The Letter to Ren An and Sima Qian's Legacy

  • Published: 2016. Paperback March 2018
  • Subject Listing: Asian Studies / China; History
  • Bibliographic information: 190 pp., 7 charts, 1 table, 6 x 9 in.
  • Territorial rights: World Rights
  • Contents

Sima Qian (first century BCE), the author of Record of the Historian (Shiji), is China's earliest and best-known historian, and his "Letter to Ren An" is the most famous letter in Chinese history. In the letter, Sima Qian explains his decision to finish his life's work, the first comprehensive history of China, instead of honorably committing suicide following his castration for "deceiving the emperor." In the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, some scholars have queried the authenticity of the letter. Is it a genuine piece of writing by Sima Qian or an early work of literary impersonation? The Letter to Ren An and Sima Qian's Legacy provides a full translation of the letter and uses different methods to explore issues in textual history. It also shows how ideas about friendship, loyalty, factionalism, and authorship encoded in the letter have far-reaching implications for the study of China.
Stephen Durrant is professor of Chinese language and literature at the University of Oregon; Wai-yee Li is professor of Chinese literature at Harvard University; Michael Nylan is professor of history at University of California, Berkeley; and Hans van Ess is professor of sinology at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munchen.

"Very intellectually engaging and makes a real contribution to the fields of Chinese history and literature. The authors have done a wonderful job summarizing the important Chinese scholarship to craft a concise collection of essays."
-Mark Csikszentmihalyi, author of Readings in Han Chinese Thought

"The 'Letter' comes alive in this joint endeavor. This rich volume sheds much new light on early Chinese manuscript and epistolary culture, Han dynasty political ideology and social ethics, traditional Chinese views of authorship, and, last but not least, our understanding of Sima Qian as a seminal writer, thinker, and historian."
-Yiqun Zhou, author of Festivals, Feasts, and Gender Relations in Ancient China and Greece

"A fascinating, in-depth exploration of Sima Qian's 'Letter to Ren An' and the first monograph to give this most celebrated letter of the Chinese tradition the attention it deserves. If the 'Letter' is the lens through which Shiji has been read for two millennia, the four original contributions collected here direct our attention to this lens itself. Scrutinizing it with regard to authenticity, authorship, friendship, and dissent, they illuminate these aspects on a much broader scale."
-Antje Richter, author of Letters and Epistolary Culture in Early Medieval China

Chronology of Dynasties
Zuo Tradition / Zuozhuan
Volume One
Lord Yin
Lord Huan
Lord Zhuang
Lord Min
Lord Xi
Lord Wen
Lord Xuan

Volume Two
Lord Cheng
Lord Xiang

Volume Three
Lord Zhao
Lord Ding
Lord Ai

Place-Name Index
Personal Name Index


"Questioning the received understanding of the Letter's nature, authorship, and its relation with the Shiji, this volume, based on solid scholarship and scrupulously referenced, will become a must-read for anyone interested in the study of Sima Qian and the Shiji. It also serves as a most welcome reminder of the necessity to periodically re-evaluate well-established perceptions of literary traditions with a critical eye."
-Yangruxin Liu, Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies