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The Biography of Ssu-ma Ch'ien



[Following custom, Ssu-ma Ch'ien begins his account with a genealogy of his family, tracing it back, as is the wont with Chinese writers, to the golden ages of the legendary past.]

In ancient times in the reign of Chuan Hsu, the Nan-cheng Chung was ordered to take charge of the affairs of heaven, while the Peicheng 2 Li took charge of those of earth. 3 In the reigns of Tang and Yü [i.e., Yao and Shun] the descendants of Chung and Li were reestablished as the managers of the affairs of heaven and earth. During the Hsia and Shang dynasties these same Chung and Li families continued generation after generation to manage the affairs of heaven and earth. The Earl of Ch'eng Hsiu-fu in the Chou dynasty was their descendant. In the time of King Hsuan of the Chou [827-781 B. C.] the family lost its position and became the Ssu-ma family. 4 The Ssu-ma family for generations had charge of the historical records of the Chou. 5

In the time of Kings Hui and Hsiang [676-618 B. C.] the Ssu-ma family left Chou and went to Chin. 6 When the General of the Central Army, Sui Hui of Chin, fled to Ch'in, the Ssu-ma family moved to Shao-liang. 7 From the time the Ssu-ma family left Chou and went to Chin, they became broken up and scattered, some living in Wei, some in Chao, and some in Ch'in.

From the branch of the family in Wei came the Prime Minister of Chung-shan. 8 The branch of the family in Chao was famous as hereditary masters of the art of swordsmanship. 9 K'uai-wai was a descendant of this branch. 10 In the Ch'in branch there was a Ssu-ma named Ts'o, who argued his opinions with Chang I. 11 Thereupon King Hui sent Ts'o to lead an army against Shu. 12 After subduing it, he remained to guard his conquest. To's's grandson Chin 13 served the Lord of Wu-an, Po Chi. The name of Shao-liang was changed to Hsia-yang. 14 Chin and the Lord of Wu-an massacred Chao's army at Ch'ang-p'ing. 15

After their return to Ch'in they were both ordered to die at Tu-yu. 16 They were buried at Hua-ch'ih.

Chin's grandson was Ch'ang. Ch'ang was head of a Bureau of Iron under the Ch'in dynasty.

In the time of the First Emperor of Ch'in [221-210 B. C] K'uaiwai's great-great-grandson Ang served as general to the Lord of Wuhsin, 17 seizing Ch'ao-ko. 18 When the various feudal lords were being made kings, Hsiang Yü made Ang the king of Yin. When the Han forces attacked Ch'u [i.e., Hsiang Yü], Ang went over to the side of the Han and his territory became the Prefecture of Ho-nei. 19

Ch'ang had a son named Wu-tse. 20 Wu-tse was a Master of the Market under the Han. 21 Wu-tse was the father of Hsi. Hsi was a Lord of the Fifth Rank. 22 All these men when they died were buried at Kao-men. 23

The Biography of Ssu-ma Tan

Hsi was the father of T'an, who became The Grand Historian. 24 The Grand Historian studied astronomy with T'ang Tu. 25 He received instruction in the Book of Changes from Yang Ho. 26 With Master Huang he studied the theories of the Tao. 27 The Grand Historian held office during the eras from Chien-yüan to Yüan-feng [140-110 B. C.]. He was distressed that scholars seemed to fall short in their understanding and were misled by their teachers, and therefore he wrote a discussion of the essential teachings of the Six Schools.

The Discussion of the Essentials of the Six Schools

[It was the practice of Ssu-ma Ch'ien and later Chinese historians to insert in the biographies of great literary men the texts of their more outstanding poetry, essays, or speeches. Instead of describing in detail the life of his father, Ch'ien has here chosen to present the complete text of what he must have considered his father's most important contribution to literature.]

The Great Commentary of the Book of Changes says: "There is one moving force, but from it a hundred thoughts and schemes arise. All have the same objective, though their ways are different." 28 The schools of the Yin-yang, the Confucianists, the Mohists, the Logicians, the Legalists, and the Taoists all strive for good government. The difference among them is simply that they follow and teach different ways, and some are more penetrating than others.

It has been my observation that the theories of the Yin-yang School put strong emphasis upon omens and teach that a great many things are to be shunned and tabooed. Hence it causes men to feel restrained and bound by fear. But in its work of arranging correctly the all-important succession of the four seasons it fills an essential need.

The Confucianists are very broad in their interests, but do not deal with much that is essential. 29 They labor much and achieve but slight success. Therefore their discipline is difficult to carry out to the fullest. But in the way in which they order the etiquette between lord and subject and father and son, and the proper distinctions between husband and wife and elder and younger, they have something that cannot be altered.

The Mohists are too stern in their parsimony to be followed and therefore their teachings cannot be fully applied. But in their emphasis upon what is basic [i.e., agricultural production] and upon frugal usage they have a point which cannot be overlooked.

The Legalists are very strict and of small mercy. But they have correctly defined the distinctions between lord and subject and between superior and inferior, and these distinctions cannot be changed.

The Logicians cause men to be overnice in reasoning 30 and often to miss the truth. But the way in which they distinguish clearly between names and realities is something that people cannot afford not to look into.

The Taoists teach men to live a life of spiritual concentration and to act in harmony with the Unseen. Their teaching is all-sufficient and embraces all things. Its method consists in following the seasonal order of the Yin-yang School, selecting what is good from the Confucian and Mohist teachings, and adopting the important points of the Logical and Legalist schools. It modifies its position with the times and responds to the changes which come about in the world. In establishing customs and practices and administering affairs, it does nothing that is not appropriate to the time and place. Its principles are simple and easy to practice; it undertakes few things but achieves many successes.

It is not so with the Confucianists. They consider that the ruler of men must be the model of conduct for the world. He shall set the example, they declare, with which his ministers need only comply; he shall lead and his ministers follow. But if it were like this, then the ruler would have to labor while the ministers followed along at their ease.

The essential of the Great Tao is to discard strength and envy and to do away with intelligence and understanding; one must discard these and entrust himself to the practices of Taoism. If the spirit of a man is too much used it will become exhausted; if his bodily substance is put to much labor it will wear out. If a man has early in life exhausted his spirit and body, 31 it is unheard of that he should hope to attain the long life of heaven and earth.

The Yin-yang School has its teachings and ordinances which apply to each of the four seasons, the eight trigrams, the twelve signs of the zodiac, and the twenty-four divisions of the year, and it declares that anyone who follows these ordinances will meet with good fortune, while anyone who goes against them will die or at least lose his position in life. But this is not necessarily so. Therefore I say that the Yin-yang School causes men to feel restrained and bound by fear. Spring is the time for planting, summer for nurturing, fall for harvesting, and winter for storing away. This is the ever-constant principle of the way of Heaven and if one does not abide by this he cannot regulate and govern the world. Therefore I say that in the all-important succession of the four seasons the Yin-yang teaching cannot be done without.

The Confucianists consider the Six Classics as their law and model. But the books and commentaries of the Six Classics run to thousands or tens of thousands. Generations of scholars could not master their study, nor could a man in his whole lifetime thoroughly comprehend all their rules. 32 Therefore I say that the Confucianists are broad in their interests but do not deal with much that is essential, that they labor much but achieve only slight success. But as to the etiquette established by the Confucianists between ruler and subject and father and son and their distinctions between husband and wife and elder and younger, none of the other schools can change or improve upon this.

The Mohists also 33 honor the ways of the emperors Yao and Shun, and speak much of their virtuous actions, saying: "The foundations of the halls of Yao and Shun were three ch'ih high with three steps of earth leading up; their halls were roofed with untrimmed thatch and their timbers and rafters were untrimmed. These emperors ate from earthen plates and drank from earthen bowls. Their food was coarse grain with a soup of greens. In summer they wore clothes of coarse fiber and in winter the skins of deer." The Mohists bury their dead in coffins of t'ung wood three ts'un thick, and when they raise their voices in mourning they do not give full vent to their grief. They teach that funerals must be conducted in this way, setting this up as an example for all people. But if everyone followed their rules, then there would be no distinction between the honorable and the lowly. Ages differ and the times change, and the things people do need not always be the same. Therefore I say that the Mohists are too parsimonious to be followed. But since they emphasize what is essential and are frugal in use, theirs is the way to assure an ample supply for both individual and family. This is the point in which the Mohists excel and none of the other schools can afford to overlook it.

The Legalists do not distinguish between those who are close to oneself and those who are distant; they do not differentiate between the honorable and the lowly, but judge all men alike by their laws. If this is so, then the obligation to treat those near to oneself with special deference and to honor those who are worthy of honor is destroyed. Such laws can serve as an expedient for a particular time, but they cannot be used for long. Therefore I say that the Legalists are strict and show little mercy. But in so far as they place the ruler in a lofty position and the subject in a lowly one and make clear the division of authority between the various officers of government so that there can be no usurping of unlawful power, they have a point which the other schools cannot improve upon.

The Logicians indulge in hair splitting and tortuous reasoning, making it impossible for people to follow their meaning. They decide everything on the basis of terms and overlook the realities. Therefore I say that they cause men to be overnice and often to miss the truth. But if they can succeed in setting aside the names of things and get at their reality so that reason is not lost, 34 then they have something that one cannot afford not to look into.

The Taoist School proposes the doctrine of "doing nothing," but it insists that thereby "there is nothing that is not done." 35 Its truths are easy to practice but its words difficult to understand. Its teaching takes emptiness and inaction as its basis, and compliance and accordance [with nature and the times] as its practice. It recognizes as a fact that nothing is complete and finished, that nothing is constant in form. Therefore it is able to penetrate the spirit of all things. It does not put material things first, nor does it put them last; therefore it is able to master all things. It has laws and yet it is as though it had no laws, for it follows the times in all its undertakings. It has rules and yet it is as though it did not have them, because it follows things and accords with them. Therefore it is said that the Sage is without great skill 36 but follows the changes of the times. Emptiness is the constant law of the Tao. Accordance is the abiding principle of the ruler. Thus all the officers proceed to their business with a clear understanding of their respective duties. He who in reality comes up to what he claims to be is called upright, but he who does not actually measure up to his name is called vain. If a man pays no heed to vain words, then evil will not arise. The distinction between worthy and unworthy will become clear of itself, and white and black will become apparent. Thus one can choose the one and discard the other and thereby accomplish all things. He can be at one with the Great Tao which, formless and dark, yet lightens the whole world. Thus may one return again to the Nameless. It is spirit which gives life to all men and they assume their form in bodily substance. If the spirit be put to great use it will become exhausted. If the body be made to labor greatly it will become worn out. When substance and spirit part there is death. He who is dead cannot return to life, for that which has become separated cannot again be joined. 37 Therefore the Sage regards those things with gravity. From this we may see that the spirit is the basis of life and the substance is its vessel. If a man does not first put at rest his spirit and substance, 38 but says instead, "I can govern the world!", what reason can there be in his words?

The Early Years of Ssu-ma Ch'ien and Death of Ssu-ma Tan

Since The Grand Historian was always in charge of astronomical affairs he was not concerned with the governing of the people. He had a son named Ch'ien. 39 Ch'ien was born at Lung-men. 40 He plowed and pastured on the sunny side of the hills along the River. 41 At the age of ten he could read the old writings. 42 When he was twenty he traveled south to the Yangtse and Huai rivers [Kiangsu], he climbed K'uai-chi and looked for the Cave of Yü 43 [Chekiang], and he saw the Nine Peaks [Honan]. 44 He sailed down the Yuan and Hsiang rivers and in the north forded the Wen and Ssu rivers [Shantung]. He studied the learning of the cities of Ch'i and Lu. 45 He observed the customs and practices inherited from Confucius and took part in the archery contest at Mount I in Tsou. 46 He met with trouble and danger in P'o and Hsüeh and P'eng-ch'eng. 47 Then he passed through Liang and Ch'u and returned home.

