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The Records of the Grand Historian, also known in English by the Chinese name Shiji (史記), written from 109 BC to 91 BC, was the magnum opus of Sima Qian, in which he recounted Chinesemarker history from the time of the Yellow Emperor until his own time. (The Yellow Emperor, traditionally dated ca. 2600 BC, is the first ruler whom Sima Qian considers sufficiently established as historical to appear in the Records.) As the first systematic Chinese historical text, the Records profoundly influenced Chinese historiography and prose. In its effect, the work is comparable to Herodotus and his Histories.


The 130 volumes (i.e. scrolls, now usually called "chapters") of the text classify information into several categories:
  1. 12 volumes of Benji (本紀) or "Imperial Biographies", contain the biographies of all prominent rulers from the Yellow Emperor to Qin Shihuang and the kings of Xia, Shang, and Zhou dynasties. The biographies of four emperors and one empress dowager of the Western Han before his age are also included. In addition, though Xiang Yu never actually ruled all the country, his biography was contained in this class.
  2. 10 volumes of Biao (表) or "Tables", are timeline of events.
  3. 8 volumes of Shu (書) or "Treatises", treat of economics and other topics of the time.
  4. 30 volumes of Shijia (世家) or "Biographies of the Feudal Houses and Eminent Persons", contain biographies of notable rulers, nobility and bureaucrats mostly from the Spring and Autumn and Warring States periods.
  5. 70 volumes of Liezhuan (列傳) or "Biographies and Collective Biographies", contain biographies of important individual figures including Laozi, Mozi, Sunzi, and Jingke.

The Shiji is sometimes bundled with a prologue written by Sima Zhen during the Tang dynasty, some eight centuries later. It records rulers that existed before the Yellow Emperor that Sima Qian omitted because of the lack of reliable sources.


Sima Qian

Unlike subsequent official historical texts that adopted Confucian doctrine, proclaimed the divine rights of the emperors, and degraded any failed claimant to the throne, Sima Qian's more liberal and objective prose has been renowned and followed by poets and novelists. Most volumes of Liezhuan are vivid descriptions of events and persons. This has been attributed to the belief that the author critically used stories passed on from antiquity as part of his sources, balancing reliability and accuracy of the records. For instance, the material on Jing Ke's attempt at assassinating the first emperor of Chinamarker was allegedly an eye-witness story passed on by the great-grandfather of his father's friend, who served as a low-ranking bureaucrat at court of Qin and happened to be attending the diplomatic ceremony for Jing Ke. It has been observed that the diplomatic Sima Qian has a way of accentuating the positive in his treatment of rulers in the Basic Annals, but slipping negative information into other chapters, and so his work must be read as a whole to obtain full information. There are also discrepancies of fact between various portions of the work, probably reflecting Sima Qian's use of different source texts; from these it appears that his great work did not receive a final editorial revision.


Joseph Needham wrote in 1954 that there were scholars doubting that Sima's Records of the Grand Historian had contained accurate information about such distant history, including the thirty kings of the Shang Dynasty (c. 1600–c. 1050 BC). While many scholars argued that Sima could not possibly have had access to written materials which detailed history a millennium before his age, Needham has another conclusion. Actually, the discovery of oracle bones at an excavation of the Shang Dynasty capital at Anyangmarker (Yinxumarker) matched twenty-three of the thirty Shang kings that Sima listed. Needham writes that this remarkable archaeological find proves that Sima Qian "did have fairly reliable materials at his disposal—a fact which underlines once more the deep historical-mindedness of the Chinese."

In The Terracotta Warriors by John Man, the bias in Sima Qian's epic is deconstructed. Man argues that, due to personal circumstances, including his own punishment by castration, Sima wrote favorably about the preceding emperors in order to discredit the contemporary emperor, and to make that emperor's reforms seem incompetent .

The first annal records the Five Emperors period. With the exception of a brief mention of Shennong/Yandi, Sima Qian excluded the Three Sovereigns preceding the Five Emperors as he admitted his sources were unreliable. Why he considered his sources to the Five Emperors reliable is a mystery as many earlier works such as the Book of Rites and Songs of Chu contradict each other regarding this period. Sima also removed descriptions of supernatural powers or physiology associated with these legendary culture heroes which has led to criticism that he turned deities into historical rulers.



