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  • Pulu 譜錄: "Abhandlungen und Auflistungen" zu materieller Kultur und Naturkunde im traditionellen China
  • Andrea Bréard (bio)
Martina Siebert . Pulu 譜錄: "Abhandlungen und Auflistungen" zu materieller Kultur und Naturkunde im traditionellen China. Opera Sinologica 17. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 2006. 310 pp. Hardcover €68.00, ISBN 3–447–05357–7.

This is a book on the ambiguous fate of a literary source from traditional China. The so-called pulu (literally, treatises and lists) are monographic texts on one or a group of material objects coming from either the natural or the artificial world, as for example chrysanthemums, ink stones, tea, tobacco, or such techniques as lacquering or goldfish farming. These topical monographs began to appear during the fifth century, reached a first height during the Song, and were produced in an ever growing number during Ming and Qing times. Although at the periphery of the traditional fields of a Chinese scholars' interest, these compilations, Siebert argues, did break up new intellectual room and considerably shaped the history and historiography of Chinese culture and science. Pulu were the only "text tool" for a focused research on natural and artificial objects (besides poetry), and in this function they were well known to and used by traditional Chinese scholars. During Ming and Qing times pulu authors even developed as an intellectually interactive group of mutual quoting and inspiring writers. With the early twentieth century and the growing interest in a Western-shaped historiography of science, pulu were viewed from a different perspective. The pulu on nature studies were first cut from their artifact counterpart and renamed into "class (of writings) on the science of nature" as in Wang Yunwu's index to the Congshu jicheng compilation of the 1930s (ziran kexue lei), then mixed with state-sponsored compendia on agriculture to stuff the bibliographies of traditional agricultural writings of China (like Wang Yuhus Zhongguo nongxue shulu of 1957), and finally used as a quarry for quotation pieces that fit into the mosaic of a Chinese botany and zoology. The function and focus of pulu was thus blurred by grouping excerpts of them together with those coming from other genres to newly construct corpora of protoscientific value.

The book is divided in three parts, which are devoted to defining pulu as a literary genre instrumental in shaping knowledge on topics outside the Confucian orthodoxy. First, the author shows how pulu gradually established themselves as an official bibliographic category and discusses the history and significance of classified bibliographies in traditional China in general. But pulu also had a material equivalent to their existence as a category in official bibliographies and privately compiled book catalogues. They actually constituted a physical corpus of texts, a corpus with a clear center formed by titles every scholar at least knew from hearsay (like Dai Kaizhi's "Book on Bamboo" of the fifth century A.D.) and [End Page 542] with borders fading out into the unknown, because there always were undiscovered manuscripts on orchids and so forth. The physical existence of more and more pulu works constituted a body of reference that fed the scholarly want for specialized knowledge on plants, flowers, animals, stones, ink, antiquities, wine, tea, and tobacco, and at the same time prefigured the content and focus of such fields of knowledge. Almost every private or state library had a certain amount of pulu writing in its stock of books (Xu Bo's Hongyulou catalogue of 1602 lists 120 pulu titles), and pulu reappeared again and again as constituents of the popular genre of congshu (comprehensive books), a kind of ready-made library containing a representative or specialized collection of works. Within these congshu and catalogues, pulu mostly built clearly shaped sections or groups.

In a second part, Siebert establishes pulu as a distinct textual genre based on a detailed and diachronic analysis of their common texual and formal structures. Finally, she shows how they were socially constructed as a specific group of texts dealing with peripheral topics. The reader thus gains considerable insight into the history and development of biographical classifications in China.

Siebert's book is extremely rich in historical and bibliographic data, indexing a list of 270 primary pulu sources, including their location in...