Saturday, September 20, 2008

Zhuo Wenjun

Zhuo Wenjun, or Wen Jun, 卓文君 was a poet of the Western Han dynasty. As a young widow, Zhuo Wenjun eloped with the poet Sima Xiangru. The poem ''Baitou Yin'' which complains at the inconstancy of male love, is attributed to her.

Zhang Heng

Zhang Heng was an , , , , , , , , and from , Henan, and lived during the Eastern Han Dynasty of China. He was educated in the capital cities of Luoyang and Chang'an, and began his career as a minor civil servant in Nanyang. Eventually, he became Chief Astronomer, Prefect of the Majors for Official Carriages, and then Palace Attendant at the imperial court. His uncompromising stances on certain historical and calendrical issues led to Zhang being considered a controversial figure, which prevented him from becoming an official court historian. His political rivalry with the palace eunuchs during the reign of led to his decision to retire from the central court to serve as an administrator of Hejian, in Hebei. He returned home to Nanyang for a short time, before being recalled to serve in the capital once more, in 138. He died there a year later, in 139.

Zhang applied his extensive knowledge of mechanics and gears in several of his inventions. He invented the world's first armillary sphere, to represent astronomical observation; and invented the world's first seismometer, which discerned the cardinal direction of an earthquake away. Furthermore, he improved previous Chinese calculations of the . In addition to documenting about 14,000 stars in his extensive star catalogue, Zhang also posited theories about the Moon and its relationship to the Sun; specifically, he discussed the Moon's sphericity, its illumination by reflecting sunlight on one side and remaining dark on the other, and the nature of and eclipses. His '''' and '''' poetry were renowned and commented on by later Chinese writers; his were also highly regarded. Zhang received many posthumous honors for his scholarship and ingenuity, and is considered a polymath by some scholars. Some modern scholars have also compared his work in astronomy to that of Ptolemy .


Early life

Born in the town of Xi'e in Nanyang Commandery , Zhang Heng came from a distinguished but not very affluent family. His grandfather, Zhang Kan, had been governor of a commandery, and one of the leaders who supported the restoration of the Han Dynasty by , following the death of the usurper Wang Mang and his short-lived Xin Dynasty . At age ten, Zhang's father died, leaving him in the care of his mother and grandmother. After studying for some years at Luoyang's Imperial University , he became well-versed in the , and befriended notable persons, such as the mathematician and calligrapher , the official and philosophical commentator Ma Rong , and the philosopher . He spent much of his time composing on the capital cities. When Bao De was recalled to the capital in 111, to serve as a minister of finance, Zhang continued his literary work at home in Xi'e. In addition to recording heavenly observations and portents, preparing the calendar, and reporting which days were auspicious or not, Zhang was also in charge of an advanced literacy test for all candidates of the Imperial Secretariat and Censorate . Under Emperor An, Zhang also served as Prefect of the Majors for Official Carriages under the Ministry of Guards, in charge of the reception of memorials submitted to the throne as well as nominees for official appointments.]]
When the government official Dan Song proposed the Chinese calendar should be reformed in 123 to adopt certain , Zhang opposed the idea. He considered the teachings to be of questionable stature and believed they could introduce errors. Liu Zhen and Liu Taotu were Zhang's only historian allies at court, and after their deaths Zhang had no further opportunities for promotion to the prestigious post of court historian. His intensive astronomical work was rewarded only with the rank and salary of 600 bushels, or ''shi'', of grain . To place this number in context, in a hierarchy of twenty official ranks, the lowest-paid official earned the rank and salary of 100 bushels and the highest-paid official earned 10,000 bushels during the Han. The 600-bushel rank was the lowest the emperor could directly appoint to a central government position; any official of lower status was overseen by central or provincial officials of high rank.

In 132, Zhang introduced an intricate seismometer to the court, which he claimed could detect the precise cardinal direction of a distant earthquake. On one occasion his device indicated that an earthquake had occurred in the northwest. As there was no perceivable tremor felt in the capital his political enemies were briefly able to relish the failure of his device,

As Palace Attendant to Emperor Shun, Zhang Heng attempted to convince him that the court eunuchs represented a threat to the imperial court. Zhang pointed to specific examples of past court intrigues involving eunuchs, and convinced Shun that he should assume greater authority and limit their influence.

Retirement and death

Zhang retired from his position under Emperor Shun in 136, Zhang's writing at this time reflects his bitterness at being unable to effectively serve the emperor. By the time of his death, Zhang had composed thirty-two written works on literature, philosophy, science, and mysticism. He was buried in his hometown Xi'e, in Nanyang Commandery; his friend Cui Yuan composed the inscription for his tomb.]]
While working for the central court, Zhang Heng had access to a variety of written materials located in the Archives of the Eastern Pavilion. Zhang read many of the great works of history in his day and claimed he had found ten instances where the ''Records of the Grand Historian'' by Sima Qian and the ''Book of Han'' by Ban Gu differed from other ancient texts that were available to him. The latter fuses ideas with Confucianism and was a precursor to later Chinese metaphysical nature poetry, according to Liu Wu-chi. A set of four short lyric poems entitled "Lyric Poems on Four Sorrows" , is also included with Zhang's preface. This set constitutes some of the earliest heptasyllabic ''shi'' Chinese poetry written. While still in Luoyang, Zhang became inspired to write his "Western Metropolis Rhapsody" and "Eastern Metropolis Rhapsody", which were based on the "Rhapsody on the Two Capitals" by the historian Ban Gu.

