China and Inner Asia
Organized Panel Session
Scholars working on early Chinese history have long been aware of the ideological bias that to a certain extent underlies early imperial historiographic works such as the Shiji and the Hanshu. Ancient manuscripts excavated from the ground during recent decades have not only greatly enriched the picture of pre-imperial and early imperial China that these sources had painted for us. In many cases, they tell stories that in fact are significantly different from the ones Sima Qian compiled in his Shiji. One of these examples is the Book of Zhao Zheng (Zhao Zheng shu), a text found among the Western Han bamboo manuscripts from the Peking University collection. It describes historical developments between the death of the First Emperor and the eventual fall of the Qin Empire in a way that differs in some important details from the Shiji account.
Based on a systematic analysis of the textual differences between the Zhao Zheng shu and corresponding passages in the Shiji, this paper first addresses the implications the differences have for the overall gist of the accounts and the possible motives of their authors or compilers. It goes on to discuss the question of the relation between these diverging accounts and – drawing on evidence from other excavated and received sources – situates them in a broader historical and social context. Finally, the paper considers the more general implications the example under discussion might have for the study of early Chinese history and for the status of received historiographic works.