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The Cyclic Views of the Human Condition in Thucydides’ Archaeology and Sima Qian’s Preface to Historical Records

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BAI, Chun Xiao. “The Cyclic Views of the Human Condition in Thucydides’ Archaeology and Sima Qian’s Preface to Historical Records.” CHS Research Bulletin 5, no. 1 (2016). http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:hlnc.essay:BaiX.The_Cyclic_Views_of_the_Human_Condition.2016

1§1 The commencement of historiography may be a coincidence. In ancient societies, there were many methods for people to preserve their memories: oral poetry, religious stories, funerary texts, instruction literature, king lists, chronicles of kingdoms, and so on. According to Arnaldo Momigliano, although Jews once developed a kind of political history, history never became part of Jewish education and the Law of the Jews was definitely beyond history; moreover, Jewish people abandoned the practice of historiography almost entirely from the second to the sixteenth century.[1] Apparently, not every culture always needs historicity in the strict sense.

1§2 In 1995, the international symposium on “Chinese Historiography in Comparative Perspective” was held at Heidelberg University, and the articles presented in the symposium as well as the theme issue of History and Theory are still influential.[2] On historiography, I agree with Jörn Rüsen when he says, “There is no historiography without rationality, that is, a set of rules which bind the sense-making process of historical consciousness into strategies of conceptualization, of bringing empirical evidence into the representation of the past, and of coherent argumentation. This rationality should be reconstructed and investigated as a universally valid development.”[3] It seems to me that both Greek and Chinese historical thinking originally investigate the past and reconstruct cultural memories with rationality. Further, in this research, I am inspired by the idea of Benjamin Schwartz: some of the dominant conceptions in Chinese historiography “resonate with certain Western modalities of historical thought”.[4] In 2007, History and Theory had a forum on Chinese and Western Historical Thinking. Chun-Chieh Huang’s article, which focused on the peculiarities of Chinese historical thinking, stimulated discussion among Western and Chinese scholars. Fritz-Heiner Mutschler made comments on Chun-Chieh Huang’s arguments through a comparison of ancient Chinese and Western historiographies. He distinguished between Greek and Roman historiographies, and then concluded that the situation of Rome was “surprisingly close to that of China (unified empire)”, in contrast to Greece (multiplicity of poleis), even though the Roman historians were undoubtedly influenced by their Greek predecessors.[5] So, for the argument about the origin of historiography, it is most necessary to compare and analyze Greek and Chinese historical thinking.

1§3 Following Schwarzt’s and Mutschler’s academic approaches, I will attempt to show through a comparative analysis how the cyclic views of the human condition underlie Greek and Chinese historiographies and influence their historical writings respectively. For this purpose I propose to study two great historians, Thucydides (c. 460–c. 400 BCE) and Sima Qian (c. 145–c. 86 BCE), focusing on the Archaeology in the History of the Peloponnesian War and the Preface to Historical Records, since they seem to be the most illustrative and representative texts for the analysis. I hope to get a better understanding of the basic characteristics of Greek and Chinese historiographies.

Repeating Patterns and Cyclic Views of the Human Condition Underlie Thucydides and Sima Qian’s History Writings

2§1 From prehistoric times onwards, many ancient cultures had some sort of idea that the natural and human worlds moved in cycles of origin, growth, prosperity, decline and fall with various repeating patterns. However, historical writings with the cyclic view appeared in Greece and China first. In Greece, Thucydides most typically embodies this insight into human history. To him, the collection of past speeches and actions will have a profitable use for the future. He says:

If my work is judged useful by any who shall wish to have a clear view both of the events which have happened and of those which will some day, according to the human condition, happen again in such and such-like ways, it will suffice for me.[6]

2§2 In the view of Thucydides, men hope to attain wonderful achievements that lead to recurrent disasters and destruction since they desire power, wealth and fame. The most tragic realization is that the processes are inevitable and probably permanent also:

2§3 During the civil wars the cities suffered many cruelties that occur and will always occur as long as men have the same nature, sometimes more terribly and sometimes less, varying in their forms as each change of fortune dictates.[7]

