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Praise and Slander: The Evocation of Empress Lü in the Shiji and the Hanshu

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image of NAN NÜ

This article contains a close reading of the accounts of Empress Lü in the Shiji and the Hanshu. Its main argument is that the views of Sima Qian and Ban Gu about her are marked by considerable differences, although they may seem alike at first sight. For Sima Qian, the main feature dominating the life of Empress Lü was fear for herself and for her clan, whereas Ban Gu attributed her actions to naked cruelty. According to Sima Qian, the battle between the Lü family and those members of the Liu family who put Emperor Wen on the throne was one between two equal competitors, whereas for Ban Gu it was a struggle between the dynasty itself and a family who had wrongfully usurped power. Because Ban Gu changed the account of Sima Qian, albeit in very subtle ways, his image of Empress Lü has become more influential than the original version by his predecessor.

Affiliations: 1: University of Munich


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