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Updated: Nov 13

The rainy winter days in Seattle always remind me of the rainy winter days in Chongqing, where I always sat in my tiny bedroom, reading Hong lou meng 紅樓夢 (Dream of the Red Chamber) over and over again as a quiet and sensitive teenage girl. Those simple but happy moments have motivated me to go through a long and hard program across the ocean, and I know that they will continue to support me in pursuing a lifelong career.

I am sharing my annotated translation of Cao Xueqin 曹雪芹's masterpiece, "Eulogy on the Lotus Fairy" ("Furong nüer lei" 芙蓉女兒誄) as a reminder for myself of my love for Hong lou meng and my tears shed for my favorite character, Qingwen 晴雯.

Eulogy on the Lotus Fairy[1]

Translated by Shiwei Zhou

It is the year of constant Peace, in the month when hibiscus and sweet Osmanthus vie with fragrance, on the day of sadness and helplessness, that I, the uncouth Yu of the Relishing Red Court, have gathered with due reverence the buds of various flowers, Icy Mermaids silk, water from the Permeated Aroma Fountain, and the Maple Dew tea. The four of them, though trifling, tentatively express my sincerity and state my devotion. I present them in sacrifice to the Lotus Fairy from the White Emperor Palace,[2] who takes charge of the Autumn Blossoms, with the following words:

I recall, alone, sixteen years have passed since the Fairy descended to this world. It has been long since her native place and lineage were forgotten and became untraceable. Yet, only for slightly more than five years and eight months have I gotten the chance to spend days and nights with her intimately, free of puritanical constraints, in my rising and sleeping, washings and combings, in my rest and repose, for outings and feasts.

I reminisce about the past when the Fairy was alive. For her nature, neither gold nor jade is sufficient to illustrate its worth; for her body, neither ice nor snow is sufficient to illustrate its purity; for her spirit, neither stars nor the sun is sufficient to illustrate its essential fineness; for her appearance, neither a flower nor the moon is sufficient to illustrate its beauty. All fellow girls admired her grace and elegance. Every older lady looked up to her intelligence and virtue.

Who would have expected it? For the poisonous and petty birds hated its height,[3] it was the eagle who surprisingly met the snare.[4] For the dense stinkweeds envy its scent,[5] it was the sweet herb which was astonishingly cut down and uprooted. The flower is naturally timid- how could she endure the fierce wind? The willow is innately sentimental- how could she withstand the torrential rain? It happened that she suffered from the envenomed, stinging slander,[6] whereupon she pined with a mortal sickness.[7] Therefore, the redness faded out from cherry lips; the melodious voice turned to moans. The bloom withered on apricot cheeks; the glamour changed to sallowness. Slanders and slights come from behind screens and curtains; thorns and thickets spread all over the doors and windows. An everlasting gloom, she already kept in mind; the ceaseless suffering of wrong, she again endured. Envied for standing high, the maiden’s regret was comparable to that of Changsha;[8] imperiled for chastity and integrity, the lady was more miserable than the one passing the Yanmen.[9] She stored up her bitterness in silence, but who pities the one cut down in youth? Fair clouds already dispersed-her footsteps hard to discern. The Juku Isle has vanished; the incense of immortality is never to be found.[10] The Sacred Raft is lost in the sea; the medicine for revitalization cannot be attained.[11]

Those smoke-black eyebrows, it was but yesterday that I painted for her; the cold jade ring she wore, whose hands will warm it today? The unfinished medicine stands yet upon the three-legged stove; the stains of her tears are still visible on the garment. The phoenixes on the back of the mirror are separated; sadly, I open Sheyue’s vanity case. The dragon on the comb has flown off; how sorrowful, the teeth of Tanyun’s comb are broken.[12] The golden hairpin is cast away in the rank grass; the kingfisher-blue casket is picked up from the dust. The tiered pavilion is empty of magpies; in vain, they hang the needles on the Seventh Night.[13] The mandarin ducks are parted by the broken sash; who will be the one to sew it back with the multi-colored silk thread?

It is the metal season of autumn ruled over by the White Emperor. I dream of her in my lonely bed; in the empty room, I wake with no one in sight. The moon dims behind the Chinese parasol tree by the stairs; her fragrant spirit and handsome figure faded away at the same time. The delightful scent of the curtain is dying out; her delicate breathing and slender waist are gone altogether. Withered grass, clearly not only reeds, stretches to the horizon. The mournful chirping encircling the earth is from none other than crickets. The evening dew wets the stairs; launderer’s pounding does not come through the portiere. The autumn rain patters on the climbing-fig-covered wall; the flute’s complaint from the other court is too soft to hear.[14] Her sweet name has not been forgotten, for the parrot in front of the eaves still calls. The beauty was about to perish, and the withering begonia outside the railings foretold her fate. Now in silence, the dainty footsteps no longer betray her at hide-and-seek behind the screen; All await but in vain, the orchids are not held by her in the match-my-herb in front of the courtyard.[15] The embroidery thread is thrown aside in a tangle-who, again, will cut the letter tablets and colored sleeves?[16] The sheeny silk gown lies creased and crumbled-no one is ironing it with the golden ladle and perfuming it anymore.

Yesterday, I hastened to get on the carriage to a far-off garden on Father’s commend. Today, I, leaning on the staff, offended Mother to see your lonely bier being discarded. Only when told that her coffin was cremated did I suddenly realize: my promise to share the same grave hole with her has been broken. The empty stone chamber reveals my guilt: the joke about commingling our ashes will never become real.

Then, by the ancient temple in the west wind, extinguishing is the will-o'-the-wisp. On the deserted mound in the setting sun, scattered are the white bones. Manchurian catalpa and elm trees rustle; tangled artemisia sigh. Beyond the foggy wilderness, gibbons wail; around the misty graveyard alleys, ghosts sob. Emphasize no more that the young gentleman behind the red gauze curtain is filled with longings. Do be reminded that the maid in the yellow-earth mound is ill-fated! Stained, Runan’s tears of blood shed in the west wind.[17] Silently, Zizhe’s remnant complaint pours out to the cold moon.[18]

Alas! The calamity was, indeed, caused by evil bogles- how could it be the jealousy of holy spirits? Tearing off the backbiters’ mouths is too light a punishment! Cutting open the shrews’ hearts will not pacify my wrath! Though your stay in the mundane world was a brief one, my feelings for you will be everlasting. For so dearly I think of her, I can bear no more but make the earnest inquiry.

It was finally revealed to me that the Heavenly Emperor sent down the award banner; she was summoned to the Palace of Flowers. In life, she peered with orchids; in death, she rules over lotuses. The words of the little maid might seem fantastical, but my humble opinion finds great credence in them. Why? Of old, Ye Fashan summoned a sleeping spirit to compose an epitaph;[19] Li Changji was ordered by Heaven to write a memorial.[20] The incidents differ, but the principle is the same. Therefore, all talents are selected for their matching tasks. Won’t it be a mistake if the individual is not suitable? Now, I am convinced that the Heavenly Emperor exercises his authority to choose officials in the most fitting and proper manner. Hopefully, her endowed intelligence will not go unappreciated. For I desire the immortal spirit may descend hither, I dare bother her with my own coarse speech. I, hence, present the summoning song:

Wherefore is heaven so vast? Are you harnessing the jade wyverns to roam around the welkin?

Wherefore is earth so boundless? Are you riding the jasper and ivory carriage to descend to the underworld?

Gazing at the canopy-colorful and radiant, does it outshine the bright Ji and Wei?[21]

Parading the feathered awnings to lead the way, are they guarded by the Wei and Xu?[22]

Are you escorted by the God of Clouds?[23] Are you approaching with Moon’s accompaniment?

Hearing the cracking and trundling of the wheels, are you reining phoenixes for the expedition?

Smelling pungent fragrance wafting through the air; are Asarum strung to hang from your sash?

How dazzling and glaring your dress is; is the bright moon carved as your earrings?

Strewing the altar with fresh leaves, I hold the lotus-shaped candelabrum fed with orchid oil.

Patterning the gourds into goblets, I pour the precious wine and the Osmanthus nectar.

Staring up through the cloudy air, methinks I glimpse a vision.

Bending over to hear the quiet ripples, I seem to catch a sound.

Hopeless, yet I dream of our reunion; why did you abandon me, here in the dust!

