Sima Qian and Han Historical Writing

SimaQian and Han Historical Writing

SimaQian and Han Historical Writing

TheHan Dynasty was among the longest of China’s main dynasties inregard to power and prestige. It is compared to the influence thatthe Roman Empire had on the West as its influence in the East wasequally significant. It lasted about four centuries which in Chinesehistory was a golden age in arts, technology and politics. As suchvarious scholars have shown immense interest in the Han Dynasty.Among writers in Chinese history is Sima Qian. Sima Qian provides arich literature on Chinese history. Qian was an astrologer at thecourt of Wu of Han Empire. The Chinese historic writers portray thesocial, economic, religious and political dimensions of the Chinesepeople during the Han dynasty. This essay will look at thecontribution of history writers in understanding of the Han Dynasty.The various dimensions will be explored in regard to how they havebeen portrayed in the texts by various authors.

Thefirst evidence of historical writers in regard to Chinese Han Empireis the political succession of the various dynasties. All subsequentempires looked upon the Han Dynasty as an aspiring model of a strongand a united empire and self sustaining government (Qian,1993).Emperor Gaozu known as Liu Bang was the first Han Emperor whodefeated the last opposition against him. The authors of Chinesehistory portray Liu as a leader who was able to unite the people ofChina. The previous rulers had been known to be ruthless and brutal.The last rebellion saw the death of half the population of the HanDynasty a thing that Liu changed. This political connotation ofancient China is well represented by the authors of Chineseliterature. In Qian (1993), Liu is portrayed as a King loved by hispeople for enhancing change and development.

Thegreed for power has also been strongly exhibited by Chinese scholarsof history. The previous dynasties were brutal and rebellion wasdominant throughout the ancient China not until the Han Dynasty.After the death of Liu Bang, Lu Zhi, his impress attempted toconfiscate the empire for the sake of her family. She went to anextent of killing her husband’s son’s born of concubines,mutilated and threw to into a latrine his most favorite mistress. Shealso ensured that all the loyal generals and family members of LiuBang who ruled the fiefdoms were replaced by her own relatives (Owen,1996).The conflict went on for fifteen years till the only surviving son ofLiu Bang was enthroned re-establishing the wrecked lineage. Once inpower, the Liu’s staged a ruthless revenge against the injusticesagainst them by Lu Zhi’s clan. Members of her clan who was foundwas executed (Johnston,1998).

Thisnotion has also been exhibited in the letter to Lian Po and LinXiangru. The able general of Zhao had control of over the army andhad taken the city of Yangjin. Lian Po and Xiangru were two worldsapart. Lian Po used his power to coerce Xiangru to give him the jadein exchange with cities. It is clear that the Chinese emperors werecorrupt as exhibited in this letter. Xiangru knowing very well thathe was weak and could not argue with Lian Po decided to let go of thejades in exchange for the cities, which he knew was almost impossible(Owen, 1996). The literature portrays the political and socialsignificance in the history of Chinese.

Anotherimportant aspect potrayed by authors is the development and growth ofChang’an City. The imperial capital in Chang’an city situated 3kilometers northwest of modern Xi’an was a significant center fortrade (Johnston,1998).The capital was chosen for its strategic significance not just as acentral point where all main roads converged but it became theeastern point of landmark Silk Road. As depicted by Chinese historywriters, the city became a political, cultural, military and economichub. By 2 CE, its population had grown tremendously to over 250,000people (Gernet,1996).

Consequentlythe literature shows how important family is in Chinese leadership.Family members are part of any empire and have a great political andsocial influence. Every empire stays strong thanks to the support ofthe family members. The social and political issues in Chinesedynasties are interrelated. Whereas nepotism is seen as a vice inmost civilized societies or in the west, the Chinese embrace it aspart of forming a united and a strong empire.

Mostdevelopments which triggered economic growth emerged during the HanDynasty. Pulleys and wheelbarrows were used in pulling goods (Gernet,1996).The water-powered trip-hammer plus air pumped into furnaces was usedin pulverizing ores and grains. The opening of the Silk Road isconsidered one of the main economic achievements of the Han Empire.Wu’s administration set out to establish diplomatic missions todifferent leaders in Central Asia which resulted to exploration oftrade networks which connected Xian to Levant shore on Mediterraneanand created new roads for businessmen (Gernet,1996).The result was an increase in business and consequently economicprogression of the dynasty. In addition, it encouraged continuouscultural exchange between different traditional (Owen,1996).

Paperwas also produced in the Han Dynasty. During these times, papers weremostly used for the wrapping of fish rather than for document orrecord keeping. Nevertheless, most of literature that we had at thetimes was mainly from tombs. Others were found on wooden tablets andbamboo slips. The documents that were found include historicalrecords, mathematical problems, government records, poetry, a hugedictionary and the largest ancient large scale census of all timewhich reported 57.6 million (Qian,1993).Writers have portrayed these documents as important in learning thehistory of the Han Empire.

Traditionaland religious beliefs have been shown in the Chinese history. Thefall of the empire was surrounded by a lot of mysteries. Severalnatural calamities occurred including floods, tremors, grasshopperplagues and were believed to be an indication of anger by the gods.Prophets saw this as near the end of the dynasty (Johnston,1998).

Calamitiesand injustices persisted. Eunuchs grew into a powerful gang in theblood-spattered political court wrangles gaining control andenriching themselves leading to a massive protest by members ofConfucian group against the injustices and corruption of theauthorities (Qian,1993).A peasant uprising called the Yellow Turban Rebellion emergedthreatening the emperor. This led to the end of the Han dynasty.

SimaQian great works of writing have been able to depict all the aspectsof the Han dynasty and to a larger extent the history of the Chinese.His tone and mode of presentation brings out the picture of theancient Han Dynasty. He has highlighted significant aspects in hiswriting regarding the people of china including the economic, social,political and religious beliefs. Through his work, readers experiencethe time and understand the Han Dynasty in a clearer manner.Ultimately, the Han dynasty is one of the historical Chinese empiresthat have impacted and shaped the modern China. The Chinese cultureand traditions have over the years been embraced despite the changesin time and technological development. The value for family forinstance is an important measure in this culture. Sima Qian, wasfound guilty at some point in his life was castrated, something thatwas humiliating as he did not have a child. However, he withstoodthis humiliation to see that he fulfilled his father’s dream ofwriting history of the Han Dynasty.


Gernet,J. (1996). Ahistory of Chinese civilization.Cambridge University Press.

Johnston,A. I. (1998). Culturalrealism: Strategic culture and grand strategy in Chinese history.Princeton University Press.

Owen,S. (Ed.). (1996). Ananthology of Chinese literature: beginnings to 1911(pp. 622-624). New York: WW Norton.

Qian,S. (1993). Recordsof the grand historian: Han dynasty.A Renditions-Columbia University Press Book.