of Emperor Wanli (reign: 1573–1620) of the Ming Dynasty, Shen Yingwen, chief of Shuntian Prefecture, and Zhang Yuanfang, an assistant of county magistrate, compiled the six-volume Shuntianfu zhi. However, this book was made in a rough way so it wasn't valued by other scholars. During the reign of Emperor Kangxi of the Qing Dynasty, Zhang Jiwu, chief of Shuntian Prefecture, compiled an eightvolume Shuntianfu zhi, which was spread in handwritten copies. Currently, the National Library of China only collects seven volumes from the second to eighth.
During the reign of Emperor Tongzhi ( reign: 1862– 1873) of the Qing Dynasty, Li Hongzhang and others compiled Jifu tongzhi (“local chronicle of the capital and its vicinity”). While the book was being completed, Li decided to compile a new edition of Shuntianfu zhi. Thus, he advised Emperor Tongzhi to make a new Shuntianfu zhi to reinforce Jifu tongzhi. The emperor followed his advice. When preparing for the compilation, Li invited Zhang Zhidong to make a plan. Zhang drew up Xiushu lueli (“brief regulations on compilation of the book”) to regulate the compilation.
Initially, Peng Zuxian, chief of Shuntian Prefecture, was appointed to organise the compilation but was transferred to another office in place apart from Beijing before start of the compilation. Subsequently, Peng's successor, Zhou Jiamei (1835–1887) from Yixing, Jiangsu, was honoured as an “honest official from heaven” in his hometown of Yixing. In 1878, Zhou was designated as chief of Shuntian Prefecture and minister of foreign affairs. During his tenure as chief of Shuntian Prefecture, Zhou impeached corrupt officials, helped rescue victims of disasters, promoted economic and social development and improved education. He was also diligent in the compilation of Shuntianfu zhi.
However, Zhou had to quit his job after his mother passed away. As a result, the compilation task fell to Miao Quansun.
Miao Quansun, a renowned book collector from Jiangyin, Jiangsu, was also known as Yifeng Senior Citizen in his later years. Miao was adept at chorography and bibliography. In 1909 [the first year of Emperor Xuantong (reign: 1909–1911), Miao was appointed as curator of Jingshi Library (the predecessor of today's National Library of China). When acting as the curator, he supervised the library's establishment, employed librarians and sorted out books. He single-handedly founded the Jingshi Library and after the Revolution of 1911, served as editor-inchief of the Museum of Qing History.
Compilation of a Classic Chronicle
During the reign of Emperor Guangxu, Li Hongzhang and Zhang Zhidong made efforts in and valued compilation of Shuntianfu zhi and thus assigned the task of compilation to Miao Quansun. Zhang had great expectations of Miao and said that Miao would make further success in compiling an outstanding chronicle.
Miao lived up to Zhang's expectations and gathered competent experts to commence compilation in the fifth year of the reign of Emperor Guangxu. In 1885 ( the 11th year of the reign of Emperor Guagnxu), Miao completed the compilation and began to carve printing woodblocks of the chronicle. This edition of Shuntianfu zhi has 130 volumes. After reading the book, Li Hongzhang highly praised it and alleged that it would be passed on to later generations. The first 18 volumes of the book were integrated into the first part “Jingshi zhi” (“chronicle of Beijing”), acclaimed by Qu Xuanying ( 1894– 1973), a Chinese writer and historian.
This book was printed using twocolour process printing (red and black) on white paper with various illustrated maps. On the title page is the inscription of “guang xu jia shen zhong dong kai diao, bing xu ji xia bi gong” which indicates the time of beginning and end of carving the printing woodblocks. Furthermore, it is prefaced with memorials regarding Shuntianfu zhi submitted by Wan Qingli and Zhou Jiamei to the throne in 1879. After its publication, the book became very popular and was widely praised.
Miao Quansun made painstaking efforts in compiling Shuntianfu zhi.
He not only wrote the prologue and contents of “Jingshi,” “Yiwen,” “Jinshi” and “Renwu” but also took charge of compiling the entire book.
Miao was a skilled bibliographer who once compiled Shumu dawen (“introduction to books”) on behalf of Zhang Zhidong when Zhang served as provincial education commissioner of Sichuan. Miao collated and introduced more than 2,000 books in Shumu dawen, acclaimed by scholars.
Adept in bibliography, Miao was appointed to compile Shuntianfu zhi with more than 3.5 million Chinese characters. This local chronicle was rated as the best of its kind.
During compilation, Miao carefully collated documents and materials and clearly annotated references. Moreover, Miao also emphasised field inspections and collected information from the elderly. Zhou Jiamei said that when Miao compiled the chronicle, he usually corroborated and substantiated all information and references in the book. If he couldn't confirm any information, he sought evidence. As the book involved many facts and references, Miao asked to refer to the earliest documents when citing information. To clarify responsibilities, Miao required all editors to label every volume with their names. During compilation, Miao also suggested detailing information related to land and people of the Qing Dynasty and described this information concisely. He updated information periodically and added two sections on traditions and dialects to the book.
Miao insisted on using concise, trustworthy and accurate information. When describing warfare, he documented the Taiping Rebellion, the British naval fleet invasion into Dagukou and the looting and burning of Yuanmingyuan. This chronicle was also a precious historical document of modern China. After compiling this book, Miao discovered an excerpt of Shuntianfu zhi of the Ming Dynasty in The Yongle Canon, and organised it into another excerpted edition of Shuntianfu zhi of the Ming Dynasty.
Yang Shoujing (1839–1915), a renowned Chinese geographer and book collector in late Qing Dynasty, also praised Miao Quansun in his poem Cangshu jueju (“Excellent Sentences on Book Collection”). The edition of Shuntianfu zhi from the reign of Emperor Guangxu is regarded as a document for studying Beijing's history.
Readers can read more about these five county-level prefectures and 19 counties in Shuntian Prefecture in Shuntianfu zhi from the reign of Emperor Guangxu of the Qing Dynasty.
Shuntianfu zhi (“local chronicle of Shuntian Prefecture”) compiled during the reign of Emperor Yongle (1402–1424)
Guangxu Shuntianfu zhi (“local chronicle of Shuntian Prefecture compiled during the reign of Emperor Guangxu, 1875–1908”)