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"Historical Records"
    2007-04-27 11:34:38     CRIENGLISH.com

A great book of historiography in China, "Historical Records" is also a great memoirist literal work that casts far-reaching influence on Chinese historiography and literature. Completed in 1st Century B.C. during the Western Han Dynasty, it records the politics, economy, culture and history of 3,000 years starting from the ancient times leading up to the Western Han Dynasty. It is the first general history presented in a series of biographies and started the Chinese biographical literature.

Before introducing you the contribution Historical Records made to the Chinese historiography and literature, let's first take a look at its author Sima Qian. A historian and man of letters in the Western Han Dynasty, Sima Qian's father was an official historian. In his early childhood, Sima Qian enjoyed contemplation and often held his independent opinions toward the historical events and figures in the books. As he grew up, he traveled around the country to review many issues such as local conditions, customs, economic situations, local specialties, historic sites and information about famous historical events and figures. Afterwards, he took over his father's responsibility as an official historian. At that time the records about the former dynasties were written during the period when the state was torn apart by dukes. Therefore, the opinions of narrators are different and shortsighted. When he sorted out the ancient documentaries, he was preparing to write a book about the complete history. However, he was castrated for offending the loyal court owing to political affairs. For this reason, His body and mind were severely injured. Later on the court used him again, but his mind was completely different. He thought that the only purpose of his living is to complete the writing of Historical Records. Si Maqian spent 13years on it, which included 103 volumes and over 500,000 words.

The Historical Records can be divided into five parts: primary chronicle, model, letter, noble family and biography. It focuses on various emperors in history and important political figures. Sima Qian clearly divided the book according to its different stylistic layout. The "primary chronicle" records the prosperity and adversity of emperors of different dynasties and significant historical events. "Model" displays the big events of different period in the form of table. "Letter" is the history on certain issue such as astronomy, calendar system, water conservation, economy, culture and so on. "Noble family" is about the activities and deeds of dukes and nobles of different dynasties. "Biography" is the biography about influential figures in all classes of each dynasty, in which few of them record the history of the minority people.

"Historical Records" was always called "a real record". Si Maqian treated the revised history as the record of deeds of wise emperors, virtuous ministers and the prosperity of certain dynasties. This is different from official historians in former dynasties. The range of the "Historical Record" is much wider than some official history books written in biographical style. He not only recorded politics, but wrote economy, military, culture, astronomy, geography and custom. All of these elements were linked together to construct a colorful world. Because of the bias he had suffered from, Si Maqian especially concerns about the burst of one's life and realization of one's values. As a result, different from the former official histories, "Historical Records" attitude towards good and evil is quite clear-cut. It has not only revealed and satirized the feudal governable class, especially the top governable bloc of Han dynasty, but reflects the rebellion against the feudal tyranny. In addition, it has warmly praised and affirmed a series of characters of middle and down classes, and portrayed a series of patriotic heroes. Many things are rather appropriate in the orthodox historical and ethnical opinions, but in Si Maqian's opinion, they are all worth recording.

"Historical records" has a high value of literature. Using some real historical materials to portray successfully a number of vivid characters has represented its art value; such as the rebellious who rose from the common people and took power of the state, the hero who appeared coward but actually ambitious, the practiced swordsman who was not in illustrious position but prominent, the handsome general who has daring combined with superior judgment and who was victorious in every war, the fierce and malicious assassin, the frail looking intellectual who devised strategies in a tent and was full of wit and resourcefulness, and even the widow who had as much  possession as her country, the beauty who dared to elope with her lover and so on. All these remarkable figures have constituted the most fabulous and significant part of the "Historical Records".

The narrative style of "Historical Records" is concise, vivid, systematic and beautifully written. Especially the dramatic description further enhances its attractiveness. The language of "Historical Records" is simple, brief, popular and smooth; its rhythm is not only leisurely and full of interest. It is changeable, which is always honored as the highest achievements of the Chinese classical prose.



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