photo credits: Wikimedia Commons
Chinese historian and writerwd:Q9372
country of citizenship:
Western Han Dynasty
language of expression: Chinese
occupation: historian, poet, writer, astrologer, philosopher, mathematician, astronomer
Sima Qian ([sɨ́mà tɕʰjɛ́n]; traditional Chinese: 司馬遷; simplified Chinese: 司马迁; pinyin: Sīmǎ Qiān; c. 145 – c. 86 BC) was a Chinese historian of the early Han dynasty (206 BC – AD 220). He is considered the father of Chinese historiography for his Records of the Grand Historian, a general history of China in the Jizhuanti style (紀傳體) covering more than two thousand years beginning from the rise of the legendary Yellow Emperor and the formation of the first Chinese polity to the reigning sovereign of Sima Qian's time, Emperor Wu of Han. As the first universal history of the world as it was known to the ancient Chinese, the Records of the Grand Historian served as a model for official history-writing for subsequent Chinese dynasties and the Chinese cultural sphere (Korea, Vietnam, Japan) up until the 20th century.Sima Qian's father Sima Tan (司馬談) first conceived of the ambitious project of writing a complete history of China, but only completed some preparatory sketches at the time of his death. After inheriting his father's position as court historian in the imperial court, he was determined to fulfill his father's dying wish of composing and putting together this epic work of history. However, in 99 BC, he would fall victim to the Li Ling affair for speaking out in defense of the general, who was blamed for an unsuccessful campaign against the Xiongnu. Given the choice of being executed or castrated, he chose the latter in order to finish his historical work. Although he is universally remembered for the Records, surviving works indicate that he was also a gifted poet and prose writer, and he was instrumental in the creation of the Taichu calendar, which was officially promulgated in 104 BC.
As his position in the imperial court was "Grand Historian" (tàishǐ 太史, variously translated as court historian, scribe, or astronomer/astrologer), later generations would accord him with the honorific title of "Lord Grand Historian" (Tàishǐ Gōng 太史公) for his monumental work, though his magnum opus was completed many years after his tenure as Grand Historian ended in disgrace and after his acceptance of punitive actions against him, including imprisonment, castration, and subjection to servility. He was acutely aware of the importance of his work to posterity and its relationship to his own personal suffering. In the postface of the Records, he implicitly compared his universal history of China to the classics of his day, the Guoyu by Zuoqiu Ming, Lisao by Qu Yuan, and the Art of War by Sun Bin, pointing out that their authors all suffered great personal misfortunes before their lasting monumental works could come to fruition.
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