Luoyang mudan ji 洛阳牡丹记 “On the Peonies of Luoyang”

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The Luoyang mudan ji 洛阳牡丹记 “Peonies of Luoyang” is a treatise on peonies written by the early Song period 宋 (960-1279) scholar Ouyang Xiu 欧阳修 (1007-1072). It is the earliest Chinese description of garden flowers at all. In older treatises on medical herbs, like the Shen Nong bencao jing 神农本草经, peonies are still treated as medical and not as decorative plants. It is known Emperor Yang 隋炀帝 (r. 604-617) of the Sui dynasty 隋 (581-618) had decorated his gardens with different kinds of peonies. The capitals Chang’an 长安 (modern Xi’an 西安, Shaanxi) and Luoyang 洛阳 (modern Luoyang, Henan) became important centres of peony cultivation.

Ouyang Xiu occupied high positions in the central government and was a renowned historian, writer and poet. His great interest for birds and plants is reflected in many of his poems. The book Luoyang mudan ji is only quite short and divided into three chapters. In the first chapter, 24 kinds of peonies are classified qualitatively. In the second chapter, Ouyang Xiu describes the plants and explains their names. In the third chapter cultivation and use of the peonies are described.

Peonies were a wild plant (shanmudan 山牡丹 “mountain peonies”) originating in China’s barren northwestern region of Shaanxi. The appearance of these wild plants is also described by Ouyang Xiu, which was totally different from the later known garden plants.

The language of the Luoyang mudan ji is very poetic and of high quality. It therefore attracted later scholars who expanded the description, like Zhou Shihou 周师厚 who finished a book with the same title in 1082 (to discern it from Ouyang’s book it was called Yinjiang Zhoushi Luoyang mudan ji 鄞江周氏洛阳牡丹记 “The peonies of Luoyang by Master Zhou from Yinjiang”). Similar books were written by Zhang Bangji 张邦基 (Chenzhou mudan ji 陈州牡丹记), Lu You 陆游 (Tianpeng mudan ji 天彭牡丹记), Qiu Daoyuan 丘道源 (Mudan rongru zhi 牡丹荣辱志) from the Song period, as well as Xia Zhichen 夏之臣 (Ping Haozhou mudan 评毫州牡丹), Xue Fengxiang 薛凤翔 (Haozhou mudan shi 毫州牡丹史) from the Ming period 明 (1368-1644), and Niu Xiu 钮琇 (Haozhou mudan shu 毫州牡丹述) and Yu Pengnian 余彭年 (Caozhou mudan pu 曹州牡丹谱) from the Qing period 清 (1644-1911).

The Luoyang mudan ji is included in the collected works of Ouyang Xiu,Ouyang Wenzhong gong quanji 欧阳文忠公全集. The most important faksimile prints are to be found in the collectanea Baichuan xuehai 百川学海,Shuofu 说郛, Shanju zazhi 山居杂志, Biyu conglu 笔余丛录, Qunfang qingwan羣芳清玩, Xiangyan congshu 香艳丛书, and many others. It is included in the large collectanea Siku quanshu 四库全书 and Congshu jicheng 丛书集成.

Contents
1. 花品 Huapin Kinds of flowers (i.e. peonies)
2. 花释名 Huashiming Explanation of the names
3. 风俗记 Fengji su Customs (of cultivation)

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