2§4 Thucydides believes that the narrative of most past events is without evidence and full of mythical legends. In addition, no past events can be highly regarded in comparison to the present war. In his view, the war between the Peloponnesians and the Athenians is the greatest historical movement and more noteworthy than any previous wars.[8] Therefore, he chooses to record those activities in contemporary times as the best way to inform his readers of the reality of the world. Meanwhile, he describes those early events in only a minimum length. Through the Archaeology, he does not merely aim to describe a brief outline of Greek civilization from the very beginning to the era of the Peloponnesian War, but instead to prove his claim that the Peloponnesian war is the greatest and most destructive one in history. The style of narrative certainly includes some kind of exaggeration. However, as J. R. Ellis persuasively argues, it manifests Thucydides’ conception of history most clearly as he uses both linear structure and ring structure in the Archaeology to frame three historical processes: 1. the distant past, from the beginning of Greek history to the Trojan expedition (1.2–1.11); 2. the period “preceding this war”, from the post-Trojan War era to the Persian War (1.12–1.18.2); 3. the latest period, from the end of the Persian War to the Peloponnesian War (1.18.2–1.23.3). Each process has three phases (a. regressive phase; b. kinetic phase; c. climactic phase), and every phase appears to correspond to their counterparts in the other two processes. For Thucydides, as technological development affects a progressive increase in the levels of power attainable, the Trojan War stands at the center of the annular structure while the Peloponnesian War is the greatest of all wars. Thus Greek history is shaped like a modified circle (or a spiral).[9] This innovative idea is obviously different from Herodotus’, whose aim is mainly to preserve the human memories from decay and not to make human events inglorious.[10] However, the historical philosophy of Thucydides may be more similar to Sima Qian’s.

2§5 In his Preface to Historical Records, Sima Qian recalls his father’s unfulfilled wish to continue the cause of the ancient sages:[11]

There had been five hundred years after the death of the Duke of Zhou (eleventhth century BCE) when Confucius (551–479 BCE) was born. So far it has been five hundred years since the death of Confucius; someone, who is able to succeed the great career in this flourishing age, should modify the Commentary on the Book of Changes, continue to write the Spring and Autumn Annals, and discover the nature of the Classic of Poetry, the Book of Documents, the Three Rites and the Classic of Music.[12]

2§6 In this preface, then, Sima Qian, who feels a strong responsibility to obey his father’s will and complete the grand historical writing, repeatedly shows his deep respect for Confucius’ compiling of the Spring and Autumn Annals. This kind of responsibility and respect originates from a hidden belief that five hundred years should be a cycle of history. About two centuries earlier, Mencius (372–289 BCE) already mentioned this perception:

It is a rule that a true royal sovereign should arise in the course of five hundred years, and that during that time there should be men illustrious in their generation.[13]

2§7 As is known, the idea of Yin-Yang permeates traditional Chinese culture. Yin (dark side) and Yang (bright side) represent the opposite forces in the whole universe. Lao Zi (sixth century–fifth century BCE), the founder of Daoism, generalizes that the movement of the Way (or Dao 道) is reversion. [14] According to this theory, the movement of the world can be described as alternating motions of Yin and Yang with each other in endless cycles. As a historical philosopher, Confucius also bears this concept in mind, and he lays particular emphasis on historical changes and the replacement of dynasties with this cyclic view:

2§8 Zi Zhang (503 BCE–?, a student of Confucius) asked whether ten generations hence could be known about.

2§9 Confucius said: “The Yin Dynasty based itself on the Xia ritual and what they subtracted or added may be known. The Zhou based itself on the Yin ritual and what they subtracted or added may be known. The Zhou’s possible successors even in a hundred generations may be known about.”[15]

2§10 Hence, inheriting this ancient Chinese tradition, Sima Qian has an enormous sense of mission, and this sense was not only based on his position as an official historian, but also on the belief that the historical movement to a flourishing age needs a new classical record.[16] This idea was to some extent similar to Thucydides’ and should provide a starting point for making some comparisons.

