Questions for “The Account of Ta Yüan”
1.) Who are the Hsiung-nu people? Why do they present such a threat to the Han state?
2.) Prof. Heng in his lecture talked about the process of sinicization of the borders of the Han state. How does sinicization occur in this narrative?
3.) What is the relationship between the Emperor and his envoys?
4.) In what ways can we say that Sima Qian in his narrative gives us an early account of the ethnography of China’s “others,” or “barbarians”?
5.) How does the Han state court alliances with its neighbors?
6.) Pay attention to all the different cultural groups. How are they depicted?
7.) What are the emperor’s strategies for sending out envoys?
8.) What is the strategy of sending a Han princess to a foreign kingdom and a foreign kingdom sending a king’s first born to the Han court?
9.) Why does the emperor make a tour of his land and entertain foreign visitors?
10.) From p. 290-98, the narrative spends a considerable amount of time on the Ta-yüan affair. What Confucian moral lessons can we draw from this?
11.) In what ways does this chapter reflect the Han era’s increasing geographic expansion and trade?
12.) In what ways does Sima Qian present a early example of international relations, military engagement, and state diplomacy? Is it driven by the economy? What does China have that the “barbarians” do not, what do the “barbarians” have that the Chinese do not?
The Basic Annals of Emperor Kao-tsu
Shih chi 8 (pp. 105-46) presents the Basic Annals of Emperor Kao-tsu (202-195 BC). There are many names of places, tribes and people in this section which can make the reading difficult to comprehend.
The important thing is to keep track of the two protagonists:
- The ‘hero’ is Liu Chi. He is referred to as Liu Chi at the beginning, then as governor of P’ei (pp. 110-20), then King of Han (pp. 120-33), then Supreme Emperor (pp. 133ff.). His posthumous name is Kao-tsu, ‘Exalted Ancestor’, and he is sometimes referred to by this name (anachronistically) in this section.
- His adversary is Hsiang Yu.
Read the section carefully and consider the following for the seminar discussion.
From Prof. Steven Green:
(a)What roles do the supernatural/ the divine play in this section?
(b)What differences do you observe between the ways that history/ historiography (representative of prose) and epic (representative of poetry) handle the topic of the supernatural?
The section opens by making clear-cut distinctions between the two protagonists: “Hsiang Yu was violent and tyrannical, while the king of Han practiced goodness and virtue”. To what extent is this polarisation reinforced within the narrative itself?
(a)What different sort of moral lesson/ message does the narrative present, and to whom do you think they are presented?
(b)How similar/ different is the didactic mode to/from that found in Ramayana, Odyssey or The Book of Songs?