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The interpretive function of 'Shih chi' 14, "The Table by Years of the Twelve Feudal Lords."

WHEN SSU-MA CH'IEN (145?-86? B.C.) set out to write a history of the world, he found the traditional forms inadequate. Thus he rejected the unified chronological structure of the Spring and Autumn Annals and the loosely organized collection of official records in the Book of History, and instead divided his history, the Shih chi, into five sections: basic annals, chronological tables, monographs, hereditary houses, and collected biographies.(1) This new, fragmented arrangement of historical data allowed Ssu-ma Ch'ien to approach events from diverse angles, and indeed he sometimes narrates a single incident more than once, in different chapters, from slightly different points of view. Wu Hung has noted, with particular reference to Ssu-ma Ch'ien, that "whenever an author deliberately made a major change in the form of historical descriptions and interpretations, he was exercising a new idea about history."(2) If we assume that all five sections of the Shih chi were integral to Ssu-ma's conception of history, what are we to make of the chronological tables? What function did they serve in Ssu-ma's history and in his historical thought?

The Shih chi's ten tables consist of gridded tabulations of information with time, in some form, being represented along one axis. Various tables mark time by generations, years, or months, with years sometimes being grouped by emperor or reign-name. On the other axis are family branches, feudal states, fiefs, or government offices, depending on the table. Within this framework Ssu-ma Ch'ien places names, information about these individuals, important events, and specific dates. Most of the people and events recorded in the tables are mentioned elsewhere in the Shih chi, but the tables allow readers to see at a glance what was happening in several places simultaneously and also provide an overall temporal structure for the fragmented narratives (for example, the tables' synopsis of the order of local rulers is invaluable when one is thumbing through the Shih chi trying to determine if there is more information on a specific person).

So far in my account, the tables operate as a guide to the main text, integrating information that can be found in other chapters and coordinating chronology. These functions have been widely praised in Chinese historiography; for instance, Chang Ta-k'o refers to the tables as a "bridge" between the annals and the biographies, and he further compares the tables to the woof that holds together the warp of the other Shih Chi sections.(3) Nevertheless, some commentators have suggested additional functions in which the tables supplement the annals and biographies. The Ch'ing scholar Chao I (1727-1814) noted that officials whose achievements or mistakes did not merit separate biographies could be treated in the tables, and he further observed that the information in the tables allowed the biographies to avoid lengthy explanations that would unduly complicate the narrative.(4) More recently, Hsu Fu-kuan has proposed that Ssu-ma Ch'ien used the tables to highlight key events.(5) This last suggestion contradicts the preceding point, which held that the tables communicate nonessential information, and raises a crucial question: are the tables merely indexes and supplements, or do they embody interpretive insights?

Several critics seem to have opted for the latter. Ssu-ma Chen (fl. c. 725), who wrote a T'ang-dynasty commentary on the Shih chi, explained that the term "tables" (piao) meant "to illuminate" (ming), and he suggested that the tables served to bring to light obscure points of history.(6) The Sung-dynasty historian Cheng Ch'iao (1108-66), in the preface to the chronological tables in his own comprehensive history, the T'ung chih noted that:

For specialists in the study of history, nothing is easier than |to write~ annals and biographies, and nothing is more difficult than tables and monographs. The Grand Astrologer |Ssu-ma Ch'ien~ encapsulated his entire book, all within the ten tables.(7)

And a typical modern scholar, Chou Hu-lin, quotes the above comments and refers to the tables as the "soul," the "spirit," the "essence," and the "lifeblood" of the Shih chi, without specifying how exactly the tables embody these metaphors.(8)

If we turn to Ssu-ma Ch'ien's own writings, we find him ambivalent on the function of the chronological tables. At times he treats them as merely supplementary. For example, in his autobiographical chapter he states, "When I compared the times and the different generations, the years were discrepant and unclear, therefore I made the ten chronological tables." And in his description of chapter 16 he explains, "In eight years' time the empire changed hands thrice; because the events were so complex and the changes so numerous, I set forth in detail this 'Table by Months of the Times of Ch'in and Ch'u.'"(9)

Yet there are other passages where Ssu-ma hints that the tables have a deeper meaning. In the introduction to a table enumerating the followers of Han Kao-tsu who were enfeoffed for their achievements (which also notes their descendants who lost those fiefs), Ssu-ma suggests that by presenting numerous examples of success and dishonor, the chapter may function as a handbook of prudent behavior for intelligent readers. So also in the introduction to chapter 15 he writes, "I have set down all that I have heard concerning the first signs of prosperity and ruin. In the future there may be gentlemen who by reading will perceive |such things~ in it."(10) This reference to future gentlemen calls to mind the Kung-yang commentary on Spring and Autumn Annals, which ends with the capture of the unicorn and the observation that Confucius "established the meaning of the Annals to await later sages, and he thought that other gentlemen would also take pleasure in them."(11)

In the standard Han interpretation, Confucius, frustrated that no one of his own time truly knew him, encoded his insights and judgments into the nuanced phrasing of the Annals and thus transmitted his insights to future generations. It is clear that Ssu-ma Ch'ien had similar ambitions for his own history--he concludes the Shih chi with the statement "I have hidden away one copy in a famous mountain and a second copy in the capital where they will await the sages and gentlemen of later generations"--but is this intention realized in the tables?(12) Are we to read the tables as useful aids or as repositories of hidden, profound interpretations?

