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Sima Qian and Bias

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EALC 110 Professor Hayden Michael Day May 1, 2008 Records of the Grand Historian: Sima Qian and Bias The fact that history contains errors will not come as news to someone who has reflected on the topic. What is more disturbing however is that our history may be wrong and that there are great gaps in it. Maybe we have failed to record and gather the events that make up the fabric of history. It is little events, strung together and accumulated over time, which account for our place in history. This leads to the issue of an unbiased history, which is of utmost value. However, there is no such thing as an unbiased history. These biases may be blatant and as such are willful distortions of the past, resonating the inevitable fact that history is the propaganda of the winners. Beyond that, there are the cultural biases in history. A definition of "bias" is crucial to further understanding this issue. The usual implication of the term "bias" is that one is either deliberately or involuntarily ignoring some of the relevant facts. In this way, a historian can influence how the readers perceive a given period of history by what he or she has chosen to include and omit. ...read more.


(De Bary 372). Qian attempts to resolve his dilemma through the "Records," and thus provides insight into the emergence of an additional role of the historian - to compensate for the omissions made by both Heaven and the ruler. The "Records of the Grand Historian" is best described as a compilation made from previous sources and some original writing from Sima Qian (De Bary 368). On the approach of history, the main strength of the work is its encyclopedic nature, and the fact that it approaches most events from various angles. The "Record's" inherent weakness, however, is the difficulty it creates for one to obtain a synthetic vision of events. Some may see this weakness as a sign of neutrality because Qian uses many different sources to "balance" the biases, making the whole work more objective. It is here that one must differentiate between the "Records" and Qian the person, as he does not write all of the Shiji. In fact, the "Records" is by no means a "primary source," as most of the events it tells happened centuries before it was written, and the authenticity of chapters dealing with the most recent events was the most contested. Thus, the "job" of the historian to "select the most pertinent documents and arrange them in a way best calculated to demonstrate the cause and effect of events" (De Bary 368). ...read more.


focused on times in the past when the rulers failed to recognize the dedicated and virtuous, thus allowing future rulers to learn from past mistakes. Sima Qian's formation of history served as much more than a simple retelling of events of the past. The manner in which he organized his record of history was done in a way to fulfill what the Han expected of the historian, as well as attempt to resolve an anomaly noted in his own life. Qian may be perceived as an artist as he designed the "Records" in a skillful way that serves a multitude of purposes. There is an inherent bias within the "Records," mainly because it is not a primary source. For certain chapters, the biases are not Qian's own but the biases of the sources he used. The second main type of bias that is represented in the "Records" is attributed through Qian's own personal life. However, it may be beneficial to reconstruct the term "bias" and view it as a strategic method rather than deliberate manipulation of the works. Qian's intentions were wholesome and not deceptive. His main purpose was the help unify the people of China, reinstate rites and music, provide further insight into the universe, and remind people of the importance of morals and virtues that were sometimes overlooked by not only rulers, but also by Heaven. ...read more.

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