Open main menu
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
228
[LITERATURE
CHINA

Medicine and Therapeutics.—The oldest of the innumerable medical works of all descriptions with which China has been flooded from time immemorial is a treatise which has been credited to the Yellow Emperor (see above), 2698-2598 B.C. It is entitled Plain Questions of the Yellow Emperor, or Su Wên for short, and takes the form of questions put by the emperor and answered by Earl Ch‘i, a minister, who was himself author of the Nei Ching, a medical work no longer in existence. Without accepting the popular attribution of the Su Wên, it is most probable that it is a very old book, dating back to several centuries before Christ, and containing traditional lore of a still more remote period. The same may be said of certain works on cautery and acupuncture, both of which are still practised by Chinese doctors; and also of works on the pulse, the variations of which have been classified and allocated with a minuteness hardly credible. Special treatises on fevers, skin-diseases, diseases of the feet, eyes, heart, &c., are to be found in great quantities, as well as veterinary treatises on the treatment of diseases of the horse and the domestic buffalo. But in the whole range of Chinese medical literature there is nothing which can approach the Pên Ts‘ao, or Pên Ts‘no. Materia Medica, sometimes called the Herbal, a title (i.e. Pên Ts‘ao) which seems to have belonged to some book of the kind in pre-historic ages. The work under consideration was compiled by Li Shih-chên, who completed his task in 1578 after twenty-six years’ labour. No fewer than eighteen hundred and ninety-two species of drugs, animal, vegetable and mineral, are dealt with, arranged under sixty-two classes in sixteen divisions; and eight thousand one hundred and sixty prescriptions are given in connexion with the various entries. The author professes to quote from the original Pên Ts‘ao, above mentioned; and we obtain from his extracts an insight into some curious details. It appears that formerly the number of recognized drugs was three hundred and sixty-five in all, corresponding with the days of the year. One hundred and twenty of these were called sovereigns (cf. a sovereign prescription); and were regarded as entirely beneficial to health, taken in any quantity or for any time. Another similar number were called ministers; some of these were poisonous, and all had to be used with discretion. The remaining one hundred and twenty-five were agents; all very poisonous, but able to cure diseases if not taken in over-doses. The modern Pên Ts‘ao, in its sixteen divisions, deals with drugs classed under water, fire, earth, minerals, herbs, grain, vegetables, fruit, trees, clothes and utensils, insects, fishes, crustacea, birds, beasts and man. In each case the proper name of the drug is first given, followed by its explanation, solution of doubtful points, correction of errors, means of identification by taste, use in prescriptions, &c. The work is fully illustrated, and there is an index to the various medicines, classed according to the complaints for which they are used.

Divination, &c.—The practice of divination is of very ancient date in China, traceable, it has been suggested, back to the Canon of Changes (see above), which is commonly used by the lettered classes for that purpose. A variety of other methods, the chief of which is astrology, have also been adopted, and have yielded a considerable bulk of literature. Even the officially-published almanacs still mark certain days as suitable for certain undertakings, while other days are marked in the opposite sense. The spirit of Zadkiel pervades the Chinese empire. In like manner, geomancy is a subject on which many volumes have been written; and the same applies to the pseudo sciences of palmistry, physiognomy, alchemy (introduced from Greek sources) and others.

Painting.—Calligraphy, in the eyes of the Chinese, is just as much a fine art as painting; the two are, in fact, considered to have come into existence together, but as might be expected the latter occupies the larger space in Chinese literature, and forms the subject of numerous extensive works. One of the most important of these is the Hsüan Ho Hua P‘u, the author of which is unknown. It contains information concerning two hundred and thirty-one painters and the titles of six thousand one hundred and ninety-two of their pictures, all in the imperial collection during the dynastic period Hsüan Ho, A.D. 1119-1126, from which the title is derived. The artists are classified under one of the following ten headings, supposed to represent the line in which each particularly excelled: Religion, Human Figures, Buildings, Barbarians (including their Animals), Dragons and Fishes, Landscape, Animals, Flowers and Birds, The Bamboo, Vegetables and Fruits.

Music.—The literature of music does not go back to a remote period. The Canon of Music, which was formerly included in the Confucian Canon, has been lost for many centuries; and the works now available, exclusive of entries in the dynastic histories, are not older than the 9th century A.D., to which date may be assigned the Chieh Ku Lu, a treatise on the deerskin drum, said to have been introduced into China from central Asia, and evidently of Scythian origin. There are several important works of the 16th and 17th centuries, in which the history and theory of music are fully discussed, and illustrations of instruments are given, with measurements in each case, and the special notation required.