Benji (本紀, annals), 12 juan. Royal biographies in strict annalistic form that offer an overview of the most important events, especially from the time of the Zhou dynasty to that of the emperor of the Han dynasty.
Number Title Translation Notes
1. Wudi benji, 五帝本紀 Annals of the five emperors The traditional Chinese interpretation of the oldest Chinese history, beginning with the Yellow Emperor
2. Xia benji, 夏本紀 Annals of the Xia dynasty
3. Yin benji, 殷本紀 Annals of the Yin or Shang dynasty
4. Zhou benji, 周本紀 Annals of the Zhou dynasty
5. Qin benji, 秦本紀 Annals of Qin The feudal state of Qin
6. Qinshihuang benji, 秦始皇本紀 Annals of the First Emperor of Qin Qin Shihuang, 221-210 BCE
7. Xiang Yu benji, 項羽本紀 Annals of Xiang Yu Hegemon Xiang Yu (in place of the Annals of Emperor Yidi (義帝).
8. Gaozu benji, 高祖本紀 Annals of Gaozu Emperor Han Gaozu (Liu Bang), 206-195 BCE
9. Lü Taihou benji, 呂太后本紀 Annals of the Empress Lü, widow of Han Gaozu (regent 195-180 BCE)
10. Xiao Wen benji, 孝文本紀 Annals of the Xiaowen Emperor Emperor Wen, 179-157 BCE
11. Xiao Jing benji, 孝景本紀 Annals of the Xiaojing Emperor Emperor Jing, 156-141 BCE
12. Xiao Wu benji, 孝武本紀 Annals of the Xiaowu Emperor Emperor Wu, 140-87 BCE


Biao (表, tables), 10 tables: overview of the reigns of the successive lords of the feudal states from the time of the Zhou dynasty till that of the early Han. At the same time the most important events of their reigns are mentioned.
Number Title Translation Notes
13. sandai shibiao, 三代世表 Genealogical table of the Three Ages Xia, Shang, and Zhou dynasties.
14. shier zhuhou nianbiao, 十二諸侯年表 Yearly chronicle of the feudal lords The princes who ruled the twelve feudal states in the Spring and Autumn Period.
15. liuguo nianbiao, 六國年表 Yearly chronicle of the six states The six feudal states in the period of the Warring States
16. qinchuzhiji yuebiao, 秦楚之際月表 Monthly table of (the events) between Qin and Chu The war between the feudal states of Qin and Chu.
17. Hanxing yilai zhuhouwang nianbiao, 漢興以來諸侯王年表 Yearly table of the kings of the Han clan Princes of the imperial family who had the title of king.
18. Gaozu yi chenhouzhe nianbiao, 高祖功臣侯者年表 The yearly table of the officials who became Marquises in the time of Gaozu Office holders who received high titles in time of Emperor Gaozu of Han (206-195 BCE)
19. Hui Jing xian houzhe nianbiao, 惠景閒侯者年表 The yearly table of the officials who became Marquises between the reigns of Emperor Hui and Emperor Jin Office holders who received high titles during the time from 194 to 141 BCE.
20. Jianyuan yilai houzhe nianbiao, 建元以來侯者年表 Yearly table of the officials who became Marquises since the Jianyuan period Jianyuan was the reign period of Han Wudi from 140-135 BCE.
21. Jianyuan yilai wangzi houzhe nianbiao, 建元已(=以)來王子侯者年表 Yearly table of the kings’ sons who became Marquises since the Jianyuan period
22. Hanxing yilai jiangxiang mingchen nianbiao, 漢興以來將相名臣年表 Yearly table of ministers, counselors and important officials from the beginning of the Han


Shu (書, treatises), 8 juan. Each essay describes an area of state interest.

Number Title Translation Notes
23. li, 禮 Rites
24. yue, 樂 Music
25. lü, 律 Bells Harmony and measurements
26. li, 曆 Calendars
27. tianguan, 天官 Astronomy
28. fengshan, 封禪 The “feng” and “shan” sacrifices Sacrifices to Heaven and Earth
29. hequ, 河渠 Rivers and canals
30. pingzhun, 平準 Equalization Names of officials who had to buy crops in a year of bountiful harvest and sell in a year of crop failure


Shijia (世家, genealogies), 30 juan. Descriptions in chronicle form of the events of the states from the time of the Zhou dynasty until the early Han and eminent people.

