History of Yuan
The History of Yuan (Chinese: 元史; pinyin: Yuán Shǐ), also known as the Yuanshi, is one of the official Chinese historical works known as the Twenty-Four Histories of China. Commissioned by the court of the Ming dynasty, in accordance to political tradition, the text was composed in 1370 by the official Bureau of History of the Ming dynasty, under direction of Song Lian (1310–1381).
The compilation formalized the official history of the preceding Yuan dynasty. Under the guidance of Song Lian, the official dynastic history broke with the old Confucian historiographical tradition, establishing a new historical framework asserting that the influence of history was equal in influence to the great Confucian classics in determining the course of human affairs.
Layout and Contents
The historical work consists of 210 chapters chronicling the history of the Genghisid Yuan dynasty from the time of Genghis Khan (1162–1227) to the flight of the last Yuan emperor, Toghon Temür ("Emperor Huizong", 1333–1370) from Khanbaliq in 1368.
The chapters are, in turn, subdivided into the following:
- 47 Imperial biographies (本紀), detailing the lives of the Yuan emperors - including the pre-Yuan Mongol khans Genghis, Ögedei, Güyük and Möngke
- 58 Treatises (志), detailing socio-economic history, laws and rituals
- 8 Chronological tables (表)
- 97 Biographies (列傳), detailing important non-imperial people of the era
The History of Yuan was first commissioned by the Hongwu Emperor in the second year of his reign (1369), using materials such as the court historical records of the Yuan dynasty, which were stored in Khanbaliq and captured by Xu Da. A team of 16 officials, led by Song Lian and overseen by Li Shanchang, compiled the first draft of the history within months.
Due to the paucity of court records for the last years of the Yuan, however, compilation had to be paused while more historical material was sourced. In 1370, after a second commission, the History of Yuan was completed with new materials. Altogether, the 210-chapter history took a mere 331 days to compile.
The History of Yuan is unique among the official histories in that no commentary or evaluation of any biographical subjects was given by the compilers.
The History of Yuan has been criticised by imperial Chinese scholars for its lack of quality and numerous errors, attributed to the haste with which it was compiled. The Qing-era historian and linguist Qian Daxin commented that of the official histories, none was more quickly completed - or worse in quality - than that of the Yuan dynasty. Wang Huizu, another Qing-era scholar, compiled a work on the history pointing out more than 3,700 factual and textual errors in the text, including duplicated biographies for important figures such as Subutai, as well as inconsistent transliterations of the same name - Phagspa, for example, was transliterated in three different ways.
The Qing dynasty Qianlong Emperor used the Mongolian language to "correct" inconsistent and erroneous Chinese character transcriptions of Mongol names in the History of Yuan in his "Imperial Liao Jin Yuan Three Histories National Language Explanation" (欽定遼金元三史國語解) project.
Qianlong's "corrections" ended up compounding the errors and making the transcription of some foreign words in the History of Yuan even worse. Marshall Broomhall wrote that So unscientific was this work that the K'ien-lung editions of the Liao, Kin, and Yüan histories are practically useless.
Given the many errors in the text, efforts were made during the Qing and subsequent decades to re-compile the history of the Yuan. Qian Daxin completed some treatises and tables, but the most determined effort was by Ke Shaomin, a late Qing historian who re-compiled a 257-chapter text over thirty years. This, the New History of Yuan, was given official historical status by the Republic of China in 1921, and included as one of the Twenty Five Histories.
Only parts of The History of Yuan have been translated into European languages. Mongolian scholar Dandaa translated the whole history into Classic Mongolian in the early 20th century. The effort was funded by the government of Mongolian People's Republic and it is now kept in the National archive of Mongolia.
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