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Chinese historiography is the study of the techniques and sources used by historians to develop the recorded
history of China The earliest known written records of the history of China date from as early as 1250 BC, from the Shang dynasty The Shang dynasty (), also historically known as the Yin dynasty (), was a Chinese dynasty Dynasties in Chinese h ...
.


Overview of Chinese history

The recording of Chinese history dates back to the
Shang dynasty The Shang dynasty (), also historically known as the Yin dynasty (), was a Chinese dynasty Dynasties in Chinese history, or Chinese dynasties, were hereditary monarchical regimes that ruled over China during much of its history. From ...

Shang dynasty
(c. 1600–1046 BC). Many written examples survive of ceremonial inscriptions, divinations and records of family names, which were carved or painted onto tortoise shell or bones.William G. Boltz, Early Chinese Writing, World Archaeology, Vol. 17, No. 3, Early Writing Systems. (Feb., 1986), pp. 420–436 (436). The oldest surviving history texts of China were compiled in the ''
Book of Documents The ''Book of Documents'' (''Shūjīng'', earlier ''Shu King'') or ''Classic of History'', also known as the ''Shangshu'' ("Esteemed Documents"), is one of the Five Classics The Four Books and Five Classics () are the authoritative books of ...
(Shujing)''. The ''
Spring and Autumn Annals The ''Spring and Autumn Annals'' or ''Chunqiu'' is an ancient Chinese chronicle that has been one of the core Chinese classics Chinese classic texts or canonical texts () or simply dianji (典籍) refers to the Chinese texts which originated ...
(Chunqiu)'', the official chronicle of the
State of Lu Lu (, c. 1042–249 BC) was a vassal state State may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media Literature * ''State Magazine'', a monthly magazine published by the U.S. Department of State * The State (newspaper), ''The State'' (newspaper), ...

State of Lu
, cover the period from 722 to 481 BC, and are among the earliest surviving Chinese historical texts to be arranged as
annal Annals ( la, annāles, from , "year") are a concise historical History (from Ancient Greek, Greek , ''historia'', meaning "inquiry; knowledge acquired by investigation") is the study of the past. Events occurring before the History of writing#I ...
s. The compilations of both of these works are traditionally ascribed to
Confucius } Confucius ( ; zh, s=, p=Kǒng Fūzǐ, "Master Kǒng"; or commonly zh, s=, p=Kǒngzǐ, labels=no; ) was a Chinese philosopher Chinese philosophy originates in the Spring and Autumn period () and Warring States period (), ...

Confucius
. The ''
Zuo zhuan The ''Zuo Zhuan'' (; ), generally translated ''The Zuo Tradition'' or ''The Commentary of Zuo'', is an ancient Chinese narrative history that is traditionally regarded as a commentary on the ancient Chinese chronicle ''Spring and Autumn Annals ...

Zuo zhuan
'', attributed to
Zuo Qiuming Zuo Qiuming, Zuoqiu Ming or Qiu Ming (556–451 BC) was a Chinese historian who was a contemporary of Confucius that lived in the Lu (state), State of Lu during the Spring and Autumn period of ancient China. The influential ''Zuozhuan'' (''Com ...
in the 5th century BC, is the earliest Chinese work of narrative history and covers the period from 722 to 468 BC. The anonymous ''
Zhan Guo Ce The ''Zhan Guo Ce'', ( W-G: Chan-kuo T'se), also known in English English usually refers to: * English language English is a West Germanic languages, West Germanic language first spoken in History of Anglo-Saxon England, early medieval ...
'' was a renowned ancient Chinese historical work composed of sporadic materials on the
Warring States period The Warring States period () was an era in ancient Chinese history characterized by warfare, as well as bureaucratic and military reforms and consolidation. It followed the Spring and Autumn period The Spring and Autumn period was a period i ...
between the 3rd and 1st centuries BC. The first systematic Chinese historical text, the ''
Records of the Grand Historian The ''Records of the Grand Historian'', also known by its Chinese name ''Shiji'', is a monumental history of ancient China and the world finished around 94 BC by the Western Han Dynasty official Sima Qian after having been started by his father ...