I beg the God of Wind, drive the carriage for me! How I hope to come back with you, reins in our hands.

Deep in my heart, sorrow and regret; what else can I do but weep and wail?

You are resting in peace for eternity; how can it be for a change of destiny?

A grave vault is built for your secure and tranquil sleep; why transform again after returning to purity?!

Fettered I still am, good for nothing.[24] Will you come for my consolation!

I shall stop to welcome your arrival! Please do come!

Now, she abides in primeval Chaos and dwells in solitary and silence. Even if she approaches me, I will not see her. Pulling up the lush wistaria to make her side-screens, displaying the sword-shaped bullrushes to serve as her retinue. She rouses the willows to open their drowsy eyes; she sweetens the bitterness of the lotus seeds. The Fair Virgin awaits her at the Cassia Cliff;[25] The River Goddess greets her in the Orchid Islet.[26] Nongyu blows the little organ;[27] Hanhuang strikes the wooden tiger.[28] Lady of Mount Song is summoned;[29] Dowager of Mount Li is invited.[30] The Divine Turtle manifests itself from the Luo River; the wild beasts dance to the holy “Xian Pond.”[31] Diving into the Red Stream, the dragon sings;[32] gathered at the Pearl Forest, the phoenixes soar.[33] Sincere and respectful I am, although the offering is negligible, the vessel shabby. She set out in her chariot from the City of Rosy Clouds; she returned with her banners at the Suspending Garden.[34] Her dim silhouette is already about to fleet away; the murky vapor further separates us. Clouds and mists drift and converge; rain and fog veil the sunlight. Dust-storm retreats and reveals the stars up high; streams and hills show their radiance under the moon in mid sky. Why is my heart fluttering? Am I awake or asleep? Thus, I sigh and sob in disappointment; aimlessly, I wander, tears down my face.

Human speeches are hushed; only the rustling bamboo resembles Heavenly music. Alarmed birds scatter in flight; fishes make gobbling sounds as they blow bubbles.

In grief, I make this prayer. In hope of auspiciousness, I end this ceremony. Woe is me! May your spirit come to the sacrifice!

