12. The Scene of Inquiry in Early Chinese Historiography
David Schaberg [+]
University of California, Los Angeles
With a nod to the origins of the word historia and particularly to the role of aitia (cause, culpability, accusation) in the framing of Herodotus’s work, this chapter investigates the occasions and motivations of historical inquiry that are implied in early Chinese sources stretching from legal disputes as memorialized in Western Zhou (ca. 1046–771 BC) bronze inscriptions down to exegeses and practical applications of Spring and Autumn Annals (Chunqiu) passages in the Warring States period (ca. 453–221 BC) and Western Han (206 BC–AD 8). The Greeks’ understanding of historical work as in certain fundamental senses a juridical activity allows us to pose some questions about early Chinese historical activity: How were narratives about the past invoked in legal disputes? How was writing used in the presentation of such narratives, in the commemoration of settled disputes, and in the formulation of principles to guide later judgments? How did the scene of judgment—the confrontation of disputants in the presence of a judge of one kind or another—condition forms of narration and, in the case of the Chunqiu, later pedagogical practices? How did conceptions of reciprocity in ritual propriety (li) relate to more abstract notions of justice? How did the roles of the shi (scribe, astrologer, and only later historian) relate to questions of legal judgment? The ultimate aim is to identify as completely as possible, on the basis of the opening Herodotean observations, the quasi-legal underpinnings of historical activity in classical Greece and China, and in this way to establish a basis for further comparisons.