Science of History
The Features of the Chinese Science of History.
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China has an unbroken written history. Since its civilization began, recorded History has continued without failure. Its numerous historical documents and literature are replete with moral teachings on how to conduct oneself and how to rule a state.
In The Book o/ Zhou are recorded the teachings of Duke Zhao of Zhou to his people. One of the teachings says: "In Ancient times, the State of Xia was very powerful and strong, but now it has declined. Its dominance was replaced by Yin (the Shang Dynasty), which also became known for its splendid accomplishments in history. But now it too has declined. We people of Zhou should think seriously of the causes that brought these two states down, and learn lessons of history. Duke Zhou also required his descendents to follow the examples of King Wen and King Wu of Zhou, to learn from their personal quality and integrity and carry on their undertakings. "Faking History as a mirror or a lesson, this thought and consciousness in the teachings on how to conduct oneself and how to rule a State in ancient China has constituted an important symbol of the humanistic ethos in Chinese history books and documents.
In a sense, ancient Chinese science of History served as an encyclopedia of ancient Chinese culture and academic studies. It explored the relationships between man and nature, man and society, man and family and state, involving every aspect of culture and academic studies. The humanistic and moral ethos in traditional Chinese culture was prominently reflected in the ancient Chinese science of history.
Ancient Chinese history books and documents contained rich descriptions of man's social life, embracing all the significant aspects of social life, from kings and princes to generals and ministers and ordinary people. The Spring and Autumn Annals, compiled by Confucius, covered a History of 242 years of the State of Lu from 722 BC to 481 BC in a total of only 18,000 Chinese characters. All the major political and military events During that period were recorded, including military expeditions, political alliances and sacrificial ceremonies, in addition to marriages and funerals, fortifications and constructions, palaces and housing, hunting and farmland.
Man creates history. Many personalities are involved, and Chinese historians have been skilled at describing the features and characters of historical figures. In Records of the Historian by Sima Qian, a noted Historian and thinker of the Western Han period (206 BC-25 AD), people from all parts of society are described, including kings, nobles, bureaucrats, men of letters and scholars, merchants, knights-errant, and even people at the lowest rung of the social ladder. Each person has been described so vividly that their personalities have been talked about ever since.
Records of the Hislorian is full of admiration for historical figures that had struggled against natural adversities and the wicked and evil forces of human society. Beginning with the time of the Yellow Emperor, the book Records the harnessing and control of the environment, the amelioration of the soil, the planting of crops, and the invention of tools and instruments. Also recorded are he roes who rebelled against dark political forces and injustice in society, while justice and loftiness are glorified. For instance, it is recorded in the book that Yu the Great was so wholeheartedly engaged in his work of harnessing rivers and controlling floods that he forgot to come back home even though he passed by it on three occasions. It Records the construction of a water channel project in the State of Zheng, and how the people studied the conditions and chose the appropriate plans for the project. Other examples include the harnessing of the Yellow River During the reign of Emperor Wudi of the Han Dynasty; the rebellion against the rule of King Zhou of the Shang Dynasty launched by kings Wen and Wu of the Zhou Dynasty; the story of Crown Prince Dan of the State of Yan, who sent Jin Ke to assassinate Emperor Qinshihuang and the heroic aspiration of the assassin; and the uprising launched by Chen Sheng and Wu Guang against the tyranny of the Qin Dynasty. be observed in the relationship between master and servant and between friends.