After this Ch'ien entered government service as a Lang-chung. 48 He took part in the western expedition to the south of Pa and Shu, marching south as far as Ch'iung, Tse, and K'un-ming. 49 He returned and reported on his mission.

In the same year [no B. C.] the Son of Heaven first performed the Feng Sacrifice for the house of Han. 60 But The Grand Historian [Ssu-ma T'an] was forced to stay behind at Chou-nan 51 and could not take part in the ceremony. He was filled with resentment over this and lay on the point of death. 52 When his son Ch'ien returned from his mission, he visited his father at the place where he was staying between the Lo and Yellow rivers. 58 The Grand Historian grasped his hand and said, weeping, "Our ancestors were Grand Historians for the house of Chou. From the most ancient times they were eminent and renowned when in the days of Yü and Hsia they were in charge of astronomical affairs. In later ages our family declined. Will this tradition end with me? If you in turn become Grand Historian, you must continue the work of our ancestors. Now the Son of Heaven, following the tradition of a thousand years, will perform the Feng Sacrifice on Mount Tai. But I shall not be able to be present. Such is my fate! Such indeed is my fate! After I die, you will become Grand Historian. When you become Grand Historian, you must not forget what I have desired to expound and write. Now filial piety begins with the serving of your parents; next you must serve your sovereign; and finally you must make something of yourself, that your name may go down through the ages for the glory of your father and mother. This is the most important part of filial piety. 54 Everyone praises the Duke of Chou, saying that he was able to set forth in word and song the virtues of King Wen and King Wu, publishing abroad the Odes of Chou and Shao; he set forth the thoughts and ideals of T'ai-wang and Wang Chi, extending his words back to Kung Liu, and paying honor to Hou Chi. 55 After the reigns of Yu and Li the way of the ancient kings fell into disuse, and rites and music declined. Confucius revived the old ways and restored what had been abandoned, expounding the Odes and Documents and making the Spring and Autumn Annals. From that time until today men of learning have taken these as their models. It has now been over four hundred years since the capture of the unicorn. 56 The various feudal states have merged together and the old records and chronicles have become scattered and lost. Now the house of Han has arisen and all the world is united under one rule. I have been Grand Historian, and yet I have failed to set forth a record of all the enlightened rulers and wise lords, the faithful ministers and gentlemen who were ready to die for duty. I am fearful that the historical materials will be neglected and lost. You must remember and think of this!" Ch'ien bowed his head and wept, saying, "I, your son, am ignorant and unworthy, but I shall endeavor to set forth in full the reports of antiquity which have come down from our ancestors. I shall not dare to be remiss!"

Ssu-ma Ch'ien Becomes Grand Historian; the Revision of the Calendar

Three years after the death of his father, Ch'ien became Grand Historian. 67 He read the various historical records and the books of the stone rooms and metal caskets. 58

Five years after this was the first year of the era T'ai-ch'u. At dawn on the first day of the eleventh month, the day chia-tzu [Dec. 25, 105], the zenith of winter, the calendar of the heavens was first corrected and set up in the Illustrious Hall, 59 All the spirits received the chronology. 60

The Grand Historian remarks: 61 "My father used to say to me, Tive hundred years after the Duke of Chou died Confucius appeared. It has now been five hundred years since the death of Confucius. There must be someone who can succeed to the enlightened ages of the past, 62 who can set right the transmission of the Boo\ of Changes, continue the Spring and Autumn Annals, and search into the world of the Odes and Documents, the rites and music.' 63 Was this not his ambition? Was this not his ambition? How can I, his son, dare to neglect his will?"

A Discussion of the Spring and Autumn Annals and the Shih chi

The High Minister Hu Sui 64 once asked, "For what reason was it that Confucius in ancient times made the Spring and Autumn Annals?"

The Grand Historian replied, "I have heard Master Tung 65 say, "When Confucius was Chief Minister of Justice in Lu, the ways of the Chou had declined and fallen into disuse. The feudal lords abused him and the high officials obstructed his plans. Confucius realized that his words were not being heeded, nor his doctrines put into practice. So he made a critical judgment of the rights and wrongs of a period of two hundred and forty-two years in order to provide a standard of rules and ceremonies for the world. He criticized the emperors, 66 reprimanded the feudal lords, and condemned the high officials in order to make known the business of a true ruler and that was all. Confucius said, "If I wish to set forth my theoretical judgments, nothing is as good as illustrating them through the depth and clarity of actual events." ' 6T

"Above, the Spring and Autumn makes clear the Way of the Three Kings, and below it discusses the regulation of human affairs. It distinguishes what is suspicious and doubtful, clarifies right and wrong, and settles points which are uncertain. It calls good good and bad bad, honors the worthy, and condemns the unworthy. It preserves states which are lost and restores the perishing family. It brings to light what was neglected and restores what was abandoned. In it are embodied the most important elements of the Kingly Way.

"The Book of Changes makes clear heaven and earth, the yin and the yang, the four seasons and the five elements. Therefore it is most useful in matters of change. The Rites regulates human relations, and so is excellent in matters of conduct. The Book of Documents records the deeds of the former kings, and so is most useful in government. The Odes tells of mountains and rivers, ravines and valleys, of birds and beasts, plants and trees, and the the male and female of beasts and birds. Thus it best expresses the sentiments of the people. Through music joy is achieved, and so it excels in harmony and peace. The Spring and Autumn differentiates between right and wrong, and so is most helpful in ruling men. Thus the Rites regulates mankind, music spreads harmony, the Documents tells us of deeds, the Odes expresses the will of men, the Changes relates of transformation, and the Spring and Autumn discusses right. 68

"Therefore, for dispersing revolt and turning the people back to the right, none of the other Classics can compare to the Spring and Autumn. The Spring and Autumn consists in all of some ten or twenty thousand words, and its ideas number several thousand. The answers to how all things join and break away are to be found in it. It records thirty-six instances of assassination of rulers, and fifty-two of kingdoms which perished, 69 and of feudal lords who were forced to flee and could not protect their altars of the soil and grain, the number is too great to be reckoned. If we reflect on how these things happened, we will find in every instance it was because they lost the True Way. Therefore the Book of Changes says, 'The error of a fraction of an inch can lead to a difference of a thousand miles.' 70 And it also says, 'When a minister assassinates his lord or a son murders his father, this is not something that came about in one morning or evening, but something that had built up gradually over a long period.' 71 For this reason one who rules a state cannot afford not to know the Spring and Autumn. If he does not, he will fail to perceive slander near about him, or will not understand the reason when rebels rise behind his back. 72 A man who is a minister must know the Spring and Autumn, or he will not understand what is proper in managing his regular duties, nor, when an emergency arises, will he know how to exercise independent judgment. One who is a ruler or a father and does not understand the principles of the Spring and Autumn will bring upon himself the infamy of chief evildoer, while one who is a minister or a son and does not understand the principles of the Spring and Autumn will surely fall into the sin of rebellion or regicide and suffer the judgment of death. All of this comes truly from thinking one knows the good when one does not really understand its principles. Such men will stand indicted by the moral judgments and will not dare to deny their guilt.

"Now a lack of understanding of the meaning of propriety and duty leads to lords who are not true lords, ministers who are not true ministers, fathers who are not fathers, and sons who are not sons. If a lord is not a true lord, then there will be revolt. If a minister is not a real minister, then he will suffer punishment. If a father is not a father, he will act immorally; and if a son is no son, he will be without filial piety. These four failures are the greatest faults of mankind. When one finds himself guilty of one of these great faults, he will have to accept his punishment without daring to make excuses. Therefore the Spring and Autumn is the basis of propriety and duty.

"Rites serve to put interdictions in advance on what has not yet taken place, while laws act on what is already past. Therefore the usefulness of laws is easy to perceive, while it is difficult to understand the reason for the interdictions of rites." 73

Hu Sui replied, "In Confucius' time, there was no enlightened ruler above, and below worthy men were not employed. Therefore he made the Spring and Autumn Annals, handing down to posterity his theoretical judgments in order to decide on questions of propriety and duty and to serve as the model for a king. 74 But you, sir, live in a time when there is an enlightened emperor above, while all below are men fit for their positions. All affairs are handled properly, each ordered in its correct place. Now in your writings, what is it you are trying to show?"

The Grand Historian replied: "Yes, yes. What you say is quite right, but you misunderstand my purpose. I have heard my father say that Fu Hsi, purest and most virtuous of ancient men, made the eight trigrams of the Book of Changes; the Book of Documents records the glorious age of Yao and Shun, and at that time the rites and music were composed; the makers of the Odes celebrated the golden age of T'ang and Wu in song. The Spring and Autumn picks out the good and condemns the evil, exalting the virtue of the Three Dynasties and praising the house of Chou. It does not confine itself solely to criticism and ridicule.

"Since the rise of the Han we have come to the time of our enlightened Emperor. He has received auspicious omens and blessings; he has established the sacrifices of Feng and Shan; he has changed the beginning of the year, altered the color of the vestments, and received the Mandate in his majesty and purity; his goodness flows over our land without bound. The multitudinous tribes within the four seas, translating and retranslating their strange tongues, 75 have come knocking at our borders in submission. Those who bring tribute and beg for an audience are too numerous to be told. The ministers and hundred officials with all their might sing the praises of his holy virtue, but still they feel they have not been able sufficiently to publish it abroad.

"Now if there are scholars and worthy men of ability who are not made use of in the government, this is a shame upon the ruler of the kingdom, while if the emperor is one of shining holiness and yet his virtue is not published throughout the land, this is a fault of the men in official position. I myself have for some time held this office [of Grand Historian]. If I should cast aside this shining holiness and supreme virtue and fail to make a record of it; if I should permit the labors of the meritorious ministers, the feudal families, and the worthy officials to fall into oblivion and not be transmitted; if I should allow the words of my father to be forgotten, I could certainly be guilty of no greater sin. When I say that I 'transmitted' a record of past affairs, putting in good order the genealogies and chronicles, it does not mean that I 'made' a work such as Confucius did. Therefore when you compare my writings to the Spring and Autumn Annals, you mistake their true nature."

The Misfortune of Ssu-ma Ch'ien

[Here Ssu-ma Ch'ien refers to the accusation brought against him by the emperor and the punishment of emasculation imposed upon him. The letter to Jen An quoted by Pan Ku, and translated later in this chapter, describes the circumstances of this tragedy in further detail.]

For the next seven years The Grand Historian devoted himself to writing and arranging his book. Then he encountered the misfortune of the Li Ling affair and was plunged into the dark, in bonds. He sighed bitterly and said, "Such is my fault, such is my fault, that I have brought mutilation to my body and may never again serve my lord!" 76 He turned within himself and pondered deeply, saying: "The writers of the Odes and the Documents were troubled and in distress, 77 and they tried to set forth the meaning of their desires and hopes. Of old when the Chief of the West, King Wen, was imprisoned at Yu-li, he spent his time expanding the Book of Changes; Confucius was in distress between Ch'en and Ts'ai and he made the Spring and Autumn; when Ch'ü Yuan was exiled, he composed his poem 'Encountering Sorrow*; after Tso Ch'iu lost his sight, he composed the Narratives from the States; when Sun Tzu had had his feet amputated, he set forth the Art of War; Lü Pu-wei was banished to Shu but his Lü-lan has been handed down through the ages; while Han Fei Tzu was held prisoner in Ch'in, he wrote The Difficulties of Disputation' and 'The Sorrow of Standing Alone'; 78 most of the three hundred poems of the Book of Odes were written when the sages poured forth their anger and dissatisfaction. All these men had a rankling in their hearts, for they were not able to accomplish what they wished. Therefore they wrote about past affairs in order to pass on their thoughts to future ages."