Records of the Grand Historian
(Shiji)'', was written by
Sima Qian Sima Qian (; ; ) was a Chinese historian of the early Han dynasty#REDIRECT Han dynasty The Han dynasty () was the second Dynasties in Chinese history, imperial dynasty of China (202 BC – 220 AD), established by the rebel leader Liu B ...

Sima Qian
(c.145 or 135–86BC) based on work by his father,
Sima Tan Sima Tan (; 165–110  BCE) was a Chinese astrologer and historian during the Western Han dynasty. Education & career Sima Tan studied astronomy with Tang Du, the ''I Ching The ''I Ching'' or ''Yi Jing'' (, ), usually translated as ...
. It covers the period from the time of the
Yellow Emperor The Yellow Emperor, also known as the Yellow Thearch, or by his Chinese name Huangdi (), is a deity A deity or god is a supernatural The supernatural encompasses supposed phenomena that are not subject to the laws of nature.https://w ...

Yellow Emperor
until the author's own lifetime. Because of this highly praised and frequently copied work, Sima Qian is often regarded as the father of Chinese
historiography Historiography is the study of the methods of historians in developing history as an academic discipline, and by extension is any body of historical work on a particular subject. The historiography of a specific topic covers how historians hav ...

historiography
. The ''
Twenty-Four Histories The ''Twenty-Four Histories'' (), also known as the ''Orthodox Histories'' (), are the Chinese Chinese can refer to: * Something related to China China, officially the People's Republic of China (PRC), is a country in East Asia. It is th ...
'', the official histories of the dynasties considered legitimate by imperial Chinese historians, all copied Sima Qian's format. Typically, rulers initiating a new dynasty would employ scholars to compile a final history from the annals and records of the previous one. The ''
Shitong The ''Shitong'' () is the first Chinese-language work about historiography Historiography is the study of the methods of historians in developing history as an academic discipline, and by extension is any body of historical work on a particula ...
'' was the first Chinese work about historiography. It was compiled by
Liu ZhijiLiu Zhiji () (661–721), courtesy name A courtesy name (), also known as a style name, is a name bestowed upon one at adulthood in addition to one's given name. This practice is a tradition in the Sinosphere, including China, Japan, Korea, and V ...
between 708 and 710 AD. The book describes the general pattern of the official dynastic histories with regard to the structure, method, arrangement, sequence, caption, and commentary dating back to the
Warring States period The Warring States period () was an era in ancient Chinese history characterized by warfare, as well as bureaucratic and military reforms and consolidation. It followed the Spring and Autumn period The Spring and Autumn period was a period i ...
. The ''
Zizhi Tongjian ''Zizhi Tongjian'' () is a pioneering reference work in Chinese historiography, published in 1084 AD during the Song dynasty in the form of a chronicle recording Chinese history from 403 BC to 959 AD, covering 16 dynasties and spanning almost 1 ...
'' was a pioneering reference work of Chinese historiography.
Emperor Yingzong of Song Emperor Yingzong of Song (16 February 1032 – 25 January 1067), personal name Zhao Shu, was the fifth emperor of the Song dynasty The Song dynasty (; ; 960–1279) was an imperial dynasty of China that began in 960 and lasted until 1279. ...

Emperor Yingzong of Song
ordered
Sima Guang Sima Guang (17 November 1019 – 11 October 1086), courtesy name A courtesy name (), also known as a style name, is a name bestowed upon one at adulthood in addition to one's given name. This practice is a tradition in the East Asian cultur ...

Sima Guang
and other scholars to begin compiling this universal history of China in 1065, and they presented it to his successor Shenzong in 1084. It contains 294 volumes and about three million characters, and it narrates the history of China from 403 BC to the beginning of the
Song dynasty The Song dynasty (; ; 960–1279) was an imperial dynasty of China that began in 960 and lasted until 1279. The dynasty was founded by Emperor Taizu of Song Emperor Taizu of Song (21 March 927 – 14 November 976), personal name Zhao Kua ...
in 959. This style broke the nearly thousand-year tradition of Sima Qian, which employed annals for imperial reigns but biographies or treatises for other topics. The more consistent style of the ''Zizhi Tongjian'' was not followed by later official histories. In the mid 13th century,
Ouyang Xiu Ouyang Xiu (1007 – 1072), courtesy name A courtesy name (), also known as a style name, is a name bestowed upon one at adulthood in addition to one's given name. This practice is a tradition in the East Asian cultural sphere Th ...

