Ancient China
Sima Qian

Sima Qian
Reading Level
     edHelper's suggested reading level:   grades 8 to 10
     Flesch-Kincaid grade level:   9.15

     challenging words:    benji, biao, in-force, liezhuan, shijia, well-versed, chronicle, in-depth, magnum, spanning, happening, comprehensive, hailed, olden, penned, knowing
     content words:    Sima Qian, Yellow Emperor, Sima Tan, Grand Historian, Emperor Wu, Western Han, Lang Zhong, Palace Attendant, Li Ling, When Emperor Wu

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Sima Qian
By Vickie Chao

1     The Chinese have always been fond of writing. Almost as soon as they developed their own writing system, scholars began to diligently and dutifully record everything that had been happening around them. But, by far, none had done so in a more methodical way than Sima Qian whose Shiji (or Shih-chi, literally meaning historical records) covers events spanning nearly 3,000 years. This masterpiece includes everything from the time of the mythical Yellow Emperor to the contemporary era during which Sima Qian was living. When putting the book together, Sima Qian felt that documenting everything in a long laundry list was simply not good enough. Hence, in addition to using the usual chronicle approach, he also wrote biographies for emperors as well as other important figures before his time. His new method completely revolutionized how history should be written and became the "in" style that everybody followed. For that reason alone, it is not hard to see why Shiji has always been hailed as one of the greatest treatises in Chinese literature!
2     Sima Qian was born some time between 145 B.C. and 135 B.C. His father, Sima Tan, was the Grand Historian for Emperor Wu of the Western Han dynasty for thirty years. Right from the beginning, Sima Tan had very high expectations for his son. He wanted him to inherit his post and make a name for himself. To be sure that the young boy was up for the challenge, he sent him to study with the most prominent scholars of his time. By the age of twenty, Sima Qian was already well-versed in classic literature and knew a great deal about astronomy. (In the olden days, a Grand Historian was in charge of not only jotting down pivotal turns of events, but also making astronomical observations to devise new calendars.) Shortly after he celebrated his twentieth birthday, he embarked on a journey around China. He used the occasion to visit many ancient sites and conduct field research.
3     Upon his return, Sima Qian was made Lang Zhong or Palace Attendant whose main duty was to inspect different parts of the country with Emperor Wu. In 110 B.C., his father fell gravely ill. Knowing that his days were numbered, Sima Tan summoned his son forward and urged him to carry out his dream of writing a comprehensive, in-depth history book for the generations to come. After he relayed this particular wish of his, the old man took his last breath and passed away. Two years later, Sima Qian inherited his father's position and became the new Grand Historian. One of his earliest accomplishments was to take part in introducing a new lunar calendar in 104 B.C. This new calendar (dubbed as "Taichuli") used January as the beginning of a year. (The previous version used October.) It also stated that there were 29.53 days in a month and 365.25 days in a year. At the time, Taichuli was the most advanced calendar that the Chinese had ever created. It remained in-force for nearly 200 years.

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