So at last he transmitted a record of the past from T'ao T'ang [Emperor Yao] down to the unicorn, where he stopped. (Beginning with the Yellow Emperor.) 79

Table of Contents of the Shih chi

[Here follows a listing of the contents of the Shih chi chapter by chapter. In Ssu-ma Ch'ien's postface the title of each chapter is preceded by a short description of the subject. When Pan Ku copied this postface into his biography of Ssu-ma Ch'ien, he recorded only the title and number of each chapter and omitted these descriptions. The descriptions are rather meaningless without a knowledge of the contents of each chapter and so I shall omit the entire section. Ssu-ma Ch'ien then continues his narrative.]

Concluding Remarks of Ssu-ma Ch'ien

This our house of Han has succeeded the descendants of the Five Emperors 80 and has carried on the task of unification of the Three Dynasties. 81 The ways of Chou fell into disuse and the Ch'in scattered and discarded the old writings and burned and destroyed the Odes and the Documents. Therefore the plans and records of the Illustrious Hall and the stone rooms, of the metal caskets and jade tablets, became lost or confused.

Then the Han arose and Hsiao Ho 82 put in order the laws and commandments; Han Hsin 83 set forth the rules of warfare; Chang Ts'ang 84 made the regulations and standards; and Shu-sun T'ung 85 settled questions of rites and ceremonies. At this time the art of letters began again to flourish and advance and the Odes and Documents gradually reappeared. From the time when Ts'ao Ts'an 86 put into practice Master Kai's teachings of the Yellow Emperor and Lao Tzu; when Chia Sheng 87 and Ch'ao Ts'o 88 expounded the doctrines of the Legalist philosophers Shen and Shang, and Kung-sun Hung 89 achieved eminence for his Confucian learning, a period of some one hundred years, the books that survived and records of past affairs were all without exception gathered together by The Grand Historian, The Grand Historians, father and son, each in turn held and carried on the position.

Ah, 90 I remember that my ancestors once were in charge of these affairs and won fame in the time of T'ang and Yü, and in the Chou they once again managed them. So the Ssu-ma family generation after generation has been the masters of astronomical affairs. Now it has come down to me. This I remember with awe! I remember with awe! I have sought out and gathered together the ancient traditions of the empire which were scattered and lost; of the great deeds of kings I have searched the beginnings and examined the ends; I have seen their times of prosperity and observed their decline. Of the affairs that I have discussed and examined, I have made a general survey of the Three Dynasties and a record of the Ch'in and Han, extending in all back as far as Hsien Yuan [the Yellow Emperor] and coming down to the present, set forth in the twelve "Basic Annals." After this had been put in order and completed, because there were differences in chronology for the same periods and the dates were not always clear, I made the ten "Chronological Tables." Of the changes in rites and music, the improvements and revisions of the pitch pipes and calendar, military power, mountains and rivers, spirits and gods, the relationships between heaven and man, and the faulty economic practices that were handed down and reformed age by age, 91 I have made the eight "Treatises." As the twenty-eight constellations revolve about the North Star, as the thirty spokes of a wheel come together at the hub, revolving endlessly without stop, so the ministers, assisting like arms and legs, faithful and trustworthy, in true moral spirit serve their lord and ruler; of them I made the thirty "Hereditary Houses." Upholding righteousness, masterful and sure, not allowing themselves to miss their opportunities, they made a name for themselves in the world; of such men I made the seventy "Memoirs." In all one hundred and thirty chapters, 526,500 words, this is the book of the Grand Historian, 92 compiled in order to repair omissions and amplify the Six Disciplines. It is the work of one family, designed to supplement the various interpretations of the Six Classics and to put into order the miscellaneous sayings of the Hundred Schools. I have placed one copy in the Famous Mountain 93 and another in the capital, where they shall await the sages and scholars of later ages.

The Seventieth Chapter. 94

The Grand Historian remarks: "I have transmitted a record of the ages from the Yellow Emperor down to the era T'ai-ch'u, comprising a work of one hundred and thirty chapters." 95


[In his biography of Ssu-ma Ch'ien in Han shu 62, Pan Ku has copied in the complete text of the postface translated above (with the omissions already noted). He then begins his own narrative.]

Thus says the postface written by Ch'ien himself. But ten chapters are missing, there being only the titles but no texts. 96 After Ch'ien had suffered punishment, he became Chung-shu-ling [Palace Secretary] and enjoyed great honor and favor in the pursuit of his duties.

His old friend Jen An, Regional Inspector [Tz'u-shih] of I Province, sent Ch'ien a letter urging upon him his duty to work for the advancement of older officials of worth. Ch'ien replied to it as follows:

Ssu-ma Ch'ien's Letter in Reply to Jen Shao-ch'ing 97

Shao-ch'ing, honored sir:

In the past I had the honor of receiving a letter from you in which you advised me to be careful in my dealings with people and instructing me in my duty to recommend men of ability and work for the advancement of worthy gentlemen. 98 Your concern is indeed kind and heartfelt. Perhaps you are angry that I have not marked your words and think that I am following the counsels of worthless men. I assure you I would not dare to do such a thing. Worthless old creature that I am, I have yet heard something of the teachings handed down from the great men of old. But I remember that I am no more than a mutilated being who dwells in degradation. Anything I might try to do would only meet with censure; should I try to help others I should only succeed in doing them injury. Therefore I am "in sadness and despair with no one to speak to."

There is an old saying, "Whom will you do it for, and whom will you get to listen to you?" 100 After Chung Tzu-ch'i died, Po Ya never again played upon the lute. 101 Why? "It is for a friend who understands him that a man will act, and for a lover who delights in her that a woman will make herself beautiful." 102

But one like myself, whose very substance is marred and mutilated though I might possess the worth of the jewels of Sui and Ho, though my conduct might be as pure as that of Yu and I, 103 in the end I could never achieve glory, but on the contrary would only succeed in arousing laughter and bringing shame upon myself.

I should have answered your letter, but at the time I had to accompany the Emperor on a trip to the east and was pressed by many petty affairs of my own. The time we had together was indeed short, and I was so busy that I could not seem to find a moment of leisure to tell you all that I really feel. Now, Shao-ch'ing, you are accused of this terrible crime. 104 The days and months have gone by and it is drawing close to the end of winter. 105 I am forced to go in attendance upon the Emperor to Yung. 106 If you should suddenly meet with that which cannot be disguised by euphemism, it would mean that I would have no opportunity to unburden to you my bitterness and anguish. Then in the long journey hereafter your spirit would forever bear me personal resentment. So I beg you to allow me to explain in brief my rude and unworthy feelings, and I pray you will not blame me too severely for having been so long in answering.

I have heard it said that to devote oneself to moral training is the storehouse of wisdom; to delight in giving to others is the beginning of humanity; that proper giving and taking are the mark of a man's sense of duty; while times of shame and disgrace determine his cour- age; and that making a name for himself is the aim of all action. Only when a man has shown that he possesses these five qualities may he take a place in the world and rank among the host of superior men. No more severe misfortune can come to a man than to be driven by covetous desires, no sadness is so painful as the grief of the heart. No deed is more hideous than bringing shame to one's ancestors, and no disgrace greater than the palace punishment [castration]. That a man who has undergone such punishment is fit no longer to be associated with is the opinion not of one age alone but has been held since ancient times. When Duke Ling of Wei rode in the same carriage with Yung Ch'u, Confucius departed for Ch'en. 107 Because Shang Yang obtained audience with the King through the offices of Ching Chien, Chao Liang's heart turned cold. 108 When Chao T'an rode in the Emperor's carriage, Yuan Ssu was fired with anger. 109 So from old times men have been ashamed to associate with eunuchs. If even ordinary men are loath to have dealings with eunuchs, how much more so in the case of gentlemen of virtue and feeling? Although our court today may be in need of good men, what business would I, a mere "remnant of the knife and saw," have in trying to help and recommend the finest and most worthy men of the world? no

Because of the undertakings of my father which have passed on to me, I have been allowed for some twenty years to serve beneath the hub of the royal carriage, always awaiting my punishment. 111 I realize full well that first of all, in serving our enlightened Emperor, I have not been able to pay due fidelity or inspire real confidence, nor have I gained a name for cleverness in planning or superiority of ability. Second, I have been able to perform no service in repairing deficiencies or supplying what was lacking in the imperial rule or in promoting and advancing men of virtue and talent, nor have I brought to light any gentlemen who were living in retirement. In foreign affairs I have commanded no ranks of men, captured no castles and fought on no field; no glories of generals slain or enemy pennants seized are mine. At the least I have not, by piling up the days and sticking to my labors, achieved any high position or large salary, or brought glory and favor to my family and friends. I have not succeeded in a single one of these four endeavors. 112 From this it is obvious that I am a worthless person who by mere chance has been tolerated at court.

Once in former times I too took my place among the lower officers and participated in the lesser deliberations in the outer court. If I could not at that time introduce any great precepts or present any of my ideas, now when I am no more than a slave who sweeps the paths, mutilated and ranked among the low and worthless now should I try to lift up my head and look lordly and discourse upon right and wrong, would I not show contempt for the court and bring shame to the gentlemen of my time? Alas, alas! A man like myself what can he say now? What can he say now?

It is not easy to know the beginning and end of things. When I was young I had a spirit that would not be bridled, and as I grew older I won no fine praises in my village and district. But because of my father, our Ruler graciously allowed me to offer my poor talents and to come and go in the inner parts of the Palace. Therefore I cut off my acquaintanceship with friends and visitors and neglected the business of our family. 113

I considered then that a man who has a bowl over his head cannot hope to see the sky. 114 Day and night I thought only how to use to the fullest my poor talents and strength. I went about the duties of my office with a single mind, seeking only the favor and love of our Ruler. But, quite contrary to my hopes, things came to a terrible misunderstanding.

Li Ling and I both held office at the same time. 115 Basically we were never very close. Our likes and dislikes lay in different directions; we never so much as drank a cup of wine together or shared the joys of intimate friendship. But I observed that he was clearly a man of superior ability. He was filial to his parents and trustworthy with his associates, honest in matters of money and just in all his giving and taking.

In questions of precedence he would always yield; he was respectful and modest and gave way to others. His constant care was to sacrifice himself for his country, hastening in time of need without thought for his own safety. This was always in his mind, and I believed him to be truly one of the finest men of the nation. A subject who will go forth to face ten thousand deaths, giving not the slightest thought for his own life but hurrying only to the rescue of his lord such a man is rare indeed! Now he has committed one act that was not right, and the officials who think only to save themselves and protect their own wives and children vie with each other in magnifying his shortcomings. Truly it makes me sick at heart!

