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Naitō Konan (1866-1934) and Chinese Historiography

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Naitō Konan (1866-1934) was one of towering figures of twentieth-century Sinology, in Japan, China, and elsewhere. His theories concerning Chinese history continue to influence us all, often through secondary or tertiary means. Among his many books and articles is a large volume entitled Shina shigaku shi (History of Chinese historiography), arguably the first such comprehensive work in any language and still unsurpassed to this day, roughly eighty years after the chapters which comprise it were first delivered as lectures in Kyoto.

Naitō argued that Chinese historical writing was divided, as we all know now, into two traditions: the comprehensive style (tongshi) launched by Sima Qian and the single-period style (duandai shi) begun somewhat later by Ban Gu. Naitō himself always favored the former, and he showed a marked predilection for the major historical works over the centuries by Chinese with the character tong in their titles: such as Liu Zhiji's Tong shi, Du You's Tong zhi (about which he lectured before the Japanese emperor in 1931), Ma Duanlin's Wenxian tongkao, and most notably Zhang Xuecheng's Wenshi tongyi. He did not disragrd or disrespect the duandai shi approach, but he did believe that by cutting off chunks of history one could not get a proper sense of the long-term forces at work in the historical process, what the great French historians later would call la longue durée.


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