Speed-Copying Annotations from Scripta Sinica (A Tip for Mac Users)

The Scripta Sinica Database 漢籍電子文獻資料庫 is a treasure house for scholars of premodern China, especially those fortunate to have institutional subscription to the proprietary portions. I use this database regularly, but occasionally I run into a small technical problem: when copying texts from the database (in my case, always as plain text), what to do with the occasional interlinear annotations, like the following:

Scripta 1

Scripta 2

If I copy the text before expanding the annotations, I will have the main text but not the annotations. If I copy everything after expanding the annotations, I get a text that contains both the main text and the annotations jumbled together. Needless to say, this would be very confusing to read.

Ideally, I want to save a copy of the main text followed by all annotations at the bottom, like this:


Up to now, I have always copy-pasted the annotations one by one. But recently, I became irritated by the time-consuming process. So I started asking: How can I copy all annotations at once and save my precious time?

Fortunately, it turns out that there is an easy trick for Mac users. (I’m sure similar solutions are available on Windows. If anyone is aware of one, please let me know.)

  1. After expanding the annotations, copy everything and paste it into TextEdit:
    Scripta 3
  2. Select one or more characters from any of the annotations:
    Scripta 4
  3. Go to Format>Font>Styles. You should see a window like the following. Click on “Select.”
    Scripta 5
  4. Check “Select by style” (uncheck everything else), and select “Select within entire document” (default setting). Now click on “Select.”
    Scripta 6
  5. All the annotations should be automatically selected. Copy and paste into your working file, and voilà, you have all the annotations. Happy copying!
    Scripta 7

趣文共賞 Songs in Praise of an Upright Magistrate

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 recently came across the collected writings of Zhang Xuan 張選 (1494-1568; jinshi 1529), native of Wuxi, who served as magistrate of Xiaoshan County 蕭山縣 (Shaoxing Prefecture, Zhejiang) during 1529-31. He is said to have been extremely able and upright, to the extent that a crowd of several tens of thousands gathered to send him off upon the conclusion of his three-year term. In addition to the usual collection of official documents, letters, and poems, Zhang’s collected writings contain an intriguing set of poems that were supposedly sung by people of Xiaoshan in praise of Zhang’s extraordinary governance. Among other accomplishments, Zhang is said to have equalized tax assessments, buried abandoned bodies, made locusts disappear, and turned tigers away.

Transcribed below are four out of the fourteen songs that appear in the appendix of Zhang’s collected writings. I do not assume that they reflect the voices of the ordinary people as claimed by preface writers, but the first poem does contain complaints that are quite specific to the Ming tax situation. Also interesting are some plain expressions that are likely not to be found in poems of more literary types (eg. 子孫了公事 睡到日頭升).

Source: Zhang Xuan 張選, Zhongjian Jingsi Zhang gong yiji 忠諫靜思張公遺集. Printed edition prefaced Kangxi 33 (1694), reproduced in Siku quanshu cunmu congshu. 9.13a-20b.


出門見父老 滿道歡呼聲
問之何為者 父老陳其情
昔年縣官私 徭役失均平
一以阿權貴 一以私己營
說事過賄賂 馬下任公行
富者存作絕 貧者刻骨徵
邑有大鄉宦 免至二千丁
亦有小鄉官 兩丁羌弓兵
設或與辦觸 忿暴加酷刑
饑者不獲食 勞者弗獲寧
自從張侯來 立法公且平
視產計多寡 驗丁分重輕
豪富不苟免 貧乏得安生
且如權要家 舊日恣橫行
田糧動千百 戶大不分撑
輪到編役際 攀例免科徵
丁役盡蠲除 [缺一句?]
如今官執法 差撥無遺零
糧長每年定 里長十數名
銀差與力差 周遍不漏星
我等老年紀 遇此官長清
家破復可理 田荒復可耕
子孫了公事 睡到日頭升
予聞父老言 歡喜不自勝
誰能傳此語 上達天子聽
遍令九州內 法侯治蕭城


投牒移神驅猛獸 我侯德政感山神
南山白額一時去 共說張侯是宋均


十異相傳說我侯 蕭山今日勝中牟
蝗飛出境無踪跡 百姓重歌歲有秋


先王掩骼順天時 今見張侯瘞路屍
仁澤尚能施死者 生民奚有不覃施

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.)

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。”

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