The humanistic spirit of morality is also discussed in the History As a Mirror, annals compiled by Sima Guang of the Song Dynasty (960-1279). He believed that the key to mankind's survival and development lay in the moral spirit of Ren, Yi, Li, Zhi and Xin or benevolence, righteousness, courtesy, intelligence and trustworthiness, and this had been demonstrated again and again throughout history. A man must have virtue and talent so as to be able to deal with other people and affairs of the world. Morality must be combined with talent: "Talent is the supplement of virtue; virtue is the director of talent Thus, a man with perfect talent and virtue is called a sage; a man without talent and virtue is called a fool; a man with more virtue than talent is called a superior man; and a man with more talent than virtue is called a mean man."According to Sima Guang, a sovereign should be good at selecting and using his subordinates. Only by employing aides with talent and virtue could his government be honorable and competent. If the sovereign was a man with no talent and virtue, and his aides were all mean men also without talent and virtue, his government would surely be chaotic. Sima Guang attached particular importance to political morality, believing Xin (trustworthiness) and Yi(righteousness) are the foundations of a state. If the people lost trust in their government, the State would not last long even if it had some temporary achievements. He stressed: "Xin is the great treasure of the sovereign of a state. To win a state, one must win its people. To win the people, one must win their trust. Without trust, a sovereign cannot lead his people. Without people, the State will inevitably be lost. Thus, an Ancient king would not forfeit the trust of his people, and the Ancient overlord of a State would never bully his neighboring states. A good ruler never abuses his people and a good patriarch never abuses his family. Bad ones do just the opposite."
The ancient Chinese history books, when discussing a historical personage, did so according to standards and values to establish what contribution he had made to the State and society and whether he had observed moral and ethical principles in his life. From this we can See an expression of the humanistic moral spirit which permeates Chinese history books.
Ancient Chinese t~lstonans also held that historians should study the laws governing the development of history. To this end, many historians have worked hard and made great contributions.
On the one hand, ancient Chinese historians strove to under stand History as a whole. For instance, the Records of the Historian contains special chapters describing and recording socio-economic activities and analyzing the socio-economic development of the times under review. It describes agriculture, mining, handicrafts and commerce as productive and economic activities indispensable to human life which develop according to their own rules. Sima Qian Records historical events showing that economic development can induce political change. He confirms the saying that "When people have sufficient food and clothing, they understand the meaning of honor and disgrace. When the granaries are full, they understand the meaning of courtesy," holding that a man's mental outlook is greatly influenced by economic conditions.
On the other hand, Chinese historians probed the complicated relationships between laws and institutions on the one hand and ideology, culture and political life on the other. Thus, the best History books can be almost regarded as encyclopedias of social life. In his Records ~ the Historian, Sima Qian noted the laws and institutions practiced before the reign of Emperor Wudi of the Han Dynasty. In his History of the Han Dynast, Ban Gu recorded these in even greater detail. During the Tang Dynasty, books were specially written on such institutions, such as the Decrees and Institutions of the Government by Liu Zhi and A General Record of Government Institutions by Du You. Such other specialized books were very popular and prevalent in the later Song, Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties. The purpose of studying such subjects was to find the origin and development of the institutions so as to know their faults and merits.
Nature is indispensable to human society. From nature come the material means on which the existence and operation of a society depend. Meanwhile, nature may bring happiness or disaster to society. Therefore Chinese history books have registered, in a fair amount of detail, the changes of nature as well as its connection with and effects on man and society. In Confucius' 3~n'lg and Autumn Annals, for instance, all the important astronomical and geographical changes in a period of 242 years were recorded, including eclipses of the sun and moon, earthquakes, landslides, celestial exclipses of the sun and moon, earthquakes, landslides, celestial ply constituted an important part of the Ancient historical records. These records, which systematically registered all the important astronomical changes, gave later readers a knowledge of the real political life in a certain period, particularly the relationship between agricultural production and the astronomical changes. Of course, misunderstandings and superstitions in the explanations of natural phenomena have also often been involved.
As to geographical records, during the pre-Qin period, both physical and administrative geographical conditions had been recorded distinctly. Xiao He, an important strategist who helped Liu Bang establish the Western Han Dynasty, collected as many books as he could in order to increase his geographical knowledge. During the Western Han period, the humanistic aspects in the contents of the geographical Records increased. Record of the Historian contains descriptions of local economies, taxation, produce, ways of life, customs and water conservancy projects. In History of .the Han Dynast, a special chapter on geography is devoted to Records of administrative divisions, the rivers and mountains, folk customs, climate and population, initiating the style and scale of a national annals of localities. During the periods of the Wei, Jin, and Southern and Northern Dynasties (220-589), contents of geographical Records were greatly expanded by adding special descriptions about localities, mountains and rivers, customs, temples and monasteries, and produce. From the Sui Dynasty (581-618) to the end of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), there were not only national annals of regions, but also chronicles of localities, and the compilation of such chronicles was one of the major functions of histeriographers and scholars at various levels of the government.
