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The Social and Political Philosophy of the Shih-chi

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 March 2011

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Chinese state and society underwent a profound change in the Former Han period. During the early years of the Former Han the exact nature of state and society was by no means clear, but by the end of this period, the broad outlines of the imperial system had been established for all subsequent Chinese history. The Ch'in Dynasty had indicated one direction, but its collapse had revived many of those elements present at the end of the third century B.C. which could logically have developed into a limited open society.

Copyright © The Association for Asian Studies, Inc. 1963

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1 See Hsu Cho-yun, “Social Mobility in Ancient China, 722–222 B.C.,” a paper read before the fourteenth annual meeting of the Association for Asian Studies, Boston, April 3, 1962. Abstracted under the title “A Case of Conceptual Change,” Journal of Asian Studies, XXI (08 1962), 622.Google Scholar

2 Shih-chi, Ch. 17 (Peking edition of Shih-chi hui-chu k'ao-cheng, Commercial Press, 1955), 35Google Scholar; Ch. 19. 3–4. Hereafter cited as SC. Ch'ien Han-shu, Ch. 14 (Po-na pen ed.), 2a3bGoogle Scholar. Hereafter cited as HS. Yü-ch'üan, Wang, “An Outline of the Central Government of the Former Han Dynasty,” Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, XII (June 1949), 134187CrossRefGoogle Scholar. See also Dull, Jack L., “A Study of the Han Dynasty Prefecture,” unpublished Master's thesis, University of Washington, 1959.Google Scholar

3 Kan, Lao, Ch'in Han shih (Taipei, 1952), II, 2728Google Scholar; Mu, Ch'ien, Ch'in Han shih (Hong Kong, 1957), pp. 4748Google Scholar; SC, 9·37–38, 54.19. Watson, Burton, Ssu-ma Ch'ien Grand Historian of China, (Columbia University Press, 1958), pp. 339Google Scholar. Hereafter cited as Grand Historian. Watson, , Records of the Grand Historian of China (Columbia University Press, 1961), I, 340Google Scholar. Hereafter cited as Records.

4 See SC, 10.1–47; 121.6–7 for the assertion of his fondness for the doctrines of personnel organization and control (hsing-ming). On this term and its meaning, see Creel, H. G., “The Meaning of Hsing-Ming,” Studia Serica Bernhard Karlgren Dedicata, (Copenhagen: Ejnar Munksgaard, 1959), 200211Google Scholar. See also Watson, , Records, I, 314, 341366Google Scholar; II, 398.

5 Kung-ch'üan, Hsiao, Chung-kuo cheng-chih ssu-hsiang shih (Taipei, 1954), III, 287288, 333334Google Scholar discusses the various stages in the development of Taoism and Confucianism in the Han period.

6 Cf. deBary, Wm. Theodore, ed., Sources of Chinese Tradition (Columbia University Press, 1960), pp. 172178Google Scholar. Giles, Herbert A., trans., Chuang Tzu: Taoist Philosopher and Chinese Mystic (London: George Allen and Unwin, ltd., 1961), 313325.Google Scholar

7 SC, 30.7–8; HS, 24A.9a, 12a. A system of banking and money lending had emerged in early Han, and bankers were becoming financiers for princes and lords who depended on them for maintenance of their courts in peacetime and for payment of troops in war. Wu Yen, for example, financed the princes called to fight the Lords of Wu and Chu in 154 B.C. In 199 B.C., Liu Ching urged that wealthy merchant families, along with noble and powerful families, be moved by the government to frontier areas or areas close to the capital for purposes of control. SC, 129.16–17, 112.27; HS, 64A.19b, 6.9a, 43.13b–14a, 100.1a–b; SC, 99.10.

8 HS, 5.93; Dubs, Homer H., The History of the former Han Dynasty, I (Baltimore: Waverly Press, Inc., 1938), 329331Google Scholar. SC, 102.2, 117.2; HS, 50.1a, 57A.13.

9 HS, 48.6b–11a, i4.2b–3b; SC, 17.3–7, 101.17, 18, 112.26; Watson, , Records, II, 488490, 229, 234235Google Scholar; I, 528, 529.

