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).

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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.
Unfortunately, even these pages present not much more than a sketchy and stereotyped narrative of cultural decline; only in its final section on the sacrificial music of Ssu-ma Ch'ien's own emperor Han Wu-ti [CHINESE TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (r.
The text speaks of the "nineteen songs" of the present emperor, clearly referring to the nineteen "Chiao-ssu ko" [CHINESE TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], the "hymns for the suburban sacrifices." We know that Ssu-ma Ch'ien stopped his work on the Shih-chi in about 100 B.C.; but the latest of the nineteen sacrificial hymns--number 18--dates as late as 94 B.C.(17) Ssu-ma Ch'ien therefore could not have spoken of nineteen songs.(18)
7: The Memoirs of Pre-Han China by Ssu-ma Ch'ien (Bloomington: Indiana Univ.
Ssu-ma Ch'ien, for example, placed transcriptions of the stone monuments that the First Emperor ordered thrown up in the conquered eastern states - whose texts were invariably wrapped in pious sentiments and intended to exalt the emperor's achievements - "in ironic juxtaposition with acts of imperial folly" (p.
Ssu-ma Ch'ien's estimation of the First Emperor was ultimately rather judicious: "In taking the empire Ch'in was frequently cruel, but in changing the world its achievements were great," he wrote.(3) The First Emperor failed dramatically, however, to impose a posthumous historical image of his own choosing.
Within this framework Ssu-ma Ch'ien places names, information about these individuals, important events, and specific dates.
The Ch'ing scholar Chao I [UNKNOWN TEXT OMITTED] (1727-1814) noted that officials whose achievements or mistakes did not merit separate biographies could be treated in the tables, and he further observed that the information in the tables allowed the biographies to avoid lengthy explanations that would unduly complicate the narrative.(4) More recently, Hsu Fu-kuan [UNKNOWN TEXT OMITTED] has proposed that Ssu-ma Ch'ien used the tables to highlight key events.(5) This last suggestion contradicts the preceding point, which held that the tables communicate nonessential information, and raises a crucial question: are the tables merely indexes and supplements, or do they embody interpretive insights?
If we turn to Ssu-ma Ch'ien's own writings, we find him ambivalent on the function of the chronological tables.
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?(12) Are we to read the tables as useful aids or as repositories of hidden, profound interpretations?