Ouyang Xiu
was heavily influenced by the work of Xue Juzheng. This led to the creation of the ''
New History of the Five Dynasties The ''Historical Records of the Five Dynasties'' (''Wudai Shiji'') is a Chinese history book on the Five Dynasties period (907–960), written by the Song dynasty official Ouyang Xiu in private. It was drafted during Ouyang's exile from 1036 to 1 ...
'', which covered five dynasties in over 70 chapters. Toward the end of the
Qing dynasty The Qing dynasty, officially the Great Qing (), was the last dynasty A dynasty (, ) is a sequence of rulers from the same family,''Oxford English Dictionary'', "dynasty, ''n''." Oxford University Press Oxford University Pr ...
in the early 20th century, scholars looked to Japan and the West for models. In the late 1890s, although deeply learned in the traditional forms,
Liang Qichao Liang Qichao (February 23, 1873 – January 19, 1929) was a Chinese social and political activist, journalist, and intellectual who lived during the late Qing dynasty and the early Republic of China (1912–1949), Republic of China. His thou ...

Liang Qichao
began to publish extensive and influential studies and
polemic Polemic () is contentious rhetoric Rhetoric () is the Art (skill), art of persuasion, which along with grammar and logic (or dialectic – see Martianus Capella), is one of the Trivium, three ancient arts of discourse. Rhetoric aims ...
s that converted young readers to a new type of historiography that Liang regarded as more scientific. Liu Yizheng published several specialized history works including ''History of Chinese Culture''. This next generation became professional historians, training and teaching in universities. They included
Chang Chi-yun Chang Ch‘i-yun (29 September 1901 – 26 August 1985) was a Chinese people, Chinese historian, geographer, educator and politician. He was the founder of the Chinese Culture University and the Nanhai Academy and served as Ministry of Education ( ...
,
Gu Jiegang Gu Jiegang (8 May 189325 December 1980) was a Chinese historian best known for his seven-volume work '' Gushi Bian'' (, or ''Debates on Ancient History''). He was a co-founder and the leading force of the Doubting Antiquity School, and was highl ...
,
Fu Sinian Fu Ssu-nien (; 26 March 1896 – 20 December 1950), was a Chinese historian, linguist Linguistics is the scientific study of language A language is a structured system of communication used by humans, including speech (spoken langua ...
, and
Tsiang Tingfu Tsiang Tingfu (; 17 February 1895 – 9 October 1965), was a historian and diplomat of the Republic of China who published in English under the name T.F. Tsiang. Early life and education Tsiang was born in Shaoyang in Hunan Province. Tsiang's e ...
, who were PhDs from
Columbia University Columbia University (also known as Columbia, and officially as Columbia University in the City of New York) is a in . Established in 1754 as King's College on the grounds of in , Columbia is the oldest institution of higher education in and ...

Columbia University
; and
Chen Yinke Chen Yinke, or Chen Yinque (3 July 18907 October 1969), was a Chinese historian, linguist, orientalist, politician, and writer. He was a fellow of Academia Sinica Academia Sinica (AS, la, 1=Academia Sinica, 3=Chinese Academy; ), headquartere ...

Chen Yinke
, who conducted his investigations into medieval Chinese history in both Europe and the United States. Other historians, such as
Qian Mu Ch'ien Mu or Qian Mu (; 30 July 1895 – 30 August 1990) was a Chinese historian, philosopher and writer. He is considered to be one of the greatest historians and philosophers of 20th-century China. Ch'ien, together with Lü Simian, Chen Yink ...

Qian Mu
, who was trained largely through independent study, were more conservative but remained innovative in their response to world trends. In the 1920s, wide-ranging scholars, such as
Guo Moruo Guo Moruo (; November 16, 1892 – June 12, 1978), courtesy name A courtesy name (), also known as a style name, is a name bestowed upon one at adulthood in addition to one's given name. This practice is a tradition in the Sinosphere, includi ...