Zhang's long lyrical poems also revealed a great amount of information on urban layout and basic geography. His rhapsody "Sir Based-On-Nothing" provides details on terrain, palaces, hunting parks, markets, and prominent buildings of Chang'an, the Western Han capital. Zhang Heng's writing confirms the size of the imperial hunting park in the suburbs of Chang'an, as his estimate for the circumference of the park's encircling wall agrees with the historian Ban Gu's estimate of roughly 400 '''' . Along with Sima Xiangru , Zhang listed a variety of animals and hunting game inhabiting the park, which were divided in the northern and southern portions of the park according to where the animals had originally came from: . Somewhat similar to the description of Sima Xiangru, Zhang described the Western Han emperors and their entourage enjoying boat outings, water plays, fishing, and displays of archery targeting birds and other animals with stringed arrows from the tops of along Chang'an's Kunming Lake. The focus of Zhang's writing on specific places and their terrain, society, people, and their customs could also be seen as early attempts of ethnographic categorization. In his poem "Xijing fu", Zhang shows that he was aware of the new foreign religion of Buddhism, introduced via the Silk Road, as well as the legend of the birth of with the vision of the white elephant bringing about conception. In his "Western Metropolis Rhapsody", Zhang described court entertainments such as ''juedi'', a form of theatrical wrestling accompanied by music in which participants butted heads with bull horn masks.

With his ''Response of my Idleness'' , Zhang was an early writer and proponent of the Chinese literary genre ''shelun'', or hypothetical discourse. Authors of this genre created a written dialogue between themselves and an imaginary person ; the latter poses questions to the author on how to lead a successful life. He also used it as a means to criticize himself for failing to obtain high office, but coming to the conclusion that the true gentleman displays virtue instead of greed for power.

Zhang wrote about the various love affairs of emperors unsatisfied with the imperial harem, going out into the city incognito to seek out prostitutes and sing-song girls. This was seen as a general criticism of the Eastern Han emperors and their imperial favorites, guised in the criticism of earlier Western Han emperors. Besides criticizing the Western Han emperors for lavish decadence, Zhang also pointed out that their behavior and ceremonies did not properly conform with the Chinese cyclical beliefs in yin and yang. In a poem criticizing the previous Western Han Dynasty, Zhang wrote:

Achievements in science and technology

Astronomy and mathematics

For centuries the Chinese approximated pi as 3; Liu Xin made the first known Chinese attempt at a more accurate calculation of 3.154, but there is no record detailing the method he used to obtain this figure. Zhang Heng compared the celestial circle to the diameter of the earth, proportioning the former as 736 and the latter as 232, thus calculating pi as 3.1724. In Zhang's day, the ratio 4:3 was given for the area of a square to the area of its inscribed circle and the volume of a cube and volume of the inscribed sphere should also be 42:32. Zhang then attempted to remedy this by amending the formula with an additional \tfracD3, hence V=\tfracD3 + \tfracD3 = \tfracD3. From this formula, Zhang calculated pi as the square root of 10 .

In his publication of AD 120 called ''The Spiritual Constitution of the Universe'' , In comparison, this star catalogue featured many more stars than the 850 documented by the Greek astronomer Hipparchus in his catalogue, and more than Ptolemy , who catalogued over 1,000. Zhang supported the "radiating influence" theory to explain and eclipses, a theory which was opposed by Wang Chong . In the ''Ling Xian'', Zhang wrote:

The Sun is like fire and the Moon like water. The fire gives out light and the water reflects it. Thus the moon's brightness is produced from the radiance of the Sun, and the Moon's darkness is due to the sun being obstructed. The side which faces the Sun is fully lit, and the side which is away from it is dark. The planets have the nature of water and reflect light. The light pouring forth from the Sun does not always reach the moon owing to the obstruction of the earth itself—this is called 'an-xu', a lunar eclipse. When happens with a planet an occultation; when the Moon passes across then there is a solar eclipse.

Zhang Heng viewed these astronomical phenomena in supernatural terms as well. The signs of comets, eclipses, and movements of heavenly bodies could all be interpreted by him as heavenly guides on how to conduct affairs of state.

The theory posited by Zhang and Jing was supported by later pre-modern scientists such as Shen Kuo , who expanded on the reasoning of why the Sun and Moon were spherical.