A Comparative Study: ThucydidesArchaeology and Sima Qian’s Preface to Historical Records

3§1 Thucydides’ Archaeology, his subject, methods, and the events in three periods comprise the introduction to his book. Sima Qian’s Preface to Historical Records (actually, as the last chapter of his book, sometimes it is also called “postface”) performs a function similar to the opening part of the History of the Peloponnesian War. This preface, with the Letter to Ren An and some other historical comments (especially in the Biographies of the Money-makers), remarkably reveals Sima Qian’s conception of history.

3§2 Firstly, neither Thucydides nor Sima Qian idealized the initial stage of human society. On the contrary, both of them were inclined to think that the condition of early people was very simple and inconvenient. Thucydides supposed that there was a long period of “proto-Hellas” in Greece:

3§3 There were migrations in former times and each tribe of people, being forced by anyone more numerous, were always ready to abandon their territory easily. In the absence of commerce, they did not communicate with each other without fear either by land or sea; they utilized their own resources as much as necessary to live off and did not have the surplus goods or planting the land; it was unclear when someone else would come and take away the goods from the people who did not have the walls, and supposing that they could obtain the necessity of daily food everywhere, they did not emigrate with difficulty; and accordingly neither the size of their cities nor the rest of their resources was strong.[17]

3§4 It can also be seen as a general account of a primitive nomadic society. No doubt there was considerable uncertainty and huge disorder at the dawn of human history in Thucydides’ view. Varying from Thucydides, Sima Qian ignores this period of total chaos. He says that he knows nothing about the era of Shen Nong and before;[18] and his Historical Records begins explicitly from Huangdi.[19] By quoting Lao Zi, he describes the primitive agricultural and sedentary life of ancient China in a classic scene:

Though states exist side by side, so close that they can hear the crowing of each other’s cocks and the barking of each other’s dogs, the people of each state will savor their own food, admire their own clothing, be content with their own customs, and delight in their own occupations, and will grow old and die without ever wandering abroad.[20]

3§5 However, Sima Qian does not believe that this mode of social organization can still be applied to the period from Emperor Shun (the last one of the Five Emperors) and the Xia Dynasty down to his own age. He even satirizes the utopianism of Lao Zi and comments that the subtle arguments of the Daoists can never succeed in changing the people from the prehistoric age onwards[21] In a word, his opinion on the beginning of history is nearly identical to Thucydides’: without sufficient wealth and necessary communications, it was not a Golden Age, but just a poor phase of a historical process.

3§6 Then, as Adam M. Parry observes, the historical process actually is the movements of power from the perspective of Thucydides.[22] It is the first step that some people become more powerful than others by controlling the fertile land.[23] This causes a series of changes to the human condition. According to Thucydides, only after Hellen and his sons became strong and were invited to help other cities, more and more cities preferred to be called “Hellenes” in association.[24] In the same way, Pelops acquired power and also had his name associated with a wide range of locales even though he was an immigrant, since he was able to bring abundant wealth from Asia to the needy people in Peloponnesus.[25] Some men, who usually led the way of piracy or plunder for the sake of their own profit and for the necessity of the weak, became powerful as Hellen and Pelops did.[26] Afterwards, Minos was believed to be the earliest one to establish a navy, and he removed piracy from the sea as best as he could so as to protect the revenues for himself.[27] Sea power subsequently became more and more important and grew to be a decisive strength in the Mediterranean world. Agamemnon, who surpassed his contemporaries in naval strength, was able to launch the Trojan War less because of good will than because he was feared.[28] Later on, the Corinthians, the Ionians, the Phocaeans, Polycrates of Samos, the tyrants in Sicily, Darius, Xerxes, the Corcyraeans and the Athenians took turns to control the sea in this area in varying degrees all with their fleets.[29] Through the Archaeology, we can find that hopes for profits and fears of damage are two fundamental elements of power. So Thucydides summarizes that the longing for profit causes the weaker to submit to the stronger and the more powerful people with surplus wealth to make the smaller cities subject to them.[30]

3§7 In my opinion, Sima Qian would partly agree with this idea. He clearly remarks on the increasing desires in the civilized societies as well:

Ears and eyes have always longed for the ultimate in beautiful sounds and forms, mouths have desired to taste the best in grass-fed and grain-fed animals, bodies have delighted in ease and comfort, and hearts have swelled with pride at the glories of power and ability.[31]

3§8 Nonetheless, Sima Qian does not think that the need for profit results in ruthless domination and absolute submission inevitably. He points out five levels of the relationship between rulers and their people:

The highest type of ruler accepts the nature of the people, the next best leads the people to what is beneficial, the next gives them moral instruction, the next forces them to be orderly, and the very worst kind enters into competition with them.[32]

3§9 One may say that Sima Qian idealizes peaceful and harmonious rule rather than oppressing control. It seems to me that Sima Qian has a wider and more comprehensive understanding of political situations than Thucydides does.