[1] Lei誄, also known as leiwen 誄文, was a type of memorial essay whose origin can be traced back to the Zhou 周 dynasty. The literary structure had constantly been developing, but a standard piece contained praises for the deceased and expressed griefs of the author. From the Tang 唐 onwards, it usually consisted of pianwen 駢文 and fu賦. Eulogy is, therefore, a more appropriate rendering than elegy. There have been scholarly discussions on the botanical identity of furong芙蓉. One argument suggests that furong should be lotus (Water furong 水芙蓉). In the chapter, a maid responded to Baoyu 寶玉 with a flash of inspiration that Qingwen 晴雯 became the fairy who took charge of the lotus when she saw the lotus in the pond. Later in the chapter, Baoyu also reminisced about his past with Qingwen when he caught sight of the lotus in the pond. The other argument suggests that furong should be hibiscus (Wood furong 木芙蓉). The evidence is that Baoyu hung the eulogy on a branch when he finished, and the maid, who was by his side, saw someone coming out from the furong bush. Thus, it is obvious that furong refers to hibiscus. My translation of furong as lotus does not mean that I reject the argument for hibiscus. Rather, I believe that Baoyu’s notion of furong does not distinguish lotus and hibiscus as both are beautiful flowers representing valuable qualities. Based on Qingwen’s personality and the eulogy’s attention, I choose lotus to emphasize the quality of purity. [2] The White Emperor (Bai di 白帝) is one of the five Heavenly Emperors who takes charge of the West and autumn. See Fang Xuanling 房玄齡 (579-648 C.E.), Jin shu 晉書 (Taipei: Dingwen shuju 鼎文書局, 1980), 11.292 [3] Jiu鳩 refers to various species of pigeons and symbolizes small-sized birds. Zhen 鴆 is a mythical species of poisonous birds said to have existed in Southern China during ancient times and is referenced in many Chinese myths, annals, and poetry. For an account in which Empress Lü 呂后 (241-180 B.C.E.) used zhen wine to poison Liu Fei 劉肥 (d. 189 B.C.E.), see Ban Gu 班固 (32-92 C.E.), Han shu 漢書 (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju 中華書局, 1962), 38.1987-8 [4] Zhi鷙 is said to be a type of fierce and powerful bird according to Shuowen jiezi 說文解字 and Yu pian 玉篇. See Xu Shen 許慎 (fl. 100 C.E.), ed. Xu Xuan 徐鉉 (916-991 C.E.), Shuowen jiezi, Sibu congkan 四部叢刊, 4a.9a [5] Ci shi薋葹, which translates as dense stinkweeds, is taken from a line in Qu Yuan’s 屈原famous “Encountering Sorrow” (“Li sao” 離騷): ci lu shi yi ying shi xi 薋菉葹以盈室兮. [6] Gu 蠱, referring to gu chong 蠱蟲 here, is said to be the most poisonous worm or insect. When putting various poisonous insects in a pot, they would fight until there is only one left. The survival is called gu and considered to have the strongest toxicity. It can be used for medicine but is more often associated with shamanism. Together with gu, chai 蠆, which means scorpion, is also a representative of extreme toxicity. For gu’s account, see Chao Yuanfang 巢元方 (fl. 605-616 C.E.), Chaoshi zhu bing yuan hou lun 巢氏諸病源候論 (Taipei: Shangwu 商務, 1980), 4.2-3 [7] Gaohuang膏肓 is a critical acupuncture meridian at one’s back. If the disease reaches the gaohuang meridian, it is too late for the patient to be cured. For an anecdote Lord Jing of Jin 晉景公 (d. 581 B.C.E.), where gaohuang first appeared to indicate incurable illness, see Du Yu 杜預 (222-285 C.E.) and Kong Yingda 孔穎達 (574-648 C.E.) comm., Chunqiu Zuo zhuan zhengyi 春秋左傳正義, Wuyingdian shisan jing zhu shu 武英殿⼗三經注疏, 18.28a [8] Changsha 長沙 refers to the famous Western Han 漢writer Jia Yi 賈誼 (200-168 B.C.E). He served as the Grand Tutor (taifu 太傅) of King of Changsha and was thus also called Jia Changsha. The Shiji 史記 records, Emperor Wen of Han 漢文帝 (203-157 B.C.E.) appreciated Jia’s talent and wanted to appoint him as the lord, but the aristocrats and senior officials protested. Jia Yi was eventually banished to Changsha. See Sima Qian 司馬遷 (145-86 B.C.E.), Shiji (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1959), 84.2491-2 [9] Yanmen雁門 refers to the Yanmen Pass, which locates at modern Shanxi 山西 Province. As a mountain pass that includes three fortified gatehouses along the Great Wall, it controls access