Extra tank for inflow clepsydra

The outflow clepsydra was a timekeeping device used in China as long ago as the Shang Dynasty , and certainly by the Zhou Dynasty . The inflow clepsydra with an indicator rod on a float had been known in China since the beginning of the Han Dynasty in 202 BC and had replaced the outflow type. Joseph Needham states that this was perhaps the ancestor of all found in mechanical clocks by the 8th century, but he notes that these figures did not actually move like clock jack figurines or sound the hours. Zhang mentioned a "jade dragon's neck", which in later times meant a siphon. He wrote of the floats and indicator-rods of the inflow clepsydra as follows:

Bronze vessels are made and placed one above the other at different levels; they are filled with pure water. Each has at the bottom a small opening in the form of a 'jade dragon's neck'. The water dripping enters two inflow receivers , the left one being for the night and the right one for the day. On the covers of each there are small cast statuettes in gilt bronze; the left one is an immortal and the right one is a policeman. These figures guide the indicator-rod with their left hands, and indicate the graduations on it with their right hands, thus giving the time. The Greek astronomer Eratosthenes invented the first armillary sphere in 255 BC. The Chinese armillary sphere was fully developed by 52 BC, with the astronomer Geng Shouchang's addition of a permanently fixed equatorial ring. In 84 AD the astronomers Fu An and Jia Kui added the ecliptic ring, and finally Zhang Heng added the horizon and meridian rings.

Zhang did not initiate the Chinese tradition of hydraulic engineering, which began during the mid Zhou Dynasty , through the work of engineers such as Sunshu Ao and Ximen Bao. Zhang's contemporary, Du Shi, was the first to apply the motive power of waterwheels to operate the bellows of a blast furnace to make pig iron, and the cupola furnace to make cast iron. Zhang provided a valuable description of his water-powered armillary sphere in the treatise of 125, stating:

The equatorial ring goes around the belly of the armillary sphere 91 and 5/19 away from the pole. The circle of the ecliptic also goes round the belly of the instrument at an angle of 24 with the equator. Thus at the summer solstice the ecliptic is 67 and a fraction away from the pole, while at the winter solstice it is 115 and a fraction away. Hence where the ecliptic and the equator intersect should give the north polar distances of the spring and autumn equinoxes. But now the spring equinox is 90 and 1/4 away from the pole, and the autumn equinox is 92 and 1/4 away. The former figure is adopted only because it agrees with the method of measuring solstitial sun shadows as embodied in the Xia calendar.

Zhang Heng's water-powered armillary sphere had profound effects on Chinese astronomy and mechanical engineering in later generations. His model and its complex use of gears greatly influenced the water-powered instruments of later astronomers and engineers such as Yi Xing , Zhang Sixun , Su Song , Guo Shoujing , and many others. Water-powered armillary spheres in the tradition of Zhang Heng's were used in the eras of the Three Kingdoms and , yet the design for it was temporarily out of use between 317 and 418, due to invasions of northern Xiongnu nomads. Zhang Heng's old instruments were recovered in 418, when Emperor Wu of Liu Song captured the ancient capital of Chang'an. Although still intact, the graduation marks and the representations of the stars, Moon, Sun, and planets were quite worn down by time and rust. These theories were ultimately derived from the ancient text of the '''' , in its fifty-first hexagram. There were other early theories about earthquakes, developed by those such as the . Anaxagoras believed that they were caused by excess water near the surface crust of the earth bursting into the Earth's hollows; Democritus believed that the saturation of the Earth with water caused them; believed they were the result of massive pieces of the Earth falling into the cavernous hollows due to drying; and Aristotle believed they were caused by instability of vapor caused by the drying of the moist Earth by the Sun's rays. These oracles of the occult observed the direction, force, and timing of the winds, to speculate about the operation of the cosmos and to predict events on Earth. These ideas influenced Zhang Heng's views on the cause of earthquakes. Against the grain of earlier theories proposed by his fellow Chinese and contemporary Greeks, Zhang Heng believed that earthquakes were caused by wind and air, writing:

quote|The chief cause of earthquake is air, an element naturally swift and shifting from place to place. As long as it is not stirred, but lurks in a vacant space, it reposes innocently, giving no trouble to objects around it. But any cause coming upon it from without rouses it, or compresses it, and drives it into a narrow space ... and when opportunity of escape is cut off, then 'With deep murmur of the Mountain it roars around the barriers', which after long battering it dislodges and tosses on high, growing more fierce the stronger the obstacle with which it has contended. This was essential for the Han government in sending quick aid and relief to regions devastated by this natural disaster.

To indicate the direction of a distant earthquake, Zhang's device dropped a bronze ball from one of eight tubed projections shaped as dragon heads; the ball fell into the mouth of a corresponding metal object shaped as a toad, each representing a direction like the points on a compass rose. His device had eight mobile arms connected with cranks having catch mechanisms at the periphery. Wang Zhenduo argued that the technology of the Eastern Han era was sophisticated enough to produce such a device, as evidenced by contemporary levers and cranks used in other devices such as crossbow triggers.

Later Chinese of subsequent periods were able to reinvent Zhang's seismometer. They included the 6th-century mathematician and surveyor Xindu Fang of the and the astronomer and mathematician Lin Xiaogong of the Sui Dynasty . Like Zhang, Xindu Fang and Lin Xiaogong were given imperial patronage for their services in craftsmanship of devices for the court. By the time of the Yuan Dynasty , it was acknowledged that all devices previously made were preserved, except for that of the seismometer. This was discussed by the scholar Zhou Mi around 1290, who remarked that the books of Xindu Fang and Lin Xiaogong detailing their seismological devices were no longer to be found.

