Inconsistent Dates in the Ming Veritable Records

I have long wondered about a question concerning the Ming Veritable Records (Ming shilu 明實錄), state-compiled works of history that recorded major political affairs in chronological order. The question is: do events recorded in the Veritable Records appear under the dates when they took place, or under the dates when they were discussed at court? For example, if an earthquake happened in Sichuan on the first day of the fifth month, was it recorded under this date, or did it appear, say, one month later, when the news reached the central court? I had always believed that the latter was the case, but never bothered to confirm this belief with concrete examples.

So I decided to investigate it further by comparing the Veritable Records against corresponding memorials of Zhu Xieyuan 朱燮元 (1566-1638), who served as grand coordinator of Sichuan (四川巡撫) during Tianqi 2-5 (1622-25). Zhu’s Sichuan memorials were later collected and published, making it possible to compare their dates of composition with the dates of Veritable Records entries that were based on Zhu’s reports. (These entries usually contain near-verbatim excerpts from Zhu’s memorials, so the process of tracking was not so difficult.)

As it turns out, the answer is not so clear-cut. The table below shows some of the memorials for which I was able to trace the corresponding references in the Veritable Records:

Memorial Title Date of
Appearance in
Veritable Records
一次請告疏 Tianqi 2/3/16 Tianqi 2/5/20 63 days
報擒獲巨惡疏 Tianqi 2/7/4 Tianqi 2/8/22 47 days
優卹江門失陣文武疏 Tianqi 2/7/18 Tianqi 2/7/10 -8 days
京察自陳疏 Tianqi 2/11/24 Tianqi 3/1/20 55 days
克囤擒撫功次疏 Tianqi 3/5/2 Tianqi 3/6/28 56 days
塘報擒斬招降功次疏 Tianqi 3/7/8 Tianqi 3/7/4 -4 days
地震疏 Tianqi 3/7/8 Tianqi 3/8/19 41 days
塘報各路功次疏 Tianqi 3/9/2 Tianqi 3/run10/9 66 days
飛報擒獲首兇疏 Tianqi 3/12/1 Tianqi 3/12/24 23 days

As can be seen, most memorials made their ways into the Veritable Records in about 2 months, with the exception of one memorial, which seems to have reached Beijing in an astonishingly short span of 23 days. But the most intriguing are the two memorials whose appearances in the Veritable Records date back to before their dates of composition, presumably reflecting the dates of events that were reported in them.

At this point, it is not clear to me why the events reported in these two memorials were treated differently in the Veritable Records. At first sight, they do not seem to be particularly different in nature from matters reported in Zhu’s other memorials. My tentative hypothesis is that this inconsistency of dates might reflect a more fundamental inconsistency in the archiving system of the Ming government. Maybe the persons responsible for archiving incoming provincial memorials were not always consistent with their system of chronological filing (ie. whether to file them by the date of occurrence or date of receipt). Or perhaps, the Veritable Records were drawn from archives of several different government offices, each of which had different principles of chronological filing. Until further research is done (hopefully soon!), it is hard to draw any conclusions.

In any case, if Zhu Xieyuan’s case can be generalized, the answers to my initial question are as follows:

  1. In most cases, events in the Ming Veritable Records appear under the dates when they were processed at the court.
  2. However, there are some exceptions where the events appear under the dates when they took place.

The tricky thing is that just from reading the Veritable Records entries themselves, it is usually not possible to tell which is the case. So next time you see a local event reported in the Veritable Records, stop and think twice about what its date might actually mean.

Sources Used:

  • Zhu Xieyuan 朱燮元. Shaoshuai Zhu Xiangyi gong du Shu shucao 少師朱襄毅公督蜀疏草. 12 juan. Qing printed edition. Reprint, Siku quanshu cunmu congshu.
  • Ming shilu 明實錄. Collated by Academia Sinica Institute of History and Philology 中央研究院歴史語言研究所. Taipei: Zhongyang yanjiuyuan lishi yuyan yanjiusuo, 1966. (Accessed text version through Scripta Sinica online database.)

A Guide to Searching Japanese Scholarship

This guide introduces some of the resources that I use most frequently when looking for Japanese language scholarship. The assumed reader is a Sinologist working at a North American university, but the post might also be useful for others with a similar background. The first part describes how to find works on a particular topic; the second part provides tips on locating a particular work after having found the relevant bibliographic information.