10 HS, 92.1b; SC, 124.2–7; Watson, , Record's, II, 452461Google Scholar. For evidence of “guests” as the backbone of rebellious movements, see SC, 93.15, 106.2–30; Watson, , Records, I, 241242, 465486.Google Scholar

11 HS, 24A.8a–9b, 9b–13a.

12 Emperor Wen attempted by decrees snd tax abolition or reduction to encourage agriculture as against commerce. HS, 4.13a–b. Chia I had advised Wen to divide the territory of some of the largest kingdoms and in 164 B. C., after Chia I's death, when the King of Ch'i died Emperor Wen did divide that kingdom into seven kingdoms. SC, 17.5–6.

13 SC, 101.20, 106.8–13; HS, 49.7a–25a, 35.5b–6a, 38.3a. In addition to reducing the size of the kingdoms, Emperor Ching decreed that kings could not govern their kingdoms and could appoint only their petty officials. All high officials were appointed by the emperor. Thus a king could enjoy the taxes collected in his kingdom but had no actual political power. HS, 47.7a, 53.16a, 19.14a, 38.5a–b, 44.12b–14b.

14 Wu's centralizing policies, particularly his transfer of administrative power from the outer court to the inner court through the estsblishment of such offices as the Circuit Inspectors of Regional Divisions and the Prefect of the Master of Documents, and the use of eunuchs and members of the consort clan, have been outlined by Wang Yü-ch'üan, op. cit. It should also be noted that one of the specific purposes behind die institution of Wu's monopolies was the weakening of the merchants. SC, 122.17–18.

15 Kierman, Frank A. Jr., Four Late Warring States Biographies (Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz, 1961), p. 11.Google Scholar

16 Work on the history had begun some time before his castration. See Watson, , Grand Historian, pp. 54, 66Google Scholar. Wang Su (195–256 A. D.) argued before Emperor Ming of the Wei Dynasty that Ssu-ma Ch'ien's castration was not the result of his defense of Li Ling. This, says Su, was an excuse used by Emperor Wu to punish the historian for his “Annals” of Emperor Ching and Wu which Wu had read earlier. San-kuo chih, “Wei-shu” (Hong Kong edition of Erh-shih wu-shih, 1959)Google Scholar, II, 13.959. For a translation of Wang Su's biography, see Kramers, R. P., K'ung tzu chia yü (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1950), pp. 5472.Google Scholar

17 SC, 30.6–8; Watson, , Records, II, 8182.Google Scholar

18 Watson, , Grand Historian, p. 31Google Scholar. See also Wilhelm, Hellmut, “The Scholar's Frustration: Notes on a Type of ‘Fu’,” in Fairbank, John K., ed., Chinese Thought and Institutions (University of Chicago Press, 1957), pp. 311312.Google Scholar

19 Creel, H. G., Confucius and the Chinese Way (New York: Harper Brothers, 1960), pp. 244248.Google Scholar

20 See, for example, the biography of Po I, SC, 61.8, 11; 23.4–7, 103.8. Watson, , Grand Historian, pp. 187190Google Scholar, translates the biography of Po I. The specific location of the biography of Confucius might also be interpreted as a criticism.

21 Watson argues that the Shih-chi biography of Lao-tzu shows that Ssu-ma Ch'ien did not “share his father's preference for Taoism over Confucianism or, at least for the father of the Taoist school, Lao-tzu, over Confucius.” Grand Historian, p. 168Google Scholar. The biography of Lao-tzu, however, has generally been attributed to Ssu-ma T'an, and Watson presents no new evidence to the contrary. He also does not discuss the distinctively non-Confucian elements in Ssu-ma Ch'ien's thought, but simply concludes that “the charge of Taoist sympathies is based solely on Ssu-ma T'an's opinions in SC 130.”

