Eric Henry
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
The Ywe Jywe Shu
Panel: War and Peace in Early China
AAS Convention, Boston, Saturday 24 March 2007

Eric Henry


The title Yuèjuéshu, which means “The Sensational, Record-breaking Greatness of Yuè” appears to have been given the work by its second compiler, Yuán Kang. The original compiler, Wú Píng, also known as Wú Gaojun, a man of the early to mid 1st century CE, called it Yuèniulù, which might mean “Records of the Yuè Nexus,” or “Records of Yuè and Things Radiating From Yuè.” Wú Ping’s compilation seems to have had twenty-three chapters, to which Yuán Kang added an opening and a concluding chapter, making a total of twenty-five, of which nineteen remain today.

The creation, transmission, and, finally, the Southern Song printing of this work (c. 1215) appear to have been carried out entirely by people native to the Kuaiji area, SE of Shaoxing in present day Zhejiang province. Were it not for regional patriotism, the work would not exist.

Though the work as a whole is far from being homogenous in style, most of its chapters are internally homogenous. A number are devoted to legendary narratives, some of which entered the generally accepted “matter of Yuè” and some of which dropped by the wayside. Two chapters (nos. 5 and 11) consist of economic policy advice presented to Gou Jian by an elsewhere unattested figure named Ji Ni. These chapters seem inspired by the same type of thinking that led to the “Discourses of Qi” section of Guoyu.

The chapters that have always excited the most interest, and that are in all probability responsible for the survival of this text into modern times, are nos. 3, “Wu Di Zhuan” and 10, “Di Zhuan.” These chapters describe the chief architectural sites and topographical features in and around the areas of the ancient capital cities of Wú and Yue respectively, as they were known to Wú Píng. They are filled with numerically specific notations concerning the length of walls, the distances between sites, the number, type, and location of city gates, and so on. No earlier extant Chinese text deals with geographcal matters in such a concrete fashion; these chapters are ancestral to the difang zhi of later ages. One can only surmise that Wú Píng must often have served as a tour guide to noblemen and gentry passing through the area. It is in the second of these chapters that the name “Xi Shi” is first attached to the matter of Wú and Yuè; one of the structures around Kuaiji is identified as the place where she and another lady were trained before being sent to Wú.

These chapters are an excellent example of the manner in which structures visible on the ground served as focal points for gathering legends, a function that a few centuries earlier had been served by a set of entries in the annals in the court of Lu. The relation between the stories and the structures are of the utmost significance to anyone seeking to understand processes of legend-formation in early China.


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