Hong-sen Yan states that modern replicas of Zhang's device have failed to reach the level of accuracy and sensitivity described in Chinese historical records. Wang Zhenduo presented two different models of the seismometer based on the ancient descriptions of Zhang's device. In his 1936 reconstruction, the central pillar of the device was a suspended pendulum acting as a movement sensor, while the central pillar of his second model in 1963 was an inverted pendulum. He argued that transverse shock would have rendered Wang's immobilization mechanism ineffective, as it would not have prevented further motion that could knock other balls out of their position.


The and and official Pei Xiu was the first in China to describe in full the geometric grid reference for maps that allowed for precise measurements , as well as topographical elevation. However, map-making in China had existed since at least the 4th century BC with the maps found in Gansu in 1986. Pinpointed accuracy of the winding courses of rivers and familiarity with scaled distance had been known since the and Han Dynasty, respectively, as evidenced by their existing maps, while the use of a rectangular grid had been known in China since the Han as well. Historian Howard Nelson states that, although the accounts of Zhang Heng's work in cartography are somewhat vague and sketchy, there is ample written evidence that Pei Xiu derived the use of the rectangular grid reference from the maps of Zhang Heng. Historian Florian C. Reiter notes that Zhang's narrative "Guitian fu" contains a phrase about applauding the maps and documents of Confucius of the Zhou Dynasty, which Reiter suggests places maps on a same level of importance with documents . Rafe de Crespigny asserts that it was Zhang who established the rectangular grid system in Chinese cartography. Moreover, the ''Book of Later Han'' hints that Zhang was the first to make a mathematical grid reference, stating that he "cast a network of coordinates about heaven and earth, and reckoned on the basis of it."

Ancient Chinese texts describe the mechanical carriage's functions; after one li was traversed, a mechanically-driven wooden figure struck a drum, and after ten li had been covered, another wooden figure struck a gong or a bell with its mechanically-operated arm. There is speculation that at some time during the 1st century BC the beating of drums and gongs was mechanically driven by the rotation of the road wheels.


Science and technology

Florentine marble carving of Ptolemy , who created an Earth-centered universe theory that the scholars Jin Guantao, Fan Hongye, and Liu Qingfeng compare with Zhang Heng's theory published in 125 The cosmic model of nine points of Heaven corresponding with nine regions of earth conceived in the work of the scholar-official Chen Hongmou followed in the tradition of Zhang's book ''Spiritual Constitution of the Universe''. The seismologist John Milne, who created the modern seismograph in 1876 alongside Thomas Gray and J. Alfred Ewing at the Imperial College of Engineering in Tokyo, commented in 1886 on Zhang Heng's contributions to seismology. The historian Joseph Needham emphasized his contributions to pre-modern Chinese technology, stating that Zhang was noted even in his day for being able to "make three wheels rotate as if they were one." More than one scholar has described Zhang as a polymath. However, some scholars also point out that Zhang's writing lacks concrete scientific theories. Comparing Zhang with his contemporary, Ptolemy of , Jin Guantao, Fan Hongye, and Liu Qingfeng state:

Based on the theories of his predecessors, Zhang Heng systematically developed the celestial sphere theory. An armillary constructed on the basis of his hypotheses bears a remarkable similarity to Ptolemy's earth-centered theory. However, Zhang Heng did not definitely propose a theoretical model like Ptolemy's earth-centered one. It is astonishing that the celestial model Zhang Heng constructed was almost a physical model of Ptolemy's earth-centered theory. Only a single step separates the celestial globe from the earth-centered theory, but Chinese astronomers never took that step.

Here we can see how important the exemplary function of the primitive scientific structure is. In order to use the Euclidean system of geometry as a model for the development of astronomical theory, Ptolemy first had to select hypotheses which could serve as axioms. He naturally regarded circular motion as fundamental and then used the circular motion of deferents and epicycles in his earth-centered theory. Although Zhang Heng understood that the sun, moon and planets move in circles, he lacked a model for a logically structured theory and so could not establish a corresponding astronomical theory. Chinese astronomy was most interested in extracting the algebraic features of planetary motion to establish astronomical theories. Thus astronomy was reduced to arithmetic operations, extracting common multiples and divisors from the observed cyclic motions of the heavenly bodies. The influential poet Tao Qian wrote that he admired the poetry of Zhang Heng for its "curbing extravagant diction and aiming at simplicity", in regards to perceived tranquility and rectitude correlating with the simple but effective language of the poet. Tao wrote that both Zhang Heng and Cai Yong "avoided inflated language, aiming chiefly at simplicity", and adding that their "compositions begin by giving free expression to their fancies but end on a note of quiet, serving admirably to restrain undisciplined and passionate nature".