3§10 Next, it is noteworthy that both Thucydides and Sima Qian focus on wars, revolutions, coups, slaughters, natural disasters, and human torture. Suffering and destruction, as a main topic in their historical writing, always draw their attention. As far as the cruelties are concerned, Thucydides aims to portray a spectacle of calamities in his work:

3§11 This war (the Peloponnesian War) not only went on a great length, but also was accompanied with such disasters and sufferings in Hellas that no other similar period of time could parallel. For never had there been so many cities captured or deserted, some by barbarians, others by the Hellenes themselves when they fought against each other (and some cities even had a change of their inhabitants after they were conquered), nor had there been so many men exiled or slaughtered, some in the war itself, others because of the internal strife. And the descriptions formerly known only by hearsay, but less actually confirmed, now turned to be trustworthy, such as earthquakes, which happened in the most range of areas with strongest force, and eclipses of the sun, which turned out more frequently than any past time according to our memories, also great droughts in some parts and consequently famines, and the most harmful and fatal disease: the plague. All of these fell together upon the Hellenes with this war.[33]

3§12 According to the Archaeology, the Trojan War was greater than any event before, and it was also the end of prehistoric Greece. After the Trojan War, Hellas was again going through migrations and incursions similar to the beginning of history.[34] The Persian War was the greatest action of the Greeks in the past. But a short time later, the Spartans and the Athenians quarreled, and made war upon each other with their allies. There was hardly a real peace in the Hellenic world.[35] The Peloponnesian War was not only the highest summit but also the largest ruin in this historical spiral. So, it means that the greater achievement humankind achieves, the more miseries it will suffer. However, although every historical process unavoidably leads to destruction, the efforts are not in vain. In Thucydides’ vision, human history is not just a simple cycle form since intelligence has an overall increase (sea power is the main aspect in the Archaeology); and the glory and the suffering should be recorded in a serious way.[36]

3§13 As regards to the fall of the states and their rulers, Sima Qian can’t help but sigh with an emotion resembling Thucydides’:

In the Spring and Autumn Annals, thirty-six sovereigns were murdered, fifty-two states perished, and the number of feudal princes who lost their states and went into exile was countless. When I observe the reasons why they were so fallible, I conclude that all of them lost their right way to govern. So the Book of Changes says that a miss is as good as a mile. So it also says that the regicides and the patricides do not happen suddenly in a short time but develop gradually into reality.[37]

“Yet, after the Qin Empire had become the master of the world and established its palaces within Mountain Yaoshan and Han Gu Pass, a single commoner opposed it and its seven ancestral temples toppled, its ruler died by the hands of men, and it became the laughing stock of the world. Why? Because it failed to rule with humanity and righteousness, and did not realize that the power to attack and the power to retain what one has thereby won are not the same.”[38]

3§14 As we can see, Sima Qian, following the rational spirit of Confucius and Jia Yi, inquires into the causes of collapse of the states, not from the providence of God, but from human deeds and words. This is another notable similarity between him and Thucydides. Sima Qian is also clear that the progress of material and intelligence goes on throughout history. But Chinese historical thinking is a kind of moral thinking.[39] In his view, after the period of the five legendary emperors, the demise of the dynasties was always due to the stupidity, cruelty and indulgence of the rulers. As time goes on, morality inevitably goes to ruin and the dynastic cycle continues. Sima Qian is very familiar with the processes, but he still pursues some moral principles in history although he admits his confusion.[40] However, in Thucydides’ conviction, civilization will lead to terrible havoc because of evolving technology and growing desires while moral binding is so minimal that a sad end is inescapable.

