The "masters" in the Shiji

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The intellectual history of the ancient philosophical "Masters" depends to a large extent on accounts in early historiography, most importantly Sima Qian's Shiji which provides a range of longer and shorter biographies of Warring States thinkers. Yet the ways in which personal life experiences, ideas, and the creation of texts are interwoven in these accounts are diverse and uneven and do not add up to a reliable guide to early Chinese thought and its protagonists. In its selective approach to different thinkers, the Shiji under-represents significant parts of the textual heritage while developing several distinctive models of authorship, from anonymous compilations of textual repertoires to the experience of personal hardship and political frustration as the precondition for turning into a writer.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)335-362
Number of pages28
JournalT'oung Pao
Issue number4-5
StatePublished - 2015

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Cultural Studies
  • Language and Linguistics
  • History
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Literature and Literary Theory
  • History and Philosophy of Science


  • early China
  • historiography
  • intellectual history
  • Masters texts
  • philosophy
  • Shiji
  • Sima Qian


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