Posthumous honors

Zhang was given great honors in life and in death. The philosopher and poet Fu Xuan of the and dynasties once lamented in an essay over the fact that Zhang Heng was never placed in the . Writing highly of Zhang and the 3rd-century mechanical engineer Ma Jun, Fu Xuan wrote, "Neither of them was ever an official of the Ministry of Works, and their ingenuity did not benefit the world. When employ personnel with no regard to special talent, and having heard of genius neglect even to test it—is this not hateful and disastrous?"

In honor of Zhang's achievements in science and technology, his friend Cui Ziyu wrote a memorial inscription on his burial stele, which has been preserved in the ''Guwen yuan''. Cui stated, " mathematical computations exhausted the heavens and the earth. His inventions were comparable even to those of the Author of Change. The excellence of his talent and the splendour of his art were one with those of the gods." The minor official Xiahou Zhan of the Wei Dynasty made an inscription for his own commemorative stele to be placed at Zhang Heng's tomb. It read: "Ever since gentlemen have composed literary texts, none has been as skillful as the Master in choosing his words well ... if only the dead could rise, oh I could then turn to him for a teacher!"

Several things have been named after Zhang in modern times, including the , the asteroid 1802 Zhang Heng, and the mineral Zhanghengite.

Wang Can

Wang Can was a politician, scholar and poet during the late Eastern Han Dynasty in ancient China. He contributed greatly to the establishment of laws and standards during the founding days of the Principality of Wei – predecessor to the later Cao Wei Dynasty – under Cao Cao. For his literary achievement Wang Can was ranked among the Seven Scholars of Jian'an .

Wang Can was also renowned for his photographic memory. The '''' describes an incident where Wang Can was watching a game of . Someone accidentally knocked into the board and scattered the pieces. Wang Can then placed the pieces back to their original positions based on memory.


A local of Guangping Commandery , Wang Can was born in a family of high-ranking bureaucrats. His greatgrandfather and grandfather were among the Three Excellencies under and respectively.

When the warlord Dong Zhuo usurped power in 190, placing in the throne the puppet , Wang Can was merely thirteen years of age. A year later, Dong Zhuo moved the capital from Luoyang to the more strategically secure Chang'an. Wang Can then headed for the new capital, where he settled down for the next three years. During his stay in Chang'an, Wang Can's talent was recognized by the prominent scholar and calligrapher Cai Yong . The young Wang Can was also offered several posts, all of which he turned down.

In 194, Wang Can went to to seek a position under the governor Liu Biao. However, Liu Biao did not favor Wang Can as the latter looked pallid and sickly. After the death of Liu Biao in 208, his son was persuaded by Wang Can to surrender to Cao Cao.

Wang Can's talent was finally exploited under his new lord. In 213, Cao Cao was enfeoffed the Duke of Wei and given ten cities under his fiefdom, which was named the State of Wei. Wang Can was then entrusted with establishing a new system of laws and standards to replace the old one, which had largely fallen into disuse. In late 216, Wang Can followed Cao Cao on his fourth southern campaign against Sun Quan. He died on the way due to sickness in the spring of 217.

Literary achievement

Wang Can was an established poet. Along with six other poets of his time, their poems formed the backbone of what was to be known as the jian'an? style . They were collectively called the Seven Scholars of Jian'an .

The civil strife towards the end of the Eastern Han Dynasty gave the jian'an poems their characteristic solemn yet heart-stirring tone, while lament over the ephemerality of life was also a central theme of works from this period. In terms of the history of Chinese literature, the jian'an poems were a transition from the early folksongs into scholarly poetry.

The representative work by Wang Can was the ''Poem of Seven Sorrows'' , a five-character poem lamenting the suffering of the people during the years of war.

? Jian'an was the for the period from 196 to 220.

Sima Xiangru

Sima Xiangru was a writer. He was a minor official of the Western Han Dynasty but was better known for his skills, '''' business, and controversial marriage to the widow Zhuo Wenjun after both eloped. One of his most famous works is the Chang Men Fu , written in the style '''', of rhymed prose under commission from a former Empress. In fact, Sima was largely responsible for establishing ''fu'' as a literary genre.

He was also a guqin player.

Much is known about him through Sima Qian's biography of him, Shij ji 117.

Sima Qian

Sima Qian was a Prefect of the Grand Scribes of the Han Dynasty. He is regarded as the father of Chinese historiography because of his highly praised work, ''Records of the Grand Historian'' , an overview of the history of China covering more than two thousand years from the Yellow Emperor to . His definitive work laid the foundation for later Chinese historiography.

Early life and education

Sima Qian was born and grew up in Longmen, near present-day Hancheng, Shaanxi. He was raised in a family of historiographers. His father, Sima Tan, served as the Prefect of the Grand Scribes of Emperor Wu of Han . His main responsibilities were managing the imperial library and calendar watching . Under the influence of his father, at the age of ten, Sima Qian was already well versed in old writings. He was the student of the famous Kong Anguo and Dong Zhongshu. At the age of twenty, with the support of his father, Sima Qian started a journey throughout the country, collecting useful first-hand historical records for his main work, ''Shiji''. The purpose of his journey was to verify the ancient rumors and legends and to visit ancient monuments, including the renowned graves of the ancient sage kings and . Places he had visited include Shandong, Yunnan, Hebei, Zhejiang, Jiangsu, Jiangxi and Hunan.

