Reading assignment: Sima Qian and Our View of Early China
As we saw last time, the Spring and Autumn Annals came to be regarded as the most esoteric of all wisdom books. One person who regarded the Annals in this way was Dong Zhongshu, and it may well be that he passed along to his student, Sima Qian, the interpretive keys to unlock the secrets of the text - the secrets of history itself. Having examined the nature of the Annals, we will turn, as a closing theme for this course, to Sima Qian himself, and the relation between the historian, his understanding of the goals of history writing, and the account of the past provided by his great work, the Shiji, or "Records of the Historian."
Alongside Sima Qian's view of the role of the historian, we'll consider the impact of the anguished state in which he completed his book, which he recounted in a poignant letter to his friend Ren An. In that letter, which completes your online readings, Sima Qian explains to his friend, a man facing certain death at Wu-di's hands, how he, Sima Qian, endured the even greater anguish that Wu-di's punishment inflicted on him, out of a devotion to the mission of the historian.