The infantry that Li Ling commanded did not come up to five thousand. They marched deep into barbarian territory, strode up to the ruler's court and dangled the bait, as it were, right before the tiger's jaws. In fearless ranks they shouted a challenge to the powerful barbarians, gazing up at their numberless hosts. For over ten days they continued in combat with the Shan-yü. 116 The enemy fell in disproportionate numbers; those who tried to rescue their dead and wounded could not even save themselves. 117 The barbarian lords in their robes of felt trembled with fear. They summoned their Wise Kings of the Left and Right 118 and called out all the men who could use a bow. The whole nation descended together upon our men and surrounded them. They fought their way along for a thousand miles until their arrows were all gone and the road was blocked. The relief forces did not come, and our dead and injured lay heaped up. But Li Ling with one cry gave courage to his army, so that every man raised himself up and wept. Washed in blood and choked with tears, they stretched out their empty bows and warded of? the bare blades of the foe. North again they turned and fought to the death with the enemy. 119

Before Li Ling fell into the hands of the enemy, a messenger came with the report [of his attack] and the lords and ministers of the Han all raised their cups in joyous toast to the Emperor. But after a few days came word of his defeat, and because of it the Emperor could find no flavor in his food and no delight in the deliberations of the court.

The great officials were in anxiety and fear and did not know what to do. Observing His Majesty's grief and distress, I dared to forget my mean and lowly position, sincerely desiring to do what I could in my fervent ignorance. I considered that Li Ling had always shared with his officers and men their hardships and want, 120 and could command the loyalty of his troops in the face of death. In this he was unsurpassed even by the famous generals of old. And although he had fallen into captivity, I perceived that his intention was to try to seek some future opportunity to repay his debt to the Han. Though in the end he found himself in an impossible situation, yet the merit he had achieved in defeating and destroying so many of the enemy was still worthy to be proclaimed throughout the world. This is what I had in my mind to say, but I could find no opportunity to express it. Then it happened that I was summoned into council, and I took the chance to speak of Li Ling's merits in this way, hoping to broaden His Majesty's view and put a stop to the angry words of the other officials.

But I could not make myself fully understood. Our enlightened Ruler did not wholly perceive my meaning, but supposed that I was trying to disparage the Erh-shih General and plead a special case for Li Ling. 121 So I was put into prison, and I was never able to make clear my fervent loyalty. Because it was believed that I had tried to deceive the Emperor, 122 I was finally forced to submit to the judgment of the law officials. My family was poor and lacked sufficient funds to buy commutation of the sentence. 123 Of my friends and associates, not one would save me; among those near the Emperor no one said so much as a word for me. My body is not made of wood or stone, yet alone I had to face the officials of the law. Hidden in the depths of prison, to whom could I plead my case ? This, Shao-ch'ing, is something you must truly have seen for yourself. Was this not the way I always acted? Li Ling had already surrendered alive and destroyed the fine reputation of his family. And then I was thrown into the "silkworm chamber" [where castrations were performed]. Together we became a sight for all the world to laugh at in scorn. Alas, alas! Matters such as these it is not easy to explain in detail to ordinary people.

My father had no great deeds that entitled him to receive the split tallies or the red charter. 124 He dealt with affairs of astronomy and the calendar, which are close to divination and worship of the spirits. He was kept for the sport and amusement of the Emperor, treated the same as the musicians and jesters, and made light of by the vulgar men of his day. If I fell before the law and were executed, it would make no more difference to most people than one hair off nine oxen, for I was nothing but a mere ant to them. The world would not rank me among those men who were able to die for their ideals, but would believe simply that my wisdom was exhausted and my crime great, that I have been unable to escape penalty and in the end had gone to my death. Why? Because all my past actions had brought this on me, they would say.

A man has only one death. That death may be as weighty as Mount T'ai, or it may be as light as a goose feather. It all depends upon the way he uses it. 125 Above all, a man must bring no shame to his forbears. Next he must not shame his person, nor be shameful in his countenance, nor in his words. Below such a one is he who suffers the shame of being bound, and next he who bears the shame of marked clothing. 126 Next is the man bound and fettered who knows the shame of rod and thorn, and the man who bears the shame of the shaved head and the binding manacle. Below again is the shame of mutilated flesh and severed limbs. Lowest of all is the extreme penalty, the "punishment of rottenness!"

The Commentary says: "Punishments shall not extend to the high officials." 127 This means that a gentleman must be ever careful of proper conduct.

When the fierce tiger dwells in the deep hills, all the other beasts tremble with fear. But when he is in the trap or the cage, he wags his tail and begs for food, for he has been gradually overawed and broken. Therefore there are cases when, even though one were to draw a circle on the ground and call it a prison, a gentleman would not enter, or though one carved a wooden image and set it up as judge, a gentleman would not contend with it, but would settle the affair for himself in accordance with what is right. But when a man has been bound hand and foot with stocks and ropes, has been stripped to the skin and flogged with rods, and plunged into the depths of encircling walls, at that time when he sees the judge he strikes his head upon the ground, and when he looks at the jailers his heart gasps with fear. Why? Because he has been gradually overawed and broken by force. A man must be thick-skinned indeed if he come to this and yet say, "I am not ashamed!" What respect could people have for such a man?

Hsi-po was an earl, and yet he was imprisoned at Yu li. 128 Li Ssu was prime minister, yet he suffered all the five punishments. 129 Huai- yin was a king, but he was put into fetters at Ch'en. 130 P'eng Yueh and Chang Ao faced south and called themselves independent, but they were both dragged to prison and punished. 131 The Marquis of Chiang overthrew and punished all the Lü family; his power exceeded that of the Five Protectors of old, yet he was imprisoned in the Inquiry Room. 132 The Marquis of Wei-ch'i was a great general, yet he wore the red clothing and was bound with three fetters. 133 Chi Pu was a manacled slave for Chu Chia, 134 and Kuan Fu suffered shame in the prison of Chü-shin. 135 All these men achieved the positions of feudal lords, generals, or ministers, and their fame reached to neighboring lands. But when they were accused of crimes and sentence was passed upon them, there was not one who could settle the matter with his hands by committing suicide. In the dust and filth of bondage, it has ever been the same, past and present. How in such circumstances can a man avoid shame?

From this you can see that "bravery and cowardice are only a matter of circumstance; strength and weakness are only a matter of the conditions." 136 This is certain. Is there any reason to wonder at it? Furthermore, if a man does not quickly make his decision to settle things for himself outside the law, but waits until he has sunk lower and lower, till he lies beneath the whip and lash, and then decides to save his honor by suicide, is it not too late? This is probably the reason why the ancients hesitated to administer punishment to officials.

It is the nature of every man to love life and hate death, to think of his relatives and look after his wife and children. Only when a man is moved by higher principles is this not so. Then there are things which he must do. Now I have been most unfortunate, for I lost my parents very early. With no brothers or sisters or close relations, I have been left alone an orphan. And you yourself, Shao-ch'ing, have seen me with my wife and child, and know how things are. 137 Yet the brave man does not necessarily die for honor, while even the coward may fulfill his duty. Each takes a different way to exert himself. Though I might be weak and cowardly and seek shamelessly to pro- long my life, yet I know full well the difference between what ought to be followed and what rejected. How could I bring myself to sink into the shame of ropes and bonds? If even the lowest slave and scullion maid can bear to commit suicide, why should not one like myself be able to do what has to be done ? But the reason I have not refused to bear these ills and have continued to live, dwelling in vileness and disgrace without taking my leave, is that I grieve that I have things in my heart which I have not been able to express fully, and I am shamed to think that after I am gone my writings will not be known to posterity. Too numerous to record are the men of ancient times who were rich and noble and whose names have yet vanished away. It is only those who were masterful and sure, 138 the truly extraordinary men, who are still remembered. When the Earl of the West was imprisoned at Yu-li, he expanded the Changes; Confucius was in distress and he made the Spring and Autumn; Ch'ü Yuan was banished and he composed his poem "Encountering Sorrow"; after Tso Ch'iu lost his sight, he composed the Narratives from the States; when Sun Tzu had had his feet amputated, he set forth the Art of War; Lü Pu-wei was banished to Shu but his Lü-lan has been handed down through the ages; while Han Fei Tzu was held prisoner in Ch'in, he wrote "The Difficulties of Disputation" and "The Sorrow of Standing Alone"; most of the three hundred poems of the Book of Odes were written when the sages poured forth their anger and dissatisfaction. All these men had a rankling in their hearts, for they were not able to accomplish what they wished. Therefore they wrote about past affairs in order to pass on their thoughts to future generations. Those like Tso Ch'iu, who was blind, or Sun Tzu, who had no feet, could never hold office, so they retired to compose books in order to set forth their thoughts and indignation, handing down their theoretical writings in order to show to posterity who they were. I too have ventured not to be modest but have entrusted myself to my useless writings. I have gathered up and brought together the old traditions of the world which were scattered and lost. I have examined the deeds and events of the past and investigated the principles behind their success and failure, their rise and decay, in one hundred and thirty chapters. 139 I wished to examine into all that concerns heaven and man, to penetrate the changes of the past and present, completing all as the work of one family. But before I had finished my rough manuscript, I met with this calamity. It is because I regretted that it had not been completed that I submitted to the extreme penalty without rancor. When I have truly completed this work, I shall deposit it in the Famous Mountain. If it may be handed down to men who will appreciate it, and penetrate to the villages and great cities, then though I should suffer a thousand mutilations, what regret should I have? Such matters as these may be discussed with a wise man, but it is difficult to explain them to ordinary people.

It is not easy to dwell in poverty and lowliness while base men multiply their slanderous counsels. I met this misfortune because of the words I spoke. I have brought upon myself the scorn and mockery even of my native village and I have soiled and shamed my father's name. With what face can I again ascend and stand before the grave mound of my father and mother? Though a hundred generations pass, my defilement will only become greater. This is the thought that wrenches my bowels nine times each day. Sitting at home, I am befuddled as though I had lost something. I go out, and then realize that I do not know where I am going. Each time I think of this shame, the sweat pours from my back and soaks my robe. I am now no more than a servant in the harem. How could I leave of my own accord and hide far away in some mountain cave? 14 Therefore I follow along with the vulgar, floating and sinking, bobbing up and down with the times, sharing their delusion and madness.

Now you, Shao-ch'ing, have advised me to recommend worthy men and promote scholars. But would not such a course be at odds with my own intent? Now although I should try to add glory and fame to myself, or with fine words seek to excuse my error, it would have no effect upon the vulgar. I would not be believed, but would only take upon myself further shame. Only after the day of death shall right and wrong at last be determined. 141

I cannot convey in writing my full meaning, 142 but I have ventured to set forth in brief my unworthy opinion. 143

Concluding Remarks

After Ch'ien died, his book came gradually to light. In the time of Emperor Hsüan [73-48 B. C], Ch'ien's grandson by his daughter, the Marquis of P'ing-t'ung, Yang Yün, 144 worked to transmit and make known his work, so that finally it circulated widely. In the time of Wang Mang, Ch'ien's descendant was sought out and enfeoffed with the title "Viscount Master of History ."