After his travels, he was chosen to be a Palace Attendant in the government whose duties were to inspect different parts of the country with Emperor Han Wudi. In 110 BC, at the age of thirty-five, Sima Qian was sent westward on a military expedition against some "barbarian" tribes. That year, his father fell ill and could not attend the Imperial Feng Sacrifice. Suspecting his time was running out, he summoned his son back to complete the historical work he had begun. Sima Tan wanted to follow the ''Annals of Spring and Autumn'' - the first chronicle in the history of Chinese literature. Fuelled by his father's inspiration, Sima Qian started to compile ''Shiji'' in 109 BC. In 105 BC, Sima was among the scholars chosen to reform the calendar. As a senior imperial official, Sima was also in the position to offer counsel to the emperor on general affairs of state.

In 99 BC, Sima Qian got involved in the Li Ling Affair: and Li Guangli , two military officers who led a campaign against the Xiongnu in the north, were defeated and taken captive. Emperor Han Wudi attributed the defeat to Li Ling, and all the officials in the government condemned Li Ling for the defeat. Sima was the only person to defend Li Ling, who had never been his friend but whom he respected. Emperor Han Wudi interpreted Sima’s defence of Li Ling as an attack on his brother-in-law, who had also fought against the Xiongnu without much success, and sentenced Sima to death. At that time, execution could be either by money or castration. Since Sima did not have enough money to atone his "crime", he chose the latter and was then thrown into prison, where he endured three years. He described his pain thus: "When you see the jailer you abjectly touch the ground with your forehead. At the mere sight of his underlings you are seized with terror... Such ignominy can never be wiped away."

In 96 BC, on his release from prison, Sima chose to live on as a palace eunuch so as to complete his histories, rather than commit suicide as was expected of a gentleman-scholar. As Sima Qian's words explained:


Although the style and form of Chinese historical writings varied through the ages, ''Shiji'' has defined the quality and style from then onwards. Before Sima, histories were written as dynastic history; his idea of a general history affected later historiographers like Zhengqiao in writing Tongshi and Sima Guang in writing Zizhi Tongjian . The Chinese historical form was codified in the second dynastic history by Ban Gu’s , but historians regard Sima’s work as their model, which stands as the "official format" of the history of China.

In writing ''Shiji'', Sima initiated a new writing style by presenting history in a series of biographies. His work extends over 130 chapters — not in historical sequence, but was divided into particular subjects, including annals, chronicles, treatises — on music, ceremonies, calendars, religion, economics, and extended biographies. Sima's influence on the writing style of histories in other places is also evident in, for example ''The History of Korea''.

Literary figure

Sima's ''Shiji'' is respected as a model of biographical literature with high literary value, and still stands as a "textbook" for the study of classical Chinese worldwide. Sima’s writings were influential to Chinese writing, and become a role model for various types of prose within the neo-classical movement of the Tang- period. The great use of characterisation and plotting also influenced fictional writing, including the classical short stories of the middle and late medieval period , as well as the vernacular novel of the late imperial period.

The influence is derived from the following key elements of his writing:

;Skillful depiction
Sima portrayed many distinguished subjects based on true historical information. He would illustrate the response of the subject by placing him in a sharp contrast or juxtaposition, and then letting his words and deeds speak for him. The use of conversations in his writing also makes the descriptions more vibrant and realistic.

;Innovative approach
Sima's new approach in writing involved using language which was informal, humorous and full of variations. This was an innovative way of writing at that time and thus it has always been esteemed as the highest achievement of classical Chinese writing; even Lu Xun regarded ''Shiji'' as "the first and last great work by historians, poems of Qu Yuan without rhyme."
in his Hanwenxueshi Gangyao .

;Concise language
The style was simple, concise, fluent, and easy-to-read. Sima made his own comments while recounting the historical events. In writing the biographies in ''Shiji'', he avoided making general descriptions, and instead tried to catch the essence of the events. He would portray the subjects concretely, giving the readers vivid images with strong artistic appeal.

Other literary works

Apart from ''Shiji'', Sima had written eight rhapsodies , which are compiled in ''Hanshu''. Sima expressed his suffering during the Li Ling Affair and his perseverance in writing ''Shiji'' in these rhapsodies.


Sima and his father were both court astrologers 太史 in the . At that time, the astrologer had an important r?le, responsible for interpreting and predicting the course of government according to the influence of the Sun, Moon, and stars, as well as other phenomena like solar eclipses, earthquakes, etc.

Before compiling ''Shiji'', in 104 BC, Sima Qian created ''Taichuli'' on the basis of the Qin calendar. Taichuli was one of the most advanced calendars of the time. The creation of Taichuli was regarded as a revolution in the Chinese calendar tradition, as it stated that there were 365.25 days in a year and 29.53 days in a month.

Sima adopted a new method in sorting out the historical data and a new approach to writing historical records to establish the relationship between heavenly law and men. He analysed the records and sorted out those which could serve the purpose of ''Shiji''. He intended to find out the patterns and principles of the development of human history.

