Only fragments of historical text from China's middle period have been translated into English, until now. Here at last is the first major Chinese historical work from the Song dynasty. Written by Ouyang Xiu, an intellectual giant of the eleventh century, this is a history of the preceding century (907--979), a period known as the Five Dynasties. The historical and literary significance of Ouyang's achievement cannot be underestimated. In rewriting the existing official history of the Five Dynasties, Ouyang -- whose own time was characterized by extraordinary intellectual and political innovation -- made several notable decisions. He rewrote the history in the "ancient" style preferred by forward-thinking literati; he even rewrote the original documents quoted within biographies. He also relied on his own moral categories, reevaluating the worth of the historical figures in light of his own convictions that individuals should take personal responsibility for the fate of society. Ouyang's history would eventually become the official version -- the last state-sanctioned dynastic history of imperial China to be written by an individual in a private capacity. In addition to its provocative insights and lucid presentation, Historical Records of the Five Dynasties is an eloquent statement on the art of historical writing in the eleventh century. A preeminent scholar of Chinese history, Richard L. Davis has provided a thorough introduction and rendered nearly two-thirds of the Chinese original into English, including complete sections critical to understanding the politics and personalities of the time. Biographical clusters based on Ouyang's moral categories also appear in full, helping readers to appreciate the Confucian agenda that informs the work.
Columbia University Press
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