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2. The Tables (Biao) in Sima Qian's Shi Ji: Rhetoric and remembrance

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Chapter Summary

Sima Qian has been credited not only with writing exhilarating historical prose, but also with setting the basic format for all subsequent dynastic histories by dividing his Shiji into five parts: the "Basic Annals" (benji), the "Tables" (biao), the Treatises (shu), the "Hereditary Houses" (shijia), and the "Biographies" (liezhuan). In Sima Qian's prefaces to the biao, terminology related to vision is omnipresent. Terms such as biaojian "show with a table", or statements indicating how the biao will be useful for future readers as, through them, they will be able to observe (languan or lan) that the various historical principles and patterns are significant. The tables in Shiji document an irreversible historical transition that has taken place in recent history: from a period in which kings and nobles had a true share in power to one in which they were almost completely at the mercy of the emperor's wishes and whims.

Keywords: biao; hereditary houses; languan; liezhuan; Shiji; shu; Sima Qian



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