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New English Sources on Han dynasty history


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#1 doozer667

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Posted 06 August 2008 - 02:30 AM

I will continue looking around the internet for further resources but I was curious as to whether or not any of you knew any English references by which I could learn more about the Han Dynasty and the periods leading up to it (Warring States and Qin). I've read a decent overview of the governance and economies of these time periods, however I would like to be able to read something which would introduce me to the actual personages of the time periods.

I have done a lot of study on the Three Kingdoms period and I would like to be able to broaden my horizons a little bit beyond just that given subject.
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#2 madalibi

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Posted 06 August 2008 - 03:41 AM

I will continue looking around the internet for further resources but I was curious as to whether or not any of you knew any English references by which I could learn more about the Han Dynasty and the periods leading up to it (Warring States and Qin). I've read a decent overview of the governance and economies of these time periods, however I would like to be able to read something which would introduce me to the actual personages of the time periods.

I have done a lot of study on the Three Kingdoms period and I would like to be able to broaden my horizons a little bit beyond just that given subject.


Hi Doozer667,

First, there's a whole lot of information on Han history in this forum. Don't forget to look down the pages. There are also a few good biographies of Han personalities on Wikipedia, many of them written by Non-Han Nan Ban, a member of CHF. Check out Zhang Heng, Chao Cuo, Zhang Qian, and Han Jingdi, and follow links from there. And I guess you already know about the page on the Han Dynasty. But Wikipedia resources on the Han are still limited, so let's turn to books.

(All the book links are to search results from a site called Bookfinder.com. It finds all new and used copies of the books you want as available in online bookstores, including Amazon, Barnes&Noble, and Abebooks. The prices indicated are in US dollars and include shipping fees to the US, but the search parameters can be set for other countries and other currencies.)

The volume on Qin and Han of the Cambridge History of China gives a detailed chronological survey of Qin and Han history. A much cheaper alternative (and more introductory in tone) is Mark Edward Lewis's The Early Chinese Empires: Qin and Han (2007).

If you want biographies, you need to know about three recent books: Michael Loewe's A Biographical Dictionary of the Qin, Former Han, and Xin Periods, 221 BC AD 24, Loewe's The Men Who Governed Han China: Companion to a Biographical Dictionary of the Qin, Former Han..., and Rafe de Crespigny's Biographical Dictionary of Later Han to the Three Kingdoms (23-220 AD). The problem with these amazing books is that they're ridiculously expensive.

On Han philosophy, the best intro is probably Mark Csikszentmihalyi's Readings in Han Chinese Thought (2006).

On religion, check Michael Loewe's Ways to Paradise: The Chinese Quest to Immortality, or his Chinese Ideas of Life and Death.

If you want to read the most important document that historians use when they study the history of Qin and the first half of the "Former Han" (or Western Han), don't miss Burton Watson's partial translations from the Shiji 史記, which he renders as Records of the Grand Historian. William Nienhauser has been publishing a new translation of the Shiji (which he renders as the Grand Scribe's Records).

Han history is a vast topic, so this list is of course very incomplete. Let us know if you need to know more about particular people or topics.

#3 doozer667

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Posted 06 August 2008 - 03:52 AM

You're my hero man :charge:

Thanks a lot. I'll keep reading up on the subject. If I have more questions I will probably make another post or place it in here. Odds are that I will :blush:
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#4 madalibi

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Posted 06 August 2008 - 10:13 PM

You're my hero man :charge:

Thanks a lot. I'll keep reading up on the subject. If I have more questions I will probably make another post or place it in here. Odds are that I will :blush:


Glad I could be of help!

I should also have mentioned these two translations from the Book of Han (Hanshu 漢書), the other basic source that historians use to study that period:

The 3-volume History of the Former Han Dynasty, by Homer Dubs, is a complete translation of the Hanshu's "Basic Annals" (benji 本紀), a chronological history of the Western Han dynasty. This is old (1938, I think) and not easily available. The cheapest set on Bookfinder is around US$300, but its worth checking out of a library, maybe through Inter-Library Loan.