In this paper I will examine in detail one of the tables, Shih chi 14--"The Table by Years of the Twelve Feudal Lords." This table is representative, but it is of particular interest since it covers the same time period as the Spring and Autumn Annals, one of its primary sources. Thus in this chapter we can, to some degree, follow Ssu-ma's work as editor and identify several of the principles that underlie his compilation of the chronological tables and his conception of history.(13) In the various tabulations and remarks that follow, I will be looking at only the 242 years that correspond to the Spring and Autumn Annals (722-481 B.C.), even though the table itself encompasses a greater time-span.(14)

Chapter 14 presents Chinese history from 841-477 B.C., with time progressing on the x axis. Along the y axis are arranged fourteen rows, one for each of the major feudal states. Every year there is a space for each state, and Ssu-ma Ch'ien has noted the major events of the period and the succession of the various feudal houses within this grid. Spaces without more elaborate entries number the year with respect to the current reign of the ruler in that state. The result is that for most of this table, Ssu-ma Ch'ien is correlating 13 local calendars (the state of Wu begins its chronology only in 585 B.C.). Extended narratives from this time-period occur in the basic annals of Chou and Ch'in (SC 4, 5) and the hereditary houses of Wu, Ch'i, Lu, Yen, Ts'ai, Ch'en, Wei, Sung, Chin, Ch'u, Yueh, Cheng, T'ien Ching-chung, and Confucius (SC 31-42, 46, 47).(15) Additional information about this era is found in the biographies of Kuan Chung and Yen Tzu, Lao Tzu, Ssu-ma Jang-chu, Sun-tzu, Wu Tzu-hsu, the Assassin-retainers, Reasonable Officials, and Money-makers (SC 62-66, 86, 119, 129), as well as the monograph on the feng and shan sacrifices (SC 28).

The disjointed structure of Ssu-ma Ch'ien's account of this period perhaps reflects the chaotic nature of Chinese society at the time, but in any case it makes it difficult to relate individuals to their larger contexts, especially given the many wars, territorial shifts, and inter-state fugitives and adventurers that characterized the Spring and Autumn Era. For example, stories about Kuan Chung (d. 645 B.C.), a statesman of Ch'i, appear in nine chapters in addition to his own biography, and readers are forced to keep in mind several contexts, all of which must be correlated chronologically.

The narrative portions of the Shih chi make some attempt to aid readers in this task; for instance, most of the hereditary houses break the narratives of their respective states to note the assassination of Duke Yin of the state of Lu in 712 B.C. (apparently this event sent shock waves through all the feudal states).(16) Since each state used its own calendar, numbering years from the ascension of whichever feudal lord was on the throne, a single event such as this can help tremendously in fixing relative chronologies. But it is not as effective as the "Table by Years of the Twelve Feudal Lords," where the reader knows at every instant what is going on throughout China (Kuan Chung's life is fixed by four entries in SC 14). There is no question that the table is useful, but is there more?

The form of the table itself reveals several important aspects of Ssu-ma Ch'ien's historiography. First, he was deeply concerned with accuracy. As Cheng Ch'iao noted, constructing tables is painstaking work, especially since the Ch'in regime had systematically destroyed the chronicles of the other feudal states, yet Ssu-ma provides us with a detailed year-by-year reconstruction.(17) The table is not perfect, and indeed as Liang Yu-sheng often points out in his commentary, the dates in the table do not always match up with dates in other sections of the Shih chi, but the "Table by Years of the Twelve Feudal Lords" is an impressive achievement nonetheless.(18) Perhaps even more telling, there are at least thirteen instances where the table corrects dates from the Spring and Autumn Annals themselves. Ssu-ma's regard for accuracy led to the type of skepticism that allowed him to contradict directly the Confucian classics when he felt he had more accurate information.(19)

Second, the table exhibits Ssu-ma's fascination with hierarchy. The first thing one notices about the "Table by Years of the Twelve Feudal Lords" is that it actually has rows for fourteen states. If, as Chuan Chan-heng suggests, we exclude both Chou and Lu (the top two rows) from the count because of their superior stations (Chou was the royal house, and the Spring and Autumn Annals were based on the annals of Lu), we have twelve feudal states which seem to be organized according to social hierarchy.(20) The next four states in order are Ch'i, Chin, Ch'in, and Ch'u. This is a traditional ordering of the first four of the Five Hegemons (Wu being the fifth).(21) There are other orderings, but it is clear that Ssu-ma Ch'ien followed this one since he specified Ch'i, Chin, Ch'in, and Ch'u as hegemons in his introduction to the table. If we suppose that Wu has been transferred to the bottom row for some reason (either its semi-barbarian nature or simply because it was the last state enfeoffed), the next row is Sung, which is also often included among the Five Hegemons. I do not know exactly what criteria were used in assigning the rest of the rows, but I suspect that some sort of social hierarchy was involved. Thus the state up from Wu is Yen, another semi-barbarian state, rather than Cheng, which was the second-to-last to be enfeoffed.(22)

Third, Ssu-ma Ch'ien was very selective in what he chose to include in the Shih chi. The "Table by Years of the Twelve Feudal Lords" presents an extreme example of his discriminating judgment. On the one hand, it includes more information than it needs simply to synchronize calendars. That function could be served by a listing of the reigns of feudal lords, such as James Legge provided in a supplemental table to his translation of the Spring and Autumn Annals.(23) Ssu-ma does note every new reign with a standard formula--"Duke (or King) X, first year"--in the appropriate space, but he also includes many other facts in numerous brief notations (usually of less than eighteen characters). On the other hand, the additional information is quite meager. Most of the spaces in the table are blank. Over the course of 242 years, Shih chi 14 provides 870 entries, or about 3.6 per year. Even the notoriously sparse Spring and Autumn Annals average about 7.9 entries per year, so the table conveys only half as much information.(24) And, of course, the Tso chuan, another of Ssu-ma's major sources for the table, includes much more material than the Annals.