Finding Japanese Language Works

1. 東洋学文献類目検索 ( Ver. 7 | Ver. 6 )

A Digitalized version of the Annual Bibliography of Oriental Studies 東洋学文献類目, published by Kyoto University’s Institute for Research in Humanities (人文科学研究所). Also includes non-Japanese language works. There are two “versions” of the database, with slightly different periods of coverage:

Version 7: Contains items covering 1934-1980; 2001 and later. As of the date of this post, I have confirmed the inclusion of items from the year 2012.
Version 6: Contains items covering 1981-2010?

2. 国立国会図書館サーチ

Searches the holdings of the National Diet Library (NDL) as well as several outside databases. The database includes not only books, but also titles of individual journal articles. (I mainly use it for searching the latter.)

Note: Holdings of the NDL include a significant body of PhD dissertations, but they rely on donations from individual universities and are not comprehensive. For more on searching for dissertations, see this page: 国会図書館調べ方案内: 国内博士論文. My understanding is that there is no single database that provides comprehensive coverage of all universities, and it is necessary to check the catalogue of each degree awarding institution. (On the other hand, many dissertations consist of already-published articles, which will show up when searching NDL’s holdings.)

3. CiNii Articles

Searches NDL’s index of journal articles as well as indices of various journals and university repositories. My impression is that most items found on CiNii will also be available on NDL’s database, but it is a good idea to double check on this database because it will occasionally have links to university repositories where you can download free PDF copies of the articles. (There are also articles that are only available by subscription.)

4. 科学研究費助成事業データベース

Provides access to proposals and reports of research projects that have been awarded funding by the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (日本学術振興会). Useful for learning about ongoing research projects that may not have been published.

5. Published Books (Important!)

Most books by Japanese scholars consist of revised versions the author’s already-published articles, so if you know the name of the relevant author, it might be best to first check his/her book publications. Not only will you be able to read more updated versions of the original articles, it will also save you a lot of time compared to tracking down the many individual articles that might have been published on minor journals that are hard to locate.

6. 史学雑誌

Every year, the May issue of the journal Shigaku zasshi 史学雑誌 is devoted to reviewing scholarly publications of the previous year. One scholar will be responsible for a chapter covering a particular geographic area and time period (Ming-Qing China, for example). Useful for historians who need to catch up on recent scholarship.

Locating Japanese Language Works

Some articles are available in PDF copies through CiNii, but the great majority are only available through paper copies. The major journals are available in many university libraries, but you might need to make interlibrary requests for the minor journals. Again, if an article is hard to access, check if it has been incorporated into the author’s book publications (refer to #5 above).

If a book is not immediately available at your library and you want to take a quick look at its table of contents, try searching it on Webcat Plus. This database provides the table of contents for some (but not all) books. Sometimes the information is abridged, so the safest way is still to check the physical book itself.

Many online library catalogues do not handle searches in East Asian languages well, so it might be best to search using the Romanized title. Worldcat (as well as Harvard’s Hollis catalogue) is very good with searches in East Asian languages, so if you do not know the correct Romanization of a book title, search it on Worldcat first to find out the Romanization.

How Much Were People’s Lives Worth in the Ming Dynasty?

How much was a human life worth in the Ming dynasty? I mean literally, how much money did a life cost? Although one might wonder whether such a question is even a valid one (how can we quantify the value of a human life?), my recent reading of some official correspondence has led me to believe that part of this question can be answered.

The Ming state regularly paid money to reward soldiers who killed or captured rebels in battles, encourage former rebels to surrender, and (less frequently, it seems) redeem captured Ming subjects whose lives were in danger. As it turns out, some extant sources record not only the amount of silver paid for such endeavors, but also the differing prices assigned to people of different gender and age. They do not reflect the economic value of an individual on the labor market, but they do, in a way, show how much the state was willing to pay for the lives (or deaths) of law-abiding subjects and/or dangerous rebels.

Below is a list of numbers that I have found through a very random reading (skimming) of the writings of Ming officials. Some of my following descriptions might turn out to be wrong after more thorough reading and further research, but I thought I would share my notes here, as I’d be interested to hear what others think. Obviously there will be regional and chronological variations, but so far I find the numbers to be surprisingly consistent. Some speculative and bold conclusions based on the sources that I have seen so far:

  • An adult male was worth about 1-5 taels?
  • Women were worth about half of men, and children were worth even less?
  • A horse might have been worth more than a man?

… Or am I getting something wrong? We’ll see when I find more materials in the future…

The Numbers

The head of a bandit/rebel: 1 tael, 1 3 taels, 2 5 taels 3

A bandit/rebel captured alive: 0.2-2 taels 4

  • Main bandit: 2 taels
  • Minor bandit: 1 tael
  • Woman: 0.5 tael
  • Male or female child: 0.2 tael

Money given to bandits/rebels who surrendered: 1-3 taels 5

  • Strong person (man?): 3 taels
  • Old or young person: 1 tael
  • Person who came with a strong horse: 10 taels
  • Person who came with a weak horse: 5 taels

Ransom for buying back captured Ming subjects: about 3 taels per person 6

  • The exact amount was to be determined after further discussion, but the memorializer suggested that men of ages 16-60 were to be worth twice as much as women, the old, and the weak.

