China and Inner Asia
Organized Panel Session
The Shiji or Grand Scribe’s Records by Sima Qian (circa 145 – 86 B.C.E.) occupies an unusual place in the study of Chinese civilization, a work that is as comprehensive as it is open-ended, as fundamental for our knowledge of a lost antiquity as it is the product of a single creative mind. This panel is a collective effort to probe into this endlessly fascinating work, drawing on new sources and employing a multitude of approaches in order to capture some of the Shiji’s most lasting allure. Our subjects range from the very first of the “memoirs” (liezhuan) to one of the lost texts allegedly reconstituted by a scholar Sima Qian’s junior, from complexities internal to the text itself to the possibility of alternate historical accounts. Whereas three of the presenters rely on newly recovered manuscripts to make their cases (Staack, Mori, Huang), a fourth one digs through the commentarial tradition and subjects it to fresh critical scrutiny (Klein). Finally, with William H. Nienhauser, Jr. acting as the discussant, the panel provides an occasion to celebrate the ongoing translation headed by this distinguished scholar, and to raise the following question about a discipline in flux: If modern Sinology began with Édouard Chavannes’s Les Mémoires historiques de Se-ma Ts'ien traduits et annotés more than a century ago, then whither this scholarly tradition as we enter a new era where anthropocentric history may or may not figure?