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Records of the Grand Historian: Sima Qian [Paperback]

Watson
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Book Description

22 Jan 2007
Sima Qian (145?-90? BCE) was the first major Chinese historian. His Shiji, or Records of the Grand Historian, documents the history of China and its neighboring countries from the ancient past to his own time. These three volumes cover the Qin and Han dynasties.


Product details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press; Reissue edition (22 Jan 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0231081693
  • ISBN-13: 978-0231081696
  • Product Dimensions: 23 x 15 x 2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 751,600 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Product Description

About the Author

Burton Watson is one of the world's best-known translators from the Chinese and Japanese. His translations include The Lotus Sutra, The Vimalakirti Sutra, Ryokan: Zen Monk-Poet of Japan, Saigyo: Poems of a Mountain Home, and The Columbia Book of Chinese Poetry: From Early Times to the Thirteenth Century, all published by Columbia.

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The forbears of the Qin were descendants of Emperor Zhuan Xu. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
While I am no scholar of Chinese history or language, Watson's translation of Sima Qian's Shi Ji is an excellent read. Watson has grasped the nuances of the Chinese language, implementing them well into his work. This volume (along with his other volumes pertaining to the Han dynasty) displays the history of China through the eyes of one of its participants, the grand historian Sima Qian. Watson documents his work well, and the book is an overall pleasure to read. I recommend this to anyone with an interest in Chinese history, both as an indispensible reference as well as a most pleasurable read. It is quite a shame that this particular volume is out of print, but perhaps at another time...
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An ancient warning on totalitarianism 22 Oct 2012
By Darryn
Format:Paperback
Totalitarianism is a concept we see as a product of modernity. The Marxist-Leninist gulags of the U.S.S.R, the Nazi concentration camps of the third reich or the Maoist cultural revolution. Yet these have not been the only ideologies with an emphasis on an all intrusive state. For just such an ideology existed in China 2200 years ago, and it's name was legalism. This was the basis for a unified state under the Qin dynasty, which although brief - it only lasted from 221 to 207 B.C.E - was a huge influence on the workings of Sima Qian magnum opus, the Shi Ji.
Throughout the book there are a number of characters who jump out at us - the rather tragic Lu Buwei, the Machiavellian totalitarian legalism Li Si, who laid the foundations for China, the violent and sociopathic eunuch Zhao GAO, and of course, the megalomaniacal first emperor himself. - few of these characters are sympathetic, but oh are they interesting.
It is rather ironic that this book should indeed have been written at all. The First emperor and his chancellor Li Si set out on a vigorous book burning crusade, to purge all that was contradictory to the regime and wasn't necessary. This was a big inspiration for Sima Qian's work.
So why, you might ask, did I rate this four stars rather than five? The work itself is a classic, deserving of five stars, however there parts - not many it may fortunately be said - which have been omitted from this addition, most notable the first five records, dealing with pre-Qin china.
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Amazon.com: 4.5 out of 5 stars  8 reviews
32 of 35 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The classic work of Chinese history ... 19 Jan 2000
By edward gresser - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I agree with everything the previous reviewer said, except that it is in print again as of 1999.
This is a five-star translation of a five-star book - China's first major work of history, dating from 90 BC. The Qin portion makes up only fifteen or so of the Shi Ji's 130 chapters, but tells the story central to the moral vision of the whole work. This is the rise and collapse of China's first imperial dynasty - Qin is in fact the name from which we derive "China."
The book is a remarkable commentary on human pride, intrigue, strategy and revenge; it also has an eye for detail and anecdote. To cite just one case, a minister is humiliated and driven from his kingdom; and ultimately takes revenge, as prime minister of a neighboring kingdom, by forgiving his persecutor, inviting him to a banquet, and then forcing him eat a meal of hay and water. There is also a detailed description of the tomb of China's First Emperor (the central figure of this book, whose career becomes exemplary of the folly of brutality and suppression of free thought); which has since been made famous by the discovery of the ceramic army of Xian.
32 of 37 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great translation, easy read. 5 Jun 2003
