Columbia Library columns (v.45(1996))

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  v.45,no.1(1996:Spring): Page 15  

Chinese Local Histories



^n the summer of 1774 a Chinese im¬
perial official named Li C-hung-chien set brtish to paper in a preface to
the new local history of Ch'ti-fu County, long honored for having been
home to the sage Confucius more than two thotisand years before.
Writing a local history, Li pointed out, was no easy matter:

If the entire responsibility for the geographical records of the empire is to rest
with the state officers of historiography, then by the nature of the case they
must begin from separate views of each single county or single prefecture and
make those their foundation. But at the start of such a work, if there is no one
suitable lo take charge, the local gentry will say, "It is not my affair," while the
official caring for the territory will say, "It is my affair; but for now it will have to
wail." And though seizing little opportunities over an accumulating period of
months and years to complete a single book may seem an easy merit, yet in fact
none but a man already long steeped in literary culture will even come close lo
it. As compared lo plunging in immediately and getting the job done, there
may be no advantage in waiting. Yet to demand it al once is hard.

Li devotes much of his preface to praise of Fan Tang-lua, the county
administrator. Fan, spurred by an imperial decree and btulding on the
earlier but impublished work of a local man who was distantly descended
from Confticius, had managed to produce a new edition of the county
history that year. His work, whose title page appears in figure I, is only

  v.45,no.1(1996:Spring): Page 15