Shishuo Xinyu (New Account of Tales of the World)
The Shishuo xinyu (世说新语) "New account of tales of the world" is a collection of dialoges and stories circulating around a dozen of literati from the Later Han (25-220) to the Southern Dynasties (420-589) period. It was written Liu Yiqing (刘义庆), Prince of Linchuan (临川王) and member of the ruling family of the (Liu-)Song dynasty (刘宋) (420-479). The early Han period scholar Liu Xiang (刘向) had once written a book with the title Shishuo (世说), which is lost. The words xinyu (新语) “new speeches” were added to Liu Yiqing’s book by later scholars in order to distinguish the two books. The Shishuo xinyu originally was 8 chapters (juan, "scrolls") long, together with Liu Xiaobiao’s (刘孝标) commentary 10 juan. The modern version is arranged in 3 juan and 36 headlines under which the stories are grouped. The discussions mainly center around persons and their human qualities, but also touch on mystical matters of cosmology, a type of philosophy called xuanxue (玄学) "the study of the mysterious". What the Shishuo xinyu is most famous for is the style of the discussions which are not philosophical tractates but easy-going and quick-witted conversations, the so-called qingtan (清谈) "pure conversations".
The Shishuo xinyu is traditionally classified as a novel and not as a kind of history. Nevertheless it can give an impression of the life and thought of the upper social class during the Southern Dynasties period. Disciples of Liu Yiqin continued compiling books in the style of the Shishuo xinyu, of which the most important is Pei Qi’s (裴启) Yulin (语林) "The Garden of Speeches".
Liu Xiaobiao, also a member of the imperial family of the Song, had to live in China’s north, under the rule of the Northern Wei dynasty (386-534) for a while before he returned to the south – which was meanwhile reigned by the Qi dynasty (479-502) - and started translating Buddhist writings into Chinese. In his commentary to the Shishu xinyu he used textcritical methods similar to Pei Songzhi (裴松之) in his commentary to the dynastic history Sanguozhi (三国志) "The Records of the Three Kingdoms", adding missing parts and correcting errors. For his work he used more than 400 sources. The quality of his commentary is so valuable that it became an integral part of the Shishuo xinyu. Later commentaries were written by Yu Jiaxi (余嘉锡) (Shishuo xinyu jianshu 世说新语笺疏), Xu Zhen'e (徐震谔) (Shishuo xinyu jiaojian 世说新语校笺), and Yang Yong (杨勇) (same title).
The Shishuo has been translated in many languages, from Japanese and English to French.