Records of the Grand Historian 史记

The foundational text in Chinese civilization

Overview

Chinese Name: 史记

English Name: Shi Ji, Shiji, Records of the Grand Historian, Records of the Historian

Other Names: Taishi Gongshu太史公书, Taishi Gongji太史公记

Author: Sima Qian司马迁

Originally Published: the Western Han Dynasty西汉时期

Genre: History

Shi Ji史记Records of the Grand Historian
Shi Ji 史记 Records of the Grand Historian

Brief Introduction of the Records of the Grand Historian

Records of the Grand Historian, also translated Shiji, is one of the Twenty-Four Histories二十四史, is the first general history of the biography written by Sima Qian司马迁, a historian of the Western Han Dynasty. It records more than 3000 years of history from the era of the Yellow Emperor黄帝 to the era of Emperor Wu of the Han Dynasty汉武帝 (the fourth year of the Taichu period太初四年).

Shiji 史记

In the first year of Taichu (104 BC), Sima Qian began the creation of Taishi Gongshu太史公书, which was later called Shiji史记. It took him 14 years to complete the work.

There are 130 historical records in Records of the Grand Historian, with more than 526500 words, 395000+ words more than Huai Nan Zi淮南子 and 288000+ words more than LvShi Chunqiu吕氏春秋. Historical records has a huge scale and complete system. Moreover, it has a deep influence on the subsequent chronicle history books, and the official history of all dynasties are written in this genre.

shiji史记

Shi Ji is also regarded as an excellent literary work and plays an important role in the history of Chinese literature. It is praised by Lu Xun鲁迅 as “the masterpiece of historians and Lisao without rhyme史家之绝唱,无韵之离骚”, which has high literary value.

The Records of the Grand Historian is divided into five parts:Benji本纪, Biao表, Shu书, Shijia世家, Liezhuan列传. Among them, Benji and Liezhuan are the main body. It takes the political central figures such as emperors in history as the main line of the book. Among them, the three parts of “Benji”, “Shijia” and “Liezhuan” account for most of the book, and all record history centered on writing characters.

As the first large-scale work focusing on describing characters in China, Shiji provides an important foundation and various possibilities for the development of future literature. It has a wide and far-reaching impact on ancient novels, dramas, biographies and prose.

Author of Records of the Grand Historian

Sima Qian (145 BC or 135 BC ~?), born in Longmen龙门 (now Hancheng City, Shaanxi Province陕西韩城), was a historian, writer and thinker of the Western Han Dynasty. Once served as Taishi Ling太史令, and was honored by later generations as Shi Qian史迁, Taishi Gong太史公 and the Father of History历史之父.

Sima Qian司马迁
Sima Qian司马迁

Under the guidance of his father Sima Tan司马谈, the young Sima Qian learned calligraphy and reading. At the age of ten, he was able to read and recite a large number of ancient texts. Such books as Shang Shu尚书, Zuo Zhuan左传 and Guo Yu国语.

Sima Qian began to travel around the world at the age of 20, collecting anecdotes and old stories.

After his father’s death, Sima Qian took over his father’s post of Taishi to sort out and discuss history. Adhering to his father’s will to continue to complete historical works. In the first year of Taichu (104 BC), Sima Qian began the creation of Taishi Gongshu, which was later called Shiji.

Sima Qian 司马迁

However, there was an accident. In the third year of the heavenly Han Dynasty (98 BC), Li Ling was defeated and surrendered to the Huns. Sima Qian was arrested and jailed for defending Li Ling and was castrated, which gave him great physical and mental trauma. After he was released from prison, he endured humiliation and continued to complete his historical books. After 14 years, he created the Records of the Grand Historian.

Excerpts of Shiji

天下熙熙,皆为利来;天下攘攘,皆为利往。

People all over the world are noisy, crowded and busy, all for their own self-interest.

贵上极则反贱,贱下极则反贵,贵出如粪土,贱取如珠玉,财币欲其行如流水。

When prices are extremely expensive, they are bound to fall; If prices are extremely cheap, they will rise. When the price is extremely expensive, we must sell it in time and treat it as dung; When the price is extremely low, you must buy it in time and treat it as jewelry. The circulation of goods and money should be as natural as running water.

智者千虑,必有一失;愚者千虑,必有一得。

A wise man always makes a mistake in thousands of considerations; A foolish man will gain once in a thousand thoughts.

仁者爱万物,而智者备祸于未形,不仁不智,何以为国?

Those who govern the country with benevolence love the world, those who govern the country with wisdom take preventive measures, and those who are not benevolent and wise rely on what to govern the country?

Evaluation of Shiji

The masterpiece of historians is Lisao without rhyme.

Lu Xun鲁迅

Sima Qian visited Xiaoxiang, the West Lake, Kunlun and famous mountains and rivers, and his mind was broad

Mao Zedong毛泽东

‘China in the Classics’ – Records of the Grand Historian

History | Shi Ji: A book written by a castrated man. 

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