Guo Moruo
, adapted Marxism in order to portray China as a nation among nations, rather than having an exotic and isolated history. The ensuing years saw historians such as Wu Han master both Western theories, including Marxism, and Chinese learning.


Key organizing concepts


Dynastic cycle

Like the
three ages ''Three Ages'' is a 1923 black-and-white United States, American feature-length silent comedy film starring comedian Buster Keaton and Wallace Beery. The first feature Keaton wrote, directed, produced, and starred in (unlike ''The Saphead'' (1 ...
of the Greek poet
Hesiod Hesiod (; grc-gre, Ἡσίοδος ''Hēsíodos'', 'he who emits the voice') was an ancient Greek poet generally thought to have been active between 750 and 650 BC, around the same time as Homer Homer (; grc, Ὅμηρος , ''Hómēr ...
, the oldest Chinese historiography viewed mankind as living in a fallen age of depravity, cut off from the virtues of the past, as
Confucius } Confucius ( ; zh, s=, p=Kǒng Fūzǐ, "Master Kǒng"; or commonly zh, s=, p=Kǒngzǐ, labels=no; ) was a Chinese philosopher Chinese philosophy originates in the Spring and Autumn period () and Warring States period (), ...

Confucius
and his disciples revered the sage kings
Emperor Yao Emperor Yao (; traditionally c. 2356 – 2255 BCE) was a legendary Chinese Chinese can refer to: * Something related to China China, officially the People's Republic of China (PRC), is a country in East Asia. It is the List of co ...
and
Emperor Shun Emperor Shun () was a legendary leader of ancient China The earliest known written records of the history of China date from as early as 1250 BC, from the Shang dynasty (c. 1600–1046 BC), during the king Wu Ding's reign, who was mentio ...
. Unlike Hesiod's system, however, the
Duke of Zhou Dan, Duke Wen of Zhou (), commonly known as the Duke of Zhou (), was a member of the royal family of the early Zhou dynasty The Zhou dynasty ( ) was a Chinese dynasty that followed the Shang dynasty The Shang dynasty (), also historical ...
's idea of the
Mandate of Heaven The Mandate of Heaven () is a Chinese political philosophy that was used in ancient Ancient history is the aggregate of past eventsZi clan led subsequent historians to see man's fall as a cyclical pattern. In this view, a new dynasty is founded by a morally upright founder, but his successors cannot help but become increasingly corrupt and dissolute. This immorality removes the dynasty's divine favor and is manifested by natural disasters (particularly
floods A flood is an overflow of water that submerges land that is usually dry. In the sense of "flowing water", the word may also be applied to the inflow of the tide Tides are the rise and fall of sea level Mean sea level (MSL) (often ...
), rebellions, and foreign invasions. Eventually, the dynasty becomes weak enough to be replaced by a new one, whose founder is able to
rectify ''Rectify'' is an American television drama series exploring the life of a man after he is released from prison after nearly 20 years on death row following a wrongful conviction. It was created by Ray McKinnon (actor), Ray McKinnon and is the fir ...
many of society's problems and begin the cycle anew. Over time, many people felt a full correction was not possible, and that the
golden age #REDIRECT Golden Age#REDIRECT Golden Age The term Golden Age comes from Greek mythology, particularly the ''Works and Days'' of Hesiod, and is part of the description of temporal decline of the state of peoples through five Ages of Man, Ages, G ...

golden age
of Yao and Shun could not be attained. This
teleological Teleology (from and )Partridge, Eric. 1977''Origins: A Short Etymological Dictionary of Modern English'' London: Routledge, p. 4187. or finalityDubray, Charles. 2020 912 Year 912 ( CMXII) was a leap year starting on Wednesday (link will dis ...
theory implies that there can be only one rightful sovereign under heaven at a time. Thus, despite the fact that Chinese history has had many lengthy and contentious periods of disunity, a great effort was made by official historians to establish a legitimate precursor whose fall allowed a new dynasty to acquire its mandate. Similarly, regardless of the particular merits of individual emperors, founders would be portrayed in more laudatory terms, and the last ruler of a dynasty would always be castigated as depraved and unworthy – even when that was not the case. Such a narrative was employed after the fall of the empire by those compiling the history of the Qing, and by those who justified the attempted restorations of the imperial system by
Yuan Shikai Yuan Shikai (; 16 September 1859 – 6 June 1916) was a Chinese military and government official who rose to power during the late Qing dynasty The Qing dynasty, officially the Great Qing (), was the last Dynasties in Chinese histo ...