Sima emphasised the role of men in affecting the historical development of China. It is the first time in Chinese history that men were put under the spotlight in the analysis of historical development. He also denounced Emperor Han Wudi, who was superstitious, and prayed to gods extravagantly. In addition, he also proposed his historical perception that a country cannot escape from the fate of the cycle. With these in-depth analyses and insight, Sima set an example for writing journalistic articles in later generations.

Unlike ''Hanshu'', which was written under the supervision of the Imperial Dynasty, ''Shiji'' was a privately written historiography. Although Sima was the Prefect of the Grand Scribes in the Han government, he refused to write ''Shiji'' as an official historiography covering only those of high rank. The work also covers people of the lower classes and is therefore considered a "veritable record" of the darker side of the dynasty.

The minor planet 12620 Simaqian is named in his honour.

Books about Sima Qian in English

*Burton Watson ''Ssu-ma Ch'ien: Grand Historian of China''. New York: Columbia University Press.
*Yang Hsien-yi and Gladys Yang ''Records of the Historians''. Hong Kong: Commercial Press.
* Qian, Sima and trans. Watson, Burton , ''Records of the Grand Historian: Han Dynasty''. Research Center for Translation, The Chinese University of Hong Kong and Columbia University Press.
* Qian, Sima and trans. Watson, Burton , ''Records of the Grand Historian: Qin Dynasty''. Research Center for Translation,

Kong Rong

Kong Rong was a bureaucrat, poet, and minor warlord during the late Eastern Han Dynasty and Three Kingdoms era of China. He was also the 20th generation descendant of Confucius. As he was once the governor of Beihai Commandery , he was also known as Kong Beihai. He was defeated by Yuan Tan in 196 and escaped to the capital Xuchang, where he served effectively under Cao Cao, who held under his control. For being a political opponent of Cao Cao and humiliating him on multiple occasions, Kong Rong was eventually executed.

Famed for his quick wits and elaborate literary style, Kong Rong was ranked among the Seven Scholars of Jian'an , a group of representative literature of his time. However, most of his works had been lost. Those that survived can be found in compilations from the Ming Dynasty and Qing Dynasty.

A well-known story commonly used to educate children even nowadays on the values of courtesy and fraternal love involves the four-year-old Kong Rong giving up the larger pears to his elder and younger brothers. This story is also mentioned in the ''Three Character Classic'', a text used for elementary education since the Song Dynasty.


Early life and career

Born in the former , Kong Rong showed his quick wits since a young age. According to the ''Epilogue of Han'' by Sima Biao , when he was a teenager, Kong Rong paid a visit to a renowned official named , who received no one but the very eminent and his own relatives. Claiming to be a relative, Kong Rong was brought to Li Ying, who asked how they were related. Kong Rong answered that his ancestor Confucius was a student and friend of Lao Tzu . Another guest present was not impressed, however, and commented that a person who showed great ability at a young age might not grow up to be especially capable. Kong Rong immediately retorted, saying, "I suppose you were really smart when you were young." Li Ying laughed at this and predicted the child would grow up to be a great man.

When he grew older, Kong Rong entered the bureaucratic system of the Eastern Han Dynasty. He was successively promoted and in 190 was appointed as the governor of , which situated in , the region most heavily infested by the Yellow Turban Rebellion of the 180s. Upon taking up office, Kong Rong concentrated on reconstruction of the city and establishment of schools. He promoted Confucian studies and provided proper burial for deceased refugees without family members to look after their funeral affairs. During this time, however, he was besieged by an army consisting of the remnant of Yellow Turban rebels led by Guan Hai . Kong Rong sent Taishi Ci to seek help from Liu Bei, who was the governor of at that time. Taishi Ci came back with 3,000 elite troops, whereupon the rebels dispersed. In 195, Kong Rong was further elevated to governor of the entire Qingzhou under a recommendation by Liu Bei.

Stay in Xuchang

In the next year, however, the powerful warlord Yuan Shao sent his eldest son Yuan Tan to take over Qingzhou. Kong Rong was defeated and his family was captured. He escaped to the capital Xuchang, where he was subsequently appointed as the Privy Treasurer . During his stay in Xuchang, Kong Rong often stood against policies of the chancellor Cao Cao, the de facto ruler who held Emperor Xian under his control. When Cao Cao imposed a ban on alcohol due to crop shortage, Kong Rong wrote to him retorting, "Since the kings and were overthrown due to their desire for women, why don't you ban marriage as well?" Kong Rong was then stripped of his official post but soon reinstated, albeit to a titular position. However, because of his hospitality, his house was always filled with guests.

During this time Kong Rong befriended Mi Heng, a talented man from . Despite being very learned, Mi Heng was unconventional and unconstrained. Upon reaching Xuchang, he wrote a prose putting down every eminent person there. When asked whom he would then consider talented, Mi Heng replied, "First there is Kong Rong, second there is ." Kong Rong tried to recommend him to Cao Cao, but Mi Heng first played a drum naked at a feast hosted by Cao Cao before many guests and then criticized Cao Cao loudly outside the latter's doors. Unwilling to kill Mi Heng himself, Cao Cao then sent the presumptuous man away to Liu Biao, governor of Jingzhou.

