Ssu-Ma Ch'Ien, Grand Historian of China

Ssu-Ma Ch'Ien, Grand Historian of China

Ssu-Ma Ch'Ien, Grand Historian of China

Ssu-Ma Ch'Ien, Grand Historian of China

Excerpt

Chinese history, possibly unequalled in length and continuity by that of any other nation, has witnessed the rise and decay of a seemingly endless succession of dynastic houses, native and foreign. Chinese thinkers, confronted by this spectacle of evanescent glory, might well have been led, like those of Greece or India, to turn their gaze toward higher realms of metaphysical truth beyond the transience of worldly phenomena. They have indeed at times been so tempted. But for the most part the Chinese have kept their eyes fixed upon this world, bcause they have felt that, if truth is to be discovered at all, it must be discovered in the process of change itself. For this reason the Chinese have been among the most industrious recorders of change, the most indefatigable readers and writers of history ever known.

Ssu-ma Ch'ien (145-90? B. C.) is the first major Chinese historian of whom we have any appreciable knowledge and one of the greatest. His work, the Shih chi or Records of the Historian, in 130 chapters, is a history of the Chinese and foreign peoples known to him from earliest times down to the years of his own life. For some two thousand years since its appearance it has been one of the most widely and affectionately read of all Chinese historical works. Its form became a model for most of the major historical works of later ages; its contents and style have had an incalculable influence upon the literature of China and the countries under the sway of Chinese culture. To repeat an often made analogy, what Herodotus was to the historical tradition of the Greco-Roman world, Ssu-ma Ch'ien has been to that of China, Korea, and Japan.

Ssu-ma Ch'ien's history, covering five major dynasties as well as a . . .

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