The Genre of Historical Disquisition (shilun 史論)

From the Early Medieval Period to the Song Dynasty
Thursday
9:00 am – 10:45 am
Room 5

  • Organised by Béatrice L’Haridon
  • Béatrice L’Haridon, Chair
  • Béatrice L’Haridon, “Fan Ye’s Disquisitions and the Task of Discovering the Reason at Play in the Fall of the Eastern Han Dynasty”
  • Hugo Dubois-Mouro, “Xi Zuochi’s Disquisition on the Inheritance by the Jin of the Han’s Rule 晉承漢統論, or Why do We Need a Han Dynastic Ancestry”
  • Sebastian Eicher, “Judgements of the Fall of the Later Han Dynasty in the Disquisitions (lun 論) and Appraisals Found in Later Han Historiography”
  • Bingwei Jia, “Song Scholars’ Conception of Historical Evolution as Seen through the Fall of the Eastern Han Dynasty: A Study of Han lun 漢論 of the Northern Song Dynasty”

From Jia Yi’s 賈誼 (c. 200–168 BC) Guo Qin lun 過秦論 (Disquisition finding fault with Qin), which was integrated in Sima Qian’s Shiji 史記 as the conclusion to the Basic Annals of Qin Shihuang, the genre of historical disquisition had a strong relationship with standard historiography, being potentially written and read as a synthetic lesson drawn from the preceding historical narrative or as an independent essay. These disquisitions are centred on historical figures, institutions or historical transformations. This panel aims to study the historical disquisition as a genre, and how it develops on the basis of or in the frame of historiography, from the early medieval period, which was a time of experimentation with this genre, to the Song dynasty, which saw a blossoming of the historical disquisitions. In order to highlight the importance of the disquisitions as a place for historical and philosophical reflection, we will focus on the theme of the institutions of the Eastern Han dynasty, their evolution, and ultimate failure, as it was dealt with by different authors of disquisitions.

Béatrice L’Haridon, Fan Ye’s Disquisitions and the Task of Discovering the Reason at Play in the Fall of the Eastern Han Dynasty

In Fan Ye’s 范曄 (398–445) letter to his nephews, which expresses his vision of himself as a historian,  the narrative account (zhushu 著述) and the critical disquisition (pinglun 評論) are clearly distinguished. Fan Ye puts special emphasis on the latter: When criticising Ban Gu’s 班固 (32–92) work, he sets apart his predecessor’s houzan 後贊 (Ban Gu’s term for disquisitions), with which he is particularly dissatisfied. On the contrary, he has some emphatic words for his own disquisitions. Following Fan Ye’s development and renewal of this rich and complex historiographical paratext, it soon became the object of specific interest, as it appears clearly through the inclusion in the Wenxuan of a relatively important number of Fan Ye’s disquisitions, and also through the edition of separate Disquisitions and Eulogies. In my presentation, I will analyse a few specific disquisitions through which Fan Ye reveals his conception of the historical disquisition as a place to discover the reason at play (li 理) in the historical process (especially in the conclusion to chapter 39/49 on the “essayists” Wang Chong 王充, Wang Fu 王符 and Zhongchang Tong 仲長統 and his vision of the degradation of the institutions of the Eastern Han dynasty (as developed in the conclusions to collective biographical chapters as Kuli liezhuan 酷吏列傳 or Huanzhe liezhuan 宦者列傳).

Hugo Dubois-Mouro, “Xi Zuochi’s Disquisition on the Inheritance by the Jin of the Han’s Rule 晉承漢統論, or Why Do We Need a Han Dynastic Ancestry

Xi Zuochi 習鑿齒 († 384, alt. † 393) was an Eastern Jin (328–412 CE) scholar and historian. He is best known for having composed the now lost Springs and Autumns of the Han and Jin Dynasties 漢晉春秋 which, according to David R. Knechtges (2010), was “based on the principle that the legitimate successor to the Han was the state of Shu in the Southwest, and that Wei was a ‘usurper’ dynasty”. He further expands this idea in another text, namely the Disquisition on the Inheritance by the Jin of the Han’s Rule 晉承漢統論, in which it is the Jin dynasty that is described as the legitimate successor of the Han. However, in the process of overruling the Han dynasty, the Cao clan was careful to act as loyal subjects being rewarded and not as conquerors. And a few decades later, when the Sima clan founded the Jin dynasty, they too acted as if it was the Wei’s wish that they shall rise to power. Each new dynasty needed to be regarded as legitimate. Through this paper, I will thus attempt to understand, looking at Xi Zuochi’s disquisition, 1) why does he consider the Han dynasty a necessary historical ancestor for the Jin, 2) how, when both the Jin and the Wei followed the same pattern in their rise to power, does Xi Zuochi manage to defend one while vilifying the other.

Sebastian Eicher, “Judgements of the Fall of the Later Han Dynasty in the Disquisitions (lun 論) and Appraisals Found in Later Han Historiography

Historical judgement was an important part of Chinese historiography, whether implicit or explicit. With the emergence of the annals-biography-style (liezhuan 列傳) it became customary for historians to add a short appraisal after every chapter, in which they expressed their opinion in usually tetrasyllabic verses. The many works of history that were compiled about the Later Han (25–220) dynasty in the centuries after its fall diverged from this pattern. Parallel to the rising importance of the genre of Disquisitions, the historians started to not only write appraisals (named variously as zan 贊, xu 序, quan 詮, ping 評, or yi 議), but often also added Disquisitions (lun) to their works of history. Depending on the author, not only the content of these judgements varied widely, but also their form and style. This paper will look at the surviving Disquisitions and Appraisals of the second century of the Later Han that are found in the Hou Han shu 後漢書, the Hou Han ji 後漢紀, the Sanguo zhi 三國志 and the recompiled fragments of the Dongguan Han ji 東觀漢紀 and Bajia Hou Han shu 八家後漢書. It will look at the way the historians expressed their opinions and consider the function and relationship of Disquisitions and Appraisals.

Bingwei Jia, “Song Scholars’ Conception of Historical Evolution as Seen Through the Fall of the Eastern Han Dynasty: a Study of  Han lun 漢論 of the Northern Song Dynasty

The Song dynasty saw a full development of the genre “historical disquisition” (lun) in terms of its form, its literary richness and the historical consideration contained in it. The majority of the numerous disquisitions written during the Song period are constituted by individual essays rather than commentaries figuring after a historical narrative. The Han dynasty was a major subject for Song historical thinkers whose interest in the Han had been stimulated by the revision and the printing of Shiji 史記, Han shu 漢書and Hou Han shu 後漢書that started in 994. Scholars began to systematise their reflection on the Han dynasty by writing disquisitions which are often entitled “Han lun” (漢論). In this paper, I will analyse several historical disquisitions on the Han dynasty contained in the Quan Song Wen 全宋文. Their authors include such great promoters of ancient style writing as Shi Jie 石介 (1005–1045) as well as famous scholars such as Su Shi 蘇軾 (1037–1101) and Su Zhe 蘇轍 (1039–1112). I will analyse how these authors used historical disquisition as a means to reflect on the art and politics of governance as well as the historical evolution in general by commenting on the fall of the Eastern Han dynasty. The authors addressed two main questions: the causes of the fall of the Eastern Han and the place of the Han dynasty in the transmission of the kingly way (Wangdao 王道).

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Room 5
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From the Early Medieval Period to the Song Dynasty