The Sources

  1. 李化龍 (1554-1611) 平播全書 堵截事 (四庫存目叢書 15.2a): “我兵微有斬獲威勢。亦振全賞半賞。如議支給。一級賞銀一兩。”

  2. 盧象昇 (1600-1638) 盧象昇疏牘 鼓練鄉勇 (明末清初史料選刊 p. 64): “鄉兵殺賊。與官兵一體給賞。殺真賊首級一顆。賞銀三兩。斬獲小頭目一名。賞銀十五兩。斬獲大頭目一名。賞銀三十兩。”

  3. 李化龍 平播全書 縣購規則疏 (四庫存目叢書 2.10a-15b): “查例苗級一顆。賞銀五兩。今加倍。應賞銀十兩。”

  4. 李化龍 平播全書 俘獲賞格 (四庫存目叢書 10.21a-22b): “但生擒一名。解驗的實。首賊賞銀二兩。從賊一兩。婦女每口五錢。幼男女每口二錢。”

  5. 楊嗣昌 (1588-1641) 楊文弱先生集 上宰相書 (續修四庫全書 45.13a-16a): “收降亦自有法。朝廷但給萬金。付遼撫鎭。聽其自來。強壯賞銀三兩。老小賞銀一兩。拐馬來者。臕壯賞銀十兩。疲弱賞銀五兩。”

  6. 張岳 (1492-1552) 小山類稿 乞立存活被虜人口賞格疏 (四庫全書 5.1a-3a): “男女長幼相折補。每口用銀。大約三兩。則銀一千兩。可活三百餘口… 能送出被虜人口數多。男子十六嵗以上至六十嵗。一口准一功。老弱婦女。二口准一功。”

Indexing Images of Everyday Life from Medieval Japan

This post is about a very interesting reference book, An Index to Painted Scrolls: Everyday Life in Medieval Japan 絵巻物による日本常民生活絵引 (Kadokawa shoten 1964-68; Heibonsha, 1984). The project was originally conceived and carried out under the editorial supervision of Shibusawa Keizō 澁澤敬三 (1896-1963), a powerful businessman who was once president to the Bank of Japan (1944) and Minister of Finance (1945-46), but was also known as a researcher in folklore studies.

Essentially, this is an index to scenes in medieval Japanese paintings that concern daily lives of the common people, with an amazingly attentive eye to details. The book was not published until after Shibusawa’s death, but his short essay dated 1954 explains that he had initially conceived of the project more than ten years ago, when he noticed that scenes from medieval paintings could offer excellent sources for studying the lives of the common people, if only they could be “indexed” properly.1 Starting in 1955, he gathered a group of collaborators who made sketches of scenes from the scrolls, numbered individual components within these scenes, and labeled them using carefully-defined categories. In all, the group indexed 26 works (most of which are painted scrolls) from around the late Heian to the Muromachi period [date to be confirmed].

A scene with eighteen components labled.

日本常民生活絵引 総索引
A section of the index.

What makes this book especially interesting and useful is that it indexes not just objects but also actions of people — from sitting, sleeping, fighting, to doing laundries, just to name a few. In this way, the book not only makes it easier to find images of particular topics, but also makes it possible to trace chronological changes in the depiction of the mundane objects and acts of everyday life. (A few months ago, I used this index to look for images related to medieval Japanese transportaiton, and was able to locate many images of roads, bridges and boats.) It is also noteworthy that all of this was undertaken at a time when material culture as an area of investigation did not receive as much attention as it does today.

More recently, there has been a project on Systemizing Non-Textual Sources for Humanities Researh (人類文化研究のための非文字資料の体系化) based in Kanagawa University, where a group of researchers published the first two volumes of the Index in English translation under the title Multilingual Version of Pictopedia of Everyday Life in Medieval Japan. This project also created several additional indices to East Asian paintings, including three on early modern Japan, one on Qing China (姑蘇繁華図), and one on Chosŏn Korea. Most of these publications are available for download on the project website.

  1. Shibusawa Keizō 澁澤敬三, “Can Image-Indices Be Made?” 絵引は作れぬものか, in Emakimono ni yoru Nihon jōmin seikatsu ebiki 絵巻物による日本常民生活絵引 (Heibonsha, 1984), vol. 1, viii.