As an example of the type of information the table provides, here follows a translation of the entries from the first five years of the Spring and Autumn Era (all dates are B.C.):

722 Lu--"Duke Yin of Lu, named Hsi Ku, first year. His mother was Sheng Tzu."

722 Cheng--"|Prince~ Tuan started a rebellion and fled."

721 Cheng--"The Duke had regrets when he thought of his mother whom he could not see. He dug a tunnel in the earth and they saw each other."

720 Lu--"In the second month, the sun was eclipsed."

720 Sung--"The Duke ordered K'ung-fu to enthrone Duke Shang. P'ing fled to Cheng."

720 Cheng--"Invaded Chou and captured grain."

719 Chou--"King Huan, first year."

719 Sung--"Duke Shang of Sung, named Yu I, first year."

719 Wei--"Chou-hsu assassinated the duke and set himself on the throne."

719 Ch'en--"A message came from Shih Ch'ueh of Wei; for this reason |we~ arrested Chou-hsu."

718 Chou--"Sent the Duke of Kuo to attack the Ch'u-wo region of Chin."

718 Lu--"The Duke saw fishing at T'ang. A gentleman criticized him."

718 Chin--"Marquis O died. Earl Chuang of Ch'u-wo again attacked Chin and established Kuang, the son of Marquis O, as Marquis Ai."

718 Sung--"Cheng attacked us. We attacked Cheng."(25)

718 Wei--"Duke Hsuan of Wei, named Chin, first year. |We~ all enthroned him and punished Chou-hsu."(26)

The notices of first years are obviously functional in correlating calendars, and military operations (such as those in 720 Cheng and 718 Sung) are also helpful since they tie together the records of two or more states, but what were the criteria by which the other events were included in the table, especially since so much else has been omitted? Is there meaning implicit in Ssu-ma Ch'ien's editing? If we assume that Ssu-ma used the table to highlight key events, we can gain insight into his concept of historical significance by scrutinizing his selection. The 870 entries can be tabulated under the following categories:

Wars (sometimes noted in the row of only one state, sometimes noted for both states involved; occasionally with remarks about causes, results, or treaties) 347

First years (may include information on genealogy or the filling of government posts) 183

State relations (treaties, bribes, official visits, marriages, political intervention, territory disputes, meetings, etc.) 151

Deaths and succession stories 110

Assassinations and executions 76

Flights, usually of deposed kings or rebellious princes (sometimes noted only in the row of the escaped states, sometimes noted by the receiving state as well) 61

Portents (eclipses, sagely warnings, animal omens, natural disasters, dreams, astronomical signs) 53

Aristocratic families (births, marriage problems, disputes of brothers, etc.) 28

Arrests and kidnappings 23

Cities (moving capitals, building walls, etc.) 10

Confucius (biographical details) 9

Other (sacrifices, state organization, taxes, etc.) 27

|Note that the total exceeds 870 since a single entry may include more than one type of comment; for example, assassinations, succession stories, and flights are often combined.~

There is always a danger in this sort of exercise that the categories reflect one's own interests more than Ssu-ma Ch'ien's.(27) For instance, I have grouped together under "wars" a wide variety of military maneuvers including "punitive attacks" fa, "attacks" kung, "routs" p'o, "defeats" pai, "invasions" ch'in, "surprise attacks" hsi, "sieges" wei, "rescues" chiu, and "extinctions" mieh, even though Ssu-ma Ch'ien and his contemporaries could have regarded these as very different sorts of events. Nevertheless, I believe that the above table is a fair, albeit rough, representation of the types of historical data Ssu-ma considered important.

It is significant that the included events center on the political situation of the period--wars, state relations, the fortunes of ruling families, and changes of authority. This focus may not be surprising to readers of the other Shih chi sections, but it does offer a counter-example to Hayden White's characterization of the annals genre in the Western historiographical tradition. The "Table by Years of the Twelve Feudal Lords" represents history in an annalistic fashion, that is, continuity is provided by the steady progression of years, many years have no entries, and the whole has no natural climax or denouement. Most importantly, the form of the table is overwhelmingly non-narrative, despite occasional connections between entries (see 719 Wei, 719 Ch'en, and 718 Wei, above, for Chou-hsu's rebellion, arrest, and execution) and some extended entries (such as the reconciliation with a mother in 721 Cheng). But the relationship between entries is seldom explicitly defined.(28) White regards such annals as politically uncentered, as lacking a clear notion of law or authority, but this is evidently not the case with the table.(29) Both its hierarchical form and the types of events it includes (note the specific entries on Confucius) suggest a very political orientation.(30)

A tabulation of the entries by states shows little geographical bias:
Chin 121 Ch'in 54
Lu 113 Chou 38
Ch'u 103 Ch'en 37
Ch'i 82 Wu 37
Cheng 80 Ts'ao 36
Sung 58 Ts'ai 30
Wei 57 Yen 24


The states that were largest and most aggressive during this period tend to have the most notations.(31) Even the state of Chou, the royal house, has a low number of entries that corresponds to its relative weakness. Ssu-ma Ch'ien did not try to bolster its prestige by including extraneous notations on ceremony or tradition. However, there is one glaring exception, and that is the state of Lu, whose entries far outnumber its actual political importance. This is due in part to the fact that Ssu-ma relied heavily on the records from this state (the Annals in particular), but it also reflects a bias in the distribution of certain types of comments. There are twenty-three eclipses and four earthquakes included in the table, and all of these are recorded under Lu, though they presumably affected other regions as well.(32)

Yet one may wonder if Ssu-ma Ch'ien regarded all the categories that I have identified as equally important. Perhaps particularly surprising is the extensive attention given to portents. These phenomena carried a great deal of political weight in early China, but were dreams and bird-omens really as consequential as wars and assassinations?(33) The introduction to Shih chi 14 helps to clarify this point:

Whenever the Grand Astrologer |Ssu-ma Ch'ien~ reads the "Calculated Genealogies of the Spring and Autumn Era" and comes to King Li of Chou (r. ? - 841 B.C.), he finds it impossible not to set aside the book and sigh, saying "Alas! Music-master Chih perceived it |in the deterioration of musical styles~." When King Chou made ivory chopsticks. Chi Tzu grieved. When the way of the Chou declined, the poets found the cause in palace affairs and wrote the "Kuan-chu." When compassion and righteousness deteriorated, the "Lu ming" was composed as a criticism of the situation. Coming to King Li, because he hated to hear about his faults, his ministers all feared punishment |and so kept quiet~. Disaster was the result and King Li thereupon fled to Chih. The chaos began with the officials in the capital, and because of this the Kung ho regents ran the government.(34)

Thereafter, whoever had power ruled, the strong oppressed the weak, and armies were raised without the permission of the Son of Heaven. Yet claiming the authority of the ruling house of Chou, the government of the Five Hegemons arose in order to punish and attack as leaders of the coalition of states. The feudal lords acted licentiously; their wantonness and extravagance were without restraint. Murderous ministers and usurping sons sprang up like weeds.(35)

Ssu-ma Ch'ien begins in a characteristic fashion which emphasizes that his approach to history is emotional and personal rather than merely intellectual. He then cites several instances where corruption and moral decay were observed in their first, presumably preventable, stages, and he particularly notes cases where criticisms were offered in literary form--the "Kuan-chu" and the "Lu ming" are the first poems of their respective sections in the Book of Songs.(36) Thus some historical events have obvious importance, being the violent culminations of long-term trends and incremental decisions, while other events are important only in retrospect as signs of brewing trouble (like the ivory chopsticks), or as highly symbolic partial causes (King Li's dislike of criticism). The portents fit into this system of historical relevance as signs.

Yet since certain events could later be recognized as signs, there was at least the possibility that wise and astute observers might discern their significance before the cataclysm actually arrived. Sages had this ability, but many in the Han dynasty hoped that the skill could be learned by carefully perusing the records of sagely observation (such as the Book of Songs). This ambition accounted for much of the popularity of the Spring and Autumn Annals. As Ssu-ma explained, paraphrasing his teacher Tung Chung-shu:

Therefore, for dispersing revolt and turning the people back to the right, none of the other Classics can compare to the Spring and Autumn. The Spring and Autumn consists in all of some ten or twenty thousand words, and its ideas number several thousand. The answers to how all things join and break away are to be found in it. It records thirty-six instances of assassination of rulers, and fifty-two of kingdoms which perished; and of feudal lords who were forced to flee and could not protect their altars of the soil and grain, the number is too great to be reckoned. If we reflect on how these things happened, we will find in every instance it was because they lost the True Way. Therefore the Book of Changes says, "The error of a fraction of an inch can lead to a difference of a thousand miles." And it also says, "When a minister assassinates his lord or a son murders his father, this is not something that came about in one morning or evening, but something that had built up gradually over a long period." For this reason one who rules a state cannot afford not to know the Spring and Autumn. If he does not, he will fail to perceive slander near about him, or will not understand the reason when rebels rise behind his back.(37)

Scholars in the Han dynasty regarded the Annals as a handbook of political interpretation, and great efforts were made to decode the judgments that Confucius had reputedly hidden in the text. This effort, revolving around nuances of terms and selection, was largely fruitless since the compiler of the Annals (probably not Confucius) did not encode such messages.(38) But this type of deciphering may apply, in some degree, to the "Table of the Twelve Feudal Lords." It seems that in some cases Ssu-ma had specific interpretations in mind when he included certain minor details.

A few entries contain their own interpretations. The notion of li, or correct behavior, was a prominent concern in the Confucian world-view, and it figures explicitly in ten notations, usually in the form of "so-and-so did not observe li."(39) In effect, Ssu-ma Ch'ien is reading these instances as signs, though they may have also been partial causes; war could answer the insult occasioned by a lack of li (as it did in Ch'u in 684 B.C.). So also when Ssu-ma notes an event and adds "a gentleman criticized this" or some similar remarks, his own disapproval is clear.(40)

This type of interpretation is similar to what we find in the Tso chuan, and indeed six of the above judgments on li are directly quoted from that text.(41) But there are other entries whose meanings are not so obvious. For example, at 770 Ch'in we read, "First established the Western Altar to sacrifice to the White Emperor." The import of this is puzzling until we read the introduction to the "Table by Years of the Six States," where Ssu-ma Ch'ien observes that when Duke Hsiang of Ch'in was first enfeoffed he built the Western Altar, which he used to serve Shang-ti. This impinged on the prerogatives of the King of Chou, and Ssu-ma notes, "Here is the first sign of usurpation.... Such behavior is enough to fill a gentleman with fear!"(42)

At times it is possible to ascertain the meaning of events from later developments in the table. For instance, the following notations appear to concern only minor family affairs:

741 Wei--"|The Duke~ loved Chou-hsu, the son of his concubine, and Chou-hsu liked military matters."

735 Wei--"The queen had no sons, so Duke Huan ascended to the throne."

734 Wei--"Duke Huan of Wei, named Wan, first year."

733 Wei--"His younger brother Chou-hsu was arrogant. Huan demoted him and he fled abroad."

But when we read the entries for 719 and 718 describing Chou-hsu's coup and assassination of Duke Huan (translated above), we realize that these seemingly trivial events were actually the seeds of much more important developments.(43) Nevertheless, it is usually necessary to turn to the narratives in the "basic annals" and "hereditary houses" to discover the connections between the entries in the table. Thus in the chapters of "hereditary houses" devoted to Wei, Sung, and Cheng, we learn that Chou-hsu was joined by Prince Tuan (noted at 722 Cheng) in his revolt, that he used Prince P'ing (of 720 Sung) as a pretense for a military alliance with the state of Sung, and that Cheng's attack on Sung (at 718 Sung) was in retaliation for a military campaign of the new alliance.(44) Here an advantage of the chronological tables becomes evident. Where the narratives of various houses are good at tracing direct lines of causation (which would be represented horizontally in the table), the table represents a web of connections, both horizontal and vertical, provided one already knows the various accounts in the Shih chi.

