Published: Nov. 13, 2023
poster with Kern and ancient Chinese writing

Tuesday, November 14 at 6:15pm
Humanities 135

Martin Kern, “The Voice of the Historian in Early China”

This lecture focuses on the “Grand Lord Archivist says” 太史公曰 statements throughout the Shiji. It examines in detail the highly formulaic and rhetorical nature of their composition and proposes that these statements (together with Sima Qian’s “auto-postface”太史公自序 to the Shiji and his “Letter in Response to Ren Shaoqing” 報任少卿書) construct and stage the voice and figure of Sima Qian. While the historical Sima Qian may have created much of the Shiji, the paratextual elements of the Shiji have in turn created the textual Sima Qian known to us. As the formulaic 太史公曰 statements configure Sima Qian not only as an exemplary historian but also as an exemplary reader of his sources, a reader both judicious and emotional, they also provide the model for “those to come” (laizhe 來者): Sima Qian’s ideal readers of the future.

Martin Kern is the Joanna and Greg ’84 P13 P18 Zeluck Professor in Asian Studies at Princeton. His numerous publications cut across all genres of Chinese literature, historiography, and thought from the first millennium BCE. This year, he has published Biaoyan yu chanshi: Zaoqi Zhongguo shixue yanjiu 表演與闡釋:早期中國詩學研究 (Beijing: Sanlian shudian); Qu Yuan and the Chuci: New Approaches, co-edited with Stephen Owen (Leiden: Brill); and Zuozhuan and Early Chinese Historiography, co-edited with Yuri Pines and Nino Luraghi (Leiden: Brill).