趣文共賞 A Eulogy for Burned Books

Note: This post is part of a series where I reproduce random sources that I find interesting, with minimal annotation and commentary. Punctuation and translation (if given) are done by me unless otherwise stated. Corrections and comments are greatly appreciated.

I was recently looking through the literary collection of Wu Guolun 吳國倫 (1524-93; jinshi 1550), an official and prolific writer who came to be known as one of the “later seven masters” of the Ming. Among the many poems included in his collection is a curious one titled “Mourning for Burned Books.” As Wu explains in his preface to the poem, his entire library of books had been burned by a “violent guest” who apparently started a fire because he did not like the books in Wu’s collection. It seems that Wu was not even at home when this happened, since he writes that he had “heard” of the news recently. Wu was from Xingguo Subprefecture (興國州) located in Wuchang Prefecture, Huguang Province. Although the poem does not make explicit the location of this library, it was likely located in his native place in Xingguo.

I find this piece interesting mostly because of what it tells about access to private libraries: apparently a guest whom Wu may or may not have known was able to enter his (or his extended family’s?) library in his absence. Several lines of the poem (妻孥存鼠竄 城郭任鴟張; 却遂吾兒嬾 虚增過客傷) also seem to suggest that Wu was upset that his family members had let too many untrustworthy guests enter the library. (For more on the topic of library access, see Joseph McDermott, A Social History of the Chinese Book, pp. 134-47.)

The fact that Wu reacted to what must have been a devastating news about the loss of his treasured books by producing yet another literary text is somewhat incomprehensible to my modern senses, although it might have been perfectly reasonable for a literatus who used poems to express his feelings on a daily basis. I have not read the poems itself closely, and I have only translated Wu’s short preface below. The full text of the poem is included here for the curiosity of readers who can appreciate these texts much better than me.

Source: Wu Guolun 吳國倫, Danzhui dong gao 甔甀洞稿 (Siku cunmu congshu edition), 18.17b-19a. (The text below was taken from Airusheng’s 愛如生 Database of Chinese Classic Ancient Books 中國基本古籍庫 and checked against the Siku cunmu congshu edition.)

悼焚書 Mourning for Burned Books


In my twenty years of travel as an official, the books that I purchased have numbered nearly ten thousand volumes. Building a library to store them, I have treasured them greatly. Every time I returned home, I would quickly decline the guests and sit down on top of the library, feeling at ease and forgetting that I was poor. And so, very few of the youths in our village even knew that I was poor. Recently, I heard that there was a violent guest who came up to the library. When he searched through my boxes of books and saw nothing that satisfied his intentions, he started a fire, burned the books, and left. Quietly mourning my books, I have composed forty rhymed couplets to console myself.

萬卷從吾好 千金不易裝
少年窺槖籥 垂老厭圭璋
散帙高連屋 懸籖疊滿牀
牛毛原汗漫 雞跖亦煇煌
天啓河圖秘 霞生石墨香
寄身編竹穩 遊思結繩長
几上赤虹現 楹端彩鳳翔
秦碑留故蹟 汲塚弔餘芳
露綴三經席 星標六藝場
百家馮羽翼 諸體叶笙簧
野叟飡芝訣 園公種樹方
靈蛇蟠入次 繡虎伏成行
緝理茅茨閣 週遭薜茘墻
幔雲飄旖旎 簾影動瀟湘
户牖都鉛槧 山川此棟梁
敢同莘野樂 差異竹林狂
歳月資弦誦 精英屬表章
正須防散逸 誰更卜災祥
宦拙家逾遠 時艱力未匡
夢魂驚燕雀 消息閧豺狼
舊業千羣象 斯文厄九陽
鬼神憎篋笥 兵燹縱縹緗
豈復秦時暴 無容魯壁藏
何曾分玉石 渾欲戰玄黄
井吐商辰色 煙昏太乙光
總爲蝌蚪崇 遂作螙魚殃
噀雨遥難制 廻風近莫禳
熛氛騰赤館 烈熖倒靑囊
未乏燋頭客 其如白額郞
妻孥存鼠竄 城郭任鴟張
誤改于公户 慙非魏士鄕
絲桐歸火帝 符籙獻空王
重比周彝徙 珍逾孔履亡
刼灰期未辨 裨竈語能詳
錦目殘烽擲 珠函敝帚當
輪今悟糟粕 角且叩宫商
却遂吾兒嬾 虚增過客傷
爲儒甘刺豕 託隱慕屠羊
市肆歸堪借 言筌靜欲忘
有形俱幻化 何用熱中腸


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