It would seem that in most cases, the entries in the table function as a distillation of the Shih chi narratives, with Ssu-ma Ch'ien selecting details of greatest importance (either for political impact or as signs), and highlighting certain lines of cause and effect. Because most of the events described in the chapters of "hereditary houses" have some aspect that is noted briefly in the table, Shih chi 14 can be regarded as a shorthand account or a mnemonic device, for which the other Shih chi chapters hold the keys to interpretation. Yet this does not quite describe the situation.

If one compares the notations in the "Table by Years of the Twelve Feudal Lords" with the rest of the Shih chi, one discovers that the table exhibits a fair degree of independence. Occasionally it offers different motivations, different connections, and different dates. Often the narratives in the "hereditary houses" are no more detailed than the brief notations in the table, and, even more disturbing, there are at least 157 entries in the table with no corresponding account anywhere else in the Shih chi. This means that almost one-fifth of the table stands entirely on its own, even though these independent entries may describe significant events (110 are notices of wars). It is interesting that all of the first-year entries are matched in other Shih chi chapters, but twenty-two notices of portents stand alone.(45) Thus the table supplements the narratives by providing a handy summary of reigns, but in the case of portents it seems to have a unique function.

Comparing Shih chi 14 to its primary source, the Tso chuan, reveals other unexpected features. It is clear that the "Table by Years of the Twelve Feudal Lords" is very closely related to the Tso chuan; in most instances, a brief entry in the table will reflect the Tso chuan's explication of a notice in the Annals or it will reflect an independent Tso chuan narrative, often employing similar or even identical words.(46) The 870 entries can be categorized as to source as follows:
Both Annals and Tso chuan 457
Tso chuan only 210
Annals only (13 of these are eclipses) 35
Neither Annals nor Tso chuan 168
(121 of these are first-year notices)


Of the 157 entries without corresponding Shih chi narratives, 138 are derived in whole or in part from the Tso chuan. This means, for example, that in order to understand the notation at 594 Lu--"Began a tax on acreage," or 563 Chou--"Wang Shu fled to Chin," one must put aside the Shih chi and turn to the Tso chuan (where we learn that the former event was "contrary to li" and the latter was occasioned by the moral failure of Wang Shu's administration).(47) In addition, the Shih chi narratives may not adequately explain entries in the table. To return to a previous example, at 718 Lu the table states, "The Duke saw fishing at T'ang. A gentleman criticized him." If we turn to the Hereditary House of Lu for further information, we read only "In the fifth year of Duke Yin, he saw fishing at T'ang." For the text of the criticism and some sense of why this action was inappropriate, we must go to the Tso chuan.(48) In some cases, then, the table functions more as a synopsis of the Tso chuan than of the Shih chi.

In his introduction to Shih chi 14, Ssu-ma Ch'ien hinted that the table had a relationship with the Annals that was somewhat independent of the rest of the Shih chi:

I have drawn up a table of the twelve feudal lords beginning with the Kung-ho reign-period |841-828 B.C.~ and ending with Confucius, in order to present the main arguments of the Annals and Kuo yu specialists concerning prosperity and decline in |one~ chapter. I have summarized and abridged this for the accomplished scholars who work with ancient writings.(49)

A tabulation of the sources helps to clarify the meaning of this passage. The Annals specialists referred to are primarily those of the Tso chuan tradition, and the interpretations concerning prosperity and decline seem to be those associated with that school, namely historical causes, Confucian morality, and portents. Nevertheless, some mysteries remain. The mention of Kuo yu specialists is puzzling since Kamada Tadashi could identify only four entries that directly rely on that text,(50) and at least one feature of the table seems to require the type of esoteric explanation provided by the Kung-yang and Ku-liang--although the Annals note thirty-six eclipses, Shih chi 14 records only twenty-three. I have no idea why.

The Shih chi tables, although they share a common form with Western medieval annals, are of a very different nature. This difference might be summed up best by describing the tables as post-narrative rather than pre-narrative. They derive their meaning from already existing chronicles and histories, and the author's judgments and historiographical biases are revealed by his selection. Robert Scholes and Robert Kellogg have written, "In chronicle, annals, and diary the lack of selectivity impedes movement and inhibits the growth of anything like a plot,"(51) but narrative plots are not the only conveyors of sophisticated historical interpretation. Hayden White was right when he proposed to "treat the annals and chronicle forms of historical representation not as the 'imperfect' histories they are conventionally conceived to be but rather as particular products of possible |alternative~ conceptions of historical reality," even though his observations on Western genres have little application to Chinese traditions.(52)

The Han conception of the Spring and Autumn Annals, despite its historical inaccuracy, was enormously influential, and Ssu-ma Ch'ien drew upon the interpretive principles of the Tso chuan to construct an interpretive synthesis of his own. Not only does the "Table by Years of the Twelve Feudal Lords" synchronize calendars and provide an historical framework for the narrative sections of the Shih chi, it also highlights events that were significant in Ssu-ma's historiography, corrects and supplements the Annals and Tso chuan, and provides a synopsis of the Spring and Autumn Era which is in some ways independent of the rest of the Shih chi. Though Ssu-ma did not necessarily have a specific explanation in mind for every entry in the table (some events may have struck him as potentially useful to later interpreters), there are nonetheless many notions that seem to bear specific interpretive meanings, and Shih chi 14 challenges readers to discover Ssu-ma Ch'ien's editorial intentions.