In Ancient China, historians sought to explore the relationships between astronomical phenomena, geographical conditions and social and political life. Some came to understand and grasp certain relationships between the three aspects. Many exaggerated such relationships out of proportions, talking of "communications between Heaven and man" and other forms of superstition, laying themselves open to oriticism by other historians.
It should be particularly noted that around the time that the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) replaced the Ming, some philosophers and historians began to understand certain dialectic relationship between the natural environment and social life. They held that the History of nature should be distinguished from the History of mankind, that the History of nature has its own laws of development, that each astronomical or geographical phenomenon is not necessarily linked to human society and the laws of natural changes cannot be made to correspond totally to those of man kind. They also held that one should observe the History of nature being adapted by man to meet human needs. Man not only needs to acquire from nature the material means for survival, but also to reshape it. In the process of reshaping nature, man constantly enriches and develops his knowledge about nature.
Here, we would like to give a brief introduction to the many different styles used by ancient Chinese historians, the most influential being the biographical and annalistic styles. The Records of the Historian was the first example of the biographical style, while History As a Mirror is typical of the annalistic style. Sima Qian's procedures in writing the Records of the Historian are as follows:
Ascertaining the historical facts. An important standard for him was whether they reliably reflected history, or whether they involved important aspects of human lift'. [le scrutinized numerous materials and even made on-the-spot investigations to ascertain their reliability.
Setting the styles. The styles used in the Records of he Historian include biographic sketches of emperors, interpretive and descriptive records, biographies of aristocratic families, and collected biographies. Arranged in the order of years, the biographic sketches of emperors give a brief account of the evolution of History Military, political and economic matters, foreign affairs and astronomical and geographical events are chronicled using interpretive and descriptive records. Biographies of aristocratic families and collected biographies record communities and individuals that have left important marks in history.
Method of description. Records of the Historian deals briefly with the past, giving detailed descriptions of the present. The book is filled with the author's strong personal sentiments and gives skilful descriptions of a character's nature and characteristics through typical examples. He was successful in piecing together related events described in various different styles in his book, while combining them as a whole by way of cross-reference.
For example, when I,iu Bang, historically known as Emperor Gaozu of the Han DynastB was preparing to fight for control of the empire, he employed many of his competent strategists and able ministers. In the "Biographic Sketch of Emperor Gaozu," limitation of space meant that the author could not give a full account of all the merits of the emperor's strategists and ministers. He therefore made a list of all his meritorious supporters and aides, and described their achievements and contributions in other stories such as the "Pedigree of the Grand Minister Xiao He and the biographies of Han Xin and Chen Ping. In this way, he not only linked relevant historical events described in different styles in various parts of the book, but also expressed his views about these events. In the "Pedigree of the (;rand Minister Xiao He," which Records the merits of the minister, only four important events are included, such as collecting books and the laws and documents of the Qin Dynasty, recommendation of Han Xin as the Commander-in-chief, appeasement of the territory in Guan zhong (now Shaanxi Province), and recommendation of Cao Sen as his successor. His assistance to Emperor Huidi, on the recommendation of Emperor Gaozu's last will, and a much less important event in the whole life of Xiao He, are merely referred to in passing in the account of Emperor Huidi's visit to him when he was dying.
The procedures by which Sima Guang wrote his Histo.ry As a Mirror are as follows:
Ascertaining the historical facts. The elements of History that the author selected were those concerning the rise and fall of a state, the life and death of the people, good actions to serve as examples and evil actions to serve as warnings. These involve good and evil politics of imperial dynasties through the ages, and the foods, products, punishments, rituals, ranks and positions, and military affairs. According to these criteria, the author and his assistants collected and ascertained all the relevant materials from official Records as well as other documents of the past dynasties. In dealing with different accounts of an event, the author "screened many Records before drawing conclusions," "compared different versions" and "used reliable facts."
Setting the styles. Sima Guang and his assistants first made out a guide to the styles to be used in the book, including 36 items regarding the phraseology and form. And then they ascertained the year and month in which events happened. They used the year as an entry to a ruler and a ruler as an entry to a dynasty, but only the year and appellation of one ruler of one State was to be adopted when many states co-existed. And then they arranged long chronicles of the events in the order of years, and made a final revision under a unified criterion.
