Sunday, September 10

Library Science of the Ancients

I’ve been using RSS feeds a lot lately to waste time more efficiently. One that I really like is to Aozora Blog. As I suppose most of this blog’s readership is aware, Aozora Bunko is a website that archives modern Japanese texts in the public domain. Every month Aozora Blog posts an update detailing what they’ve added to the site over the previous month. If, like me, you’re a little timid or lazy about hunting through their whole archive, the newsletter is a great way to uncover some of the wonderful things they have available.
    The most recent update mentioned a work by the East Asian historian Naitō Konan, called “Shina Mokurokugaku” 支那目録学 [Chinese Bibliography]. (“Shina” is a term for China that was used in the prewar period, and is generally considered politically incorrect in Japan today.) “Mokurokugaku” [muluxue] is an old Chinese term for the science or methodology of cataloging lists of texts (I believe the contemporary term for bibliography in Chinese is shuzhixue 書誌学, which parallels the Japanese usage). Naitō’s essay is very long and detailed (much of it beyond my own limited grasp of Chinese history), but I wanted to quote some of it here, as I was struck by what a passionate apologia it made for an easily overlooked field.
    Mokurokugaku has long existed in China, but even today does not exist in Japan. When I say mokuroku [catalogue] here, it’s not just a simple matter of taking inventory. The bibliographic studies of ancient China have a much deeper meaning. Without understanding it, there is no way to classify and describe documents. Indeed, in actual fact we are helpless to examine a great variety of [texts] today: much of Japanese bibliography is meaningless. Even Samura’s Kokusho kaidai seems to fail at its function, because it does not establish the individual characteristics of the works, but rather applies the same sort of description across the board.

The Beginnings of Mokurokugaku: In any event, the oldest extant example of ancient Chinese bibliography is found in the Han shu’s “Yiwen zhi” 芸文志. The Han shu was not completed in Ban Gu’s lifetime, but rather finished by his younger sister Ban Zhao, but the “Yiwen zhi” was probably written by Gu himself. It was completed in the middle of the Later Han, the end of the first century by the western calendar.
    However, the only part of the “Yiwen zhi” that Ban Gu actually composed himself was the opening preface; the vast majority of the text is derived from Liu Xin’s Qilüe 七略. Ban Gu included six of the work’s seven sections, but the first “Jilüe” 輯略 section is not included [this is apparently an introductory chapter explaining the work]. Liu Xin was himself actually not the true originator of the Qilüe, which was begun by his father Liu Xiang. Xiang began the work during the reign of Emperor Cheng of the Western Han, but it was completed by Xin under Emperor Ai. The final year of Emperor Ai’s reign is the year 1 B.C. by the western calendar, so the work was completed a little before the Year 0 by western reckoning.
    At this time scholarship was often passed down as a family occupation, as in Liu’s case, but Liu Xiang’s household was originally part of the Han imperial family, and mysteriously were actually a clan of scholars within the imperial family. His ancestor was King Yuan of Chu, the younger brother of Emperor Gao [founder of the Han dynasty]. Though he was brothers with Emperor Gao, who conquered the empire on horseback, Yuan was fond of learning, and his descendents continued this tradition. In Xiang’s time, Emperor Cheng entrusted him with the task of organizing and editing the documents filling the empire’s storehouses, and this is the beginnings of Chinese bibliographical method.

Liu’s Fundamental Principle: Of course this bibliographical method, as I explained above, is not a simple inventory (what’s called in China bulu 簿録). It’s true interest is in the branching lineages of literary texts. From a certain perspective, one can see this as the final culmination of scholarship 学問. Which is to say that, at least in China, scholarship had become progressively more advanced since the Spring & Autumn and Warring States Periods, but it is with Liu Xiang and Liu Xin that a science 学 was developed which could analyze this scholarship in its totality. Just from this fact, we can call [mokurokugaku] the endpoint of scholarship. However, if we consider its content more closely, when scholarship first achieved its full vigor in the Warring States period it was largely very philosophical, and took as its main objective the advancement of one school’s theory over the others; therefore, when attempts were made to classify learning, divisions were based mainly on the theories and contentions [of the various schools]. However Liu Xiang and Liu Xin did not stop at considerations of philosophical schools, doctrines, and theories in their classification, but also took into account the origin/derivation 由来 of [various bodies of] learning. They began to think of scholarship historically...
    Quite a cliffhanger, I know. Please check out the rest on Aozora if you’re so inclined. Later on in the essay, he opposes the methodology of Liu père and fils to that of Sima Qian, but I’m not sure I understood that part too well.


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