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FEATURES Redeeming Sima Qian Sima Qian. Records ofthe Grand Historian. 3 volumes: Han Dynasty I, Han Dynasty II, Qin Dynasty. Translated by Burton Watson. Hong Kong and New York: The Research Centre for Translation, The Chinese University ofHong Kong, and Columbia University Press, 1993. xxvii, 496 pp. (vol. 1); xviii, 505 pp. (vol. 2); xxi, 243 pp. (vol. 3). Paperback $19.00 (vol. 1), $22.50 (vol. 2), $22.50 (vol. 3); ISBN 0-231-08165-0 (vol. 1), 0-231-08166-9 (vol. 2), 0-231-08I69-3 (vol. 3). Sima Qian. Historical Records. Translated by Raymond Dawson. The World's Classics. Oxford, New York, Toronto: Oxford University press, 1994. XXV, 176 pp. Paperback $10.95, ISBN 0-19-283115-1. Ssu-ma Ch'ien. The Grand Scribe's Records. Volume 1, The Basic Annals of Pre-Han China. Volume 7, The Memoirs ofPre-Han China. Edited by William H. Nienhauser, Jr. Translated by Tsai-fa Cheng, Zongli Lu, William H. Nienhauser, Jr., and Robert Reynolds, with Chiu-ming Chan. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1994. xliv, 251 pp. (vol. 1); xxxii, 396 pp. (vol. 2). ISBN 0-253-34021-7 (vol. 1), 0-253-34021.6 (vol. 2). To those of us who regard Sima Qian's Shiji as one of the most important texts from the ancient world, the recent publication ofthe translations under review here is most welcome. Western scholars of ancient China sometimes bemoan the "wasted effort" of simultaneous translations of a single work in a field where the expertise is spread thin (except, of course, in the case ofthe Daodejing, where it sometimes seems that virtually every sinologist must publish his or her own translation). Indeed, Raymond Dawson calls the coincidence ofthe overlap between his own new Shiji translation and that ofWatson "unfortunate." However, each of these new transis 1997 by University lations fills a distinctive niche and, in doing so, contributes significantly to the efofHawai 'i Pressfort to place Sima Qian where he belongs in a canon ofworld literature—that is, alongside such writers as Herodotus, Thucydides, Tacitus, and the Deuteronomistic author(s) as one ofthe greatest historians ofantiquity (although Sima Qian, 308 China Review International: Vol. 4, No. 2, Fall 1997 let me be so bold as to assert, is vastly more complex than any ofthe others listed here). We begin with the reissue of Burton Watson's two-volume Records ofthe Grand Historian, which originally appeared in 1961, and the publication of a third volume of translations of those Shiji chapters concerning the Qin dynasty. Watson now has published translations of eighty chapters of Sima Qian's 130-chapter text, a very impressive accomplishment indeed.1 His work is primarily directed at the nonspecialist, but obviously a nonspecialist with considerable leisure and scholarly passion—there are approximately 1,200 pages in his three-volume Sima Qian, equaling the combined size of the Richard Crawley translation of Thucydides and the David Grene Herodotusl In his "General Introduction," Watson quotes Michael Grant's opinion that "except as a mere crib, an unreadable translation is useless" (vol. 1, p. xix) to justify a style that aims for fluency and grace rather than excessive literalness. Whatever one may believe about the match between Watson's English and the original style of some of the works he has translated,2 his lively prose seems well suited to Sima Qian. Another particularly noteworthy feature ofWatson's Shiji is that it provides a complete translation of all material in Sima Qian's text concerning the Qin dynasty and the first century of the Han dynasty. Thus, any historian or specialist of Chinese history who wants a relatively quick exposure or review of Sima Qian's portrayal of this critical period in Chinese history, a time when the empire took shape and when a rather legalistic form of Confucianism came to dominate the political world, will find Watson's translation exceedingly useful. Indeed, there is no more enjoyable way to gain a quick exposure to the genius of Sima Qian, both as a historian and as a literary figure, than to read Watson's versions. The Qin volume is a welcome addition to Watson's huge translation oeuvre...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-9367
Print ISSN
1069-5834
Pages
pp. 307-313
Launched on MUSE
2011-03-30
Open Access
No
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