{| class=wikitable


Liezhuan(列傳, exemplary lives, often called biographies), 70 juan. Biographies of important people. The biographies are limited to the description of the events that show the exemplary character of the subject, but in the Shiji is often supplemented with legends. One biography can treat two or more people if they are considered to belong to the same type. The last biographies describe the relations between the Chinese and the neighboring peoples.


The last important section features an afterword (xu) that includes an autobiography by Sima Qian. He explains in it why and under what circumstances he wrote the Shiji.

See also


  1. Needham, Joseph. (1972). Science and Civilization in China: Volume 1, Introductory Orientations. Richmond: Kingprint Ltd., reprinted by permission of the Cambridge University Press with first publication in 1954. ISBN 052105799X. Page 88, see: here.

Further reading

  • Dorn'eich, Chris M. (2008). Chinese sources on the History of the Niusi-Wusi-Asi(oi)-Rishi(ka)-Arsi-Arshi-Ruzhi and their Kueishuang-Kushan Dynasty. Shiji 110/Hanshu 94A: The Xiongnu: Synopsis of Chinese Original Text and several Western Translations with Extant Annotations. Berlin. To read or download go to: [27720]
  • Hulsewé A.F.P. (1993), “Shih chi”, Early Chinese Texts: a bibliographical guide (editor—Loewe M.) p. 405-414 (Berkeley: Society for the Study of Early China).
  • Sima Qian (1993), Records of the Grand Historian of China. Qin Dynasty. Translated by Burton Watson (Hong Kong: The Research Centre for Translation [The Chinese University of Hong Kong]; New York, Columbia University Press). ISBN 0-231-08168-5 (hbk); ISBN 0-231-08169-3 (pbk)
  • Sima Qian (1993), Records of the Grand Historian of China. Han Dynasty II. (Revised Edition). Translated by Burton Watson (New York, Columbia University Press). ISBN 0-231-08168-5 (hbk); ISBN 0-231-08167-7 (pbk)
  • Ssu-ma Ch'ien (1961), Records of the grand historian of China: Han Dynasty I, Translated from the Shih chi of Ssu-ma Ch'ien by Burton Watson (Hong Kong: The Research Centre for Translation [The Chinese University of Hong Kong]; New York: Columbia University Press). Revised Edition (1993): ISBN 0-231-08165-0 (pbk), 0-231-08164-2.
  • Ssu ma Ch’ien (1994), The Grand Scribe’s Records I: the basic annals of pre-Han China (editor—Nienhauser W.H. Jr.) (Bloomington: Indiana University Press). (An annotated translation.)
  • Ssu ma Ch’ien (1994), The Grand Scribe’s Records VII: the memoirs of pre-Han China (editor—Nienhauser W.H. Jr.) (Bloomington: Indiana University Press). (An annotated translation.)
  • Ssu ma Ch’ien (2002), The Grand Scribe’s Records II: the basic annals of pre-Han China (editor—Nienhauser W.H. Jr.) (Bloomington: Indiana University Press). (An annotated translation.)
  • Ssu ma Ch’ien (2006), The Grand Scribe’s Records V.1: the hereditary houses of pre-Han China (editor—Nienhauser W.H. Jr.) (Bloomington: Indiana University Press). (An annotated translation.)
  • Ssu ma Ch’ien (2008), The Grand Scribe’s Records VIII: the memoirs of Han China (editor—Nienhauser W.H. Jr.) (Bloomington: Indiana University Press). (An annotated translation.)

