An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

Qianhanji 前漢紀

Jul 3, 2010 © Ulrich Theobald

Hanji 漢紀 "Annals of the Han", later called Qianhanji 前漢紀 "Annals of the Former Han", is a history of the Former Han period 前漢 (206 BCE-8 CE) written in an annalistic style (biannianti 編年體). It has a length of 30 juan and was written by Xun Yue 荀悅 (148–209, courtesy name Zhongyu 仲豫), who is also known for his book Shenjian 申鑑, in which he tried to demonstrate how a strong government would work in a time when the empire suffered of an increasing decentralisation.

In 198 CE Emperor Xian 漢獻帝 (r. 189–220) ordered Xun Yue to compile a new history of the Former Han period because he was not content with the irritatingly dispersed style of Ban Gu's 班固 (32-92 CE) history of the Former Han, the Hanshu 漢書 (a book later to become the official dynastic history of that period). This judgment was possible made because the Hanshu was written in a biographic-thematic style (jizhuanti 紀傳體).

Xun Yue therefore used an annalistic style, as it was the case in the Confucian Classic Chunqiu 春秋 "Spring and Autumn Annals". The Hanji begins with the ascension of Liu Bang 劉邦 (Emperor Gaozu 漢高祖, r. 206–195 BCE) to the throne, as first emperor of the dynasty, and ends with the dead of the usurper Wang Mang 王莽 (r. 8–22 CE).

Xun Yue did not write a totally new book, but he simply abbreviated the text of the Hanshu and arranged the differents parts of the biographies in a chronological style. Yet besides this rearrangement he also added documents and information not found in the Hanshu.

Table 1. Contents of the Qianhanji 前漢紀
1.-4. 前漢高祖皇帝紀 Reign of Emperor Gaozu (r. 206/202-195)
5. 前漢孝惠皇帝紀 Reign of Emperor Hui (r. 195-187)
6. 前漢高后紀卷 Reign of Empress Dowager Lü (r. 187-180)
7.-8. 前漢孝文皇帝紀 Reign of Emperor Wen (r. 180-157)
9. 前漢孝景皇帝紀 Reign of Emperor Jing (r. 157-141)
10.-15. 前漢孝武皇帝紀 Reign of Emperor Wu (r. 141-87)
16. 前漢孝昭皇帝紀 Reign of Emperor Zhao (r. 87-74)
17.-20. 前漢孝宣皇帝紀 Reign of Emperor Xuan (r. 74-49)
21.-23. 前漢孝元皇帝紀 Reign of Emperor Yuan (r. 49-33)
24.-27. 前漢孝成皇帝紀 Reign of Emperor Cheng (r. 33-7)
28.-29. 前漢孝哀皇帝紀 Reign of Emperor Ai (r. 7-1)
30. 前漢孝平皇帝紀 Reign of Emperor Ping (r. 1 BCE-5 CE)

The greatest merit of Xun Yue is that he continued using the ancient annalistic style and defended it as an excellent alternative to the biographic-thematic style that was to become one of the most important styles of historiography in traditional China. Xun Yue furthermore added his own interpretations about mistakes in government at the end of paragraphs or chapters. These comments served to provide the (imperial) reader with a reflection about the way of good or bad government.

The commonly cited version is that of the series Sibu congkan 四部叢刊, yet the text can also be found in the series Longxi jingshe congshu 龍谿精舍叢書 and Siku quanshu 四庫全書.

Hulsewé, A.F.P. (1993). "Han chi", in Michael Loewe, ed. Early Chinese Texts: A Bibliographical Guide (Berkeley: Society for the Study of Early China/Institute of East Asian Studies), 113-114.
Wu Shuping 吳樹平 (1992). "Hanji 漢紀", in: Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, Zhongguo lishi 中國歷史 (Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe), Vol. 1, 346.