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Sources: Gazetteers, Examples

May 6, 2010


Bian, Qijin, and Yufan Hu. Teng xian zhi: [23 chn]. Yingyin chuban. ed., Guangxi fangzhi; 8. Taibei shi: Taiwan xuesheng shuju, 1968.

Qing gazetteer for Guangxi province from 1908.

Zhang, Qizeng, and Heng Zhou. Guangdong sheng Chaoyang xian zhi. 廣東省潮陽縣誌. Taibei: Chengwen chubanshe, 1966.

1885 edition of the Chaoyang County Gazetteer (Guangdong province), revised by Zhou Hengzhong. Following are examples from two juan with very different types of information and writing styles.

21st juan: Mid-level Literary Pursuits (Yiwen zhong), “Howling Water Bridge Temple” — by Chen Tainian.

This section consists mainly of descriptions of newly built temples. The author provides vivid detail about the landscape and its impressions on local residents and tells the story of why and how the temple was built. Below is an approximate translation of the passage.

East of Chaoyang county seat there stands a tall mountain with layered crags named Eastern Mountain. Hepu village lies ten li or more to the east where the land begins to become more flat. The area around the mountain range is more than 10 square li. The water on the southern slopes runs south and on the northern slopes runs north. Our ancestors founded themselves here. The mountain “cheeks” form two narrow paths that pass through the county. The southern one is called the front path. The southern-flowing water was already bridged long ago…The northern one is called the back path. The north-flowing waters cascade dozens of zhang from the south off the tall mountain. On the east and west sides there are pits the water can flow into and it makes a howling sound to the north. By ancient custom it is called “water howling.” When it has been dry for a long time you can still lean against the rock to hear passing steps like thundering rain… Those who walked there thought it was a great hardship. In the village there was someone named Chen Zhengtai who could embody public sentiment and so collected gold, workers and stones to make a bridge there… The temple was built in the Qianlong Geng-Yin year so that the bridge would last a long time without rotting.

12th juan: Local Products

This juan is very different from the above. It lists and gives a few-sentence description for a great many plants and animals found in the county. Most entries draw heavily on definitions or comments from other sources, such as the Book of Rites, the Book of Odes, the Nong Shu, the Er Ya, and many others. They will also usually add a note about the product’s use, danger, availability, origin, alternate names, similar products, or interesting anecdotes. For example, the jade orchid is said to “bloom in the spring, the blossoms resembling the jade tree.” Under “horse,” it states: “A military beast. The Shiji says that the spirit horse (shen ma) came from the northeast and then flourished in marketplaces. There are also native horses.” On the “mountain pig” (porcupine), it offers: “They have lived deep in the mountains and in remote valleys since the beginning. Their bodies have quills which they can arouse and release in order to shoot people. They were originally called ‘haozhu’ [which is what they are called in 1998]. The ‘boar bristles’ of the Shuowen are like the [porcupine quills] that are used as writing brushes.”

Zhongguo kexueyuan. Tushuguan. Xijian Zhongguo difangzhi huikan. 稀见中国地方志汇刊. Beijing: Zhongguo shudian, 1992.

Includes 200 rare local gazetteers, most of them compiled in the early Qing period. Wugang Zhouzhi was compiled several times in early and middle Qing (1663, 12 volumes; 1756,10 volumes; 1817, 30 volumes). The extant gazetteer is of the 1817 edition. It contains information on local major events, geography (also historical geography), administrative divisions, local institutions, lands and households, biographies of local famous people, customs, etc..

Local Customs: Marriage

Marriages were regularly arranged by the parents, generally through a match-maker. When a marriage had been tentatively arranged, the girl’s family asked for the eight characters of the boy (the year, month, day and hour of his birth), and sent it to a fortune-teller for his consideration. If he decided that the boy’s eight characters were compatible with the girl’s, the marriage would be definitely arranged. Then, both the boy’s and the girl’s eight characters were written on red paper. The boy’s family gave a sum of money and jewelry to the girl. These constituted the engagement. After this, the future groom sent gifts to the bride’s family on festivals. He also needed to offer another sum of gifts on the day when the wedding date was decided. On the wedding day, accompanied by her brothers, the bride was sent to the groom’s family with her dowery. In the process of the ceremony, the bride and the groom bowed before the tablet of the God of Heaven and Earth, and the ancestors, then they bowed to the groom’s matri-uncles and aunts, and at last they bowed to each other. Throughout the wedding night, the drums and gongs were kept beating and the firecrackers kept burning. After a month, the bride and her husband returned to her home to pay a visit to her parents.

Local events: the rebellion in 1643

In the Ming-Qing transition, Wugang was suffered from social disorders. This rebellion was caused by the unpopular rule of prince Min, a member of imperial house of Ming dynasty. It broke out in April, 1643, led by Yuan Youzhi, a previous functionary official. The rebels occupied the seat of Wugang and killed prince Min and his family. Prefect Tan Wenyou fled out of the city at night. With the assistance of militia from the neighborhood villages, he captured the city again and massacred the rebels. But Yuan Youzhi escaped. Yuan gathered tens of thousands of followers and besieged the city for almost a month. Finally, the government troops came to pacify the rebels. Yuan was captured and executed.


Many new gazetteers have been published in the 1980’s and 1990’s. At the provincial level, these works are divided into many volumes, each focused on a specific topic. Some list the individual volume titles for the whole series at the back of each volume. For example, the Henan Shengzhi lists 65 volumes, including: Geography; Seismography; Plants; Animals; Population; Ethnicities; Religion; Dialects; Guomindang; Government; Labor; Military; Women’s Movements; Agriculture; Animal Husbandry; Food; Publishing; Chemical Industry; Construction; Science and Technology; Hygiene and Medicine; Biographies; and many others.

The new gazetteers are more likely than the old to be included in the Library of Congress subject “gazetteer.” Individual volumes can also be found under their respective subjects.

The volumes are rich in statistics, but also are useful for their descriptions of current practices and their summaries of the local histories of the subjects in question. For example, the “Agriculture and Animal Husbandry” volume of the Shaanxi Shengzhi is a 750-page book that discusses natural environments, economic systems, science, technology, education, and administration related to agriculture and animal husbandry. Throughout the book, reference is made to relevant developments in the Republican era and early years of the PRC. A lengthy chronology of events from prehistoric times through the present day provides additional historical background. There are also specific chapters on “ancient agriculture.” If one were interested in pig raising and breeding, one could learn from this volume about the different breeds of pigs, where they are found, which foreign breeds were imported and when, how farmers and scientists are preventing disease, how many pigs were raised each year since 1949, how raising and breeding systems have changed socially and technologically, how research and education on pigs is organized, and what pig-related policies the government has promoted.

Shanxi sheng difangzhi bianzuan weiyuanhui (Shaanxi Province China). Shanxi shengzhi. 陕西省志. Zhonghua renmin gongheguo difangzhi congshu. Xi’an: Shanxi renmin chubanshe, 1993.

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