Zhao Qichang and His Excerpts of Ming Shilu
2016-11-18 11:38:41   source:Beijing   

Translated by Wang Wei, polished by Luc Archambault, photos by Ma Wenxiao
  In ancient China, numerous historical records were compiled about its long history. One such record is Ming Shilu (Veritable Records of the Ming Dynasty), roughly containing16 million characters. Zhao Qichang (1926–2010) spent 30 years taking excerpts from Veritable Records of the Ming Dynasty in order to compile a set of important historical materials about Beijing during the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644), through which he realised a wish of Wu Han (1909–69, a historian and vice-mayor of Beijing).  

  Ancient people thought that Youzhou (present-day Beijing) was considered a region of abundance because it borders the Great Wall to its north, the Yellow River to its south, Taihang Mountains to its west and the Bohai Sea to its east. Zhao’s excerpts recount the city's glorious history during the Ming Dynasty. 
An Outstanding Archaeologist
  Zhao was born in 1926 in Anguo County of Hebei Province. He majored in archaeology and graduated from the history department of Peking University in 1953. He participated in the archaeological excavation of Emperor Wanli’s tomb within the Ming tombs in 1955. He became the director of the Capital Museum in 1985 and retired in 1988. He made great contributions to the city’s archeological excavations and the research of cultural relics. In his later years, he suffered from severe asthma but he still wrote articles including an academic thesis for the Capital Museum each year. He died in 2010, and his research notes and collected books were donated to the Capital Museum, according to his last wishes. 
  Zhao widely attracted talents and organised many exhibitions such as one about the history of Beijing when he worked as the director of the Capital Museum. He created the Periodical of the Capital Museums during that period. As a cultural relic’s expert, he was strict with himself. He said that he had never bought, sold, collected, nor authenticated cultural relics for commercial purposes. In one of his books, he wrote, “I’m not an intelligent person and not good at writing. During archaeological excavations, I often use shovels and pickaxes but I think that my pen seems to be heavier than those tools.” He explored and researched Beijing’s cultural heritage for a long time and his Excerptions of Veritable Records of the Ming Dynasty provide important references for studying the history of Beijing. 
Wu Han’s Entrust
  The Ming tombs in Changping District of Beijing contain the remains of 13 emperors and 23 empresses from the Ming Dynasty. The tomb of Emperor Wanli (reign: 1572–1620) is called Dingling. In 1955, the archaeological excavation of the tomb was led by Zhao. It was the first time for a tomb of this dynasty to be excavated. Zhao’s report of the tomb’s excavation helped people learn about the truth of the imperial underground palace.
  In 1956, Wu Han, vice-mayor of Beijing and the initiator of the Dingling’s excavation came to inspect the site. Wu asked Zhao to excerpt from Veritable Records of the Ming Dynasty for compiling the historical records of Beijing. When he saw Zhao was consulting the books. Under Wu’s encouragement, Zhao and Liu Jingyi (Wu’s colleague) began to extract from them but the progress was slow. In 1958, the excavation was completed and Zhao left the organisation for some reason. In 1961, he returned and under the leadership of Wu, he took excerpts of records from the books. After Wu died, Zhao left again but he never forgot Wu’s wishes.
  In 1980, Zhao resumed the excerptions. At an exhibition for the 75th anniversary of Wu’s birth, Wu’s sister hoped that Zhao would overcome all difficulties in order to complete the work. He resigned his position as director of the Capital Museum and devoted himself to the work. In 1989, the excerpts containing more than 2 million Chinese characters were completed. In 1995, they were published by the Beijing Historical Records Publishing House. 
Excerpts Recounting Beijing
  In China there are varieties of historical records. They are categorised into several groups including annals, annal-biographies, events and national styles, general history and dynastic history. These styles are represented by Zuozhuan (Commentary of Zuo), Shiji (Records of the Grand Historian), Tongjian Jishi Benmo (Major Events from Warring States Period to Five Dynasties), Zhanguo Ce (Strategies of the Warring States) and Hanshu (History of the Han Dynasty). 
  Veritable records belong to the annalistic style for recording major events during the reign of an emperor. The first representative books were Liangwudi Shilu (Veritable Records of Emperor Wudi of the Liang Dynasty) written by Zhou Xingsi (AD 469–521) of the dynasty. Wen Daya (AD 572–629) of the Tang Dynasty (AD 618–907) wrote Datang Chuangye Qijuzhu (Veritable Records of Emperor Gaozu of the Tang Dynasty). Fang Xuanling (AD 579–648) and Xu Jingzong (AD 592–672) compiled veritable records for several emperors of the dynasty. The previous emperor’s records had to be compiled after each new emperor ascended the throne, which created a tradition during the later dynasties but few records have been conserved until now. Some of which are remnants such as Shundi Shilu (Veritable Records of Emperor Shunzong of the Tang Dynasty) and Taizong Shilu (Veritable Records of Emperor Taizong of the Song Dynasty). Only the veritable records of the Ming and Qing (1644–1911) dynasties have survived. 
  Veritable Records of the Ming Dynasty represent 2,925 volumes and record more than 200 years of history from Emperor Taizu (reign: 1368–98) to Emperor Xizong (1620–27) during the Ming Dynasty. These historical records were compiled by senior ministers of the dynasty, reflecting the history of various areas, including politics, economy, military, infrastructure construction, cultural and social life, relations between ethnic groups and the exchanges between the dynasty and foreign countries, natural disasters and emperors’ inspection tours, which have extremely high historical value because some records are not included in the Mingshi (The History of the Ming Dynasty) complied during the Qing Dynasty. 
  Zhao’s books are based on a set of photocopied Veritable Records of the Ming Dynasty collected by the Library of Chinese Studies in Jiangsu Province. His books are divided into four volumes, providing many historical materials for Beijing under the Ming Dynasty. It was not easy to obtain these records before publishing. Cao Zixi, president of the Research Society for the History of Beijing, wrote a preface for his books,“ writing to reveal the secret of the underground palaces in the Ming Tombs, Zhao searched and studied a large amount of historical materials, including excerpting from Veritable Records of the Ming Dynasty , about the history of Beijing, containing millions of characters. It was an arduous and great work.”
Although Zhao died in 2010, his Excerptions of Veritable Records of the Ming Dynasty will always be an outstanding achievement, showing his persistence throughout his career and his determination to fulfill Wu’s wish. 

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