Miscellaneous.—Under this head may be grouped a vast number of works, many of them exhaustive, on such topics as archaeology, seals (engraved), numismatics, pottery, ink (the miscalled “Indian”), mirrors, precious stones, tea, wine, chess, wit and humour, even cookery, &c. There is, indeed, hardly any subject, within reasonable limits, which does not find some corner in Chinese literature.

Collections.—Reprints of miscellaneous books and pamphlets in a uniform edition, the whole forming a “library,” has long been a favourite means of disseminating useful (and other) information. Of these, the Lung Wei Pi Shu may be taken Lung Wei Pi Shu. as a specimen. In bulk it would be about the equivalent of twenty volumes, 8vo, of four hundred pages to each. Among its contents we find the following. A handbook of phraseology, with explanations; a short account of fabulous regions to the N., S., E. and W.; notes on the plants and trees of southern countries; biographical sketches of ninety-two wonderful personages; an account of the choice of an empress, with standard measurements of the height, length of limb, &c., of the ideal woman; “Pillow Notes” (a term borrowed by the Japanese), or jottings on various subjects, ranging from the Creation to an account of Fusang, a country where the trees are thousands of feet high and of vast girth, thus supporting the California, as opposed to the Mexico, identification of Fusang; critiques on the style of various poets, and on the indebtedness of each to earlier writers; a list of the most famous bronze vessels cast by early emperors, with their dimensions, inscriptions, &c.; a treatise on the bamboo; a list of famous swords, with dates of forging and inscriptions; an account of the old Mongol palace, previous to its destruction by the first Ming emperor; notes on the wild tribes of China; historical episodes; biographical notices of one hundred and four poets of the present dynasty; notes on archaeological, supernatural and other topics, first published in the 9th century; notes for bibliophiles on the care of books, and on paper, ink, pictures and bric-à-brac; a collection of famous criminal cases; night thoughts suggested by a meteor. Add to the above, numerous short stories relating to magic, dreams, bilocation, and to almost every possible phase of supernatural manifestation, and the reader will have some idea of what he may expect in an ordinary “library” of a popular character. It must always be remembered that with the Chinese, style is of paramount importance. Documents, the subject-matter of which would be recognized to be of no educative value, would still be included, if written in a pleasing style, such as might be serviceable as a model.

Individual Authors.—In a similar manner it has always been customary for relatives or friends, sometimes for the trade, to publish the “complete works” of important and often unimportant writers; usually, soon after death. And as literary distinction has hitherto almost invariably led to high office under the state, the collected works of the great majority of authors open with selected Memorials to the Throne and other documents of an official character. The public interest in these may have long since passed away; but they are valued by the Chinese as models of a style to be imitated, and the foreign student occasionally comes across papers on once burning questions arising out of commercial or diplomatic intercourse with western nations. Then may follow—the order is not always the same—the prefaces which the author contributed from time to time to the literary undertakings of his friends. Preface-writing is almost a department of Chinese literature. No one ever thinks of publishing a book without getting one or more of his capable associates to provide prefaces, which are naturally of a laudatory character, and always couched in highly-polished and obscure terms, the difficulty of the text being often aggravated by a fanciful and almost illegible script. Prefaces written by emperors, many examples of which may be seen, are of course highly esteemed, and are generally printed in coloured ink. The next section may comprise biographical notices of eminent men and women, or of mere local celebrities, who happened to die in the author’s day. Then will follow Records, a title which covers inscriptions carved on the walls of new buildings, or on memorial tablets, and also notes on pictures which the author may have seen, places which he may have visited, or allegorical incidents which he may have imagined. Then come disquisitions, or essays on various subjects; researches, being short articles of archaeological interest; studies or monographs; birthday congratulations to friends or to official colleagues; announcements, as to deities, a cessation of whose worship is threatened if the necessary rain or fair weather be not forthcoming; funeral orations, letters of condolence, &c. The above items will perhaps fill half a dozen volumes; the remaining volumes, running to twenty or thirty in all, as the case may be, will contain the author’s poetry, together with his longer and more serious works. The essential of such a collection is, in Chinese eyes, its completeness.

Fiction.—Although novels are not regarded as an integral part of literature proper, it is generally conceded that some novels may be profitably studied, if for no other reason, from the point of view of style. With the San Kuo Chih. novel, however, we are no longer on perfectly safe ground in regard to that decency which characterizes, as has been above stated, the vast mass of Chinese literature. Chinese novels range, in this sense, from the simplest and most unaffected tale of daily life, down to low—not the lowest—depths of objectionable pornography. The San Kuo Chih, an historical romance based upon a period of disruption at the close of the