3§15 Finally, there is another distinction between Thucydides’ and Sima Qian’s cyclic views of the human condition. Unlike Thucydides, Sima Qian may not necessarily think that the peak of a booming age must be closely followed by a great destruction. Thucydides lived in a turning epoch when the Greek world was changing from prosperity to decline, and he witnessed the Athenians losing the Peloponnesian war and their hegemony. So his tragic sense is easily understandable. However, this sense is more rooted in the conflicts of poleis during a relatively short period, rather than a longer historical duration with various political forms. By contrast, Sima Qian’s perspective covers the whole early period of Chinese history, from tribal confederations to kingdoms and then to empires. Although Sima Qian criticizes some wrong policies of the Han government and laments his own unjust punishment imposed by Emperor Wu, he really thinks that the reign of Emperor Wu is a powerful and splendid time, and not an era of total destruction.[41] It is plain that the specific point of the historians is formed in the different historical stages of their respective civilization.

A Further Reflection on the Cyclic Views of History in Ancient Greek and Early Chinese Historiographies

4§1 Although Thucydides and Sima Qian do not ascribe the early stages of human society to a Golden Age, many previous thinkers actually imagine that there is a harmonious period in the past and that period is always better than their contemporary time. In the Iliad, Homer praises the great deeds of Diomedes since the hero throws with ease a massive stone which no two men can lift at the poet’s time. [42] According to the Works and Days, a Golden race of men lived in the time of Cronos; they were without sorrow and free from toil and grief. Then after the Silver, Bronze and Heroic races, the fifth and most degraded race of iron “never rest from labor and sorrow by day and from perishing by night”.[43] W. Robert Connor reasonably argues that Hesiod’s idea of a Golden Age is representative of the earlier Greek thinkers before the fifth century BCE. Such myths reflect a traditional way of viewing the past. But during the fifth century many thinkers began to repudiate such a mythical understanding. As an accumulation of those new thoughts on early history, Thucydides’ Archaeology has no place for Golden Ages or great heroes.[44] As the past is not better, but similar to contemporary and future eras, Thucydides is confident that his historical writing will play an educational function for men and become a possession for all of time. In fact, it is a monumental shift that the idea of history is no longer regressive.

4§2 In China, the Confucian school was usually inclined to persuade contemporary rulers via a comparison between the ancient sages and the previous tyrants. The legendary sage kings Yao and Shun were most admired. The highest ideal of the Confucian scholars and officials was to assist their emperors to follow the reign of Yao and Shun. Therefore, the period of Yao and Shun was glorified as a great and harmonious world by the later scholars through the mouth of Confucius:

“When the great Dao (道) prevailed, the world was shared by all. Virtuous and wise men were chosen as leaders. Honesty was promoted, and harmony was a pursuit. All people did not only respect and love their own parents and children, but also the parents and children of others. The elders were cared for until death, adults were employed in jobs which made full use of their abilities, and children were educated well. Widows and Widowers, orphans and the old without children, the disabled and the diseased were all supported. Every man and every woman had an appropriate role in the society and family. For property, people hated to throw them on the ground, but did not have their own possession. People were willing to do their best for the public, and did not seek private profit for themselves. Therefore, the treacherous conspiracy did not arise, and theft, rebellion and robbery did not happen. So the doors of the houses were not closed. This was the ‘Great Harmony’.”[45]

4§3 However, Confucius himself knows that this great harmonious age has been far from him. Notably, neither the Mohist School (a school founded by Mo Zi, c. 468–c. 376 BCE) nor the famous Legalist Han Fei Zi (280 — 233 BC) agrees with this description of the period. They directly related that the living conditions of the age of Yao and Shun were very low.[46] Sima Tan extracts this opinion and Sima Qian appears to accept it.[47] Regardless, Sima Qian is not superstitious about ancient times, and he wishes to interpret how the dynastic cycles have happened in history. This actually makes him “examine into all that concerns heaven and humankind and penetrate the changes of the past and present (Letter to Ren An).” So, I conclude that Sima Qian precisely marks a separation between mythical stories and the historical spirit in China, just as Thucydides did in Greece. Both of them have some kind of modified cyclic view of human history. Sima Qian focuses on the dynastic cycle with a strong moral concern while Thucydides believes that human intelligence develops through the historical spiral. 