In 198, Cao Cao was gearing up for an encounter with Yuan Shao along the shores of the Yellow River. Kong Rong held a pessimistic stand, telling Cao Cao's advisor Xun Yu that Yuan Shao would be extremely difficult to defeat as he had ample food supplies, far superior troop strength and many capable and loyal subjects. However, Cao Cao took advantages of Yuan Shao's weaknesses and eventually defeated the latter at the decisive Battle of Guandu in 200. Yuan Shao died two years later, leaving his legacy to contest between his eldest and youngest sons Yuan Tan and Yuan Shang.

In 204, Cao Cao defeated the latter and conquered the city of , whereupon he married Lady Zhen to his own son, Cao Pi. When Kong Rong heard of this, he wrote Cao Cao a letter, saying, "When King Wu of Zhou defeated , he married Daji to the Duke of Zhou." Thinking that Kong Rong cited a classic text to praise him, Cao Cao asked about the source when he returned, but Kong Rong said, "Seeing what happened in our day, I thought it must be so then."


In 208, Kong Rong spoke ill of Cao Cao before an emissary from Sun Quan, a powerful warlord occupying southeast China. Cao Cao then sentenced him to death. According to the ''Spring and Autumn Annals of Wei'' by Sun Sheng , Kong Rong's two eight-year-old sons were playing a game of when their father was arrested. When others urged them to escape, they answered:

How could there be unbroken eggs under a toppled nest?

This later became a Chinese idiom , used to describe that when a group suffers, all individuals belonging to it will be affected. An alternate but similar story could also be found in ''A New Account of the Tales of the World'' by Liu Yiqing , which is written in a more elaborate style.

After Kong Rong was executed along with his entire family, his body was left in the streets. Not a single court official who used to be close to him dared to collect the corpses for burial except Zhi Xi , who fell over Kong Rong's body and wept, crying, "Now you have left me for death, who could I talk to that would understand me?"

Literary achievement

Although he did not meet with much success in politics, Kong Rong was undeniably a leading literary figure of his time, famed for his proses as well as poems. Along with six other poets of his time, their poems formed the backbone of what was to be known as the Jian'an style . Collectively they were known as the Seven Scholars of Jian'an . The civil strife towards the end of the Eastern Han Dynasty gave the ''Jian'an'' poems their characteristic solemn yet heart-stirring tone, while lament over the ephemerality of life was also a central theme of works from this period. In terms of the history of Chinese literature, the ''Jian'an'' poems were a transition from the early folksongs into scholarly poetry.

Kong Rong's outstanding literary skills, however, were often thought to be an elaborate but empty fa?ade not supported by sound reasons. Cao Pi commented in his ''A Discourse on Literature'' that Kong Rong's words cannot hold discourses and surpassed their reasoning, so much so that they almost seem like mere sarcasm or mockery.

After Kong Rong's death, Cao Pi collected twenty-five of his poems and included them in ''A Discourse on Literature''. However, most of these had been lost and only five survive till this day, out of which the authenticity of two has not been verified. Nine volumes containing Kong Rong's proses under the ''Book of Sui'' had also been lost. Those that survived could be found in compilations from the Ming and Qing Dynasty. These include several letters Kong Rong wrote to Cao Cao in criticism of the latter's policies.

Jia Yi

Jia Yi was a poet and statesman of the Han Dynasty.


Jia Yi was born in 201 BCE in Luoyang.

When he reached the age of 18, he was already well known in his county for his ability in poems and essay-writing, and was referred to as "Jia sheng", i.e. "Student Jia". Soon, he was recommended by ''Wu Gong'' to Emperor Wen of Han. He soon achieved a high status but was repulsed by older, high-ranking officials at the time such as ''Zhou Bo'' and ''Guan Ying'' .

Jia Yi made many suggestions to Emperor Wen about governing his empire. As an advocate of reforms, attacking Xiongnu and lessening the power of local governors, he made enemies at court and lost his position. He became the tutor to the King of Changsha, a place he disliked as he feared its humid climate would lead to an early death. When passing the Xiang river, he wrote several poems grieving for his sad fate and compared himself with Qu Yuan, as he believed he was sent into exile. Changsha was known as "The home of Qu and Jia " because of their influence.

In 173 BC, he was recalled by the emperor to the capital Luoyang, allegedly to be asked about matters of mysticism by Emperor Wen, and was later made a tutor of his youngest son, Prince Huai of Liang , true name Liu Yi .

In 169 BC, Prince Huai of Liang who he tutors fell off a horse and died. The following year Jia committed suicide, allegedly out of feelings of responsibility for the incident.


He is known for his '''' , poems in a mixed prose and poetry style that was popular in the Han Dynasty, and for his political works such as Guo Qin Lun and Zhi'An Ce , the latter mostly lost. Since he wrote favorably of social and ethical ideas attributed to Confucius and wrote an essay focused on the failings of the -based Qin Dynasty , he was classified by other scholars in the Han Dynasty .