From ancient times when writings and documents were first made there were historian-officials, and their records were very numerous and comprehensive. Later Confucius collected these, going back as far as Yao of Tang and down to Mu of Ch'in. Although there are literary remains from the ages before T'ang and Yü [Yao and Shun], their words are not canonical. Therefore it is impossible to speak clearly about the affairs of the Yellow Emperor or Chüan Hsu. Then Confucius used the historical records of Lu and made the Spring and Autumn, and Tso Ch'iu-ming collected and discussed the events upon which it is based in order to form a commentary; he also edited those accounts which differed to form the Narratives from the States. There is also the Genealogical Origins which covers the period from the Yellow Emperor down to the time of the Spring and Autumn and records the ancestors and lineage of emperors, kings, feudal lords, and great officials. After the time of the Spring and Autumn, the Seven States fought back and forth and Ch'in finally united the feudal lords; for this period there is the Intrigues of the Warring States. Then the Han arose, conquered the Chin and ruled the world, and we have the Spring and Autumn of Ch'u and Han. Therefore Ssu-ma Ch'ien followed the Narratives from the States, selected material from the Genealogical Origins and the Intrigues of the Warring States, incorporated the text of the Spring and Autumn of Ch'u and Han, 145 and added an account of recent affairs, bringing his history down to the era T'ien-Han [100-97 B. C] His discussions of Chin and Han are very detailed. But when it comes to the way in which he has extracted from the Classics, selected from the commentaries, and assessed and disposed of material from the various schools of philosophy, he is often careless and sketchy and takes improper liberties with his sources. With his diligence he had browsed very widely in books, threaded his way through the Classics and commentaries, and galloped up and down from the past to the present, covering a period of several thousand years. Yet his judgments stray rather often from those of The Sage. In discussing fundamental moral law, he venerates the teachings of the Yellow Emperor and Lao Tzu and slights the Six Classics. In his introduction to the "Memoirs of the Wandering Knights" he disparages gentlemen scholars who live in retirement and speaks in favor of heroic scoundrels. In his narration on "Merchandise and Prices" he honors those who were skilled at making a profit and heaps shame on those in poverty and low station. It is these points which mar his work. Yet Liu Hsiang, Yang Hsiung, and other men of wide learning and copious letters all praise Ch'ien as a man of excellent ability as a historian and testify to his skill in setting forth events and their causes. He discourses without sounding wordy; he is simple without being rustic. His writing is direct and his facts sound. He does not falsify what is beautiful, nor does he conceal what is evil. Therefore his may be termed a "true record." Alas! Ch'ien, with all his wide knowledge and experience, yet failed to understand how to keep himself from harm. After he had suffered the extreme penalty, he was despondent and poured forth his resentment. How sincere his letter is, telling of all he suffered and felt shame for! It ranks with the "Chief Eunuch" of the Lesser Odes. 146 But what the Great Ode says, "Enlightened and wise, he keeps himself from harm" this indeed is difficult! 147


1. See bibliography.

2. Han shu (hereafter abbreviated as HS) 62 writes "Huo-cheng"; there is much discussion by commentators, but the general opinion is that the HS reading is correct.

3. According to the Tso chuan Duke Shao 29, Chung was the son of Shao-kao, the emperor who preceded Chuan Hsu, while Li was the son of Chuan Hsu himself. But this passage of the Tso also contains the dubious genealogy of the Liu family which some scholars believe was inserted in the Tso by Liu Hsin (d. 23 A. D.). This may account for the fact that Ssu-ma Ch'ien does not refer to these genealogies of Chung and Li. Clearly, however, they were regarded as two distinct families and the question arises why Ch'ien seems to derive his ancestry from both. Ssu-ma Chen, author of the So-yin commentary to the Shih chi, states that Hsiu Fu was a descendant of the Li family but believes that Ch'ien wished as much as possible to give the impression that he was also related to the Chung family which was in charge of astronomical affairs. On the other hand he may have had too little information to say exactly how he was related to these ancient and probably purely legendary personages.

4. All of the above comes, with some condensation, from the Narratives of the States i8/2b-3a (Ch'u 2).

5. The source of this statement is unknown.

6. Both kings encountered rebellions led by their sons. Chin, at this time under the rule of Duke Wen, the famous Ch'ung-erh, was very powerful, and aided King Hsiang in his struggles. So it is not surprising that the family should move to Chin (SC 4/69-74).

7. Sui Hui, also called Shih Hui, fled to Ch'in in 620 (Tso Duke Wen 7). At this time he was not yet general of the Central Army. Shao-liang was the old kingdom of Liang. It was conquered by Ch'in and the name changed to Shao-liang. But at this time it was part of Chin.

8. His name was Ssu-ma Hsi; he was three times the prime minister of the state of Chung-shan. Intrigues of the Warring States 33 (Chung- shan).

9. Some commentators would read po for the chuan of the present text, i.e., "masters of the arts of swordsmanship and boxing."

10. The Wei dynasty commentator on the HS, Ju Shun, says that this is the K'uai-wai who appears in the "Memoirs of Assassin Retainers," SC 86. But in the present text of this chapter there is no such name. It has been suggested that K'uai-wai is the same as Kai Nieh, a famous master of swordsmanship of Yii-tz'u, a district of Chao, who discussed his art with Ching K'o. The assumption is that in the old text which Ju Shun saw, the names were still the same but later came to be written differently. Huai- nan Tzu 9/1 6b mentions a Ssu-ma K'uai-wai who was a swordsman and the Latter Han commentator on the Huai-nan Tzu t Kao Yu, identifies him as a descendant of the earl of Ch'eng, Hsiu Fu.

11. According to the Latter Han scholar, Ying Shao, quoted by Yen Shih-ku in his commentary on the HS, King Hui of Ch'in wished to make an attack upon Shu. Ssu-ma Ts'o supported this plan, but Chang I argued that it would be to greater advantage to attack Han. The king decided in favor of Ts'o's suggestion.

12. In 316 B. C., according to SC 15/81.

13. The HS writes his name as Ch'i.

14. According to SC 5/57 the name was changed in 327 B. C. Commentators dispute this date, but it is certain that the change took place many years before the time of Lord Wu-an. Perhaps the sentence belongs earlier in the narrative.

15. In 260 B. C. Lord Wu-an, Po Ch'i, was a famous general of Ch'in. This was the notorious battle in which Po Ch'i, after defeating the Chao forces, massacred some 450,000 Chao soldiers who had surrendered to him

(SC 73/8)-

1 6. Po Ch'i had become very powerful and had many enemies at court. Although Ch'in had been victorious against Chao, the battle was very costly and Po Ch'i opposed King Chao's plans for any further military expeditions. Angered and suspicious of his loyalty, the king in 257 B. C. sent Po Ch'i a messenger bearing a sword with orders to commit suicide. Presumably Ssu-ma Chin was ordered to die at the same time. Tu-yu was some 10 K west of the Ch'in capital of Hsien-yang (SC 73/12).

17. Most commentators identify Lord Wu-hsin as Wu Ch'en, a man of Ch'en, who took part in the revolt against Ch'in led by Ch'en She and set himself up as King of Chao in 209 B. C. (SC 48/11). But Hsiang Liang,

204 Notes to II: The Biography of Ssu-ma Ch'ien

uncle of Hsiang Yii, who died in 208, also called himself Lord Wu-hsin and he may be the person meant.

18. In 206 B. C., SC 7/38 records: "The general of Chao, Ssu-ma Ang, several times distinguished himself in battle. Therefore Hsiang Yii set up Ang as king of Yin, ruling over Ho-nei with his capital at Ch'ao-ko."

19. The following year, 205, when Kao-tsu marched east again from Han. SC 8/46 says that Kao-tsu "took the King of Yin prisoner." Chin shu i/ia, in the Annals of Emperor Hsiian, traces the ancestry of Ssu-ma I (later given the posthumous title of Emperor Hsiian), the grandfather of Ssu-ma Yen, founder of the Chin dynasty, back to this Ssu-ma Ang.

20. The HS writes the name with slightly different characters.

21. HS i9A/2ia under the title nei-shih, notes that there were four markets in Ch'ang-an with masters in charge of them.

22. Wu-ta-fu. See HS i9A/25a.

23. In Han-ch'eng hsien of present day Shensi. This was the area of the old Shao-liang, later Hsia-yang, where the Ssu-ma family had lived for generations.

24. Tai-shih~%ung. There is much dispute among commentators about the origin, rank, and salary of this position. The only completely reliable report is that of Ch'ien himself, who says in his letter to Jen An: "My father . . . dealt with affairs of astronomy and the calendar, which are close to divination and the worship of the spirits. He was kept for the sport and amusement of the Emperor, treated the same as the musicians and jesters, and made light of by the vulgar men of his day." At this time, then, the official duties of the position were concerned only with astronomy and did not include the writing of history, which Ssu-ma T'an and his son undertook privately. For this and other reasons which he mentions in his Introduction, pp. ix-xi, Chavannes translates the title as "due grand astrologue" But as I have pointed out in Chapter III, affairs of astronomy and the keeping of historical records were from early times closely associated in Chinese history and we know from notices in the Shih chi itself that men with the title of Tai-shih in the Chou period had something to do with the keeping of historical records. So although their actual duties did not call for it, it is obvious that both Ssu-ma T'an and his son believed that both they and their ancestors should rightly deal not only with astronomical affairs but also with the keeping of historical records. Keeping in mind then that at this particular time they were not officially historians, I see no great objection to translating the title as "Grand Historian." If we were to follow Chavannes' translation, we should have to render the title of the Shih chi, mistakenly translated by him as "Memoires historiques," as "Records of the Astrologer," which would be simply misleading.

Later on in this text and elsewhere we find the title given as Tai-shih-ling, and this is probably the correct form which Ssu-ma Ch'ien has usually abbreviated as T'ai-shih. I cannot agree with Chavannes' rendering of the word tying as "due." There is no indication that Ssu-ma T'an ever received any honorary title of nobility which would justify this translation. On the other hand, as Wang Kuo-wei has pointed out (op. tit., p. 6a~7b) the word \ung was used frequently in the Han as an honorary suffix about equivalent to our "Mr." or "Master." It thus had no more of the technical sense of a noble title than does the word tzu (technically "viscount") in the names Lao Tzu, Chuang Tzu, etc. An examination of the SC text here and elsewhere will show that quite regularly Ch'ien uses Tai-shih when referring to the office, and Tai~shih-kung when referring to the particular person, his father or himself, who held the office. I have therefore translated the former as "Grand Historian" and the latter as "The Grand Historian" much as we distinguish by the use of the article in English between the office of "mayor" and "the Mayor," meaning the man who holds the office. As to why Ssu-ma Ch'ien uses the phrase "The Grand Historian" to refer to both himself and his father, see Chapter IV, pp. 131-32 and note 38. In the following section it is fairly easy to distinguish whether he means his father or himself, though in the closing paragraph where he calls his history "The book of The Grand Historian" it is possible that the title should be in the plural to include Ssu-ma T'an also.

25. Mentioned in SC 27/93 as an authority on astronomy.

26. A man of Tzu-ch'uan; his tzu is Shu-yuan (SC 121/25).

27. Master Huang (Huang Tzu), mentioned as Scholar Huang (Huang Sheng) in SC 121/16. See Chapter V, p. 145. This is an example of the Han usage of the words tzu and sheng as titles of respect.

28. Book of Changes, Hsi tzu B/3b.

29. The Confucianists at this time, as indeed later, paid a great deal of attention to details of ritual, dress, etc.; hence this criticism.

30. The text here has the word Men (man radical) which T'an has used above to describe the parsimony of the Mohists. Commentators suggest it should be corrected to the homophone chien (tree radical), with the meaning I have given.

31. Following the HS reading, which seems preferable to the SC. The second part of the sentence is a reference to Lao Tzu 7.

32. This criticism may be found in two works of earlier date, the Yen-

206 Notes to II: The Biography of Ssu-ma Ch'ien

tzu ch'un-ch'iu Sec. i, S/apa, and Mo Tzu Sec. 39, p/aia. Ssu-ma T'an's criticism here was noted by Yang Hsiung in his Fa yen Sec. 7, 5/2a, where he wrongly attributes it to Ssu-ma Ch'ien. Yang Hsiung's reply is that in ancient times men could, while pursuing an agricultural life, find time in three years to complete the study of one Classic. But the scholars of his own day, he complains, have become too engrossed in petty details and furbelows and hence take much longer in their study. Pan Ku (HS 30/27a) repeats and elaborates on Yang Hsiung's point, declaring that the ancient scholars, by concentrating only upon the general meaning of a book, could complete their study of the Five Classics by the time they were thirty. For a translation of the HS passage, see Tjan Tjoe Som, Po-Hu T'ung, 143.

