Chinese Literature Dissertation Reviews: Esther Sunkyung Klein’s History of a Historian

Sima Qian & the Author-Function Dissertation Reviews has posted Vincent Leung‘s review of Esther Sunkyung Klein‘s The History of a Historian: Perspectives on the Authorial Roles of Sima Qian. Here’s how it begins:

Sima Qian 司馬遷 (ca. 145 or 135 BCE-86 BCE) once famously declared that his monumental Shiji 史 記 (ca. 91 BCE) is intended not for readers in his own time but for those in posterity. The reason for such an authorial gesture, unusual in the early Chinese corpus, is unclear, but in any event he would not have been disappointed had he been able to witness the tremendous reception of the Shiji in the last two millennia. It is fair to say that the Shiji is one of the most widely read texts in the entire Chinese literary tradition. This is easily attested by the staggering amount of commentaries on it throughout the imperial period as well as the numerous articles and monographs devoted to its study over the last century. This voluminous scholarship represents an expectedly diverse range of readings of the Shiji, with the nevertheless common goal of articulating the significance of the Shiji as intended by its compiler Sima Qian by reconstructing an accurate and relevant context for its composition. Readings that disagree on the significance of the Shiji are essentially disagreements over how it should be properly contextualized in relation to its author and/or the supposed historical condition of the early Han, and over the last two millennia as many contexts motivating Sima Qian have been imagined as there have been readers of the Shiji.