The burden of taxation and military service upon the people became constantly heavier. Therefore, where there was a question of doubt he recorded it as doubtful; such was his circumspection. The unicorn is a beast of virtue. He is extremely flexible in his opinions, changing his viewpoint and adapting his tone to fit the subject of each chapter. Like the Confucianists, he opposed the foreign policy of the emperor and the terrible toll it was taking of the nation's health.
If he evoked a vague fatalism, then other scholars and bureaucrats at once attacked him for ignoring the all-important human causes in history. But it was probably not until the time of Confucius and his disciples that the Classics began to assume anything like their present form. The work was lost in the Southern Sung. Tung Chung-shu made the theory of portents a basic tenet of Confucian doctrine, and though there were a few scholars such as Yang Hsiung who objected to this inordinate attention to natural disasters and prodigies, their view represented the minority. Was it not right that for this he and his brother should meet with punishment? His purpose has not been to set up any eternal moral principles, to pass judgments of a sage upon his material. Since 124 The Form of the Shlh chi his stated aim was to rescue from oblivion the memory of great men of old, he felt it was sufficient if he recorded only their most outstanding and memorable points. The word wen is one of the most troublesome in Chinese thought to define and translate.
This intimate connection between history and rhetoric has had a profound effect upon the nature of historical writing and has helped to keep history in a place of prominence in Chinese letters and thought. . It preserves states which are lost and restores the perishing family. The Ch'in failed because it did not sweep away the hollow show of the decadent Chou, but only added to it its own harsh and exacting laws. In particular Ssu-ma Ch'ien was referring no doubt to the li and yueh, the rites and music which the Duke of Chou is supposed to have created and set up for the new dynasty and which are the concern of so much of Confucian literature. Ssu-ma Tan, however, adapts the theory in a special way to apply not to rulers but to writers, that is, from the Duke of Chou, author of many of the Odes, to Confucius, author of the Spring and Autumn Annals, to he hopes himself and his son. But by the time of the compilation of the Confucian Classics two of these popular gods, Yao and Shun, had been converted into historical personages, and at some later date the other three re- ceived similar recognition by at least one branch of the Confucian school.
One expedient, continued from earlier times, was to grant commutation of punishments upon payment of heavy fines. In recent years a minor variation, in which social, economic, and cultural developments in each period are dealt with in succeeding chap- ters or sections, has become popular as the concept of history broadens to include more than the narration of political events that was the core of older histories. It is hardly necessary to remark at this point that his interest was not in just any individual. Emperor Wu established Confucianism as the state creed and opened the way for scholars to enter the bureaucracy by competitive examination. Yet it is certain that somehow, for some reason, Ch'ien created in his writing a new place for the individual in history.
My aim in thisjntroduction has been to describe in brief some of the main features of the span of history covered by the Shih chi, and it would seem appropriate to end my description where the Shih chi ends, with the reign of Emperor Wu. He was no sentimentalist but an historian with the historian's fearless gaze. This is also apparent when we compare the bright picture of Kao-tsu built up in his Annals with the rude, short-tempered, ill-bred Kao-tsu who appears so often in the chapters on his ministers and associates. Ch'ien em- ploys this theory in an attempt to explain and rationalize the develop- ment of the past so that men may understand the course of action necessary to correct their faults. In places he achieves a clear, moving rhetoric that is in its majestic effect superior to Ch'ien's rapid, laconic style e. Ssu-ma Ch'ien, concerned at the overwhelmingly bad reputations of some of the famous men of history he described, sometimes used the essay at the end of the chapter to try to correct this impression, to plead for a more generous judgment of his subject. As the famous recluses of antiquity, to preserve their purity from the contamination of the world, were wont to do.
Following the tendency already evident in the Table of Contents of the Shih chi, these epitomes were composed in four- character rhymed phrases. He proceeds to the story of Po I and Shu Ch'i, two men of ancient times praised by Confucius for the fact that they did not bear grudges. This atmosphere of rivalry and suspicion, of dramatic rise and fall of fortunes, bred a feeling of profound doubt and despair that pervades the literature of the period. He was bound to tell all that his sources told him. In other words, as did Ssu-ma Ch'ien in the case of the downfall of Wei, he felt that there is a point beyond which no amount of good government and wise counsel can save a perishing state. Ssu-ma Ch'ien's father, Ssu-ma T'an, openly favored Tao- ism over the other schools of thought, but Ssu-ma Ch'ien himself at no point makes any such clear declaration in favor of one particular doc- trine. They not only look at it differently, but give their personal oppinion and commentary on political events.
If you are interested in graduate work, please contact our Chair of Graduate Studies. He then went north to Huaiyin modern , to see the grave of Han dynasty general , then continued north to , the hometown of , where he studied ritual and other traditional subjects. Herodotus may carry his descriptions of the physical characteristics of barbarian peoples to quaint extremes or compare their languages to the screeching of bats, but we will search in vain for any such information in the pages of the Shih chi. He then went to seek the burial place of the legendary rulers on and in the Jiuyi Mountains modern , Hunan. The first duty of the knight is to advance in life and to achieve the fame he seeks, to look out for his own interests and to seize his own opportunities. In the case of other states it records great faults but does not bother with minor ones.
It is obvious, then, that this elegance and ceremony could in time degenerate into empty show. For centuries afterwards, the Shiji was regarded as the greatest history book written in Asia. This historical consciousness grew quite naturally though not in- evitably from the humanism of the Chou people. Emperor Wu, in order to support the foreign wars and the increasing lavishness of imperial life, was forced to search for new sources of revenue. He thought to make himself a dictator, hoping to attack and rule the empire by force. Criticism may be made here and there of the way in which Ssu-ma Ch'ien applied his methods of historiography or the degree of success to which he realized his aims.