33. "Also" probably means "The Mohists as well as the Confucianists." The passage is based on Han Fei Tzu Sec. 49, i9/ib and Sec. 50, i9/7b. In the latter chapter Han Fei remarks that both the Mohists and Confucianists declare they are following the ways of Yao and Shun, though they do not agree at all in their practices.

34. Literally "so that the threes and fives shall not be lost." This phrase "threes and fives" is found in a number of late Chou and Han works, though the exact meaning is obscure. An examination of its various usages suggests it indicates something like "the proper order," "the real situation." It seems to derive from the terminology of the Book of Changes.

35. Lao Tzu 37.

36. The present SC text reads: "The Sage does not perish," a phrase suggesting some idea of immortality. Ssu-ma Chen says the phrase comes from the Kuei-ku Tzu, but it is not found in our present text of that work. The HS writes "The Sage is without skill"; this accords with the thought of Lao Tzu and seems preferable.

37. This section resembles the thought and wording of the Huai-nan Tzu 7/6b. The Huai-nan Tzu f written sometime before the death of the prince of Huai-nan, Liu An, in 122 B. C., was contemporary in composition with this essay. Both works most likely drew upon earlier Taoist writings.

38. The SC text writes only "spirit," but the HS has the double phrase "spirit and substance," which seems preferable.

39. Neither the SC nor HS texts mentions Ssu-ma Ch'ien J s tzu, Tzu- ch'ang. See Chapter V, note 51.

40. In Han-ch'eng hsien. See Note 23 above. Another theory would put it in Hsia-yang hsien, but this seems unlikely. See Cheng Ho-sheng, op. cit. pp. 10-12. There are several theories as to the date of Ch'ien's birth. The date indicated by Chang Shou-chieh and followed by Wang Kuo-wei, Cheng Ho-sheng, and Ch'ien Mu, 145 B. C., is most generally accepted.

Notes to II: The Biography of Ssu-ma Ch'ien 207

41. That is, north of the Yellow River on the southern side of the hills. At this time Tan was not yet employed at court and the family presumably made a living farming and raising animals.

42. According to Ssu-ma Chen, the Po-ivu-chih calls Ch'ien a man of Hsien-wu Village in Mou-ling. Mou-ling was a suburb of the capital and it is probable that T'an and his family moved there when he took office as Grand Historian around 140. This statement is not found in the present text of the Po-wu-chih, which is of doubtful authenticity, but Wang Kuo- wei believes it is based upon a Han dynasty document of registration and is completely reliable. Ch'ien had probably already had some instruction in a village school and then continued his schooling at Mou-ling. There are three theories on the meaning of "old writings" (%u-wen). One is that Ch'ien studied with the authority on the Book of Documents Fu Sheng. But this is absurd, since Fu Sheng would by this time have been over 140 years old. The second is that "old writings" simply refers to old books such as the Tso chuan, etc. The third is that he studied the so-called "old texts" with K'ung An-kuo at this time. HS 88/i4b states that Ch'ien inquired about the "old text" version of the Book of Documents from K'ung An-kuo and used sections of it in his own work. But Wang Kuo-wei believes that this took place some ten years later, when Ch'ien was about twenty. See Wang Kuo-wei, pp. 33-43.

43. Emperor Yii was supposed to have died at Hui-chi and on top of the mountain was a cave called The Cave of Yii.

44. Chiu-i in Honan, the burial place of Emperor Shun.

45. Lu and Ch'i, the states of Confucius and Mencius, were noted as the seat of Confucian learning. Note that Ch'ien makes a point of saying that he studied Confucianism, but never mentions any study of Taoism.

46. Near Ch'ü-fu, the home of Confucius.

47. Chavannes, Introd., p. xxxi, suggests that Ch'ien deliberately uses this phrase in imitation of Confucius, "who encountered difficulties between Ch'en and Ts'ai." Although there may be some truth in this, there seems to be no reason to doubt that Ch'ien actually did get into some kind of difficulties at these places. In his concluding remarks to SC 75 he writes: "I once visited Hsüeh. Its customs are rustic and countrified, and there are a great many ruffians and tough young men. It is very different from Tsou and Lu. I asked someone the reason for this and he replied, 'Lord Meng- ch'ang invited all the wandering knights and criminals from around to come to Hsüeh and set up some sixty thousand families here.' "

48. The exact date of this is uncertain. The lang-chung were palace attendants and, as we see later on,, often accompanied the emperor on his travels. According to the system suggested by Kung-sun Hung and adopted in 124, promising students of eighteen or older were selected for a year's instruction and those who passed examinations at the top of the class were qualified to become lang-shih, i.e., lang-chung. See SC 121/11 and HS 6, Yuan-shuo fifth year. Ch'ien started on his travels in 125 B. C. and must have been away from the capital for several years, so it is possible that on his return he underwent this instruction and attained his position because of his good grades. Or it may be, as he modestly says in his letter, that he was appointed simply because of his father's influence at court.

49. In 1 1 1 a military expedition was sent to the southwest, which created five new commanderies out of territory brought under Han rule. See SC 1 1 6, the chapter which Ch'ien wrote about the tribes of the southwest largely on the basis of his experiences at this time. This by no means ends the recital of Ch'ien's travels. Judging from the remarks he made in other chapters, he must have made a number of other trips in attendance on the emperor. He was one of the most widely traveled men of his age, a fact which helps to account for the wealth of material and broad outlook of his history. For a full list of places he is known to have visited, see Cheng Hao-sheng, pp. 32-40.

50. The great Feng Sacrifice at Mount T'ai, symbol of the divine election of the ruling house.

51. The area around Lo-yang.

52. Emperor Wu consulted the Confucianists and other court officials on the proper procedure for the sacrifice, but when they could not agree upon the type of ceremony he wanted, he discarded their suggestions and did not employ them, making up his own ritual instead (SC 28/73). This may be why Ssu-ma T'an was unable to take part in the ceremony, though it is more likely that he was simply too old and feeble. At any rate it was a great blow to him that he could not be present at this most solemn and auspicious of all ancient Chinese rites.

53. The emperor had already traveled to the east early in the year, leaving Ssu-ma T'an at Lo-yang. Ch'ien, after making his report at Ch*ang-an, journeyed east to join the imperial party, stopping to see his father on the way. The Feng Sacrifice took place in the summer and Ch'ien traveled with the emperor back to the capital by a northern route without seeing his father again, so T'an must have died during the summer or fall while Ch'ien was away. See Wang Kuo-wei, p. 5a.

54. These sentiments, in reversed order, are expressed in the Classic of Filial Piety, Hsiao-ching.

55. This refers to the Book of Odes, particularly to the hymns of the

Notes to II: The Biography of Ssu-ma Ch'ien 209

section Ta-ya in praise of the Chou ancestors, which were supposed to have been written by the Duke of Chou. T'ai-wang, Wang Chi, Kung Liu, and Hou Chi are all ancestors of the Chou kings, Hou Chi being the founder of the family in the time of Emperor Yao.

56. 481 B. C., the end of the "Spring and Autumn" period. Actually it was 372 years earlier.

57. In 1 08. As in the so-called "three-year mourning period," this does not mean three full years but only to the beginning of the third year. Here the title T'ai-shih-kung is written T'ai-shih-ling.

58. Ie., books kept in the imperial libraries. It is probable that T'an had already collected a good deal of material which Ch'ien at this time began to work over.

59. In the spring of no, when Emperor Wu first performed the great Feng and Shan sacrifices at Mount T'ai, he stopped to rest at a spot on the northeast side of the mountain where there existed what were said to be the remains of an ancient Illustrious Hall or Ming t'ang. At this time he expressed a desire to rebuild the hall, but upon consultation with court scholars could ascertain no detailed information on the shape or dimensions of the famous structure traditionally supposed to have existed in early Chou times. In this critical moment a man of Chi-nan named Kung-yü Tai appeared bearing a plan of what he claimed was the Illustrious Hall of the Yellow Emperor. Emperor Wu accordingly ordered a structure built to this design on the spot and four years later, in 106, when he again visited Mount T'ai, he performed sacrifices in the Hall, which he repeated, as indicated by our text, in 105 (SC 28/76, 84). As this account makes clear, the scholars of this time had no accurate information concerning the great audience hall of the Chou called Ming t'ang mentioned in the fourteenth section of the Li chi. For a treatment of the confused and voluminous lore on the subject of the Ming t'ang, see Alexander Coburn Soper, "The 'Dome of Heaven' in Asia," The Art Bulletin XXIX (1947), 238-241, and William Edward Soothill, The Hall of Light.

60. Ssu-ma Ch'ien, Hu Sui and a group of other court officials at this time worked to draw up a new calendar to replace the faulty one which the Han had inherited from previous ages. Although there was much dis- cussion and a number of proposals, Wang Kuo-wei believes that the initiative for the reform and most of the actual work were due to Ch'ien alone. Detailed accounts of the discussions and the new calendar are found in SC 26 and HS 21. In the eleventh month the emperor sacrificed to Shang-ti in the Illustrious Hall and, because of the auspicious position of various stars and planets at this time, changed the era name to T'ai-ch'u, But ac-

2/0 Notes to II: The Biography of Ssu-ma Ch'ien

cording to HS 6/3 ib the new calendar was not actually promulgated until the fifth month. (For an explanation of how the fifth month can come after the eleventh month, see below.) At this time it was announced that the Han year would begin with the first month and that the Han would honor yellow, color of the element earth. There had been many proposals before this that the Han change the beginning of its year and select an element to honor in order to show that it was a new dynasty entirely independent of the preceding Ch'in. But it was not until this year that the great step was finally taken. According to Han belief, the Hsia dynasty had begun its new year on the first month, cheng-yueh, with the cyclical sign yin. The Shang dynasty had begun with the twelfth month, cyclical sign ch'ou, and the Chou dynasty with the eleventh month, sign tzu. It was thought that succeeding dynasties should follow this order, rotating among the eleventh, twelfth, and first months as their beginning. In Analects XV, 10, Confucius is reported to have told Yen Yuan that one should "follow the seasons of Hsia," i.e., begin the year with the first month. The Ch'in dynasty, however, instead of moving forward to the first month, had gone back one month, beginning its year with the tenth month, cyclical sign hai, and the Han had until this time continued the Ch'in practice, beginning its year with the tenth month. The Han calendar reform returned to the re- puted practice of the Hsia, in accordance with the advice of Confucius, beginning its year with the first month, the first month of spring, some time in our own February. The correction of the calendar was an achievement of great and far-reaching significance. After this, with the exception of one attempt by Emperor Ming of the Wei (reign 227-239 A. D.), no dynasty ever tried to return to the old system of rotating the beginning of the year. Hence in China, Japan, and Korea today, wherever the old-system calendar is used, it is this so-called calendar of the Hsia, set up by Ssu-ma Ch'ien and his associates, that is followed.

61. For a discussion of the significance of this section of the translation see Chapter HI, p. 87 passim.

62. The HS writes "There must be someone who can carry on and make them clear." The last four characters parallel a phrase from SC 27/83 describing how the Five Emperors and Three Dynasties "carried on and in- vestigated" the ancient affairs of astronomy.

63. Cf. Mencius' theory that a true king will appear once every five hun- dred years (Mencius 26/13 anc * 7^/36). See also Chapter III, p. 87.