Connor, W. R. 1984. Thucydides. Princeton.

Dawson, R. trans. 1993. Confucius: The Analects. New York.

Ellis, J. R. 1991. “The Structure and Argument of Thucydides’ Archaeology.” Classical Antiquity 10, no.2:344–376.

He, G. -H. et al., trans. 1993. The Book of Lao Zi. Beijing.

Huang, C. -C. 2007. “The Defining Character of Chinese Historical Thinking.” History and Theory 46, no. 2:180–188.

Huang, C. -C. 2015. “Historical Discourses in Traditional Chinese Historical Writings: Historiography as Philosophy.” Chinese Historical Thinking: An Intercultural Discussion, ed. Chun-Chieh Huang and Jörn Rüsen. 25–40. Göttingen and Taipei.

Legge, J. trans. 1991. The Works of Mencius ed. 3. In The Chinese Classics. vol. 2. Taipei.

Momigliano, A. 1990. The Classical Foundations of Modern Historiography. Berkeley and Los Angeles.

Mutschler, F. -H. 2007. “Sima Qian and His Western Colleagues: On Possible Categories of Description.” History and Theory 46, no. 2:194—200.

Parry, A. M. 1989. “Thucydides’ Historical Perspective.” The Language of Achilles and Other Papers. 286–300. New York.

Rüsen, J. 1996. “Theoretical Approaches to Intercultural Comparative Historiography.” History and Theory 35, no. 4:5–22.

Schneider, A., and S. Weigelin-Schwiedrzik, eds. 1996. Chinese Historiography in Comparative Perspective, theme issue of History and Theory 35, no. 4. Middletown, CT.

Schwartz, B. 1996. “History in Chinese Culture: Some Comparative Reflections.” History and Theory 35, no. 4:23–33.

Sima Qian, 1982. Historical Records (史记) ed. 2. Beijing.

———, “The Basic Annals of the Five Emperors”(五帝本纪). In Historical Records (史记) 1982. vol. 1. Beijing.

———, “The Basic Annals of The First Emperor of the Qin”(秦始皇本纪). In Historical Records (史记) 1982. vol. 6. Beijing.

———, “The Biography of Bo Yi”(伯夷列传). In Historical Records (史记) 1982. vol. 61. Beijing.

———, “The Biographies of the Money-makers”(货殖列传). In Historical Records (史记) 1982. vol. 129. Beijing.

———, “Preface to Historical Records”(太史公自序). In Historical Records (史记) 1982. vol. 130. Beijing.

Sun, X. -D. et al., eds. 1989. “Li Yun” (礼运). In Li Ji Ji Jie (礼记集解). vol. 21. Beijing.

Sun, Y. -R. and Q. -Z. Sun, eds. 2001. “San Bian”(三辩). In Mo Zi Xian Gu (墨子闲诂). vol. 1. Beijing.

Wang, X. -S. and Z. Zhong, eds. 1998. “Wu Du”(五蠹). In Han Fei Zi Ji Jie (韩非子集解). vol. 19. Beijing.

Watson, B. trans. 1993a. Records of the Grand Historian: Qin Dynasty.  Hong Kong and New York.

Watson, B. trans. 1993b. Records of the Grand Historian: Han Dynasty . Revised edition. Hong Kong and New York.


[1] Momigliano 1990: 16–28.

[2] See Schneider and Weigelin-Schwiedrzik 1996.

[3] Rüsen 1996:19.

[4] See Schwartz 1996:32.

[5] Mutschler 2007. See also Huang 2007.

[6] Thucydides 1.22.4. Thucydides’ original text is from OCT. For Thucydides and Sima Qian’s Preface to Historical Records, I use my own translation.

[7] Thucydides 3.82.2.

[8] Thucydides 1.1, 1.21.1.

[9] See Ellis 1991.

[10] See Herodotus Ⅰ, proem.

[11] Sima Tan (?–110 BCE), father of Sima Qian, was a famous scholar and Tai Shi Ling (imperial astronomer and historian) in the early period of Emperor Wu of Han (r. 141–87 BCE). Three years after Sima Tan’s death, Sima Qian succeeded his father’s position of Tai Shi Ling.

