Commentary on the Water Classic

The Commentary on the Water Classic (Chinese: 水經注; pinyin: Shuǐ Jīng Zhù) is a work on the ancient geography of China, describing the traditional understanding of its waterways and ancient canals, compiled by Li Daoyuan during the Northern Wei Dynasty (386-534 AD). The book is divided into sections by river, each described with its source, course, and major tributaries, including cultural and historical notes.

Commentary on the Water Classic
A map of the Wei River from Shui Jing Zhu
Traditional Chinese水經注
Simplified Chinese水经注

The work is much expanded from its source text, the older (and now lost) Water Classic (Shuijing 水經). The original text described 137 different rivers in China and was traditionally credited to Sang Qin [zh] during the Han dynasty. Qing dynasty scholars gave it a later date (during the Three Kingdoms period) because of the names of the counties and commanderies. Its authorship was then attributed to Jin dynasty scholar Guo Pu. Li Daoyuan's 40-volume, 300,000-character version includes 1252 rivers.

Although very thorough for its time, it did repeat the earlier mistake of the "Tribute of Yu" in viewing the Min as the headwaters of the Yangtze. It was not until the Ming dynasty that Xu Xiake correctly listed the Jinsha as the principal source.

See alsoEdit

An excerpt from the Shui Jing Zhu, in Yang Shoujing's calligraphy (1899)


  • Needham, Joseph (1986). Science and Civilization in China: Volume 3. Taipei: Caves Books, Ltd.
  • Strassberg, Richard E.: Inscribed Landscapes: Travel Writing from Imperial China. University of California Press, Berkeley, Calif. 1994
  • Cihai, Shanghai cishu chubanshe, Shanghai 2002, ISBN 7-5326-0839-5

External linksEdit