1 The Shih chi was actually begun by Ssu-ma Ch'ien's father, Ssu-ma T'an, but since his exact contribution is unknown, I will write of Ssu-ma Ch'ien as if he were the sole author. Certainly as primary author and final editor, Ssu-ma Ch'ien bears most of the responsibility and deserves most of the credit. See Chang Ta-k'o, Shih chi yen-chiu (Lanchow: Kan-su jen-min ch'u-pan-she, 1985), 58-73.

2 Wu Hung, The Wu Liang Shrine (Stanford Univ. Press, 1989), 149.

3 Chang Ta-k'o, 207. This praise, however, has not been universal. The maverick T'ang critic Liu Chih-chi (661-721) felt that the Shih chi tables needlessly duplicated material in other chapters, and in his Shih t'ung he wrote that "to have them is no benefit, and to omit them would be no loss." Shih t'ung (SPTK), 3.15. Note also that with the exception of the Han shu, which borrows extensively from the Shih chi, the standard histories all omit tables until Ou-yang Hsiu's Hsin T'ang Shu (much to Ku yen-wu's |1613-82~ consternation). Thereafter, most of the later standard histories include tables of some kind. See Ku Yen-wu, Jih-chih lu chi-shih, additions and comments by Huang Ju-ch'eng (n.p.: Ch'ung-wen shu-chu, 1872), 26.12a/b.

4 Chao I, Nien-erh-shih cha-chi, 2 vols. (Peking: Chung-hua shu-chu, 1963), 1:4-5. An empirical demonstration of the first point has been provided by A. F. P. Hulsewe's recent analysis of Shih chi 18. Of the 152 men listed in that table, only 48 are described in other Shih chi chapters. See Hulsewe, "Founding Fathers and yet Forgotten Men: A Closer Look at the Tables of the Nobility in the Shih chi and Hun shu," T'oung Pao 75 (1989): 43-126.

5 Hsu Fu-kuan, Liang Han ssu-hsiang shih, 3 vols. (Taipei: Hsueh-sheng shu-chu, 1979), 3:349.

6 Shih chi (Peking: Chung-hua shu-chu, 1959), 13.487. Future references to this edition will use the abbreviation SC.

7 Cheng Ch'iao, T'ung chih (Peking: Chung-hua shu-chu, 1987), 150A.405a.

8 Chou Hu-lin, Ssu-ma Ch'ien yu ch'i shih-hsueh (Taipei: Wen-shih-che, 1978), 102-3, 287. Compare Lai Ming-te, Ssu-ma Ch'ien chih hsueh-shu ssu-hsiang (Taipei: Hung shih ch'u-pan-she, 1983), 184-87.

9 SC 130.3319, 3303.

10 SC 18.878, 15.687.

11 Kung-yang, Ai 14.1. All references in this paper to the Spring and Autumn Annals and its canonical commentaries, the Kung-yang, the Ku-liang, and the Tso chuan, will be to the critical edition in the Harvard-Yenching Institute Sinological Index Series, supplement no. 11 (Peking, 1937).

12 SC 130.3320. Note that Ssu-ma also claimed to end his history with the capture of a unicorn (SC 130.3300), something that was reported in 123 B.C., even though the Shih chi describes events that happened after this date.

13 A problem for this type of analysis is the fact that Ssu-ma Ch'ien, in his introduction to SC 14, notes that he also consulted The Calculated Genealogies of the Spring and Autumn Era, a text that is no longer extant (SC 14.509). Some of the features of Ssu-ma's editing of the Annals may be borrowed from this earlier work. It is also possible that different tables had different functions, or at least different emphases.

14 In preparing this paper, I have identified for each entry in the table both its source(s) and the corresponding narratives elsewhere in the Shih chi. Unless otherwise noted, the numbers and observations that follow are drawn from my own tabulations. Previously, the most thorough analysis of SC 14 was done by Kamada Tadashi in an effort to show that the Tso chuan predated the Shih chi. Where our tabulations overlap, our numbers are similar. See Kamada Tadashi, Saden no seiritsu to sono tenkai (Tokyo: Daishukan, 1963).

15 Yueh does not have a row in the table. An account of Ts'ao is included as an appendix to SC 35.

16 SC 32.1483, 35.1566, 36.1576, 37.1593, 38.1623, 39.1639, 40.1695.

17 SC 15.686.

18 Liang Yu-sheng, Shih chi chih-i, 3 vols. (Peking: Chung-hua shu-chu, 1981), 1:298-386.

19 718 Wei, 697 Wei, 687 Wei, 685 Wei, 663 Ch'i, 657 Ts'ai, 656 Chin, 651 Ch'in, 534 Lu, 518 Lu, 509 Wu, 509 Ch'u, 491 Ch'in. There are also at least thirty-one entries in which dates from the Tso chuan are changed. Compare SC 1.46 and 60.2121 where Ssu-ma affirms the authoritative nature of the classics, but concedes that they have gaps and discrepancies.

