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Sources of Early Chinese History

Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss early Chinese history and the documents in which it was recorded.

Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the sources for early Chinese history. The first attempts to make a record of historical events in China date from the Shang dynasty of the second millennium BC. The earliest surviving records were inscribed on bones or tortoise shells; in later centuries, chroniclers left detailed accounts on paper or silk. In the last hundred years, archaeologists have discovered a wealth of new materials, including a cache of previously unknown texts which were found in a sealed cave on the edge of the Gobi Desert. Such sources are are shedding new light on Chinese history, although interpreting ancient sources from the period before the invention of printing presents a number of challenges.


Roel Sterckx
Joseph Needham Professor of Chinese History at the University of Cambridge

Tim Barrett
Professor of East Asian History at SOAS, University of London

Hilde de Weerdt
Professor of Chinese History at Leiden University

Producer: Thomas Morris.

Available now

42 minutes

Last on

Thu 23 Jan 2014 21:30


Roel Sterckx at the University of Cambridge


Tim Barrett at SOAS, University of London


Hilde De Weerdt at Leiden University


Classical Historiography for Chinese History


Asia for Educators


A Visual Sourcebook of Chinese Civilization


The History of the Former Han Dynasty


Chunqiu Zuo zhuan


Shang Shu - Chinese Text Project


History of China - Wikipedia





W. G. Beasley and Edwin G. Pulleyblank (ed.), Historians of China and Japan (Oxford University Press, 1962)


Ssu-Ma Ch’ien (ed. William H. Nienhauser jr.), The Grand Scribe’s Records, Volume 1: The Basic Annals of Pre-Han China (Indiana University Press, 1995)


Nicola di Cosmo, Ancient China and its Enemies: The Rise of Nomadic Power in East Asian History (Cambridge University Press, 2004)


Andrew Feldherr and Grant Hardy (ed.), The Oxford History of Historical Writing: Volume 1: Beginnings to AD 600 (Oxford University Press, 2011)


Sarah Foot and Chase F. Robinson (ed.), The Oxford History of Historical Writing: Volume 2: 400-1400 (Oxford University Press, 2012)


Grant Hardy, Worlds of Bronze and Bamboo: Sima Qian’s Conquest of History (Columbia University Press, 1999)


On-Cho Ng and Q. Edward Wang, Mirroring the Past: The Writing and Use of History in Imperial China (University of Hawaii Press, 2005)


Garret Olberding, Dubious Facts: The Evidence of Early Chinese Historiography (State University of New York Press, 2013)


Sima Qian (trans. Raymond Dawson), Historical Records (Oxford University Press, 1994)


David Schaberg, A Patterned Past: Form and Thought in Early Chinese Historiography (Harvard University Asia Center, 2002)


Denis Twitchett, The Writing of Official History under the T’ang (Cambridge University Press, 2002)


Burton Watson (trans.), Courtier and Commoner in Ancient China: Selections from the History of the Former Han by Pan-Ku (Columbia University Press, 1974)


Burton Watson, The Tso Chuan: Selections from China’s Oldest Narrative History (Columbia University Press, 1992)


Endymion Wilkinson, Chinese History: A New Manual (Harvard University Press, 2013)



Role Contributor
Presenter Melvyn Bragg
Interviewed Guest Roel Sterckx
Interviewed Guest Tim Barrett
Interviewed Guest Hilde de Weerdt
Producer Thomas Morris


  • Thu 23 Jan 2014 09:00
  • Thu 23 Jan 2014 21:30

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