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Wei zhi

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  • Written: c. 297 CE
  • Chinese/Japanese: 魏志 (Wèi zhì / Gi shi)

The Wei zhi ("Records of Wei"), compiled around 297 CE, is the official dynastic history of the Chinese kingdom or dynasty of Cao Wei. The document is of particular significance as containing a relatively extensive contemporaneous description of the political or social structures, and social or cultural lifestyles, of the people of Yayoi period Japan. It is this description which serves as the chief textual account of Himiko and Yamatai.

The text, which refers to Japan as "Wa," describes it as consisting of mountainous islands in the middle of the ocean, to the southeast of Taifang prefecture (southern Korea). Possibly aware of the brief description in the 1st c. CE Book of Han, the Wei zhi indicates that Wa was formerly divided into more than a hundred communities, and that envoys from Wa had come to the Han Dynasty Imperial Court. It then goes on to say that about thirty of these communities were in contact with the court of Cao Wei.

The men of Wa at this time are described as being covered in tattoos, which were used to ward off dangerous large fish, or for other protective purposes; they are said to have worn loincloths, and clothes with few or no stitches, along with headbands, though their hair came down to cover both their ears. The women are said to have pinned their hair up on top of their heads, and to have worn clothes cut all in one piece, with a hole in the top for their heads, using vermillion (朱) and scarlet (紅) for makeup.

The text lists the main agricultural activities of the people of Wa as including the cultivation of mulberry trees, silkworms (sericulture), wet-field rice, and ramie, noting the absence of any major livestock. Their bows are described as being shorter than the Chinese bows on the bottom half, and longer on the top half, with arrows made of bamboo, iron, and sharpened bone arrowheads; the people of Wa are said to also fight with shield and halberd.

The text also describes the Japanese climate as warm and mild, saying that the people go barefoot year round, and describing very briefly the structure of their households, and funerary practices. Envoys from Wa to China are said to have observed certain mourning taboos, including not bathing, cleaning, or otherwise preparing themselves nicely, due to an apparent belief that such practices were necessary, spiritually or mystically, for ensuring that the mission went well.

As in ancient China, the Wa people are said to have used bones and tortoise shells for divination.

Following further descriptions of social behaviors and cultural practices, such as the clapping of hands instead of bowing or kneeling before superiors, and other aspects of the hierarchical structures of the society, the text then goes on to describe the queen Himiko (or Pimiko), and her polity's relationship with the Wei, sending tribute and receiving formal recognition in return.

References

  • David Lu, Sources of Japanese History, New York: McGraw-Hill (1973), 4, 11-14.
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