賴 瑞 和
Collator in Tang China
Center for Tang Studies, Johor Bahru, Malaysia
The Collator (Jiaoshu lang 校書郎 ) was one of the most important “entry-level” posts available to those who just started their official career under the Tang dynasty (618-907). Among major Tang poets and men of letters, as many as eleven began their civil service as a Collator. But little scholarly study has been done on this subject.
This paper investigates 1) the distribution and the number of Collators in Tang government agencies; 2) the contemporary views of Collators and their career prospects; 3) the entry requirements and the ten avenues through which a person could become a Collator; 4) the issue of the so-called “Nominal Collator” (Shi Jiaoshu lang 試校書郎 ), or how a person assumed the title of Collator but served as an official in the provincial government in mid- and late Tang; 5) the three types of Collators; 6) the real nature of their job and their related duties; and 7) their daily life.
The career prospects of a Collator were excellent. Of the eleven major Tang poets or literati who started out as Collator, four later became Chief Ministers, and many rose to high-ranking positions. Though Collator was a minor post at Grade 9, the entry qualification was high and required at least a jinshi 進士 degree or equivalents. Those who began their career in liu-wai 流外 or “out-of-the-current” clerical offices were barred from serving as Collator.
According to Tang sources, a Collator’s job was to “collate” (choujiao 讎校 ). This phrase and a similar term jiaokan 校勘 are still used in modern times, but with a different meaning. Both terms now carry with them the modern scholarly meaning of preparing a critical variorum edition of classical works. However, sources show that Collators in Tang times were quite incapable of working on a critical variorum edition, nor were they expected to do so. In an age before wood-block printing was popular, what they did was simply “proofreading” after a book had been hand-copied by a scribe. This simple job was consistent with the nature of Collator as an “entry-level” post: as a stepping stone toward higher positions. The daily life of Collators as depicted in Tang prose writings and poems was leisurely and gracious. Their working environment, among bookshelves in imperial libraries, was well secluded and protected, away from the harsh realities encountered by, say, the District Defender (Xianwei 縣尉 ), another major entry-level post.