20 Chuan compares this to the situation in the next chapter, the "Table by Years of the Six Kingdoms" where both Chou and Ch'in (again the top two rows) are supernumerary to the six other states because of their primary position (again Chou is the royal house, and the table is based on the Ch'in annals). This seems reasonable, but there has been no shortage of alternative explanations. Ssu-ma Chen suggested that the twelve count excluded the state of Wu (which is in the bottom row) because it was a semi-barbarian state. However, Liang Yusheng has pointed out that other states, such as Ch'u and Ch'in, were also semi-barbarian, but nevertheless received full status in the table. Te Ling and Ch'i T'eng-ch'ien avoided the question of status by suggesting that twelve was simply a round number and that the "twelve feudal lords" was a common expression that Ssu-ma Ch'ien adopted in his title for this table. For convenient citations of all these positions (except Liang's), see Takigawa Kametaro, Shiki kaichu kosho, 10 vols. (Tokyo: Toho bunkagakuin Tokyo kenkyujo, 1934), 14.2-3. Liang, 1:301-2. Note also that at the beginning of the Spring and Autumn Era there were some 170 states in China, so even winnowing the list to fourteen required some sort of hierarchical criteria. Several important states, such as Ch'i and Yueh, were omitted. See Richard L. Walker, The Multi-state System of Ancient China (Hamden, Conn.: Shoe String Press, 1953), 20.

21 For example, this list is found in Po-hu t'ung te lun (SPTK), 1.12.

22 The order in the table, from top to bottom, is Chou, Lu, Ch'i, Chin, Ch'in, Ch'u, Sung, Wei, Ch'en, Ts'ai, Ts'ao, Cheng, Yen, and Wu. In general, the states that are higher in the table had more power, with the exceptions of Chou and Lu (which held moral authority) and Cheng and Wu (which, though important, were enfeoffed after the table began). Ch'en and Ts'ao may also have been displaced downward slightly, because they were destroyed before the table ended. See Walker, 37-38 and 50, for a discussion of the relative strengths of Spring and Autumn states. There may be other hierarchical factors involved as well. Yen occupies a position between Wu and Cheng, perhaps because it shared Wu's semi-barbarian status, and Ts'ai was placed between Ts'ao and Ch'en, perhaps because its rulers shared the same clan name, Chi, with all the states below it in the table.

23 James Legge, trans., The Ch'un Ts'ew, 2nd ed., The Chinese Classics, vol. 5 (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1896 |Taiwan reprint~), prolegomena, 102-11. Chavannes also substituted this type of list for a translation of SC 14. Edouard Chavannes, Les Memoires historiques de Se-ma Ts'ien, 6 vols. (Paris: E. Leroux, 1895-1905 and |vol. 6~ 1969), 3:21, 29-46.

24 The situation is very different for the 119 years of the table that precede the Spring and Autumn Era. Without the Annals and the Tso chuan as sources, Ssu-ma's information was even more meager. Those years contain 92 entries (excluding the initial entries in 841 B.C.) for an average of only .77 entries per year. Of the 92 entries, 64 note first years. There are 55 years that are blank in all rows, as opposed to only 14 for the 242 years of the Spring and Autumn Era.

25 The use of the first-person pronoun wo is interesting. In the Spring and Autumn Annals this pronoun always refers to the state of Lu. In Shih chi 14, wo occurs several times in each of the fourteen horizontal rows, and it always refers to the state in whose row it appears. One might be tempted to read this as evidence that Ssu-ma Ch'ien was quoting from the chronicles of the various states, but he insisted in his preface to chapter 15 that these records had all been destroyed when the state of Ch'in conquered China (SC 15.686; however, see Liang 1:387 for doubts). I am inclined to think that Ssu-ma simply adopted the conventional language of the Annals for this chronological table, especially in light of the fact that most of the information in chapter 14 can be traced to the Annals and the Tso chuan.

26 Of course, without the grid of years and states, this translation does not convey all the information contained in the table.

27 One might here compare the list of significant categories in SC 14 compiled by the Ch'ing scholar Wang Yueh (fl. 1705-20). He notes (without an attempt at exhaustive enumeration) first years, biographical details about Confucius, wars, usurpations, unusual natural phenomena, treaties, and executions, and he suggests that these types of entries demonstrate Ssu-ma's respect for Heaven, the House of Chou, the sages, Confucian morality, etc. Wang Yueh, "Tu Shih chi shih piao", in Shih chi Han shu chu-piao ting-pu shih-chung, ed. Liang Yu-sheng, 2 vols. (Peking: Chung-hua shu-chu, 1982), 1:19-20.

28 There is still the question of whether the tables in their entirety constitute a story. As one reads through tables, the pattern of feudal houses that gradually disappear as the state of Ch'in gains dominance and then reappear in the Han is striking, but this restoration is not the theme of the Shih chi as a whole. And one does not get the impression that those years with more entries are necessarily more important (as such years would be if they functioned as literary turning points). Rather, the remarkable thing about the tables as a whole is their comprehensiveness, their attempt to account for all of known history, even if only in a cursory fashion.

29 Hayden White, "The Value of Narrativity in the Representation of Reality," in On Narrative, ed. W. J. T. Mitchell (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1981), 10-14.

30 Ssu-ma's own relationship to political power is problematic. Although he held a position at court, his history was written privately, and though he expressed a desire to glorify the achievements of his time, he has often been suspected of criticizing his contemporaries. See SC 130.3299.

31 Ssu-ma's selection tends to correct the geographical biases in the Tso chuan. Chin and Lu are still predominant, but not to the same extent; Ch'in and Wu have been given more attention. See Han Hsi-ch'ou, Tso chuan fen-kuo chichu, 2 vols. (Hong Kong: Lung-men shu-tien, 1966).

32 There are, however, only twenty-one entries that record eclipses, since double eclipses occurred in two years. I can identify only one other sub-category where the content of an entry is matched with a particular state: there are three notations concerning sacrifices (I classify these under "other") and they all occur in the state of Ch'in (years 678, 676, 672).

