Ssu-Ma Chien

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Ssu-Ma Ch’ien


Born circa 145 or 135 B.C.; died 86 B.C. Early Chinese historian; author of the first universal history of China, the Shih chi (Historical Records).

Ssu-ma Ch’ien was the son of the chief historiographer of the Han court, Ssu-ma T’an; in 108 he inherited his father’s post and the materials his father had collected. He worked hard and persistently and, in spite of official disfavor, in the first decade of the first century B.C. he completed his massive and comprehensive work, which served as the model for histories of later dynasties. The Shih chi, consisting of 130 chapters, covers the history of China from ancient times until the late second century B.C. Ssu-ma Ch’ien was the first Chinese historian to use a comprehensive method of historiography: he combined the chronological description of events (“Annals”) with essays on various aspects of societal life (“Treatises”) and biographical accounts. Ssu-ma Ch’ien was an idealist who viewed the development of society as a self-contained circular movement.


In Russian translation:
Izbrannoe. Moscow, 1956.
Istoricheskie zapiski, vols. 1–2. Moscow, 1972–75.
Les Mémoires historiques de Se-ma Ts’ien, vols. 1–6. Translated and annotated by E. Chavannes. Paris, 1895–1969.
Ssu-ma Ch’ien. Records of the Grand Historian of China, vols. 1–2. Translated by B. Watson. New York, 1961.


Konrad, N. I. “Polibii i Syma Tsian’.” In Zapad i vostok. Moscow, 1966.
Krol’, Iu. L. Syma Tsian’istorik. Moscow, 1970.
Watson, B. Ssu-ma Ch’ien: Grand Historian of China. New York, 1958.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.