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Guo Pu Crosses the River: Migration Anecdotes in Jinshu Biographical Narratives

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  12 January 2021

Evan Nicoll-Johnson
Evan Nicoll-Johnson ( is Assistant Lecturer in East Asian Studies at the University of Alberta, Canada.
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In the early fourth century CE, after the escalation of a series of succession disputes among the imperial Sima clan, the Jin dynasty collapsed and its capital city of Luoyang 洛陽 was destroyed. However, the end of the dynasty did not cause the Sima clan to fall from power entirely. Instead, the Jin dynasty was reestablished in the new capital of Jiankang 建康, the city known today as Nanjing. The earlier incarnation of the Jin would come to be known as the Western Jin dynasty, while the restored Jin dynasty is referred to as the Eastern Jin. The impact of this cataclysm on the inhabitants of Luoyang and the surrounding regions is difficult to quantify, and even harder to understand in more personal terms. We know that many of those who did not perish fled to the southeast, crossing the Yangzi River to resettle in the new capital. Later texts refer to this period as “The disorder of the Yongjia Reign” (Yongjia zhi luan 永嘉之亂). This epithet uses the imperial reign name given to the period between 307 and 313, even though the disasters did not neatly begin and end with those years. Although the Yongjia troubles are addressed throughout surviving historiographic material, there is no work of history dedicated to documenting the ensuing exodus from Luoyang to Jiankang.

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Copyright © The Association for Asian Studies, Inc. 2021

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1 Fang Xuanling 房玄齡 (579–648), Jinshu 晉書 (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju 1974), 26.791 (henceforth JS). For an English translation, see Yang, Lien-sheng, “Notes on the Economic History of the Chin Dynasty,” Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 9, no. 2 (June 1946): 169CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

2 Wells, Matthew, “From Spirited Youth to Loyal Official: Life Writing and Didacticism in the Jin shu biography of Wang Dao,” Early Medieval China, no. 21 (2015): 911Google Scholar.

3 Campany, Robert, Strange Writing: Anomaly Accounts in Early Medieval China (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1996)Google Scholar.

4 Cao Daoheng 曹道衡, “Jinshu ‘Guo Pu zhuan’ zhi yi” 《晉書⋅郭璞傳》志疑, Suzhou daxue xuebao (Zhexue shehui kexue ban) 蘇州大學學報 (哲學社會科學版)2 (1983): 120–23.

5 Declercq, Dominic, Writing against the State: Political Rhetorics in Third and Fourth Century China (Leiden: Brill, 1998), 249314Google Scholar.

6 Declercq, Writing against the State, 262.

7 For an account of the many conflicts during this period, see Graff, David, Medieval Chinese Warfare, 300–900 (London: Routledge, 2002), 3553Google Scholar.

8 Migration to the region in fact began before the Yongjia era, with perhaps two million people fleeing south between 290 and 307. See Crowell, William, “Northern Émigrés and the Problem of Census Registration,” in State and Society in Early Medieval China, ed. Dien, Albert (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1990), 175Google Scholar.

9 Crowell, “Northern Émigrés and the Problem of Census Registration,” 178.

10 JS 39.1158.

11 JS 39.1159.

12 JS 65.1746.

13 JS 36.1067.

14 Gong Bin 龔斌, ed. and annot., Shishuo xinyu jiaoshi 世說新語校釋, comp. Liu Yiqing 劉義慶 (403–444) (Shanghai: Shanghai guji chubanshe, 2011), 874; Richard Mather, trans., Shih-shuo hsin-yü A New Account of Tales of the World, 2nd ed. (Ann Arbor: Center for Chinese Studies, University of Michigan, 2002), 241–42. Subsequent citations of this text abbreviate the title as SSXY and provide the standard chapter and anecdote number (in this case, 8.51), followed by the page number in the edition by Gong and in the translation by Mather.

15 SSXY 4.20; Gong, 405; Mather, 108.

16 JS 36.1067.

17 Knechtges, David, Ancient and Early Medieval Chinese Literature: A Reference Guide (Leiden: Brill, 2010), 302CrossRefGoogle Scholar. Guo Pu's Er ya annotations are the only surviving pre-Tang commentary on the text and the basis for much later scholarship. See W. South Coblin, “Erh ya,” in Early Chinese Texts: A Bibliographical Guide, ed. Michael Loewe (Berkeley: Society for the Study of Early China, 1993), 97. On Guo Pu's Shanhai jing encomia, see Strassberg, Richard, A Chinese Bestiary: Strange Creatures From the Guideways Through Mountains and Seas (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002), 1418CrossRefGoogle Scholar, with translations throughout.

