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Ssu-ma Ch'ien

Ssu-ma Ch'ien (sŏˈmä chyĕn) [key], 145?–90? B.C., Chinese historian; sometimes called the Father of Chinese History. He succeeded his father, Ssu-ma T'an, as grand historian (an office then dealing with astronomy and the calendar) at the court of the Early Han emperor Wu. There he took up a project on history planned by his father and extended it into a history of China and of all regions and peoples known at that time. Incurring the emperor's displeasure, he suffered the punishment of castration. Rejecting the alternative of suicide, he chose to complete this work, the Shih chi [records of the historian]. In 130 chapters, including basic annals of dynasties or rulers, chronological tables, treatises, hereditary houses, and accounts of famous men and foreign lands and peoples, it has served as a model for subsequent Chinese dynastic histories. Its wide range, many-faceted characterizations, and vivid dialogue have won it the admiration of Asian readers for over 2,000 years.

See Records of the Grand Historian of China, tr. by B. Watson (2 vol., 1961, repr. 1969); study by B. Watson (1958).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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