External links

Number Title Translation Notes
31. Wu Taibo shijia, 吳太伯世家 The house of Wu Taibo
32. Qi Taigong shijia, 齊太公世家 The house of Qi Taigong
33. Lu Zhougong shijia, 魯周公世家 The house of Lu Zhougong
34. Yan Zhaogong shijia, 燕召公世家 The house of Yan Zhaogong
35. Guan Cai shijia, 管蔡世家 The houses of Guan and Cai
36. Chen Qi shijia, 陳杞世家 The house of Chen Qi Sometimes spelled (Qy) to differentiate it from Qi
37. Wei Kangshu shijia, 衛康叔世家 The house of Wei Kangshu Sometimes spelled (Wey) to differentiate it from Wei
38. Song Weizi shijia, 宋微子世家 The house of Song Weizi
39. Jin shijia, 晉世家 The house of Jin
40. Chu shijia, 楚世家 The house of Chu
41. Yue wang Goujian 越王句踐世家 The house of King Goujian, king of Yue
42. Zheng shijia, 鄭世家 The house of Zheng
43. Zhao shijia, 趙世家 The house of Zhao
44. Wei shijia, 魏世家 The house of Wei
45. Han shijia, 韓世家 The house of Han Sometimes spelled (Hann) to differentiate it from Han
46. Tian Jingzhong Wan shijia, 田敬仲完世家 The house of Tian Jingzhong, also called Wan
47. Kongzi shijia, 孔子世家 The house of Kongzi Confucius
48. Chen She shijia, 陳涉世家 The house of Chen She
49. Waiqi shijia, 外戚世家 The houses of the outside relatives The empresses and their families
50. Chu Yuan wang shijia, 楚元王世家 The house of (prince) Chu Yuan
51. Jing Yan shijia, 荊燕世家 The houses of Jing and Yan
52. Qi Daohuiwang shijia, 齊悼惠王世家 The house of (prince) Qi Daohui
53. Xiao xiangguo shijia, 蕭相國世家 The house of (prime minister) Xiao Xiao He (蕭何)
54. Cao xiangguo shijia, 曹相國世家 The house of (prime minister) Cao Cao Can (曹參)
55. Liuhou shijia, 留侯世家 The house of Marquis Liu Zhang Liang, 張良)
56. Chen chengxiang shijia, 陳丞相世家 The house of (prime minister) minister Chen (Chen Ping, 陳平)
57. Jianghou Zhou Bo shijia, 絳侯周勃世家 The house of Zhou Bo, Marquis of Jiang
58. Liang Xiaowang shijia, 梁孝王世家 The house of (prince) Liang Xiao
59. Wuzong shijia, 五宗世家 The house of the five clans The sons of the emperor Han Jingdi
60. sanwang shijia, 三王世家 The house of the three kings The rulers of Qi(齊), Yan (燕) and Guanglingmarker (廣陵)
Number Title Translation Notes
61. Boyi liezhuan, 伯夷列傳 Biography of Bo Yi
62. Guan Yan liezhuan, 管晏列傳 Biography of Guan and of Yan Guan is Guan Zhong (管仲); Yan is Yan Ying (晏嬰).
63. Laozi Han Fei liezhuan, 老子韓非列傳 Biographies of Laozi and of Han Fei Included in the biography of Laozi is also that of Zhuangzi (莊子) and of Shen Buhai (申不害).
64. Sima Rangju liezhuan, 司馬穰苴列傳 Biography of Sima Rangju
65. Sunzi Wu Qi liezhuan, 孫子吳起列傳 Biography of Sunzi and of Wu Qi
66. Wu Zixu liezhuan, 伍子胥列傳 Biography of Wu Zixu
67. Zhongni dizi liezhuan, 仲尼弟子列傳 Biography of the disciples of Zhongni Zhongni is Confucius.
68. Shanghou liezhuan, 商君列傳 Biography of the lord of Shang Shang Yang (商鞅).
69. Su Qin liezhuan, 蘇秦列傳 Biography of Su Qin
70. Zhang Yi liezhuan, 張儀列傳 Biography of Zhang Yi