between the valleys of central Shanxi and the Eurasian Steppe. It is considered as the foreign realm when one goes beyond the pass. The one passing the Yanmen is Wang Zhaojun 王昭君 (51-15 B.C.E.), was sent by Emperor Yuan of Han 漢元帝 (75-33 B.C.E.) to marry the Chanyu 單于 of the Xiongnu 匈奴 Empire for diplomatic purposes. See Fan Ye 范曄 (398-445 C.E.), Hou Han shu 後漢書 (Taipei: Dingwen shuju, 1981), 80.2941 [10] The Juku Isle 聚窟州 is a mythical place which can be found in a collection of tales of the strange, Shu yi ji 述異記. It is recorded in the book that a special tree grows in the Juku Isle on the Western Sea. Its root can be made into the incense of immortality. The deceased will revive when they smell it. See Ren Fang 任昉(460-508 C.E.), Shu yi ji (Shanghai: Shanghai guji chubanshe 上海古籍出版社, 1987), 54 [11] After hearing the legends of immortals in the three sacred mountains, The First Emperor of Qin 秦始皇 (259-210 B.C.E.) sent a group of people on a voyage to seek them to get medicine for immortality. The Sacred Raft (ling cha 靈槎) refers to the group. See Sima, Shiji, 6.247 [12] Sheyue 麝月and Tanyun 檀雲 are the names of two maids of Baoyu. [13] The Seventh Night 七夕 refers to the Seventh Night Festival 七夕節, also known as the Qiqiao Festival 乞巧節. It is to celebrate the annual meeting of the cowherd 牛郎 and weaver girl 織女 on the seventh day of the seventh month in Chinese mythology. As a tradition, girls will hang up their needles to pray for dexterity in needlework. [14] During the Three Kingdoms period, after Xi Kang 嵇康 (223-262 C.E.) and Lü An 呂安 (d. 262 C.E.) were killed by Sima Zhao 司馬昭 (211-265 C.E.), their friend Xiang Xiu 向秀 (227-272 C.E.) once walked pass their old residence and heard someone playing a flute. The sad music reminded him of his friends, so he composed a fu piece called “Missing Old Friends” (“Si jiu fu” 思舊賦). See Xiao Tong 蕭統 (501-531 C.E.), Wenxuan 文選 (Shanghai: Shanghai guji chubanshe, 1986), 719-22 [15]Dou cao 鬥草 is a girls’ game that appears in Chapter Sixty-Two in Hong lou meng 紅樓夢. The player who presents the most beautiful or rarest plant or flower wins the game. [16]Pao can xiu xian 拋殘繡線 is a phrase from the most famous chapter “The Interrupted Dream” (“Jing meng” 驚夢) in The Peony Pavilion (Mudan ting 牡丹亭). The maid Chunxiang 春香 uses this phrase to express her concern that Du Liliang 杜麗娘, feeling restless, casts aside her needlework. See Tang Xianzu 湯顯祖 (1550-1616 C.E.), Mudan ting 牡丹亭 (Beijing: Renmin wenxue chubanshe 人民文學出版社, 1963), 42 [17] Runan 汝南 is the name of a county which was established in the Han dynasty and located in the modern Henan 河南 Province. The King of Runan in the Jin 晉 dynasty had a favored consort named Biyu 碧玉. When Biyu died, the King of Runan composed a song to memorialize her. See Du You 杜佑 (735-812 C.E.), Tong dian 通典 (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1988), 232 [18] Zizhe 梓澤, also known as Jingu Garden 金谷園, was a Chinese garden built by Shi Chong 石崇(249-300 C.E.) from the Jin dynasty. Shi’s political opponent Sun Xiu 孫秀 (d. 601 C.E.) had his eyes on Shi Chong’s beautiful consort Lüzhu 綠珠 and asked for her. Shi twice refused. The angry Sun Xiu instigated the prince to kill Shi. Hearing the news, Shi sighed and told his beloved consort, “I am in serious danger because of you.” Lüzhu shed tears and replied, “I am willing to sacrifice myself for you.” Then, she jumped off from a building in Jingu Garden and died. For a detailed account, see Fang, Jin shu, 33.1008 [19] Ye Fashan 葉法善 (616-722 C.E.) is a Tang Daoist master. It is said that Ye wanted the famous calligrapher Li Yong 李邕 (674-746 C.E.) to write an epitaph for his grandfather, but Li refused. At night, Ye used his Daoist magic to summon Li, who was asleep, to write the epitaph. For Ye’s biography, see Liu Xu 劉昫 (888-947 C.E.), Jiu Tang shu 舊唐書 (Taipei: Dingwen shuju, 1981), 191.5107-8 [20] Li Changji 李長吉 (790-816 C.E.), also known as Li He 李賀, is a talented Tang poet. The tale says that when he was about to die, a messenger from Heaven appeared in front of his sickbed. The messenger told him that he was summoned by the Heavenly Emperor. Li thanked him but refused to go. The messenger then explained that a