The New Chinese Classics
First Historian of China:
Szma Tan and the Shr Ji
A Taeko Brooks, E Bruce Brooks, Stephen Durrant, Eric Henry, and Barbara Meisterernst
This collaborative study, growing out of the WSWG 22 Conference in 2005, explores the long ignored but vital question of the authorship of the Shr Ji, the first (and for centuries, the only) comprehensive history of China. The answer to the authorship question turns out to require that the surface meaning and the underlying historical agenda of the Shr Ji be entirely reappraised (it consists of a Dauist substrate and a Confucian overlay; Ban Gu later faulted it is too Dauist). Part of the credit for its widely praised literary excellence also needs to be reassigned to its sources, the lost Chu/Han Chun/Chyou and the partly extant Jan-gwo Tsv.
Szma Tan, whose official title was Grand Astrologer, and whose court function was to predict astral phenomena and to interpret terrestrial omens (such as a newly discovered ancient ritual vessel), had a strong interest in the ideological wars of his time. In these he participated from what can best be called an eclectic Dauist position. On receiving his office as Astrologer in the early years of Emperor Wu, about 0139, Tan gained access to the Palace Library, where omen records were kept, and where other texts were also stored. He conceived the notion of combining the narrative portions of that trove into a consecutive account of China from the beginning down to its present period of glory under Emperor Wu. He concocted a new genealogy of China, tracing all of its ruler lineages from a mythical Dauist ancestor, the Yellow Emperor. He interpreted the rise and fall of the careers of important officials in terms of a principle, drawn straight from the Dau/Dv Jing, of abandoning success before success abandons you: in the world so envisioned, the only winners are the quitters. Tan conceived and designed on a broad scale, but his actual handling of historical materials leaves something to be desired. He was deceived by the career of the imaginary statesman Su Chin, and dislocated the chronology of the major 04th century rulers to make room for him, a decision producing vast confusion for the historians of later ages, and only recently corrected. It can be shown that Tan made elementary errors in copying one source text, and at one point even seems to have dropped it on the floor and picked it up again with its sections in the wrong order.
Tan died in 0209, and his son Chyen took over the project. In line with intellectual trends of the time, and wanting the best for his son, Tan had raised Chyen as a Confucian. That Confucian second author now played havoc with the writings of the Dauist first author. Interpolations were made in earlier chapters, denigrating figures whom Tan had admired or, in his eclectic way, at least tolerated. Ameliorations were added to the chapter on Confucius, not eliminating anything the father had written (some of it snide), but adding compensatory praise. Additions to other chapters highlighted the plight of persons who, like Chyen, had suffered neglect or worse in their careers. The design of the work was enlarged by Chyen to include chapters on specifically Confucian subjects, such as the teaching tradition of the Confucian classics (SJ 121) and to support the war policy of Emperor Wu (Tan the Dauist had instead favored the peace and prosperity party) by including peoples on the margins of China, now considered as rightfully subject to the Chinese state. Tan had been personally discreet, and had elevated discretion into a rule of life. Chyen, on the contrary, had the Confucian's confidence of rectitude, and the Confucian's propensity to speak truth to power. He defended a losing general at court, aroused the Emperor's ire, and was castrated for his pains. He finished his life still in service to Emperor Wu, but now schooled in discretion. He worked at odd moments to complete the Shr Ji, which he regarded as the basis for his standing with posterity (he had one daughter, but no sons), but died with several chapters still partly or wholly lacking. Efforts, both private and governmental, to complete it finally succeeded in the last years of Han, leaving substantially the work we now possess. (Rumors that huge tracts of the Shr Ji were supplied from the later Han Shu have proved to be without foundation).
So much for the personal story. This book also includes considerations of the sources, the inconsistent ideologies, and even the grammar, of the Shr Ji, the last considered as an independent test of the two-generation authorship theories here propounded.
Tan's role in the Shr Ji has been one of Sinology's best-kept secrets. It was been minimized by Chyen himself (in SJ 130), swept under the rug by later specialists, and happily left there by adoring modern readers, who are much moved by the personal tragedy of Chyen, and are fully willing to take at face value Chyen's claim of sole authorship. Fang Bau's 18th century notes showing a Tan/Chyen authorship difference in certain chapters were massively ignored by later scholarship. Wang Gwo-wei, at the beginning of the 20th century, first put hints about Tan where modern scholars would be likely to see them, and from across the seas, Chavannes in his incomplete but magnificently annotated translation left a page or so on the question. None of this sufficed to budge the standard perception. Gu Jye-gang faced the issue squarely, hailing Tan, not Chyen, as the true Great Historian of China. This too has not visibly changed popular ideas about the Shr Ji. The present work considers all the evidence, evaluates the authorship of each of the 130 chapters of the Shr Ji, and presents to the scholars of the future a full and not a narrow account of how the Shr Ji actually came to be. A benefit of this result for historians of the pre-Han classical period (for large tracts of which, the Shr Ji has been the only source) is that the credibility, and the tendency, of the text can now be more precisely evaluated, and its various historiographical agendas more accurately allowed for.
Table of Contents of First Historian of China:
Chapter 1: The Han Milieu (A Taeko Brooks)
Chapter 2: Tan and Chyen (E Bruce Brooks)
Chapter 3: Linguistic Distinctions (Barbara Meisterernst)
Chapter 4: The Chu/Han Chun/Chyou (Stephen W Durrant)
Chapter 5: The Jan-gwo Tsv (Eric Henry)
Chapter 6: Completing the Shr Ji (E Bruce Brooks)
Chapter 7: The Ren An Letter (Stephen W Durrant)
Chapter 8: The Agenda of Tan (A Taeko Brooks)
Chapter 9: Reappraising Chyen (Stephen W Durrant)
Even casual users of the Shr Ji will need to take account of these findings. The history of the Warring States, for which the Shr Ji has always been regarded as a primary source, will at many points require to be rewritten (or in many places, unwritten) as a result. Its sources, few of them credible in their own right, have been more fully exposed, and its agendas, themselves mutually conflicting, have been made plainer.
A TAEKO BROOKS is Research Associate, and E BRUCE BROOKS is Research Professor of Chinese, at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. STEPHEN W DURRANT is Professor of History (Emeritus) at the University of Oregon. ERIC HENRY is Senior Lecturer in Chinese (Emeritus) at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. BARBARA MEISTERERNST is Research Professor at Humboldt Unviersity, Berlin.
First Historian of China: Szma Tan and the Shr Ji
Approxinately 320 pages
Tentative $49.95 cloth. ISBN 978-936166-34-3
Tentative $26.95 paper. ISBN 978-036166-74-9
Tentative Release Date: November 2015
When announced, this book may be ordered from a lnk to be supplied here.
19 June 2013 / Contact The Project / Exit to Publications Page