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Sanguozhi as a historical source

Unread postPosted: Tue Apr 11, 2017 9:13 am
by suwanpeng
Hello!

Quick background, I'm writing my MA thesis right now on the subject of the Three Kingdoms in the historical aspect. As such, besides sources such as Rafe de Crespigny's works, I had to delve deep into sources written in Chinese, and, of course, Sanguozhi and the annotations by Pei Songzhi. I'm not an expert when it comes to classcal Chinese, but I can read it to some degree and spent a fair amount of time researching the chapters that I wanted to use.
Now here's a problem I faced: My thesis supervisor argues that neither 三国志 nor 三国志注 can be treated as historical sources and that they are highly fictional, which left me flabbergasted. While I do know that modern historians argue over whether or not Chen Shou was biased in his biographies and I know that Pei Songzhi himself disputed some of the stories he annotated, I always considered Sanguozhi as the key historical source to the events that happened during the Three Kingdoms period.
So here's my question: Am I right or is my supervisor right? If I'm right, how to prove it? Are there any reputable sources, especially in Chinese, that I could use to prove I'm right? If I'm wrong, what other sources could I use?
To clarify: I mostly used Sanguozhi and the annotations when writing about Lü Bu, Guan Yu, Zhuge Liang and Sima Yi.

Thank you for your input!

Re: Sanguozhi as a historical source

Unread postPosted: Tue Apr 11, 2017 9:32 am
by Sun Fin
A good question. My personal feelings are that any source written by a person is always going to carry some kind of bias but I think Chen Shou did a respectable job in trying to be fair. Many 3K historians do open with a source analysis. For example Carl Leban in Ts'ao Ts'ao and the Rise of Wei: The Early Years writes:

The generally favorable criticisms, that SKC [What we refer to as SGZ] is a fair record based honestly on available data within the limits imposed on its compiler [Chen Shou], seem well-founded


He spends some time building his case before arriving to his conclusion. My advise is to get his book and read that and I'm pretty certain Rafe argues for their authenticity at some point to and then build on their case.

Re: Sanguozhi as a historical source

Unread postPosted: Tue Apr 11, 2017 10:02 am
by suwanpeng
Indeed, I've found de Crespigny's throughout argument in Generals of the South, in which he states that

So the commentary contains several anecdotes which fit ill with a rationalist taste, but
Pei Songzhi well reflected the patterns of his time and the traditions of Chinese history.
And such open eclecticism is quite appropriate, for the ultimate purpose of history in the
Chinese tradition is not only to record the events of the past, but also to express moral
judgement and, further, to display models of behaviour, good and bad. A historian should
tell the truth, but real truth is more than a list of temporal facts.


Along with a few other conclusions, which I'm going to use to support my position.

While I've been greatly interested in Ts'ao Ts'ao and the Rise of Wei: The Early Years, I've been unable to acquire this book. I can't find it anywhere. I'm positively sure not a single copy was ever brought to my country, and I don't have access to Columbia University's archives, although I'll continue my search.

Re: Sanguozhi as a historical source

Unread postPosted: Tue Apr 11, 2017 10:06 am
by Sun Fin
If you don't mind me asking which university are you based at?

You can purchase a PDF copy (or hard copy that is more expensive) here

You may also find this thread which I helped compile helpful.

Re: Sanguozhi as a historical source

Unread postPosted: Tue Apr 11, 2017 10:14 am
by suwanpeng
Thank you very much! For some reason ProQuest went under my radar.

I don't mind at all, although I'd rather disclose that in a private message.

Re: Sanguozhi as a historical source

Unread postPosted: Tue Apr 11, 2017 5:14 pm
by Dong Zhou
Moved this to SGYY forum

Could your supervisor tell you what he counts as a history source if he discounts the SGZ? Every other big source (whatever issues there are with it) relies on the sgz as the basic starting point. Is it possible your supervisor has got the SGZ and the SGYY muddled up?

Re: Sanguozhi as a historical source

Unread postPosted: Tue Apr 11, 2017 7:21 pm
by suwanpeng
Dong Zhou wrote:Could your supervisor tell you what he counts as a history source if he discounts the SGZ? Every other big source (whatever issues there are with it) relies on the sgz as the basic starting point. Is it possible your supervisor has got the SGZ and the SGYY muddled up?


Hopefully not, seeing how I juggle between the two in my thesis. I strongly suspect that she deems the addition of surreal or hardly beliveable stories (mainly in SGZZ, such as pretty much everything involving Meng Huo) as proof that it's fictitious. Which I deem... wrong, but unless I can support my point of view with statements from already established scholars, like de Crespigny, I can't win this argument.

Re: Sanguozhi as a historical source

Unread postPosted: Tue Apr 11, 2017 7:23 pm
by James
Dong Zhou wrote:Is it possible your supervisor has got the SGZ and the SGYY muddled up?

This was my first thought...

Edit: Although perhaps a fair argument can be made regarding the range of Pei Songzhi's annotations vs Chen Shou's core work. And Chen Shou had to play within political boundaries (you can even find material contradictions of events in separate biographies) but that's nothing unusual (and sorting between those details, I would imagine, a concern of historic analysis). But I'm also of the same mind where Dong Zhou mentioned, "Every other big source (whatever issues there are with it) relies on the sgz as the basic starting point"—I too would be curious to find out what is considered accurate if SGZ is deemed not.

Re: Sanguozhi as a historical source

Unread postPosted: Tue Apr 11, 2017 7:46 pm
by suwanpeng
James wrote:
Dong Zhou wrote:I too would be curious to find out what is considered accurate if SGZ is deemed not.


So would I. My question ("What is deemed a historical source then?") was unfortunately met with a change of subject.
Surprisingly, sources such as de Crespigny's works, which are largely based on SGZ, SGZZ and ZZTJ are "valid". Thus, my headache.

Re: Sanguozhi as a historical source

Unread postPosted: Tue Apr 11, 2017 8:29 pm
by waywardauthor
suwanpeng wrote:Hello!

Quick background, I'm writing my MA thesis right now on the subject of the Three Kingdoms in the historical aspect. As such, besides sources such as Rafe de Crespigny's works, I had to delve deep into sources written in Chinese, and, of course, Sanguozhi and the annotations by Pei Songzhi. I'm not an expert when it comes to classcal Chinese, but I can read it to some degree and spent a fair amount of time researching the chapters that I wanted to use.
Now here's a problem I faced: My thesis supervisor argues that neither 三国志 nor 三国志注 can be treated as historical sources and that they are highly fictional, which left me flabbergasted. While I do know that modern historians argue over whether or not Chen Shou was biased in his biographies and I know that Pei Songzhi himself disputed some of the stories he annotated, I always considered Sanguozhi as the key historical source to the events that happened during the Three Kingdoms period.
So here's my question: Am I right or is my supervisor right? If I'm right, how to prove it? Are there any reputable sources, especially in Chinese, that I could use to prove I'm right? If I'm wrong, what other sources could I use?
To clarify: I mostly used Sanguozhi and the annotations when writing about Lü Bu, Guan Yu, Zhuge Liang and Sima Yi.

Thank you for your input!
To dismiss Chen Shou is akin to saying that Tacitus and Livy should be discarded.

Anyways, just in case you are in the hunt for more resources, a couple months ago I went a little crazy with the internet to uncover a lot of sources.