The geographical distribution of the 53 entries on portents is as follows:
Chou 0 Ch'u 0 Ts'ao 2
Lu 35 Sung 3 Cheng 3
Ch'i 1 Wei 1 Yen 0
Chin 3 Ch'en 2 Wu 0
Ch'in 3 Ts'ai 0


All of these except two (both non-Lu) are derived from the Annals, the Tso chuan, or both.

33 For the political importance of portents, see Hans Bielenstein, "An Interpretation of the Portents in the Ts'ien-hanshu," Bulletin of the Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities 22 (1950): 127-43; Wolfram Eberhard, "The Political Function of Astronomy and Astronomers in Han China," in Chinese Thought and Institutions, ed. John K. Fairbank (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1957), 33-70; and Hans Bielenstein, "Han Portents and Prognostications," Bulletin of the Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities 56 (1984): 97-112.

34 This event marks the beginning of the "Table by Years of the Twelve Feudal Lords" in 841 B.C.

35 SC 14.509.

36 However, in order to use these as evidence Ssu-ma must rely on a sophisticated tradition of literary exegesis; the poems were probably not originally written as political criticisms. The reinterpretation of these poems as works of oblique criticism seems to have been derived from the Lu school of Book of Songs scholarship, but little of this school survives. See Liang, Shih chi chih-i, 1:299-300, and James Robert Hightower, "The Han-shih wai-chuan and the San chia shih," Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 11 (1948): 241-310.

37 SC 130.3297-98; Watson's translation. Burton Watson, Ssu-ma Ch'ien: Grand Historian of China (New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1958), 51-52.

38 See George A. Kennedy, "Interpretation of the Ch'un Ch'iu," Journal of the American Oriental Society 62 (1942): 40-48.

39 717 Cheng: 697 Lu; 684 Ch'u; 637 Cheng, Ch'u, Ts'ao, Wei, Ch'in; 619 Lu; 522 Lu.

40 718 Lu, 715 Lu, 710 Lu, 709 Lu, 660 Chin, 621 Ch'in.

41 Tso chuan, Yin 6.iv, Huan 15.1, Hsi 23.ii, Wen 9.1.

42 SC 15.685; trans. Watson, 185.

43 The source of this story is Tso chuan, Yin 3.ii; 4.3, 4, 6. It is significant that the table expands over a period of twenty-three years what the Tso chuan reported in just two years (with references to past events), since this provides a graphic illustration of the point made by Ssu-ma at SC 130.3298 that an assassination is "not something that came about in one morning or evening, but something that had built up gradually over a long period." This breaking up and expanding of material that the Tso chuan related in flashbacks is characteristic of the table; Kamada Tadashi has identified 27 instances. See Kamada, 248-251.

44 SC 37.1592, 38.1623, 42.1760.

45 The twenty-one entries reporting eclipses are never referred to in the narrative portions of the Shih chi, but in six cases these notices were tied to other, noted events. The other seven independent portents are of various types.

46 Ssu-ma Ch'ien's heavy reliance on the Tso chuan is somewhat surprising since he studied with Tung Chung-shu, a prominent advocate of the Kung-yang commentary on the Annals, yet Ssu-ma's preference is clear. Though SC 14 frequently borrows Tso chuan descriptions of events not mentioned in the Kung-yang, Kamada could identify only three instances where Ssu-ma used a Kung-yang account that was not in the Tso chuan (700 Ch'en, 682 Sung, 681 Lu; see Kamada, 251-52). In addition, Ssu-ma almost never addresses the terminological issues that were the focus of the Kung-yang and the Ku-liang, and although the table sometimes follows the Tso chuan when it contradicts the Kung-yang or Ku-liang (as at 707 Ch'en and 695 Lu), I find no cases of the opposite.

The Shih chi chapters on "hereditary houses" are also closely related to the Tso chuan. Their narratives are usually paraphrases of that text, though it is not uncommon for the Shih chi accounts to include additional information and occasionally correct the Tso chuan. In the cases where there are discrepancies between the "hereditary houses" and the Tso chuan, the table frequently follows the Tso chuan (as at 706 Ch'u, 690 Ch'u, 669 Chin, and 617 Chin).

47 Tso chuan, Hsuan 15.8, Hsiang 10.iii.

48 SC 33.1529; Tso chuan, Yin 5.1.

49 SC 14.511. Note also that elsewhere Ssu-ma explicitly states that he wrote this table in part because many things were omitted from the Annals (SC 130.3303).

50 Kamada actually identified twelve entries, but only four were from the Spring and Autumn Era: 644 Chin, 637 Chin, 637 Wei, and 633 Chin. See Kamada, 252-54. However, the relationship between the table and our present Kuo yu may be a non-issue. It is possible that Ssu-ma Ch'ien used the term Ch'un ch'iu kuo yu to refer to a composite text including both the Tso chuan and the Kuo yu, which later was divided into separate works. Ssu-ma never clearly differentiates the two books, and he ascribes them to the same author (see SC 14.509-10 and 130.3300). See also Chin Te-chien, Ssu-ma Ch'ien so-chien shu k'ao (Shanghai: Shang-hai jen-mi ch'u pan-she, 1963), 5.

51 Scholes and Kellogg, The Nature of Narrative (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1966), 211.

52 White, "The Value of Narrativity," 6. Others have criticized the inability of White's models to account for non-Western historiographical traditions. See Marilyn Robinson Waldman, "'The Otherwise Unnoteworthy Year 711': A Reply to Hayden White," in On Narrative (see n. 29 above), 241-45.
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