64. A man of Liang who rose to position of chan-shih, a high post connected with the household of the empress and heir apparent. See HS a. He and Ch'ien worked together revising the calendar, and Ch'ien had the highest regard and feeling for him (SC 108/15).

65. Tung Chung-shu. The following exposition of the Spring and Autumn Annals is almost entirely a paraphrase of sections of Tung's Ch'un- ch'iu fan4u, hereafter referred to as CCFL.

66. Note that the HS omits this phrase. This is one of the many indications that Pan Ku either chose to or had to be more cautious in his references to imperial institutions than his predecessor.

67. It is a great temptation to render this sentence in some such manner as: "I had thought of setting forth my ideas in abstract sayings (Jung-yen), but I have decided that it would be more cogent and explicit to manifest them through actual events." (See Nivisen, "The Problem of 'Knowledge' and 'Action' in Chinese Thought Since Wang Yang-ming," Studies in Chinese Thought, p. 114.) This is probably the way many later Chinese scholars have understood it. But the text later on makes it clear that both Ssu-ma Ch'ien and Hu Sui believed that the Spring and Autumn Annals actually does embody J(ung-yen t theoretical principles or judgments, so that this translation is impossible. See the discussion of this term in Chapter III, pp. 87-89.

68. This parallels a passage in the CCFL Sec. 2, i/pa, which reads: "The Odes describes the will, and therefore is preeminent for its unspoiled naturalness. The Rites regulates distinctions, and therefore is preeminent for order and refinement. Music intones virtue, and therefore is preeminent in its influencing power. The Documents records achievements, and therefore is outstanding concerning events. The Changes explores heaven and earth, and therefore is best for calculating probabilities. The Spring and Autumn rectifies right and wrong, and therefore stands preeminent in ruling men." As will be seen, Ch'ien's description in wording and meaning agrees with Tung Chung-shu's in all cases except music. His discussion of music follows the teaching of Hsiin Tzu, beginning with the pun on yueh "music" and lo "joy," and emphasizing that music is the bringer of harmony and order to all human life. As Hsiin Tzu writes, "Music is the supreme governor of mankind" (Hsiin Tzu i4/2b). In his essay on music, SC 24, Ch'ien expands this teaching of Hsiin Tzu's, adding various examples of how the power of music has brought peace and order to the nations and even influenced supernatural beings.

69. See CCFL Sec. 7, 5/ia.

70. This quotation is not found in the Changes itself but in a work on it, the I-wei t'ung-faa-yen, A/5b.

2/2 Notes to II: The Biography of Ssu-ma Ch'ien

71. A quotation from the Wen-yen commentary on the Changes under the hexagram J(un.

72. This section is based on CCFL Sec. 17, 6/30.

73. This is apparently an old saying. It is found also in a memorial by Chia I, HS 48/26^ and in the Ta-Tai Li-chi 2/ib.

74. The theory of the Kung-yang school, widely accepted in the Han, that Confucius wrote the Annals to serve as the model for the rulers of a new dynasty.

75. A stock phrase in Han rhetoric. The traditional interpretation is that barbarian peoples will come to China in submission from such distant places that they have no knowledge of the Chinese language but must translate their own languages into an intermediary language, from which they will then be retranslated into Chinese. See Note 3, Chapter I.

76. Causing injury or allowing it to come to one's body was, according to Chinese thought, a grave offense against one's parents.

77. For the interpretation of this phrase yin-yueh I have followed the note by Yen Shih-ku in the HS. The more common interpretation is "subtle and terse," i.e., the writers of the Odes and Documents were subtle and terse when they tried to set forth, etc. But this seems out of place when Ch'ien's entire theory is that literature is motivated by suffering and dissatisfaction.

78. Two sections of the present Han Fei Tzu 4. In this case and the Lu-lan above, more commonly known as Lu-shih ch'un-ctiiu, Ch'ien has substituted these ways of designating the books for their more common titles in order to make his clauses conform to a four-character pattern.

79. Why this four-character phrase is tacked on here I cannot say. Perhaps Ch'ien added it as an afterthought to show that he did not mean literally that he began his history with Emperor Yao. More likely, however, it belongs to the following section, the Table of Contents, which begins with a mention of the Yellow Emperor.

80. Most of the rulers of the previous dynasties and feudal states claimed descent from one or another of the Five Emperors.

81. Hsia, Shang and Chou. The HS writes chueh instead of t'ung, i.e., "the great task" instead of "the task of unification."

82. A former petty clerk in the Ch'in administration who aided Kao-tsu in his conquest of the empire and rose to the highest position in the Han court. He was famous as the compiler of the Han legal code. See SC 53.

83. A general of Kao-tsu famous for his brilliant and clever military strategy. See SC 92.

84. Another former Ch'in official who handled affairs of weights and measures and the calendar for the Han court. See SC 96. HS 30/390 lists a work of his in 16 sections under the school of Yin-yang; the book is now lost.

85. The famous literatus of the Ch'in who compiled the code of rites and etiquette for Kao-tsu's court. See SC 99.

86. A high official of the early Han. When he served as minister to the fief of Ch'i, he became acquainted with a Taoist named Master Kai, who expounded to him Taoist ideas on government. Ts'ao Ts'an was much impressed and put them into practice with great success in Ch'i and later when he became Prime Minister of the central court (SC 54).

87. The poet and statesman Chia I, author of the Hsin shu, which is still extant. He is generally regarded as a Confucianist, and Pan Ku in HS 30/3 1 b lists his book under the Confucian school. It is not clear why Ch*ien identifies him here as a Legalist, though it may be because he advocated the policy of weakening the feudal lords and strengthening the central government which was usually associated with Legalist thinkers. See his biography in HS 48. His biography in SC 84 does not deal extensively with his po- litical ideas.

88. A student of the doctrines of Shen Pu-hai, Lord Shang, and the school of Legalism, who became a high official under Emperor Ching. He was the most outspoken advocate of the policy of stripping power from the feudal lords (SC 101). HS 30/4 ib under the Legalist school lists a work by him in 31 sections, now lost.

89. The famous Confucian official under Emperor Wu (SC 112). HS 30/32a under the Confucian school lists a work by him in 10 sections, which is now lost. At this point something may be said about these lost works of the early Han statesmen. An examination of the one work that is still extant, the Hsin shu of Chia I, will show that it is made up largely of short essays and memorials on specific subjects of government policy. The most famous of these, the essay on "The Faults of Ch'in," is included in the Shih chi (end of SC 6), while Pan Ku has copied in others which were submitted to the throne as memorials in his biography of Chia I (HS 48) and his "Treatise on Food and Money" (HS' 24). In other words, the most important and representative sections of Chia I's book are preserved in the histories of the period. We may perhaps surmise from this that the other works listed under the names of Ch'ao Ts'o, Kung-sun Hung, etc., were mainly or perhaps entirely collections of memorials which they presented to the throne and represented no more than duplicate copies of the memorials which Ssu-ma Ch'ien and Pan Ku copied into their histories under the names of these men. If such was the nature of these books, it

214 Notes to II: The Biography of Ssu-ma Ch'ien

will help to explain how Ssu-ma Ch'ien and Pan Ku happened to have access to the texts of these memorials which they used in their works, and may also suggest why the books were allowed to fall into oblivion. One is often appalled when looking over ancient Chinese bibliographies at the number of seemingly important works that have been lost. But although there were undoubtedly a number of regrettable losses, I would suggest that most of these works were allowed to disappear either because they were not worth the labor of copying and preserving, or because the bulk of their contents had already been copied into some other larger work, such as one of the major histories, that was in no danger of becoming lost.

90. The present text lacks any indication of who says this. I have taken it as the words of Ssu-ma Ch'ien and for convenience's sake continued the narration in the first person down to the end of the chapter, although there are no pronouns in the latter part.

91. The phrase refers to the last of the eight treatises, that on economic practices, SC 30.

92. Or, punctuating differently, "This is the book and postface of the Grand Historian."

93. Ssu-ma Chen states that Ming-shan, "Famous Mountain," was a term for the Imperial Archives, but Yen Shih-ku takes it in its literal meaning of a famous mountain, i.e., some secluded place where Ssu-ma Ch'ien de- posited a copy of his work to escape damage in case war or some natural catastrophe should destroy the capital.

94. I.e., this is the seventieth and last of the lieh-chuan chapters. In his Table of Contents above, Ch'ien does not list this chapter itself.

95. This last sentence is not found in the HS text. I am inclined to agree with commentators who consider it a later interpolation.

96. There has been much discussion among commentators concerning the ten missing chapters of the Shih chi. Some deny that they were ever written, while others claim that some, such as the annals of emperors Ching and Wu, were suppressed. The evidence seems to be insufficient to permit any conclusive decision. See Shi\i tyiichd \6$ho, X, 102-105, and Yii Chia-hsi, "On the Missing Chapters of Ssu-ma Ch'ien's Work Shih Chi," Fu Jen Sinological Journal, XV (1947)* 1-91.

97. Shao-ch'ing is the tzu of Jen An. On the date and circumstances of this letter, see Appendix. A second text of the letter, containing slight variations, is found in Wen hsuan 41. Chavannes has translated the letter in Appendix I to his Introduction, pp. ccxxvi-ccxxxviii.

98. The Li chi Sec. 41, 59/ioa says: "A Confucian . . . shall recommend worthy men and work to advance them."

Notes to II: The Biography of Ssu-ma Ch'ien 2/5

99. A paraphrase of Ch'ii Yiian's words, "Alone in my sadness and de- spair, to whom shall I speak?" (Li sao f Ch'u-tz'u i/49a).

100. I.e., for whose benefit would I be working if no one understands or appreciates me, and who indeed would even listen to my suggestions?

1 01. A reference to the famous story of the ch'in player Po Ya, who had only one true friend, Chung Tzu-ch'i, who understood his playing. When his friend died, he smashed the instrument and never again played.

102. An old saying, also found in Intrigues of the Warring States 6/ya (Chao i), where a man is said to be willing to die for one who appreciates him.

103. The pearl of Marquis Sui and the jade of Lord Ho, two precious objects of ancient times, used as metaphors for extraordinary talent and worth. Hsu Yu and Po I were two legendary figures renowned for purity of conduct (SC6i).

104. On the question of why Jen An was in prison, see Appendix.

105. Chi-tung, the last month of winter. According to yin-yang theories, winter is the time for administering punishments, so that if cases involving capital punishment were still pending, they were apt to be settled in haste at the end of winter. Note for instance that the marquis of Wei-ch'i and Kuan Fu were executed on "the last day of the twelfth month" because their rivals feared that the beginning of spring might bring a pardon for them (SC 107/27). See also Hulsewe, Remnants of Han Law, I, 104.

106. The area north-west of Ch'ang-an where sacrifices were performed.

107. While Confucius was visiting in the state of Wei, Duke Ling of Wei drove with his wife and favorite eunuch Yung Ch'ii in a carriage about the city, instructing Confucius to follow in another carnage behind. Confucius considered such conduct disgraceful and left the state. In his "Heredi- tary House of Confucius" (SC 47/41), Ssu-ma Ch'ien says that Confucius went to Ts'ao, but the text here indicates as his destination Ch'en, the state Confucius had visited earlier.

108. The philosopher Shang Yang once asked Chao Liang who was the greater, himself or Po-li Hsi. Chao Liang replied scornfully that Po-li Hsi had gained the recognition of the king of Ch'in by his wisdom, but that Shang Yang had depended upon the introduction of the eunuch Ching Chien to secure an interview with the king (SC 68/17).