[12] Sima Qian, “Preface to Historical Records”:3296.

[13] Mencius, Ⅱ, part 2, chapter 13, trans. Legge. Mencius’ assertion was on the basis of early Chinese history: from Yu the Great (c. twenty-second century BCE, the legendary founder of the Xia Dynasty) to King Cheng Tang (c. seventeenth century BCE, the first king of the Shang Dynasty), it took approximately four and half centuries; from King Cheng Tang to King Wu of Zhou (roughly in the middle of the eleventh century BCE, the first king of the Zhou Dynasty), about five and half centuries passed; from King Wu of Zhou to Confucius, it was around five hundred years.

[14] See Lao Zi, 40, trans. He et al.

[15] Dawson 1993:8.

[16] See Sima Qian, “Preface to Historical Records”: 3299.

[17] Thucydides 1.2.1–2.

[18] Sima Qian, “The Biographies of the Money-makers”:3253. In Chinese mythology, Shen Nong, who was sometimes thought to be the same person as Yandi, was one of the “Three Sovereigns” and taught people agricultural skills. However, Sima Qian considers Huangdi more of a historical figure than the “Three Sovereigns”.

[19] Sima Qian, “The Basic Annals of the Five Emperors”:46.

[20] Sima Qian, “The Biographies of the Money-makers”:3253. See also Watson, 1993b: 433. See also Lao Zi, 80, trans. He et al.

[21] Sima Qian, “The Biographies of the Money-makers”:3253.

[22] Parry 1989:291.

[23] Thucydides 1.2.4.

[24] Thucydides 1.3.2.

[25] Thucydides 1.9.2.

[26] Thucydides 1.5.1.

[27] Thucydides 1.4.

[28] Thucydides 1.9.3.

[29] Thucydides 1.13–16.

[30] Thucydides 1.8.3.

[31] Sima Qian, “The Biographies of the Money-makers”:3253. See also Watson, 1993b: 433.

[32] Sima Qian, “The Biographies of the Money-makers”:3253. See also Watson, 1993b: 434.

[33] Thucydides 1.23.1–3.

[34] Thucydides 1.8.4, 1.12.1.

[35] Thucydides 1.23.1, 1.18.3.

[36] See Parry, 1989:293–295.

[37] Sima Qian, “Preface to Historical Records”:3297–3298.

[38] Here, in the discussion of the collapse of Qin, Sima Qian quotes the famous essay The Fault of Qin of Jia Yi. Jia Yi (201–169 BCE) was an outstanding Confucian scholar and official in the early Western Han Dynasty. See Sima Qian, “The Basic Annals of The First Emperor of the Qin”: 282. See also Watson, 1993a:80.

[39] See Huang, 2015:33–38.

[40] See Sima Qian, “The Biography of Bo Yi”:2124–2125.

[41] Sima Qian, “Preface to Historical Records”:3299.

[42] Iliad Ⅴ 302–304.

[43] Hesiod, Works and Days, 109–201.

[44] Connor, 1984: 22–23.

[45] Sun, X. -D. et al., 1989:582.

[46] See Sun, Y. -R., and Sun, Q. -Z., 2001: 40. Wang, X. -S., and Zhong, Z., 1998:443.

[47] Sima Qian, “Preface to Historical Records”:3290.

About BAI Chun Xiao

Chun Xiao Bai received his BA (2005) and PhD in Ancient History (2010) at Fudan University. Now he is a lecturer in ancient Greek history at the Department of History, Zhejiang University. He has also completed research at the Harvard Summer School in Greece (2008), the Department of Classics, King’s College London (2008-2009), the National Hellenic Research Foundation at Athens (2011-2012) and the Center for Hellenic Studies at Nafplion, Harvard University (2013-2014). He is the Onassis Scholar in Greece (2011-2012) and the distinguished young scholar of ZJU (2013). His research fields include Thucydides and the Classical Greek world. His first book, Sufferings and Greatness: the Human Condition in the View of Thucydides, was published by the Peking University Press (2015).

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