Final Paper Assignment

Due Friday, December 7, uploaded through Oncourse. 

Your final G380 written assignment is a paper of 1750-2000 words (about 6-7 double-spaced pages) analyzing a biographical chapter of Sima Qian's Shiji.  About one half of Sima Qian's comprehensive history of China to about 100 B.C. is composed of biographies. In some cases, the biographical chapters focus on a single individual; in some cases, a number of people are grouped together because of some common characteristics, and discussed in sequence in a single chapter.

This assignment offers you five different chapters of approximately equal length to choose among, and asks you to do the following:

1) Prepare a two-page summary of the chapter text, focusing on the sequence of major events in the lives of each person (prepare this first -- it will help you clarify the basic structure of your chapter)

2) Write an analysis that addresses appropriate questions from the following list:

What makes this person (or sequence of people) significant in the history of the Qin-Han period?  What political, military, social, or intellectual contributions make them noteworthy?

Are there personal qualities that seem to make the individual(s) significant as topics of historical record?  Do these qualities seem to provide positive or negative "lessons" that Sima Qian may have wished to convey?

Do the stories in your biographical chapter appear designed to reflect on other political leaders, particularly on the Han emperors and their families, or the contestants during the post-Qin civil war?

What features of Qin-Han history seem to be highlighted by the affairs described by your chapters?  Are there ways in which the chapter seems to diverge from the basic "master narrative" of events and trends described in G380?

Can you detect an overall "agenda" of the author, Sima Qian, either in selecting these people for biographies, or in presenting their stories in the way that he does?  (If so, what does that agenda seem to be?)

Comment on literary characteristics of your chapter -- does it seem designed to elicit an emotional response; does it include humor; does it seem intended primarily to record events, to preserve (or invent) moral statements, to offer testimony for religious or political ideas . . ?

. . . There may, of course, be things you want to write about apart from these issues.

You may choose any of the following chapters, selected from Burton Watson's partial translation: Records of the Grand Historian, volumes 1-2 (available in pdf files through Oncourse >> Resources >> Paper Project Readings):

Chapter 55: "The Hereditary House of Marquis Liu" (vol. 1, 99-114) -- the biography of Zhang Liang, a founding Han Dynasty minister

Chapter 89: "The Biographies of Zhang Er and Chen Yu" (v. 1, 131-146) -- mid-level figures in the Qin-Han transition

Chapter 97: "The Biographies of Li Yiji & Lu Jia" (v. 1, 219-232) -- early Han "Confucian" types (also includes the biography of Zhu Jian)

Chapter 109: "The Biography of General Li Guang" (v. 2, 117-128) -- a general fighting the Xiongnu during the Wudi era

Chapter 120: "The Biographies of Ji An & Zheng Dangshi" (v. 2, 307-318) -- Huang-Lao influenced ministers of the Wudi era

You will encounter many more person and place names than you will recognize. You need attend only to the most important. In some cases, figures are referred to in multiple ways; for example, the Han founder may be referred to as "the governor of Pei," "the king of Han," or Gaozu, depending on the period under discussion.

Certain sections of  the online readings will be relevant to these chapters of the Shiji. Sections of particular importance include: "The Rise of the Han," "The Reigns of the Early Han Emperors," "The Reign of Wu-di," and "The Fortunes of Confucianism." 

Papers should be written with appropriate attention to vocabulary, syntax, and formal style. Bibliographies do not need to be included unless you cite sources beyond the Shiji chapter you select and online course text material. 

Consult the Writing Guide on this website; it provides standards for form. (The guide is meant for you to consult to check that you're on track; it's long and dull to read through and you don't need to.) Writing style and formal presentation will be a component of the grade for this paper; if you submit a paper with many errors of grammar, sloppy word choice, and so forth, I'll take that into account.

This paper is due Friday, December 7, uploaded through Oncourse.