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Featured texts 5: Encyclopedias by Japanese Zen monks

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As we have seen so far, Chinese works were not simply read and used as they were, but were often freely modified or added to other existing works for a variety of purposes. Let us look at a few examples. The first type of text we look at is “encyclopedias” (ruisho) created by Japanese Zen monk-scholars. Buddhist works were rarely included in traditional Chinese encyclopedias. For Zen monk-poets, however, the anecdotes and turns of phrases that they contained were highly useful. Moreover, since most Chinese encyclopedias were very large and only few of them could be made available as Gozan-ban, not everyone can own those books.
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There arose the need to create more compact ones with only the information most immediately useful to their users for their creative works and making annotation. This Gyokuro bassui(1) is a digest of the Song-period collection of jottings Helin yulu (Helin’s Pearly Dew) by Luo Dajing. The author probably borrowed the text from the owner and noted down only what he deemed necessary. In a sense, it is a collection of source material to make an encyclopedia. You can see periods as reading guides are added in red ink after copying the text. Also, for the names of person or places, bars on or aside those names are annotated. Here is Shiren yōshin(2), a compendium of sources on Chinese historical figures.
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You can see the list of Chinese historical figures in order. Then you can jump to the number to read the details for the particular figure. For example, this is the description of Confucius. You can see a lot of descriptions collected from various books. Shiren (Ch. Shilian) in the title refers to the renku (Ch. lianju)() a genre of Chinese linked poetry in which a number of different poets collaboratively composed poems, much as in Japanese linked verse (renga)(). In the fifteenth century, it became popular to compose hybrid linked sequences of verses in Chinese and Japanese. Yōshin means crossing, i.e. a vital transportation node, so the title as a whole translates as Essentials for Poetry Composition.
As we have seen so far, Chinese works were not simply read and used as they were, but were often freely modified or added to other existing works for a variety of purposes. In the following five steps, we will look at several types of books produced by Japanese Zen monks. Prof. Horikawa will explain how Japanese monk-scholars organized existing information and created their own works.

Keio’s books introduced in the video

  1. Gyokuro bassui (Gleanings of Pearly Dew), manuscript, 15th c.
    Click to see the image and information
  2. Shiren yōshin (Essentials for Poetry Composition), manuscript, 16th c.
    Click to see the image and information

Keywords introduced in the video

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