22 Watson, , Grand Historian, pp. 85100.Google Scholar

23 Wolfram Eberhard, for example, raises considerable doubts regarding Ssu-ma Ch'ien's belief in portents, a key doctrine of the Kung-yang school as propounded by Tung Chung-shu. Ssu-ma Ch'ien's use of portents appears to have been as much politically inspired as Pan Ku's, a member of the old text school. See Eberhard, , “The Political Function of Astronomy and Astronomers in Han China,”Google Scholar in Fairbank, , op. cit., pp. 3370.Google Scholar

24 Watson, , Grand Historian, pp. 5057, 66, 84100.Google Scholar

25 SC, 117.104–05, 130.28–29, 56. Wilhelm, , op. cit., p. 314Google Scholar; Watson, , Records, II, 297, 341342Google Scholar, Grand Historian, p. 54.Google Scholar

26 SC, 121.26–29.

27 Liu, James T. C., Reform in Sung China (Harvard University Press, 1959), pp. 3033CrossRefGoogle Scholar. Kung-ch'üan, Hsiao, “K'ang Yu-wei and Confucianism,” Monumenta Serica, XVIII (1959), 97166.Google Scholar

28 Bodde, Derk, Statesman, Patriot, and General in Ancient China (New Haven: American Oriental Society, 1940), pp. 4142Google Scholar. Chang-chih, Li, Ssu-ma Ch'ien chih jen-ke yü jeng-ke (Shanghai: K'ai-ming, 1948), pp. 155156Google Scholar. See also his article in Tung-fang tsa-chih, 40.32 (1944), 3957.Google Scholar

29 Bodde, , p. 41.Google Scholar

30 Compare SC, 86Google Scholar, with the “Biographies of Knights-errant,” SC, 124Google Scholar, for example.

31 Blue, Rhea C., “The Argumentation of the Shih-Huo Chih,” Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, XI (June 1948), 1517Google Scholar, implies this by adopting the position that in chapters 30 and 129 authorship should be assigned according to “the philosophical nature of the specific passages”—the more philosophical being assigned to Ssu-ma T'an. Ssu-ma Ch'ien, it is argued, simply wrote the factual material.

32 See Watson, , Grand Historian, pp. 4348.Google Scholar

33 As one of many examples, compare the biographies of Chang Shih-chih and Feng T'ang in HS, 50Google Scholar, and SC, 102Google Scholar. The texts are virtually identical, but Pan Ku in his comments, while taking in a part from Shih-Chi 102Google Scholar, weakens the personal merit assigned them by Ssu-ma Ch'ien by attributing their success to a conscious restraint of the imperial power by Emperor Wen in order to permit the development of officials and subordinates.

34 Compare, for example, the introductions of SC, 30Google Scholar and 129 with HS, 24 and 91Google Scholar; SC, 124Google Scholar with HS, 94Google Scholar; SC, 119Google Scholar with HS, 89Google Scholar; SC, 120Google Scholar with HS, 50Google Scholar—particularly the comments in this chapter; and SC, 122Google Scholar with HS, 59.Google Scholar

35 See the Introduction and Conclusion of HS, 24AGoogle Scholar. and B and HS, 91Google Scholar; Blue, , pp. 3770Google Scholar. Swann, Nancy Lee, Food and Money in Ancient China (Princeton University Press, 1950), pp. 109148, 357359, 414419Google Scholar. HS, 23Google Scholar translated by Hulsewe, A. F. P., Remnants of Han Law (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1955), I, 309422Google Scholar. Hughes, E. R., Two Chinese Poets: Vignettes of Han Life and Thought (Princeton University Press, 1960), pp. 2534, 4858CrossRefGoogle Scholar. HS, 50Google Scholar, particularly the conclusion but the text also deletes some condemnation of Chang T'ang, especially the condemnation of winning merit by “destroying the old ways.” HS, 59 and 49Google Scholar, which is very favorable to Ch'ao Ts'o, again deletes criticisms of assertive government. The introductions to HS, 89 and 92Google Scholar are especially revealing. HS, 56Google Scholar, especially the comments.

38 For Pan Ku's reliance on the Chou-li, see Hulsewe, , 310311Google Scholar and Blue, , 3770Google Scholar. On the role of the Chou-li in Chinese political thought, see Liu, James T. C., 3033.Google Scholar

37 For Pan Ku's economic and social theories, see Blue and Swann.

38 The monopolies were abolished in 44 B. C., but were reinstated in 41 B. C. Even Wang Mang, the most Confucian of Confucians, used them and justified them on the authority of Confucian books, most notably the Chou-li. Pan Ku makes fairly clear his position that the evils of the monopolies were connected with the merchant personnel controlling them rather than with monopolies as such. See HS, 24B.12a, 24b, 27a. On this point, see also Chun-ming, Chang, “The Genesis and Meaning of Huan K'uan's ‘Discourses on Salt and Iron,’Chinese Social and Political Science Review, XVIII (04 1934), 152Google Scholar; Gale, Esson M., Discourses on Salt and Iron (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1931), pp. xxix–xxx.Google Scholar

39 For Ssu-ma Ch'ien's economic views, see SC, 30.1–49 and 129.1–44. Blue, , Swann, , and Watson, , Records, II, 79106, 476499Google Scholar translate these chapters.