71. Shu Lizi Gan Mao liezhuan, 樗里子甘茂列傳 Biographies of Shu Lizi and of Gan Mao Included in the biography of Gan Mao is that of Gan Luo (甘羅).
72. Ranghou liezhuan, 穰侯列傳 Biography of the Marquis of Rang (Wei Ran, 魏冉)
73. Bai Qi Wang Jian liezhuan, 白起王翦列傳 Biographies of Bai Qi and of Wang Jian
74. Mengzi Xun Qing liezhuan 孟子荀卿列傳, Biographies of Mengzi and of Xun Qing Mengzi is Mencius; Xun Qing is Xunzi.
75. Mengchanghou liezhuan, 孟嘗君列傳 Biography of lord Mengchang
76. Pingyuanhou Yu Qing liezhuan, 平原君虞卿列傳 Biography of lord Pingyuan and of Yu Qing
77. Weigongzi liezhuan, 魏公子列傳 Biographies of the sons of the duke of Wei
78. Chunshenhou liezhuan, 春申君列傳 Biography of lord Chunshen
79. Fan Yu Cai Ze liezhuan, 范睢蔡澤列傳 Biographies of Fan Yu and of Cai Ze
80. Yue Yi liezhuan, 樂毅列傳 Biography of Yue Yi
81. Lian Po Lin Xiangru liezhuan 廉頗藺相如列傳 Biographies of Lian Po and of Lin Xiangru
82. Tian Dan liezhuan, 田單列傳 Biography of Tian Dan (different character /dan/ from 94.)
83. Lu Zhonglian Zou Yan liezhuan, 魯仲連鄒陽列傳 Biographies of Lu Zhonglian and of Zou Yang
84. Qu Yuan Jiasheng liezhuan, 屈原賈生列傳 Biographies of Qu Yuan and of Master Jia Master Jia is Jia Yi (賈誼).
85. Lü Buwei sheng liezhuan, 呂不韋生列傳 Biography of Master Lü Buwei
86. Cike liezhuan 刺客列傳 Biographies of assassins Cao Mo (曹沫), Zhuan Zhu (專諸), Yu Rang (豫讓), Nie Zheng (聶政) and Jing Ke (荊軻).
87. Li Si liezhuan, 李斯列傳 Biography of Li Si
88. Meng Tian liezhuan, 蒙恬列傳 Biography of Meng Tian
89. Zhang Er Chen Yu liezhuan, 張耳陳餘列傳 Biographies of Zhang Er and of Chen Yu
90. Wei Bao Peng Yue liezhuan, 魏豹彭越列傳 Biographies of Wei Bao and of Peng Yue
91. Jing Bu liezhuan, 黥布列傳 Biography of Jing Bu also Ying Bu (英布).
92. Huaiyinhou liezhuan, 淮陰侯列傳 Biography of the Marquis of Huaiyin The Marquis of Huaiyin was Han Xin (韓信).
93. Han Xin Lu Wan liezhuan, 韓信盧綰列傳 Biographies of Han Xin, king of Han, and of Lu Wan Also includes the biography of Chen Xi (陳豨).
94. Tian Dan liezhuan, 田儋列傳 Biography of Tian Dan (different character /dan/ from 82.)
95. Fan Li Teng Guan liezhuan, 樊酈滕灌列傳 Biographies of Fan, Li, Teng and Guan Fan is Fan Kuai (樊噲), Li is Li Shang (酈商), Teng is Teng (Xiahou) Ying (滕夏侯嬰), and Guan is Guan Ying (灌嬰).
96. Zhang chengxiang liezhuan, 張丞相列傳 Biography of prime minister Zhang Zhang is Zhang Cang (張蒼).
97. Li Sheng Lu Jia liezhuan, 酈生陸賈列傳 Biographies of Li Sheng and of Lu Jia The biography of Lu Jia also includes that of Zhu Jian (朱建).
98. Fu Jin Kuaicheng liezhuan, 傅靳蒯成列傳 Biographies of Fu, Jin, and of (the Marquis of) Kuaicheng Fu is Fu Kuan (寬), Jin is Jin She (歙), and the Marquis of Kuaicheng is Zhou Xue (周?).
99. Liu Jing Shusun Tong liezhuan, 劉敬叔孫通列傳 Biographies of Liu Jing and of Shusun Tong
100. Ji Bu Luan Bu liezhuan, 季布欒布列傳 Biographies of Ji Bu and of Luan Bu
101. Yuan Ang Zhao Cuo liezhuan, 袁盎晁錯列傳 Biographies of Yuan Ang and of Chao Cuo
