Ssu-ma Ch'ien

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Ssu-ma Ch'ien

(so͝o`mä chyĕn), 145?–90? B.C., Chinese historian; sometimes called the Father of Chinese History. He succeeded his father, Ssu-ma T'an, as grand historian (an office then dealing with astronomy and the calendar) at the court of the Early HanHan
, dynasty of China that ruled from 202 B.C. to A.D. 220. Liu Pang, the first Han emperor, had been a farmer, minor village official, and guerrilla fighter under the Ch'in dynasty.
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 emperor Wu. There he took up a project on history planned by his father and extended it into a history of China and of all regions and peoples known at that time. Incurring the emperor's displeasure, he suffered the punishment of castration. Rejecting the alternative of suicide, he chose to complete this work, the Shih chi [records of the historian]. In 130 chapters, including basic annals of dynasties or rulers, chronological tables, treatises, hereditary houses, and accounts of famous men and foreign lands and peoples, it has served as a model for subsequent Chinese dynastic histories. Its wide range, many-faceted characterizations, and vivid dialogue have won it the admiration of Asian readers for over 2,000 years.


See Records of the Grand Historian of China, tr. by B. Watson (2 vol., 1961, repr. 1969); study by B. Watson (1958).

References in periodicals archive ?
Having constructed this formidable image of a successful Confucius, Ssu-ma Ch'ien was confronted by the need to explain the reasons for Confucius's fall from grace in Lu and for his subsequent wanderings in search of rulers worthy of his service.
In various ways, some subtle, some direct, the portrait of Confucius that Ssu-ma Ch'ien wove incorporated diverse levels of narrative dealing with the unpredictability of violence.
In another dissimilar but equally powerful comment on violence, Ssu-ma Ch'ien showed that even the descendants of a man of Confucius's integrity could not escape Emperor Wuti's willful power.
This seems to reflect the perspective of later readers instead of the original authors; at the time when Ssu-ma Ch'ien worked on the Shih-chi, the songs were actually being composed and must certainly have been understood by the court officials involved.
Michael Loewe has pointed out that Ssu-ma Ch'ien himself was probably closely involved in this decision.
In this sense, the "Book on Music" suddenly appears as an original text of its own times, some decades after Ssu-ma Ch'ien.
The mighty First Emperor's vain effort to construct his own historical persona and obliterate the memory of all of the Warring States except Ch'in were both undone by the humble brush of the Grand Historian Ssu-ma Ch'ien.
3 Ssu-ma Ch'ien, Shih-chi (Peking: Chung-hua shu-chu, 1959), 15.
Within this framework Ssu-ma Ch'ien places names, information about these individuals, important events, and specific dates.
4) More recently, Hsu Fu-kuan [UNKNOWN TEXT OMITTED] has proposed that Ssu-ma Ch'ien used the tables to highlight key events.
It is clear that Ssu-ma Ch'ien had similar ambitions for his own history--he concludes the Shih chi with the statement "I have hidden away one copy in a famous mountain and a second copy in the capital where they will await the sages and gentlemen of later generations"--but is this intention realized in the tables?
Every year there is a space for each state, and Ssu-ma Ch'ien has noted the major events of the period and the succession of the various feudal houses within this grid.