40 SC, 129.5–6; Watson, , Records, II, 477.Google Scholar

41 SC, 129.5; Watson, , Records, II, 477.Google Scholar

42 SC, 129.4; Watson, , Records, II, 477.Google Scholar

43 SC, 99.22. See also SC, 69.34 for commentaries that assist in the translation of this passage. The first part of the passage, except for one character which has the same meaning, is a direct quote from Lao-tzu. Cf. Tao-te ching, Ch. 45 in Pai-tzu ch'uan-shu, tse 36 (Sao-yeh shan-fang edition, 1919.)Google ScholarWaley, Arthur, The Way and Its Power: A Study of the Too Te Ching and Its Place in Chinese Thought (New York: Grove Press, Inc., n.d.), p. 198Google Scholar. Legge, James, The Texts of Taoism (New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1962), p. 88Google Scholar. Watson, , Records, I, 298Google Scholar refers to the first part as a simple saying without indicating its origin.

44 See the biographies of Ssu-ma Hsiang-ju, Ch'en P'ing, Shu-sun Ao, Wang Shih, Chang Shu, Chih Pu-i, T'ien Shu and Chou Jen, and Wei Wen translated by Watson, Records. See also the comments to the biography of Ch'ao Ts'o together with those to the biography of Liu Pi, King of Wu, and the “Annals” of Emperor Ching.

45 SC, 122.2. Watson, , Records, II, 419.Google Scholar

46 HS, 90.1a.

47 HS, 92.1b. See also Hulsewe's translation of HS, 23Google Scholar and Hughes' translation of Pan Ku's fu on the capitals.

48 SC, 102.8–9. Cf. also 119.2–8. Watson, , Records, II, 413418, I, 533539Google Scholar translates these accounts.

49 SC, 120.6. Watson, , Records, II, 346347.Google Scholar

50 SC, 101.21; Watson, , Records, I, 532.Google Scholar

51 Watson, , Records, II, 415416.Google Scholar

52 Watson, , Records, I, 548.Google Scholar

53 SC, 120.6–7. Watson, , Records, II, 347, I, 540541Google Scholar. HS, 50.53, which follows Ssu-ma Ch'ien's account of Chi An closely, deletes the statement of Chi An's fight for “general principles” as against Chang T'ang's strict adherence to the letter of the law and procedure. A similar criticism by Ssu-ma Ch'ien can be found in the biography of Feng T'ang.

54 SC, 120.7; Watson, , Records, II, 347Google Scholar. See also SC, 129.29.

55 SC, 121.16–19, 2629Google Scholar; Watson, , Records, II, 403404, 409411.Google Scholar

56 SC, 121.8–13, 19Google Scholar; 112.2–11; Watson, , Records, II, 398401, 219225.Google Scholar

57 SC, 121.27–28; Watson, , Records, II, 411412.Google Scholar

58 SC, 112.4. The HS biography, 55.3a repeats this statement but with obvious approval. See also HS, 89.1b–2a.

59 Specifically the biographies of Chang T'ang and Chi An.

60 Watson, , Records, II, 96Google Scholar. Chavannes, Edouard, Les Memoires Historiques de Se-Ma Ts'ien (Paris: Ernest Leroux, 1895 as reprinted in China), III (2), 584.Google Scholar

61 SC, 122.17; Watson, , Records, II, 429.Google Scholar

62 See the biographies of each and that of Chi An.

63 SC, 32.4–7; Chavannes, III (2), 201–212, I, cciv–ccv.

64 SC, 120.7. The internal quote is from Chuang-tzu, XVII. See Legge, , I, 384Google Scholar; Watson, , Records, II, 347Google Scholar makes part of this a direct quote although the text does not indicate such, and he does not indicate that Ssu-ma Ch'ien is quoting Chuang-tzu.

