Records of the Historian, written by Sima Qian (145-c.87 BC) of theWestern Han Dynasty, plays an important role in linking the past and thefuture in the development of Chinese prose. It originated the biographicalhistory and biographical literature in China, and covers a history of 3,000years ranging from the legendary Huang Di, or Yellow Emperor, to EmperorWudi of the Han Dynasty. This book has altogether 103 articles, totalingmore than 500,000 Chinese characters. Records of the Historian embodies Sima Qian's progressive conceptof history and judicial criticism of social reality, reflected in four aspects:exposure of the feudal ruling class, especially the supreme ruling cliqueof the Han Dynasty; expression of people's resistance to feudal despotism;extolling of people from the lower social strata; and description of a hostof patriotic heroes.
Records of the Historian is not only a faithful documenting of historybut also possesses high literary value. Its artistry is mainly reflected inthe skillful characterization of many distinctive characters based on truehistorical materials. In their portrayals, Sima Qian made great efforts inuniting history, characters and themes, and consequently both historyand characters are vividly depicted. Sima Qian is also good at illustrating someone's character by placing him in a sharp confrontation and letting his words and deeds speak for him. The narration in Records of the Historian is concise and vivid. Thedescriptive dramatic scenes further enhance the work's appeal.
Instead of following the style of pian wen, with its lavish parallelismand ornate language, Sima Qian formed his own simple, concise, fluentand easy-to-read style. The language used in Records of the Historian isinformal, humorous and full of variations, therefore it has always beenesteemed as the highest achievement of classical Chinese writing.