The Junzi Prior to Confucius in the Shiji

Dorothee Schaab-Hanke, Hamburg
WSWG 17, Leiden University, 18 September 2003

Dorothee Schaab-Hanke


In some recent studies on the Shiji, the prominent role of Confucius for the author of the Shiji - be it Sima Tan or Sima Qian - has been emphasized in such a way that it was even supposed that Sima Qian had claimed to be a "second Confucius." Thus it is no wonder that the authority of the junzi, the "superior man" or "gentleman," is often implicitly thought of as modelled on Confucius as the ultimate sage.

In the Shiji, however, clear evidence can be found for a concept according to which the authority of the junzi is obviously earlier than Confucius, and according to which Confucius himself is only one of a series of authorities, himself participating in a tradition of authoritative historical judgement, very much in the sense of the saying that he did not create but transmit, "shu er bu zuo." Some of these authorities bear, as the Shiji account reveals, the title "scribe."

My paper will focus on an example which is discussed in the Zuozhuan, Gongyang zhuan and Guliang zhuan and is twice referred to in the Shiji. In one of these references, the words that are quoted as being from the mouth of a "junzi" are exactly the words attributed to a scribe of the 7th century B.C. in the Zuozhuan. The way in which the author of the Shiji reflects on this historical case not only attests his familiarity with the judgements given in the earlier sources, but also reveals how much authoritative value the scribal tradition obviously had for him. It would be interesting to discuss whether the role of the scribe as a moral authority prior to Confucius attested in the Shiji differs from, or rather is taken over from, earlier sources.


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