You'll find more selections from the Hanshu in Burton Watson's Courtier and Commoner in Ancient China. There are used copies available for under a dollar!

And don't forget to check Han-era documents (and intros to them) in the first volume of Sources of Chinese Tradition, a book edited by William Theodore de Bary. Make sure you get the updated 2000 (1999?) edition, not the older one from the 1960s.

Good reading!

#5 General_Zhaoyun

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Posted 07 August 2008 - 02:53 AM

I didn't know Book of Han has an English translation ?
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#6 fcharton

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Posted 07 August 2008 - 03:00 AM

I should also have mentioned these two translations from the Book of Han (Hanshu 漢書), the other basic source that historians use to study that period:

The 3-volume History of the Former Han Dynasty, by Homer Dubs, is a complete translation of the Hanshu's "Basic Annals" (benji 本紀), a chronological history of the Western Han dynasty. This is old (1938, I think) and not easily available. The cheapest set on Bookfinder is around US$300, but it's worth checking out of a library, maybe through Inter-Library Loan.

You'll find more selections from the Hanshu in Burton Watson's Courtier and Commoner in Ancient China. There are used copies available for under a dollar!


There is an online version of the Dubs translation, and a couple of other resources on this era here.
http://jefferson.vil...oc.lang=english

and a prior CHF discussion here
http://www.chinahist...p...t&p=4929027

#7 madalibi

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Posted 07 August 2008 - 03:31 AM

I didn't know Book of Han has an English translation ?


The two books I referred to are only partial translations. The Dubs translation (made from 1938 to 1955) covers Chapters (juan 卷) 1 to 12 (the Annals, ji 紀), as well as the biography of Wang Mang. Watson's Courtier and Commoner is a translation of chapters 54, 63, 65, 67-68, 71, 74, 78, 92, and 97, all biographies.

Another translation, and an invaluable resource for studying Han "foreign relations" and geographical knowledge, is John Hill's translation of Chapter 88 (on the "Western Regions," Xiyu 西域) of the Hou Hanshu 後漢書 (Book of the Later Han). There is also a six-fold appendix on the silk trade and other issues. Amazing scholarship!

#8 longlong

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Posted 07 February 2010 - 06:05 PM

I will continue looking around the internet for further resources but I was curious as to whether or not any of you knew any English references by which I could learn more about the Han Dynasty and the periods leading up to it (Warring States and Qin). I've read a decent overview of the governance and economies of these time periods, however I would like to be able to read something which would introduce me to the actual personages of the time periods.

I have done a lot of study on the Three Kingdoms period and I would like to be able to broaden my horizons a little bit beyond just that given subject.


The newly released - Wars with the Xiongnu - a translation from Zizhi tongjian (Dec 2009) has a fairly good coverage of the period 403 BCE to the Fall of Xin 25 CE - covering most of the period you are interested - Zhanguo, Qin, Former Han and Xin.

#9 Atlas

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Posted 13 June 2010 - 01:11 AM

I am beginning research project into the frontiers of China, and comparing them to the experiences of the Roman Empire, and am hunting around for new translations of primary documents such as the Records of the Grand Historian or Wars with the Xiongnu: A Translation from Zizhi tongjian. Does anyone know of any others?
I have but one lamp by which my feet are guided, and that is the lamp of experience. I know no way of judging of the future but by the past.
-Edward Gibbon-

#10 Radhika12

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Posted 06 May 2011 - 05:04 AM

I'm a beginner to the Han History I'm still learning about it.I found lots of good post about Han in this forum.
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#11 PerpetualChange

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Posted 08 August 2011 - 01:10 AM

Michael Loewe has a lot of good stuff, but it's not usually concerned with warfare but instead the Han ritual and cosmological system.

#12 acdu

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Posted 12 August 2011 - 08:10 PM

I'm also a beginner here,i admire the man "Dongfangsuo(东方朔)"in Han dynasty.




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