Records of the Grand Historian

Records of the Grand Historian

pic = Shiji.jpg
picsize = 206px

t = 史記
s = 史记
p = Shǐjì
w = Shih-chi
j = Si2 gei3
y = Sígei
The "Records of the Grand Historian", also known in English by the Chinese name 史記 or "Shiji", written from 109 BC to 91 BC, was the magnum opus of Sima Qian, in which he recounted Chinese history from the time of the Yellow Emperor until his own time. (The Yellow Emperor, traditionally dated ca. 2600 BC, is the first ruler whom Sima Qian considers sufficiently established as historical to appear in the Records.) As the first systematic Chinese historical text, the Records profoundly influenced Chinese historiography and prose. In its impact, the work is comparable to Herodotus and his "Histories".


The 130 volumes (i.e. scrolls, now usually called "chapters") of the text classify information into several categories:
#12 volumes of Benji (本紀) or "Basic Annals", contain the biographies of all prominent rulers from the Yellow Emperor to Qin Shihuang and the kings of Xia, Shang, and Zhou dynasties. The biographies of four emperors and one empress dowager of the Western Han before his age are also included. Besides, though Xiang Yu never actually ruled all the country, his biography was contained in this class.
#30 volumes of Shijia (世家) or "Hereditary Clans", contain biographies of notable rulers, nobility and bureaucrats mostly from the Spring and Autumn and Warring States periods.
#70 volumes of Liezhuan (列傳) or "Memoirs", contain biographies of important individual figures including Laozi, Mozi, Sunzi, and Jingke.
#8 volumes of Shu (書) or "Essays", treat of economics and other topics of the time.
#10 volumes of Biao (表) or "Chronologies", are timelines of events.


Unlike subsequent official historical texts that adopted Confucian doctrine, proclaimed the divine rights of the emperors, and degraded any failed claimant to the throne, Sima Qian's more liberal and objective prose has been renowned and followed by poets and novelists. Most volumes of "Liezhuan" are vivid descriptions of events and persons. This has been attributed to the fact that the author critically used stories passed on from antiquity as part of his sources, balancing reliability and accuracy of the records. For instance, the material on Jing Ke's attempt at assassinating first emperor of China was an eye-witness story passed on by the great-grandfather of his father's friend, who served as a low-ranking bureaucrat at court of Qin and happened to be attending the diplomatic ceremony for Jing Ke. It has been observed that the diplomatic Sima Qian has a way of accentuating the positive in his treatment of rulers in the Basic Annals, but slipping negative information into other chapters, and so his work must be read as a whole to obtain full information. There are also discrepancies of fact between various portions of the work, probably reflecting Sima Qian's use of different source texts; from these it appears that his great work did not receive a final editorial polish.


Joseph Needham wrote in 1954 that many scholars doubted that Sima's "Records of the Grand Historian" had contained accurate information about such distant history, including the thirty kings of the Shang Dynasty (c. 1600–c. 1050 BC). Many scholars argued that Sima couldn't possibly have had access to written materials which detailed history a millennium before his age. However, the discovery of oracle bones at an excavation of the Shang Dynasty capital at Anyang (Yinxu) matched twenty-three of the thirty Shang kings that Sima listed. Needham writes that this remarkable archaeological find proves that Sima Qian "did have fairly reliable materials at his disposal—a fact which underlines once more the deep historical-mindedness of the Chinese."Needham, Joseph. (1972). "Science and Civilization in China: Volume 1, Introductory Orientations". Richmond: Kingprint Ltd., reprinted by permission of the Cambridge University Press with first publication in 1954. ISBN 052105799X. Page 88.]

ee also

*"Twenty-Four Histories"


Further reading

*Hulsewé A.F.P. (1993), “Shih chi”, "Early Chinese Texts: a bibliographical guide" (editor—Loewe M.) p. 405-414 (Berkeley: Society for the Study of Early China).
* Sima Qian (1993), "Records of the Grand Historian of China. Qin Dynasty". Translated by Burton Watson (Hong Kong: The Research Centre for Translation [The Chinese University of Hong Kong] ; New York, Columbia University Press). ISBN 0-231-08168-5 (hbk); ISBN 0-231-08169-3 (pbk)
* Sima Qian (1993), "Records of the Grand Historian of China. Han Dynasty II". (Revised Edition). Translated by Burton Watson (New York, Columbia University Press). ISBN 0-231-08168-5 (hbk); ISBN 0-231-08167-7 (pbk)
*Ssu-ma Ch'ien (1961), "Records of the grand historian of China: Han Dynasty I", Translated from the Shih chi of Ssu-ma Ch'ien by Burton Watson (Hong Kong: The Research Centre for Translation [The Chinese University of Hong Kong] ; New York: Columbia University Press). Revised Edition (1993): ISBN 0-231-08165-0 (pbk), 0-231-08164-2.
*Ssu ma Ch’ien (1994), "The Grand Scribe’s Records I: the basic annals of pre-Han China" (editor—Nienhauser W.H. Jr.) (Bloomington: Indiana University Press). (An annotated translation.)
*Ssu ma Ch’ien (1994), "The Grand Scribe’s Records VII: the memoirs of pre-Han China" (editor—Nienhauser W.H. Jr.) (Bloomington: Indiana University Press). (An annotated translation.)

External links

* [ The Original Text in its Entirety (Chinese)]
* [ A comparative reading on the texts in both modern and classical Chinese]
* [ CHINAKNOWLEDGE Shiji 史記 "Records of the Grand Scribe.]
* [,M1 English version]

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