new tiered pavilion was built, and he was ordered to write a memorial for it. Li wept and died soon. For a detailed account, see Dong Gao 董誥 (1740-1818 C.E.), Quan Tang wen 全唐文 (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1987), 780.8149 [21]Ji 箕 and Wei尾 are two constellations of the Five Lunar Lodgings of the East 東方五宿, belonging to the Twenty-Eight Lunar Lodgings 二十八星宿 of the Chinese constellation system. Ji looks like a dustpan, and Wei looks like a tail. They first appeared collectively as a fixed phrase in the Zhuangzi 莊子. [22]Wei 危 and Xu 虛 also belong to the Twenty-Eight Lunar Lodgings. [23] Fenglong 豐隆, according to Wang Yi 王逸’s commentary to the “Encountering Sorrow,” is the God of Clouds but can also be the God of Thunders. See Hong Xingzu 洪興祖 (1090-1155 C.E.), Chu ci bu zhu 楚辭補註 (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1983), 31. [24]Xuan fu 懸附, often written as fu xuan, refers to polyp and tumor, which are considered as extra and extremely unpleasant parts of one’s body. The term appears in the “Great Master” (“Da Zhong shi” 大宗師) in Zhuangzi: “He sees life as polyp and tumor.” See Sha Shaohai 沙少海, Zhuangzi ji zhu 莊子集註 (Guiyang: Guizhou renmin chubanshe 貴州人民出版社, 1987), 79 [25] The Fair Virgin (Su nü 素女) is a mythical fairy who is specialized in musical instruments and singing. The Chu ci piece “Nine Regrets” (“Jiu huai” 九懷) written by Wang Bao 王褒 (90-51 B.C.E.) mentions the Fair Virgin as a talented singer. See Hong, Chu ci bu zhu, 268 [26]The River Goddess (Fu fei宓妃) is said to be the goddess of the Luo River. It says in Cao Zhi’s 曹植 (192-232 C.E.) famous fu piece “Luo River Goddess” (“Luoshen fu” 洛神賦) that the goddess of the Luo River is called Fu fei. See Xiao Tong, Li Shan 李善 (630-689 C.E.) comt., Wenxuan (Hong Kong: Shangwu yinshuguan 商務印書館, 1960), 402 [27] The legend says, the daughter of Lord Mu of Qin 秦穆公 (683-621 B.C.E), Nongyu 弄⽟, when playing the bamboo flute one night, heard a man singing to her music. Since she could not locate the man, Nongyu fell sick. When the man, named Xiao Shi 蕭史, was found and brought to her, she recovered. The couple lived happily for a few years. One night, when they played the bamboo flute and sang together, as usual, two phoenixes arrived. They thus rode the phoenixes and left. See Wang Shumin 王叔岷 (1914-2008 C.E.), Lie xian zhuan jiao jian 列仙傳校箋 (Taipei: Zhongyang yanjiuyuan zhongguo wen zhe yanjiusuo choubeichu 中央研究院中國⽂哲研究所籌備處, 1995), 80-84 [28] Hanhuang 寒簧 is the name of another fairy who specializes in music. The wooden tiger refers to Yu敔, a traditional Chinese musical instrument. It is a wooden percussion instrument carved in the shape of a tiger with a serrated back comprising twenty-seven "teeth", used for court ritual music. It was played by striking its head three times with a bamboo whisk and then scraping it across the serrated back once to mark the end of a piece of music. [29] Mount Song 嵩山 is one of, and in the center of, the Five Mountains (wu yue 五岳). It is located in Henan Province. [30]Dowager of Mount Li 驪山 is a goddess in Daoist culture. For a tale of her encountering with a mortal, see Li Fang 李昉 (925-996 C.E.) comp., Taiping guang ji 太平廣記 (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1961), 14.102 [31] The “Xian Pond” 咸池 is said to be a song in Yao’s 堯 time and composed by the Yellow Emperor 黃帝 according to Zhou li 周禮. See Lu Xuanxun 盧宣旬 collated., Chong kan Song ben shisan jing zhu shu fu jiao kan ji 重刊宋本十三經注疏附校勘記 (Taipei: Yiwen yinshuguan 藝文印書館, 1965), 22.338 [32] The Red Stream (Chi shui 赤水) is a legendary river, which appears in both Zhuangzi and “Li sao.” See Sha, Zhuangzi ji zhu, 130; see also Hong, Chu ci bu zhu, 45 [33] The Pearl Forest (Zhu lin 珠林) is a legendary forest where all the tree leaves are pearls. See Wu Renchen 吳任臣 (1628?-1689? C.E.), Shan hai jing guang zhu 山海經廣注 (Taipei: Taiwan shangwu yinshuguan 台灣商務印書館, 1972), 6.3b [34] The Suspending Garden (Xuan pu 玄圃) is also written as 懸圃. It is said to be at the peak of Mount Kunlun 昆侖 where immortals live according to Wang Yi’s commentary to “Heavenly Question” (“Tian wen” 天問). See Hong, Chu ci bu zhu, 92


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