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From Historical Records to History of Han Dynasty :The Transition and Historic Significance
Historical Records,History of Han Dynasty,Sima Qian,Ban Gu,Historiography,
|Publication Year :||2008|
As the title indicates, the subject of this book centers on the transition that took place from Historical Records to History of Han Dynasty. Using the interaction of historiography and politics in the Western and Eastern Han periods to conduct a general yet detailed investigation, the historical significance of developments in Chinese historiography of this era will be explained. This study also intends to further understand the important key factors in the formation and development of traditional historiography as well as to forge a new path for scholars through a comparative examination of the two above books.
The first chapter of this book therefore deals with defining the concepts and scope involved, which is then followed by a retrospective study on previous literature dealing with the subject. Afterwards come the goals, methods, and a synopsis of the structure of the study as a whole.
The second chapter first deals with the challenges presented by Historical Records in the Han period, specifically how the Grand Historian boldly dealt with the hundred years of history from the Qin into the Han dynasty. Following in his father’s footsteps and representing the efforts of both father and son, Sima Qian completed the book known as Historical Records, establishing an important model in Chinese historiography. Furthermore, Historical Records continues in another important tradition, The Spring and Autumn Annals of Confucius, dealing with modern history by emphasizing the notion of “connecting the changes of past and present” to discuss politics. This tradition, however, unavoidably touches on negative aspects towards the Qin conventions adopted without change by the Han rulers, which is why the Han court viewed it as “indirect writing of mockery, injurious to the present ruler,” thus forming a new challenge in historiography towards contemporary politics.
When politics was confronted by the dawn of a new historiography in the form of Historical Records, rulers had to formulate certain policies in response. The third and fourth chapters of the present study deal with the policies of the court in dealing with Historical Records along with the responses of historians at the time, being divided into four periods of change for further examination.
The first period extends from the time when the Historical Records book was completed to the announcement by Sima’s grandson Yang Yun of a surviving copy, representing a time of suppression and copy-making. It was then that the Historical Records had not yet come to the attention of the court, but when the palace library got hold of a copy, it came under restrictive and suppressive policies. All those in violation were as good as given the death penalty, which is why the contents of the Historical Records were not circulated outside the court. A surviving copy, however, was passed down to the Grand Historian’s son-in-law and daughter, and it was at this time that part of the contents were circulated, gradually raising the interest of a few people and being copied.
The second period is from the announcement of Yang Yun’s surviving copy of the Historical Records to Emperor Chengdi’s bestowal of a copy to Ban You of the Palace Library, representing an era of announcement and deletion. Yang Yun’s announcing of a copy of the Historical Records fueled its circulation among the people, at the same time also grabbing the attention and admiration of such scholars as Chu Shaosun. This period goes up to the reign of Emperor Chengdi, when the Han court had already begun to notice the negative influence towards its rulers created by the Historical Records, which is why the deletion of ten chapters was ordered from it. Emperor Chengdi gave a copy of this edition with “ten missing chapters” to his relative in the Ban clan, making it a third important manuscript edition in addition to the Library and Yang ones.
The third period extends from Emperor Chengdi’s presentation of a copy to Pan You of the Palace Library to the compilation of the Later Transmission of the Historical Records, representing an era of addition and praise. In Chengdi’s reign, the court attempted to resolve the problems created by the Historical Records, on the one hand deleting ten chapters and on the other ordering Feng Shang to compose an addition in the hopes of redirecting the influence of the book towards a direction more beneficial to the ruling government. The circulation of the Historical Records had already gained by leaps and bounds at this time and those continuing the Historical Records rose in great numbers, the most famous and verifiable being from the hands of Yang Yun and Chu Shaosun, totaling as many as eighteen authors. In the trend of “growing weary of the Han” that started from the middle Western Han period, the contents of the Historical Records for the most part were “mocking of the Han House.” Playing an important role in this respect, it therefore was related to the fall of the Western Han itself. The new Xin court, with an attitude towards reforming the Han court, took the means of praising historiography and actually commending the Grand Historian’s efforts.
The fourth period goes from the time when Ban Biao wrote his Later Transmission for the Historical Records to the completion of History of Han Dynasty, representing a time of offense and replacement. This was when the Eastern Han looked back on the demise of the Western Han and strove to use strong political means to interfere with scholarship, with the two methods of prophetic writings and historiography standing out most of all. First was the unprecedented offense of “privately revising imperial history,” in which the authority of history writing was taken back into the hands of the government. Then there was the order for Ban Gu to compile History of Han Dynasty with its “praising the merits of the Han” replacing the Historical Records and eradicating its negative influence. Finally, Yang Zhong was ordered to make major revisions and deletions to the original Historical Records. These three channels provided the Eastern Han house with an ideal method of finally resolving the impact of the Historical Records.
With the circulation of Historical Records and policy changes of rulers, historians of the two Han periods took different approaches in response. The fifth chapter of the present study discusses this era from the viewpoint of three directions: evaluations of historians towards Historical Records, later additions to the book, and the appearance of new writings.
After understanding the process of change from Historical Records to History of Han Dynasty during the Western and Eastern Han, the sixth chapter of the present study builds upon it to reevaluate the transformation that took place between these two books and its historical significance. Ban Gu, following the idea of Emperor Mingdi, wrote History of Han Dynasty in order to “honor in manifest the Han House.” Honoring the Han House and separating the past from the present meant that from thereafter Chinese historiography would narrate the past but not discuss the present, becoming essentially incomplete. In addition, observing the notions of the “Heavenly One” and “the past and present” in History of Han Dynasty, in view of the times, was in the service of promoting and honoring the Han House. Finally, in reviewing Ban Gu’s life, his character and actions were thus all in the interest of self-promotion.
The seventh chapter of the present study is the conclusion. Starting with the original plan of the Grand Historian, later books in historiography would follow suit, with each period “coming down to the present day” as they continually composed new forms of contemporary history. However, Ban Gu’s blind upholding of the Han effectively cut off the past from the present as he skillfully orchestrating the Historical Records into turmoil. Later historiography would then use History of Han Dynasty to divide history into periods, gradually leading the tradition of contemporary history in Chinese historiography to disappear and thus making it incomplete as historians dared not face actual historiography. The grand notion of “connecting the changes of past and present” in the Historical Records thus was weakened thereafter.
|Appears in Collections:||歷史學系|
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