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Scholars spent 36 years to compile the works of Tang Dynasty poet Du Fu

DU YU | 2017-06-28
(Chinese Social Sciences Today)

Du Fu's Complete Annotated Works

At the invitation of the People’s Literature Publishing House, the compilation of Du Fu’s Complete Annotated Works started in early 1978 under the leadership of Xiao Difei, a professor from Shandong University. The compilation was postponed after Xiao suddenly passed away in 1991, and only half of the work was completed at the time.

The work resumed in 2009 and the book collection was finally published in 2014. Three generations of scholars have worked for 36 years to complete the book collection, a comprehensive study of Tang poet Du Fu. Zhang Zhonggang is the chief editor of the Du Fu’s Complete Annotated Works. He tells the story about the compilation of the book collection that won a Song Yunbin Award.


Du Yu: Du Fu’s Complete Annotated Works is a book collection of 6.8 million characters. What are the biggest challenges that have arisen in the compilation work done during the past three decades? Have you drawn on the recent research achievements?

Zhang Zhonggang: Du Fu has been called the “Poet Sage” and his poems a “history of poetry.” There are reams of documents and materials about Du’s works and we have collected in more than 200 annotated editions. Under circumstances like this, we have to make the final selection from a large amount of scholarly information.

It takes a lot of time and energy to finish this work, even for the scholars with great ability to differentiate. Also, many people don’t understand his works, because Du Fu frequently made allusions to the classics or ancient works in his writing.

Studies on Du Fu have made remarkable progress in the past two to three decades. Research achievements are fruitful and new views are emerging. We should particularly draw on textual research on names and historical facts in Du’s works. We adjusted chronicles of his works based on my edited Dictionary of Du Fu and other recent findings. The new edition has outclassed the former ones due to its complete style, precise annotations, comprehensive collection and massive scale.


Du Yu: What supported you to finish the arduous work despite all the difficulties?

Zhang Zhonggang: Xiao Difei has said: “It is an interesting undertaking to study Du Fu. I enjoyed it even though it has a lot of hardships. Studies on Du’s poetry require scholars to make tremendous efforts, so obsorbed as to neglect sleep and meals. The wonderful thing is that there is always a group of people of this kind.” Xiao was one of them. He still worked at the age of 86 and continued to revise our drafts up until one month before he passed away. I was so impressed by his persistence for scholarship.

Du Fu’s Complete Annotated Works has taken three scholarly generations 36 years to compile. The rigorous and diligent academic efforts are likely to be more meaningful than the book collection itself.

Du Fu is a poet and a typical representative of excellent traditional Chinese culture so that there have been constant compilations and studies of his works over the past 1,300 years. The publication of the book collection along with its frequent winning of academic awards are destined to promote studies on Du Fu in a more thorough way.