Yuan Shikai
and
Zhang Xun Zhang Xun (; September 16, 1854 – September 11, 1923), courtesy name A courtesy name (), also known as a style name, is a name bestowed upon one at adulthood in addition to one's given name. This practice is a tradition in the East Asian cu ...
.


Multi-ethnic history

As early as the 1930s, the American scholar
Owen Lattimore Owen Lattimore (July 29, 1900 – May 31, 1989) was an American author, educator, and influential scholar of China China, officially the People's Republic of China (PRC), is a country in East Asia. It is the List of countries and dependenci ...

Owen Lattimore
argued that China was the product of the interaction of farming and pastoral societies, rather than simply the expansion of the
Han people The Han Chinese (), or the Han people (), is an East Asian East Asia is the east East is one of the four cardinal direction The four cardinal directions, or cardinal points, are the directions north North is one of the four ...
. Lattimore did not accept the more extreme Sino-Babylonian theories that the essential elements of early Chinese technology and religion had come from Western Asia, but he was among the scholars to argue against the assumption they had all been indigenous. Both the
Republic of China Taiwan, officially the Republic of China (ROC), is a country in East Asia. It shares Maritime boundary, maritime borders with the China, People's Republic of China (PRC) to the northwest, Japan to the northeast, and the Philippines to the sout ...

Republic of China
and the
People's Republic of China China (), officially the People's Republic of China (PRC; ), is a country in East Asia East Asia is the eastern region of Asia Asia () is Earth's largest and most populous continent, located primarily in the Eastern Hemisphere ...

People's Republic of China
hold the view that Chinese history should include all the
ethnic groups An ethnic group or ethnicity is a grouping of people who identity (social science), identify with each other on the basis of shared attributes that distinguish them from other groups. Those attributes can include common sets of traditions, ances ...
of the lands held by the
Qing dynasty The Qing dynasty, officially the Great Qing (), was the last dynasty A dynasty (, ) is a sequence of rulers from the same family,''Oxford English Dictionary'', "dynasty, ''n''." Oxford University Press Oxford University Pr ...
during its territorial peak, with these ethnicities forming part of the ''
Zhonghua minzu ''Zhonghua minzu'' (; "Chinese nation") is a key political term in modern Chinese nationalism The current Flag of China, national flag of the China, People's Republic of China (1949–present), representing a variety of Chinese national ...
'' (Chinese nation). This view is in contrast with Han chauvinism promoted by the Qing-era
Tongmenghui The Tongmenghui (or T'ung-meng Hui, variously translated as Chinese United League, United League, Chinese Revolutionary Alliance, Chinese Alliance, United Allegiance Society, 中國同盟會) was a secret society and underground resistance move ...
. This expanded view encompasses internal and external tributary lands, as well as conquest dynasties in the history of a China seen as a coherent multi-ethnic nation since time immemorial, incorporating and accepting the contributions and cultures of non-Han ethnicities. The acceptance of this view by ethnic minorities sometimes depends on their views on present-day issues. The
14th Dalai Lama The 14th Dalai Lama (spiritual name Jetsun Jamphel Ngawang Lobsang Yeshe Tenzin Gyatso, known as Tenzin Gyatso; born Lhamo Dhondup), was born in the Wood-Pig Year, 5th month, 5th day of the , or 6 July 1935. Known as Gyalwa Rinpoche to the Tibet ...

14th Dalai Lama
, long insistent on Tibet's history being separate from that of China, conceded in 2005 that Tibet "is a part of" China's "5,000-year history" as part of a new proposal for Tibetan autonomy.
Korean nationalists Korean may refer to: People and culture * Koreans, an ethnic group originating in the Korean Peninsula * Korean cuisine * Korean culture * Korean language * Korean alphabet, or Hangul Places * Korean Peninsula, a peninsula in East Asia * Korea, ...
have virulently reacted against China's application to
UNESCO The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) (french: Organisation des Nations unies pour l'éducation, la science et la culture) is a specialised agency United Nations Specialized Agencies are autonomous orga ...