65 See Kierman, op. cit.

66 SC, 130.58.

67 SC, 124.2–7. Watson, , Records, II, 452461Google Scholar. It is interesting to note that there is an association of Knights-errant with Taoism and Mohism. See Liu, J. Y., “The Ideological Affinities and Antipathies of the Knights Errant in Ancient China,”Google Scholar a paper read before the fifteenth annual meeting of the Association for Asian Studies at Philadelphia, March 26, 1963. Ssu-ma Ch'ien indicates such an affinity with Taoism in the biographies of Cheng T'ang-shih and Chi An.

68 See note 4 above.

69 SC, 15.5; Watson, , Grand Historian, p. 186Google Scholar. A similar theme is expressed in SC, 18.5; Watson, , Records, I, 493.Google Scholar

70 SC, 100.11–12, 66.23. The comments expressing these views are translated in Watson, , Grand Historian, pp. 192193, 190Google Scholar. See also Ssu-ma Ch'ien's letter to Jen An in Watson, , Grand Historian, pp. 5767Google Scholar, but especially 65–66.

71 HS, 50.12a, 49.13a–b.

72 HS, 59.15a.

73 HS, 89.1a–2b.

74 SC, 61.13–14. The internal quotes are from the Analects. See Legge, , The Chinese Classics (Hong Kong University, 1962), I, 189, 280Google Scholar. An almost identical theme is expressed in the “Biographies of the Knights-errant,” SC, 124.4–5. Watson, , Grand Historian, pp. 187190Google Scholar translates the biography of Po I. See also Diether von der Steinen's translation of the biography of Po I in Sinica, VIII (1933), 229232.Google Scholar

75 SC, 120.19. See also SC, 129.28–33 for an identical but lengthier statement of this theme. Watson, , Records, II, 491494, 119.Google Scholar

76 SC, 123.4 quoting Chuang-tzu, 10.3 in Pai-tzu ch'uan-shu, (Sao-yeh shan-fang edition, 1919)Google Scholar; Legge, , I, 285Google Scholar. Cf. also Shu-min, Wang, Chuang-tzu chiao-chih, (Shanghai: Commercial Press, 1947 for the Institute of History and Philology, Academia Sinica), II, 12bGoogle Scholar. Watson, , Records, II, 453.Google Scholar

77 SC, 129.7; Watson, , II, 479.Google Scholar

78 SC, 129.12; Watson, , II, 481482.Google Scholar

79 See Watson, , Grand Historian, pp. 144150Google Scholar for much of the following material.

80 SC, 121.16–17; Watson, , Records, II, 403404.Google Scholar

81 SC, 30.45; Blue, , p. 13Google Scholar; Watson, , Records, II, 105.Google Scholar

82 Bodde, Derk, China's First Unifier (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1938), p. 55.Google Scholar

83 SC, 129.7; Blue, . p. 25Google Scholar and notes; Watson, , Records, II, 478.Google Scholar

84 Wilhelm, Hellmut, Change: Eight Lectures on the I-Ching (New York: Pantheon Books, 1960), pp. 1314.Google Scholar

85 Welch, Holmes, The Parting of the Way: Lao Tzu and the Taoist Movement (Boston: Beacon Press, 1957). p. 21.Google Scholar

86 Wilhelm, , p. 34.Google Scholar

87 SC, 130.46. I have followed the translation of Watson, , Records, I, 134Google Scholar. He does not, however, indicate that Ssu-ma Ch'ien is quoting from Lao-tzu. See Legge, , I, 106Google Scholar; Waley, , p. 219.Google Scholar

88 Translated by Hightower, J. R. in Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, XVII (June 1954), 197200.Google Scholar

89 See for example, Chen-huai, Chi, “Ssu-ma Chien, Great Historian and Writer of Ancient China,” Chinese Literature, No. 4 (1955), 7986Google Scholar; Po-hsiang, Wang, “Ssuma Chien's ‘Historical Records,’” Chinese Literature, No. 9 (1959), 5359Google Scholar; Hu, Yang, Ssu-ma Ch'ien te ku-shih (Shanghai: Ku-tein wen-hsüch Publishing Co., (1956), pp. 14.Google Scholar