Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Wenxian tongkao: Chinese History Geek Note

"Da Qin" (Rome?) in the Wenxian tongkao

I had an encounter with the Wenxian tongkao at reading group last week. HJ, who seems to have really been animated by our readings from the 1602 Ricci map of the world, was looking into the mention of a certain class of people known as 'dwarves' in the Shan hai jing, who have their own land south of the region of Da Qin -- which reference point said in later sources to be Rome, but in the Shan hai jing it is the land west of the western ocean which borders the central continent (zhongzhou), following the older Chinese notion that the landmass was surrounded by all sides on water, and all resting on the back of a turtle, I believe.

Anyway, the map says somewhere (sadly I forget where) that a certain dwarf people live in caves to take refuge from large predatory birds. They attack the birds nests themselves in the spring, destroying the eggs. The business of predatory birds, and the defensive and offensive strategies against the birds, appear in the Shan hai jing and many, many later sources which tell upwards of a dozen variants of the story in as related in the commentary to the Shanghai guji edition. HJ also supplemented a single line from the Wenxian tongkao, a fairly important historical work of the Northern Song (1224) -- see Endymion Wilkinson page 526, Table 33, item 8, please. The page now stored in my email also includes a long and fascinating entry on "Da Qin," below which comes the entry on the dwarves, which variant of the original description also says that the Da Qin people protected the little dwarves from the predatory birds.

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