109. The eunuch Chao T'an was riding once with Emperor Wen of the Han, when Yuan Ssu (Yuan Ang) remonstrated with the emperor, saying that only heroes and great men should share the imperial carriage, not "remnants of the knife and saw," as eunuchs were called (SC 101/6). Because Chao T'an's personal name is the same as that of Ch'ien's father, he

2/6 Notes to II: The Biography of Ssu-ma Ch'ien

avoids writing the name here by referring to him as "a man of the same name."

no. The sentence is largely a paraphrase of Yuan Ssu's remonstrance to Emperor Wen (SC 101/6).

in. "To await punishment" is a conventional phrase of humility used when referring to official service. It means that one is unworthy and actually deserving of punishment; it has nothing to do with Ch'ien's later punish- ment.

112. Ch'ien is here referring to the five "merits" which he says characterized the great men of ancient times. In SC 18/2 he writes: "In ancient times there were five grades of merit among government servants. The first was that of men who, by their virtue, set up great families and maintained their fiefs and their merit was called 'loyalty.' Next were those who served by their words and their merit was called labor/ Next were those who served by strength, called 'achievement.* Next were those who brought glory to their position, called 'eminence/ Finally there were those who held office for a long time, and their merit was called longevity/ " It is the modest lament of Ch'ien that he has not been able to achieve any of these distinctions.

113. This may mean the traditional function of the Ssu-ma family, the writing of history. Or it may simply refer to family affairs of wealth and property; i.e., Ch'ien had done nothing to increase the family fortune.

114. I.e., being busy with official duties, he could not think of doing great things for himself or his family and friends.

115. Li Ling was appointed as a shih-chung, an attendant at court (HS 54/9b).

1 1 6. The title of the Hsiung-nu ruler.

117. According to Hsiung-nu custom those who recovered the bodies of the dead from the battlefield could claim the dead men's property. See SC 110/25.

1 1 8. The "Wise Kings of the Left and Right" were the two highest ranking military leaders under the Shan-yii, hereditary commanders of the eastern and western sections of the Hsiung-nu nation respectively (SC 1 10/21 ).

119. This expedition of Li Ling against the Hsiung-nu, one of the most famous and brilliant of Han military exploits, was the first time the Chinese had opposed infantry against the Hsiung-nu cavalry in barbarian territory. Initially Li Ling won a smashing success, the news of which, when it reached the court, caused great rejoicing. But without reinforcements, which the Emperor failed to send, he could not follow up his victory. The Chinese

Notes to 11: The Biography of Ssu-ma Ch'ien 2/7

were forced to retreat, fighting as they went, until they reached a valley only some 100 // from the frontier. When a Chinese captain turned traitor and informed the barbarians that no reinforcements were on the way, the Hsiung-nu surrounded Li Ling's forces and attacked in overwhelming numbers. Most of the Chinese died fighting, only some 400 of the original force of almost 5,000 reaching the border in safety. Li Ling, realizing the hopelessness of the situation, buried the army's treasures, dismissed his men, and surrendered to the Hsiung-nu. Emperor Wu, famous for the severity with which he treated his unsuccessful generals, expected Li Ling to die with his men. When the news of the surrender reached the court, he was sick with rage. The court united in condemning the unfortunate general, only Ssu-ma Ch'ien daring to speak out on his behalf. A year later, the emperor realized that he had been to blame for not dispatching reinforcements and sent word for Li Ling to return to China, but met with a refusal. Later, when it was reported that Li Ling was instructing the Hsiung-nu in military science, the emperor ordered the death of all mem- bers of Li Ling's immediate family. Embittered by this act of imperial vengeance, Li Ling refused all invitations to return to China, and remained among the Hsiung-nu until his death in 74 B. C. See HS 54 and Dubs, History of the Former Han, II, 13-16.

120. This was also said of Li Ling's grandfather, the famous general Li Kuang (SC 109/10), and of the ancient general Jang Chii (SC 64/5).

121. The Erh-shih General Li Kuang-li (not to be confused with Li Kuang above), was so called because he had formerly led a successful expedition against the city of Erh-shih (Sutrishna), the capital of Ta-yiian, or Fergana (SC 123/34). He was tne leader of the present expedition, commanding 30,000 cavalry troops. But he failed to make contact with the enemy and returned with no great deeds, while all the glory went to his subordinate, Li Ling. Li Kuang-li was a brother of Emperor Wu's favorite at this time, the Lady Li, and so it was especially impolitic of Ssu-ma Ch'ien to appear to criticize him.

122. The crime of "deceiving the emperor" (wu-shang)> was of the utmost gravity and generally punished by execution. See Hulsewe, op. cit., p. 169$. Hence Ch'ien at this time no doubt expected death. But there were occasional cases in which castration was substituted for the death penalty, as happened with Ssu-ma Ch'ien. See Hulsewe, p. 385-6. It may well be that the emperor felt that Ch'ien was too valuable a man to lose, and ordered the death sentence commuted to castration so he could continue to make use of Ch'ien's services. Ch'ien Mu in his article "An Examination and Interpretation of the Tide Tai Sze Kung" [sic], Academic Review I

218 Notes to II: The Biography of Ssu-ma Ch'ien

( I 953)> 57> suggests that Ch'ien himself requested the punishment in order to be able to finish writing his history. There is no conclusive evidence of this; certainly Ch'ien himself could hardly be expected to give us any. But it is an interesting suggestion and worth bearing in mind as we read Ch'ien's repeated expressions of his deep sense of shame and his explanation of why he did not choose the customary course of suicide.

123. One of the much criticized measures of Emperor Wu's fiscal policy was this system of commutation of punishments on payment of large sums of money, because it placed the poor at a complete disadvantage and led the government officials to trump up charges against wealthy men whenever the treasury needed money.

124. Tallies and documents bestowed by the emperor when he awarded territories or privileges to distinguished subjects.

125. Cf. Ch'ien's remarks at the end of SC 81: "It takes bravery to resign yourself to death. Death itself is not difficult; it is choosing the right place to die that is hard."

126. Persons condemned for minor crimes were made to wear special clothing or marks, like the scarlet letters of early America.

127. Li chi, Sec. i, 3/73. The same statement is also found in a memorial by Chia I, HS 48/3oa. The meaning is not that officials of the government are outside the law but that any man who has the moral qualifications to hold high office also has the conscience to commit suicide if he is guilty of a crime without being forced to undergo legal procedure to prove his guilt. It is because of this custom among officials of committing suicide rather than undergo imprisonment and trial that Ch'ien goes to such lengths to excuse his own departure from the accepted practice. See Hulsewe, op. cit,, p. 296.

128. King Wen, chief or earl of the West, was imprisoned by Emperor Chou of the Shang because he was too powerful. It is very daring of Ssu-ma Ch'ien to include a great sage like King Wen among his list of condemned men. It was probably this sort of unorthodox boldness that shocked later Confucianists like Pan Ku. This is only one of many indications that the letter is a genuine work of Ch'ien.

129* Famous minister of the First Emperor of the Ch'in. After the emperor's death, he was defeated by a rival at court and executed (SC 87). The traditional five punishments of the old Chou law were tattooing, cutting off the nose, cutting off the feet, castration, and execution. But the Ch'in had its own customs and other lists are given for the five punishments inflicted upon Li Ssu.

130. The marquis of Huai-yin, Han Hsin, suspected by Emperor Kao-tsu

Notes to II: The Biography of Ssu-ma Ch'ien 2/9

of treason, was tricked into coming to visit the emperor at Ch'en, and there seized and fettered (SC 92).

131. P'eng Yiieh was set up by Kao-tsu as king of Liang, but later dethroned and thrown into prison (SC 90). Chang Ao succeeded his father, Chang Erh, as king of Chao, but was later implicated in a plot to revolt against Kao-tsu and was seized and forced to commit suicide (SC 89).

132. The marquis of Chiang, Chou P'o, led a coup d'etat which seized power from the relatives of Empress Lii and restored it to the Liu family, but he was later accused of plotting rebellion and put into prison (SC 57).

133. The marquis of Wei-ch'i, Tou Ying, distinguished himself as a gen- eral in the Rebellion of the Seven States, but later became involved in a court squabble and was executed (SC 107).

134. Chi Pu, who had fought with Hsiang Yii against the Han, fled into hiding to avoid being punished after the Han was victorious, and served incognito as a slave to Chu Chia (SC 100).

135. Kuan Fu, a retainer of Tou Ying (See note 133 above) was involved in the same brawl with his master and condemned to death (SC 107).

136. A quotation from the Ping fa (Art of War), by Sun Wu, 5/1 6b & I7b.

137. Ssu-ma Ch'ien is implying that it was not concern for his own family that kept him from suicide. We know nothing about his wife, but he seems to have had only one child, a daughter. In spite of the affection he might have felt for them, the little family would hardly have detained a Chinese gentleman who sincerely felt it his duty to commit suicide.

138. Note that Ch'ien uses this same phrase "masterful and sure" to describe the subjects of his "Memoirs," p. 57 above.

139. The Wen hsuan text differs somewhat here, reading: "I have gathered up and brought together the old traditions of the world that were scattered and lost; I have examined these affairs, arranging their beginnings and ends, considering the principles behind their success and failure, their rise and decay, reaching back into antiquity to Hsien Yuan [the Yellow Emperor] and down to the present, comprising 10 Tables, 12 Annals, 8 Treatises, 30 Hereditary Houses, and 70 Memoirs, in all 130 chapters."

140. As the famous recluses of antiquity, to preserve their purity from the contamination of the world, were wont to do.

141. By this Ch'ien almost surely means the judgment of posterity con- cerning the worth of his history and whether it justifies his decision to suffer humiliation for the sake of its completion. Needless to say, Ch'ien has been amply vindicated by the glowing praise of two thousand years. Although the common people of the Han appear to have believed that the

220 Notes to II: The Biography of Ssu-ma Ctiien

souls of the dead dwelt on Mt. T'ai (see Edouard Chavannes, Le T'ai Chan, p. 13 and p. 399), there is little indication that Ch'ien or others of his class seriously entertained any such conception of a life after death. His remark earlier in the letter that should Jen An be executed "then in the long journey hereafter your spirit would forever bear me personal resentment" I take to be no more than a conventional manner of speaking used primarily for literary effect. See Wang Ch'ung's specific denials of a conscious life after death, Lun heng 15, translated by Alfred Forke, Pt. I, pp. 191-201, and the twelfth of the "Nineteen Old Poems of the Han" translated by Arthur Waley, 170 Chinese Poems, pp. 65-66.

142. Cf. Boo\ of Changes, 7/1 ib, Hsi-tz'u A: "Writing does not fully convey one's words, and words do not fully convey one's thoughts."

143. The Wen hsiian text adds at the end the conventional phrase, "With respect I salute you again." It is worth noting that in his letter Ch'ien uses the word ju (shame) a total of nineteen times, employing it as a kind of doleful refrain. It is powerful writing like this that has won him the admiration of generations of his countrymen.

144. His biography is found in HS 66.

145. All of these works except the Genealogical Origins (Shih pen) and the Spring and Autumn of Ch'u and Han (Ch'u-Han ch'un-ch'iu) are still extant.

146. "Hsiang-po," Odes, Hsiao-ya section, a poem of anger written by a eunuch who had suffered slander.

147. "Cheng-min," Odes, Ta-ya section. Most of Pan Ku's appraisal is taken from an essay by his father Pan Piao on the merits and faults of the Shih chi quoted in Piao's biography, Hou-Han-shu, lieh-chuan 3oA/4a~5a. The criticism that Ch'ien's judgments differ from those of Confucius and the Classics dates back to Yang Hsiung. See the end of Yang Hsiung's biography, HS 876/193.