18 For the “Rhapsody,” see Xiao Tong 蕭統, Wenxuan 文選 (Shanghai: Shanghai guji chubanshe, 1986), 12.557–7, translated in David Knechtges, Wen xuan or Selections of Refined Literature (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2014), 2:321–51. On the “Wandering Immortals” poems, see Zornica Kirkova, Roaming into the Beyond: Representations of Xian Immortality in Early Medieval Chinese Verse (Leiden: Brill, 2016), 34.

19 On the surviving fragments of Guo Pu's Yijing divination memoir, Yi dong lin 易洞林, see Wei Daifu 魏代富, “Guo Pu Dong lin de banben ji jiazhi” 郭璞《洞林》的版本及價值, Zhou yi yanjiu 周易研究134 (2015): 67–74. The attribution of the text on burial rites, Zangshu 葬書, to Guo Pu is likely spurious. See Yuan Fangming 袁方明, “Zangshu de zuozhe zhenwei kaozheng” 《葬書》的作者真偽考證, Kangding minzu shifan gaodeng zhuanke xuexiao xuebao 16, no. 2 (2007): 47–49.

20 In addition to Cao, “Jinshu ‘Guo Pu zhuan’ zhi yi,” and Wei, “Guo Pu Dong lin de banben ji jiazhi,” see especially the analysis of Guo Pu's literary accounts of his migration and the places he visited while traveling in Michelle Marie Low, “Across the Yangtze: Cultural Memory and Historical Imagination in the Recreation of a Chinese State” (PhD diss., University of Colorado, 2006), 94–151; Zhang Li 張麗, “Guo Pu bixia de Hedong lishi fengmao” 郭璞筆下的河東歷史風貌, Yuncheng xueyuan xuebao 25, no. 3 (2007): 20–24.

21 Though its origins are uncertain, “Dragon wastelands” is thought to refer to land occupied by the Xiongnu.

22 JS 72.1899.

23 Campany, Robert, “Long Distance Specialists in Early Medieval China,” in Literature, Religion and East/West Comparison: Essays in Honor of Anthony C. Yu, ed. Ziolkowski, Erik (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2005), 109–24Google Scholar.

24 Cao, “Jinshu ‘Guo Pu zhuan’ zhi yi,” 120–21.

25 Li Jianguo 李劍國, ed., Xin ji Soushen ji/Xin ji Soushen hou ji 新輯搜神記/新輯搜神後記 (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 2007), “Qianyan” 前言, 63–79. This work is a two-volume critical edition and new recension (Xin ji 新輯) of the texts Soushen ji and Soushen hou ji. The first volume contains Li's recension of Soushen ji as well as a long introductory essay (“Qianyan” ) on the history of both texts. Volume 2 contains only the recension of Soushen hou ji. Pagination of the introduction is separate from that of the texts.

26 Li, Xin ji Soushen ji, “Qianyan,” 85.

27 JS 72.1900; Li, Xin ji Soushen ji, 1:72.

28 Declercq, Writing against the State, 264–66.

29 Li, Xin ji Soushen ji, 1:72–73.

30 Li, Xin ji Soushen hou ji, 2:620–21.

31 Cao, “Jinshu Guo Pu zhuan zhi yi,” 121–22, critiques the historicity of this anecdote.

32 JS 72.1900.

33 Declercq, Writing against the State, 269–74; Lian Zhenbiao 連鎮標, “Guo Pu Yixue sixiang kao” 郭璞易學思想考, Zhou yi yanjiu 46 (2000): 44.

34 JS 72.1900.

35 For Guo Pu's notes on animals in his Er ya annotations, see Donald Harper, “The Cultural History of the Giant Panda (“Ailuropoda Melanoleuca”) in Early China,” Early China 35–36 (2012–13): 186–87, 216–17; Lefeuvre, Jean A., “Rhinoceros and Wild Buffaloes North of the Yellow River at the End of the Shang Dynasty,” Monumenta Serica 39 (1990): 133, 154CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

36 JS 67.1809; cf. SSXY 1.24; Gong, 57; Mather, 11–12.

37 For a complete translation and thorough analysis of this piece, see Declercq, Writing against the State, 289–308.

38 JS 72.1909–10.

39 There are several versions of this anecdote, all attributed to Xu Soushen ji and preserved in various leishu. See Li, Xin ji Soushen hou ji, 2:480.

40 JS 69.1851; cf. SSXY 23.28; Gong, 1449; Mather, 409.

41 SSXY 9.12; Gong, 1004–5; translation mine, cf. Mather, 270.

42 Graham, William T. “The Lament for the South” Yu Hsin's ‘Ai Chiang-nan fu’ (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980), 57CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

43 Graham, “The Lament for the South,” 59.

44 Dien, Albert, Pei Ch'i Shu 45: Biography of Yen Chih-T'ui (Bern: Herbert Lang, 1976), 42Google Scholar. I am using Dien's translation, exchanging only his “barbarian wasteland” for the more literal “dragon wasteland” for 龍荒, as I have done for the occurrence of this term in Guo Pu's Jinshu biography earlier.

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