102. Zhang Shizhi Feng Tang liezhuan, 張釋之馮唐列傳 Biographies of Zhang Shizhi and of Feng Tang
103. Wan Shi Zhang Shu liezhuan, 萬石張叔列傳 Biographies of Wan Shi and of Zhang Shu Wan Shi (jun 君, Wei Wan 衛綰, Zhi Buyi 直不疑 and Zhou Wen 周文).
104. Tian Shu liezhuan, 田叔列傳 Biography of Tian Shu
105. Pian Que Canggong liezhuan, 扁鵲倉公列傳 Biographies of Pian Que and of prince [Tai] Cang Prince Tai Cang (太倉).
106. Wuwangbi liezhuan, 吳王濞列傳 Biography of Bi, king of Wu Liu Bi (劉濞), king of Wu.
107. Weiqi Wu'anhou liezhuan, 魏其武安侯列 Biographies of the marquis Weiqi and of the marquis of Wu'an Dou Ying (竇嬰), Marquis of Weiqi, and Tian Fen (田蚡), Marquis of Wu'an.
108. Han Changru liezhuan, 韓長孺列傳 Biography of Han Changru
109. Li jiangjun liezhuan, 李將軍列傳 Biography of General Li Li Guang (李廣)
110. Xiongnu liezhuan, 匈奴列傳 Treatise on the Xiongnu Xiongnu
111. Wei jiangjun piaoqi liezhuan, 衛將軍驃騎列傳 Biography of cavalry general Wei Wei Qing (衛青)
112. Pingjinhou Zhufu liezhuan 平津侯主父列傳 Biographies of the Marquis of Pingjin and of Zhufu The Marquis of Pingjin is Gongsun Hong (公孫弘); Zhufu is Zhufu Yan (主父偃)
113. Nanyue liezhuan, 南越列傳
114. Dongyue liezhuan, 東越列傳 Treatise on the Eastern Yue people
115. Chaoxian liezhuan 朝鮮列傳 Treatise on Korea Koreamarker (Chosun)
116. Xinanyi liezhuan 西南夷列傳 Treatise on the Southwestern Yi people
117. Sima Xiangru liezhuan 司馬相如列傳 Biography of Sima Xiangru
118. Huainan Hengshan liezhuan 淮南衡山列傳 Biographies of Huainan and of Hengshan The kings of Huainan and of Hengshan.
119. Xunli liezhuan 循吏列傳 Biographies of upright officials Sunshu Ao (孫叔敖), Zi Chan (子產), Gong Yixiu (公儀休), Shi She (石奢) and (Li Li 李離).
120. Ji Zheng liezhuan, 汲鄭列傳 Biographies of Ji and of Zheng Ji An (汲黯) and Zheng Dangshi (鄭當時).
121. Rulin liezhuan, 儒林列傳 Biographies of the “forest of learning” (scholars) Gongsun Hong (公孫弘), Sheng Gong (申公), Yuan Gu (轅固), Han Ying (韓嬰), Fu Sheng (伏勝), Dong Zhongshu (董仲舒) and Hu Wu (胡毋).
122. Kuli liezhuan 酷吏列傳 Biographies of cruel officials Hou Feng (侯封), Zhi Du (郅都), Ning Cheng (寧成), Zhou Yangyou (周陽由), Zhao Yu (趙禹), Zhang Tang (張湯), Yi Zong (義縱), Wang Wenshu (王溫舒), Yin Qi (尹齊), Yang Pu (楊僕), Jian Xuan (減宣)and Du Zhou (杜周).
123. Dayue liezhuan 大宛列傳 Treatise on the Dayue people Dayue.
124. Youxia liezhuan 游俠列傳 Biographies of the wandering knights Lu Zhujia (魯朱家) and Guo Jie (郭解).
125. Ningxing liezhuan 佞幸列傳 Biographies of flatterers
126. Huaji liezhuan 滑稽列傳 Biographies of jesters Chunyu Kun (淳于髡), You Meng (優孟), You Zhan (優旃) and Dongfang Shuo (東方朔).
127. Rizhe liezhuan 日者列傳 Biographies of soothsayers
128. Guice liezhuan 龜策列傳 Biographies of diviners
129. Huozhi liezhuan 貨殖列傳 Biographies of usurers People who enriched themselves.
Number Title Translation Notes
130. Taishigong zixu, 太史公自序 Autobiographical afterword of the Grand Historian.

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