East Asian Canonical Texts - List Structure Thoughts

After these couple of months of thinking, I think I got a draft. (In fact, this is a second draft, I have an earlier hand-written one that I drew up, before I decide to re-scan the whole Si Ku catalogue.)


How long should the list be? I was looking at historical population of East Asia (in my definition excludes Vietnam) vs. South Asia - roughly East Asia typically has 25% more population than South Asia, yet recently South Asia's population is on par with, and is expected to exceed shortly, that of East Asia. This suggests a list of between 36 and 45 texts.


Let's say it should be 45 texts. Roughly China's population 1.3B, Japan's 120-130M and Korea (North and South together) roughly 60-70M. So roughly, Japan + Korea would be something like 2/15 = 13% of all texts selected. Out of 45 it suggests 6 texts, with Japan's twice the number of Korea's. Say 4 and 2. In terms of influence, it might feel that Japanese is more influential, but it starts only in late 19th century. Some Korean authors participate actively in the Chinese tradition and influenced Chinese authors, while Korean peninsula was also cultural exporter to Japan for since the beginning of the Japanese tradition till maybe say the mid-Tokugawa period.


In China, there is actually a scholastic tradition in the Tibetan language. It would be a pity not to have any text represented in a canonical text list. But given the small population involved. Let's say it would have 1 text.


How should we deal with the remaining list for Chinese-language texts written in China? One good way is to divide that up by the three (quasi-)religious traditions: Confucianism, Daoism and Buddhism. There is hardly any statistics about how many "adherents" of each, fundamentally because most people not only identified with one of these. Luckily, each of these tradition has its own canonical collection of texts - and these are huge collections like Si Ku or Dao Zang (current version from Ming for Daoist texts) or the many different collections of Da Zang Jing (for Buddhist texts). Below are statistics I compiled based on catalogues online.

Collections Number of Titles Number of Scrolls (Juan)
Si Ku Quan Shu
(roughly the Confucian
3,467 79,310
Dao Zang (roughly the
Daoist collection) 
1,476 5485
Taisho (Only includes
texts written by Chinese
in China; excludes translations) 
407 2468

As with any statistics, one really should be careful about what they might mean. First, all of these are still just selection of texts. For Si Ku, what is listed are those that actually got copied in the collections, excluding those 6,786 works whose titles and brief descriptions are written in the catalogues but not actually included into the series. For Buddhist works, the Jia Xing Zang (collected also in Ming, just like Dao Zang) has maybe 3-4 times titles than in the Taisho (compiled in the early 20th century in Japan). Dao Zang also has its later extensions. Second, one needs to know that there are works that are claimed by two sides, especially there are overlaps with Si Ku. And there are works that really shouldn't  be considered as belonging to one of the three traditions, like Mo Zi or the pre-Qin Legalist. Similarly, it is hard to really say whether a novel or a drama or even a poet what tradition he/she be considered.  (Si Ku has another quirk - it does not include novels or dramas.)


If one just looks at titles - among the remaining 38 (=45-4-2-1), if we allocate titles by traditions based on titles included in the collectsions, there should be 25 Confucian texts, 10 Daoist texts, and 3 Buddhist texts.


Let's think more about Buddhist texts. In the South Asian list, 7 Buddhist texts have been included. Buddhism outside of South Asia (and SE Asia) probably should not have more texts selected. The Tibetan work would be Buddhist, and among the Japanese + Korean works there probably would be half Buddhist. So In East Asian list, if we stick with 3 Chinese Buddhist texts in China, it gives a total of 7 Buddhist texts (that plus 3 from Japan / Korea plus 1 Tibetan-language work). So 3 Buddhist texts from China actually works proportionally considering balance within the Buddhist tradition.


Now a ratio of 10 to 3 for Daoist and Buddhist works for the Chinese tradition really is disproportionate. If we exclude Lao Zi / Zhuang Zi (pre-Qin Daoist philosophers) and the Xuan Xue tradition (e.g. Wang Bi), the hard core religious Daoist is at best similar in scale as Buddhist (in fact most likely smaller). Based on this consideration, I personally feel that the roughly 2:1 ratio between Daoist (including Lao / Zhuang / Xue Xue) and Buddhist texts is more reasonable, and in fact aligned with the ratio of volume of works collected (based on number of Scrolls). 

Geography / Language / Tradition No. of Texts
Japan 4
Korea 2
Tibetan 1
China - Buddhist 3
China - Daoist 6
China - Confucian 17 - 29

Why 17-29 for China - Confucian texts? Well, if we want to retain the title ratio of the three collections, if Daoist + Buddhist has only 9 works, then Confucian works should be 17. If we maintain the total text number of 45 - then we could add the 4 slots "unused" by Daoist text and put that to Confucians.


Now in terms of texts selection, as we did in World Canonical Texts list, we know the Chinese list is somewhat condensed, because one titles often contain several different works from vastly different periods. Say for Zhu Xi's Commentaries on the Four Books. It is Four Books - which includes the Analects, Meng Zi, and two chapters from Li Ji (Book of Rites), and it represents Zhu Xi's philsophy. This one title in fact represents 4 works in our typical counting of a title. Of course in other traditions such situation occasionally occur, but in the Chinese case this is prevalent - and my selection of texts (as we will see) somewhat exagerates this.


This what I would propose to do, is to reduce the China - Confucian (Si Ku) texts to  20 (thus making the total list a list of 36 texts), but with the understanding that the total list should have been a list of 45 if the Chinese titles are not so "multi-representative". 

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