By Tatiana Danger - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Sima Qian was appointed grand historian of the Emperor Wu's court in 108 B.C. In his Records of the Grand Historian he describes the events which he witnessed or heard of that occurred during his lifetime, which offers the modern historian a fairly accurate account of a contemporary historian of the Han Dynasty. He composed his records from conversations he had with courtiers. In addition, he also consulted a plethora of documents and files which were stored in the palace as well as having had the ability to interview generals which enabled him to comment on the military institutions of the Han Dynasty.
Sima Qian had the ability to accompany the emperor on his visits to the provinces where he was able to record the "barbarian" tribes and lands which were brought under Han rule by Emperor Wu. In Sima Qian's records we also have evidence of the penal system and the conditions in the prison system. Qian wrote very detailed descriptions of these penal conditions for he had an intimate experience with them, having been punished for his "attempting `to deceive the emperor'" (xii). He was accused of using "veiled" words in his description of Emperor Wu, which was Qian's way of criticizing the emperor using language and words that were not outright critical, but inferred disapproval of the emperor and his actions.
The purpose of his official history is to record things so that the people who will be reading the history will be able to understand their past. This need to understand where one comes from helps states and individuals determine how and why they got to where they are. He organizes his accounts thematically, he discusses the military, generals, and he offers a geographic and ethnographic account of the peoples in the various "barbarian" provinces as well. He repeats himself often in order to get a certain point across.
The second way in which official histories are used is that they teach people important lessons. As Thucydides articulated in his Peloponnesian Wars Book I:
It will suffice if my work is judged useful by those who wish to gain a precise understanding of past events because, due to human nature, such events, or ones resembling them, will occur again at some time in the future (Thucydides, 1.22.4)
Basically, if you don't understand or study history, and the mistakes that were made in the past, then you are doomed to repeat them. He is very detailed in his descriptions because the more detailed a history is then the more accurate it appears to be by those who read it.
In contrast to Tacitus, the Roman historian who wrote about the Roman frontier, Sima Qian's descriptions of the barbarians occupying the Han frontier lands is more accurate, possibly because he was able to actually visit and see "first-hand" these barbarians whom he writes about, whereas, much of Tacitus' description came from second-hand sources, and usually merely stereotypical.
As an official history of the Han Dynasty, this book serves its purpose. It allows modern historians a semi-accurate look at what life was like along the borders of Han China. As a source, Sima Qian has recorded a history which makes a valiant attempt at staying clear of certain stereotypes which other historians such as Tacitus could not avoid, that of the uncivilized "barbarian". Rather, Qian's description of the frontier peoples is written from the barbarian perspective, therefore more reliable.
19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Technical Translation of Sima Qian's masterwork. 26 Jun 1997
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
While I am no scholar of Chinese history or language, Watson's translation of Sima Qian's Shi Ji is an excellent read. Watson has grasped the nuances of the Chinese language, implementing them well into his work. This volume (along with his other volumes pertaining to the Han dynasty) displays the history of China through the eyes of one of its participants, the grand historian Sima Qian. Watson documents his work well, and the book is an overall pleasure to read. I recommend this to anyone with an interest in Chinese history, both as an indispensible reference as well as a most pleasurable read. It is quite a shame that this particular volume is out of print, but perhaps at another time..
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent cross section of the eternal feuds between warlords 4 Oct 2007
By Britt-Marie Backman - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Written about one hundred years after the events 2kYs ago, it is less far from the truth than fanciful stories of later times. And much more enciting, exciting, alive. Depressing as well if you like, as you could only change the names and get a rather accurate description of the feuds and cruelties during the crusades or even Saddam Hussein & Co.
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars 4/5 16 Jan 2014
By Elizabeth - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I gave this a 4/5 not because the book wasn't good or it was faulty, or anything like that. It's just really hard to read. If you don't know much about this dynasty, or China in general, this isn't the book for you. Concepts aren't really elaborated upon to refresh your memory, or give you an insight as to what the person did or who they were. Great material and compact if you know a lot about this topic.
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