Method of description. The cause and the result of an important historical event had to be made clear and consistent. The author often selected one or two of the most important events extending over a long period of time in a particular stage of History or a certain Dynasty as the outline of his accounts together with supplementary descriptions of other less important events. Minor historical events which could not be given their own independent entry were dealt with in accompanying or additional descriptions.
Biographical and annalistic styles each have their merits and shortcomings. Zhang Xuecheng, a Qing Dynasty historian, for example, wrote History in the styles of biography, annals, interpretive Records and romances in a bid to set up examples for posterity. However, using these methods, the important contents and their developments might not be all included and clearly told.Annals can give a relatively full list of historical events in the order of years, but may omit many of the substantial details and richness of history. The History of anything and anyone, which was marked with a date of time, must be recorded, even those which are not particularly important. But those things and people lacking a date of occurrence, though they had a very important influence on the development of history, might not be given a detailed reflection in history. Different historians disagreed as to which style should play the chief role. Zhang Xuecheng declared that biographies could include some of the styles used in annals, but annals could not use a biographical style. This was particularly true of descriptions of human activities in the evolution of history.
Since History is made up of events and is also a stage for human activities, the two aspects must both be recorded. Therefore, the best suitable style should fully use and develop the advantages of biographies and annals. The advantage of annals lies in their clarity of description, while that of biographies lies in their cross-reference of related events. Ideally, as far as possible, the two styles should be combined.
As to the method of research, ancient Chinese historians stressed that one should understand historical events by thinking deeply about each one and coming to know them as if the author himself had experienced the process in person. In this way, he could make a justifiable judgement about each historical event and figure. Meanwhile, a standard of proof must be observed. With out proof 'facts' were not credible. Through various methods, historians should distinguish the truth of historical materials from the false, laying History studies on the solid and reliable foundation of the materials available.
Ancient historians also discussed lessons to be learnt from historical events. The purpose of studying History is to seek enlightenment therefrom. If the study of History does not serve mankind, then it is of no use. Wang Fuzhi, a great thinker and scholar of the early Qing Dynasty, said: "The value of History lies in its service to posterity as a teacher. When a historian Records many historical events in detail but neglects important events that can serve a lesson for the coming generations, what is the use of this historian?" Learning lessons from history, however, should start from the actual conditions of reality, and should not copy blindly what ancients did. "It should be done in the light of each particular event, considering expedient and suitable measures in different occasions. Even in the same generation, the way may be different. Even in one case, things can be different from each other. It is better to doubt what has been said than to stick to it against reason," said Wang Fuzhi who was opposed to subjectivism and biased views.. This, however, is not an easy task.
Personal cultivation of historians' own morality and skills was considered to be indispensable to their studies and writings. The Qing Dynasty Historian Zhang Xuecheng proposed the idea of "virtues of historians." He believed that historians' virtues and learning inevitably influenced their studies. A Historian whose mind and actions were bad would distort History and his knowledge of History would be biased. Other historians, though virtuous and noble-minded, should deepen their level of study because they also sometimes drew incorrect conclusions from their studies.
The meaning and connotations of "virtues of historians" were broad. A historian's honesty and faithfulness were considered to be enormously important. The Historian must never distort historical facts, even when subjected to violence and persecution. During the Spring and Autumn Period, Dong Gu, an official Historian of the State of Jin, was honored as a "righteous historian" by succeeding historians. In 607 BC, Zhao Dun, the executive minister of the State of Jin, fled his country to avoid being murdered by Duke Ling of Jin. Zhao Chuan, a relative of Zhao Dun, killed the duke. In this case, Dong Gu believed that Zhao Dun was guilty of the crime. Defying his power and influence, Dong boldly wrote in his book Zhao Dun Murdered His Sovereign, for which Dong was honored as an upright historian.
Ancient Chinese historians held that only with a lofty moral character and basic professional skills could a Historian reveal the truth of an historical event, whether in historical research or in relating a historical event, and only thus could he enable the public to draw lessons from it.
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