Records of the Grand Historian: 130 Juan


Shi ji (Records of the grand historian), the first biographical general history of China, was compiled by Sima Qian, the Western Han historian, who devoted his entire life to this endeavor. Sima Qian (circa 145‒86 BC), courtesy name Zichang, a native of Xiayang (present-day Hancheng, Shaanxi), was an official at the court of Emperor Wu (also known as Han Wudi, reigned 140‒87 BC), as a palace attendant, court astrologer, and imperial secretary. The work records the events beginning with the legendary Yellow Emperor and ending with the first year (122 BC) of the Yuanshou reign of Han Wudi, covering around 3,000 years. It consists of 130 chapters including: 12 basic annals, recording the words and deeds of individual emperors or of individual dynasties; 10 tables, listing one genealogical and nine chronological royal lineages, reigns, personalities, and important events; eight monographs, describing the historical evolution of systems of astronomy, geography, rites and music, military and financial administration, and so forth; and 30 hereditary houses, with earlier chapters containing historical accounts of the leading states, such as Shang and Zhou, and later chapters on Han containing biographies of outstanding men in Chinese history. Shi ji was not only the first work of Chinese historiography, it was also a popular literary masterpiece, praised by the Chinese scholar Liang Qichao (1873‒1929) as “a masterpiece throughout the ages” and by Lu Xun (1881‒1936), a leading figure of Chinese modern literature, as “poetic perfection, like Li Sao (Encountering the Sorrow, by Qu Yuan) without rhymes.” Prior to the Song dynasty (960‒1279), this work was passed on by handwritten copies and published with annotations by various people. Presented here is an edition dated the seventh year (1171) of the Qiandao reign of Southern Song, printed by Cai Mengbi at his printing house Dongshu. Juan 43 is a facsimile of a Song handwritten copy, printed by book collector Yang Baoyi in the first year (1875) of the reign of Emperor Guangxu of Qing. The work also contains the joint commentaries, Ji jie (Commentary on Shi ji) by Pei Yin of Song (420‒79) of the Southern Dynasties, and Suo yin (Index to Shi ji) of Sima Zhen of Tang dynasty. The commentaries are scattered within the text of Shi ji. This is the earliest edition of these two authors’ commentaries. Cai Mengbi was a famous publisher of Jianyang during the Southern Song. The writing style is powerful and elegant. Scholar and book collector Fu Zengxiang named it “the gem of Jianyang editions of early Southern Song.” Since the Ming and Qing dynasties, the work has found its place in the collections of numerous renowned bibliophiles, including Zhu Chengjue, Qian Xingzu, Ji Zhenyi, Wang Shizhong, Yang Yizeng, and Chen Qinghua. It also includes an inscription by Ji Zhenyi. During the 1950s, under the auspices of Premier Zhou Enlai, the work was purchased from Chen Qinghua in Hong Kong and brought back to Beijing where it is preserved at the National Library of China.

Date Created

Publication Information

Cai Mengbi, Jianyang, Fujian Province


Title in Original Language

史記 : 一百三十卷

Type of Item

Physical Description

30 volumes : stitch-bound ; 26.3 x 16.4 centimeters


  • Only prefaces, table of contents and juan 1-7 are included in the WDL presentation.

Last updated: July 27, 2016