UNESCO
for recognition of the
Goguryeo tombs Goguryeo tombs, officially designated as the Complex of Koguryo Tombs, are tombs in North Korea North Korea (Korean language, Korean: /, McCune–Reischauer, MR: ''Chosŏn''; literally /, McCune–Reischauer, MR: ''Pukchosŏn'', or ...
in Chinese territory. The absolute independence of
Goguryeo Goguryeo (; , 37 BC–668 AD), also called Goryeo (; ), was a Korean kingdom located in the northern and central parts of the Korean Peninsula Korea is a region In geography Geography (from Greek: , ''geographia'', literally ...
is a central aspect of Korean identity, because, according to Korean legend, Goguryeo was independent of China and Japan, compared to subordinate states such as the
Joseon dynasty Joseon (also transcribed as Chosŏn, ko, 대조선국; 大朝鮮國, ) was a Korean dynastic kingdom that lasted for approximately five centuries. It was the last dynastic kingdom of Korea. It was founded by Yi Seong-gye in July 1392 and repl ...
and the
Korean Empire The Korean Empire (transcribed as ''Daehan Jeguk'', , ) was a Korean kingdom proclaimed in October 1897 by Emperor Gojong of the Joseon Dynasty. The empire stood until Empire of Japan, Japan's Korea under Japanese rule, annexation of Korea in ...
. The legacy of
Genghis Khan ''Chinggis Khaan'' ͡ʃʰiŋɡɪs xaːŋbr>Mongol script The classical or traditional Mongolian script, also known as the , was the first Mongolian alphabet, writing system created specifically for the Mongolian language, and was the most ...

Genghis Khan
has been contested between China, Mongolia, and Russia, all three states having significant numbers of ethnic
Mongol The Mongols ( mn, Монголчууд, , ''Mongolchuud'', ; russian: Монголы, ) are an East Asian East Asia is the eastern region In geography Geography (from Greek: , ''geographia'', literally "earth description") ...

Mongol
s within their borders and holding territory that was conquered by the Khan. The Jin dynasty tradition of a new dynasty composing the
official historyAn official history is a work of history which is sponsored, authorised or endorsed by its subject. The term is most commonly used for histories which are produced for a government. The term also applies to commissions from non-state bodies including ...
for its preceding dynasty/dynasties has been seen to foster an ethnically inclusive interpretation of Chinese history. The compilation of official histories usually involved monumental intellectual labor. The Yuan and
Qing The Qing dynasty, officially the Great Qing (), was the last dynasty A dynasty (, ) is a sequence of rulers from the same family,''Oxford English Dictionary'', "dynasty, ''n''." Oxford University Press Oxford University Pr ...
dynasties, ruled by the
Mongols The Mongols ( mn, Монголчууд, , ''Mongolchuud'', ; russian: Монголы, ) are an East Asian people, East Asian ethnic group indigenous peoples, native to the Inner Mongolia, Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region of China, Mongolia an ...

Mongols
and
Manchus The Manchu (; ) are an officially recognized ethnic minority in China and the people from whom Manchuria Manchuria is an exonym and endonym, exonym for a historical and geographic region of Russia and China in Northeast Asia (mostly in N ...
, faithfully carried out this practice, composing the official Chinese-language histories of the Han-ruled
Song A song is a musical composition Musical composition can refer to an piece or work of , either or , the of a musical piece or to the process of creating or writing a new piece of music. People who create new compositions are called s ...
and
Ming The Ming dynasty (), officially the Great Ming, was the ruling dynasty of China from 1368 to 1644 following the collapse of the Mongol The Mongols ( mn, Монголчууд, , ''Mongolchuud'', ; russian: Монголы, ) are an eth ...

Ming
dynasties, respectively. Had these two non-Han imperial dynasties not thought of themselves as continuing the
Mandate of Heaven The Mandate of Heaven () is a Chinese political philosophy that was used in ancient Ancient history is the aggregate of past events