Dubious Facts

The Evidence of Early Chinese Historiography

By Garret P. S. Olberding

Subjects: Chinese Studies, Asian Studies, History
Series: SUNY series in Chinese Philosophy and Culture
Paperback : 9781438443904, 288 pages, July 2013
Hardcover : 9781438443898, 288 pages, December 2012

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Table of contents

1. Introduction
2. The Subversive Power of the Historian
3. Politicized Truth and Doubt
4. Interactive Constraints at Court
5. Salient Formal Characteristics of the Addresses
6. Rhetoric in Opposition: Two Zhanguoce 戰國策 Addresses
7. Commitment to the Facts
8. Moral Norms as Facts: Arguing Before the Emperor
9. How Did Ministers Err?
10. A Diversity of Evidence
A. Li Zuoche 李左車 and Chen Yu’s 陳餘 Exchange
B. Liu Jing’s 劉敬 Address to the High Emperor (Liu Bang 劉邦)
C. Zhufu Yan’s 主父偃 Address to Emperor Wu (Liu Che 劉徹)
D. Chao Cuo’s 晁錯 Address to Emperor Wen (Liu Heng 劉恆)
E. Zou Yang’s 鄒陽 Address to the King of Wu (Liu Pi 劉濞)
F. Liu An’s 劉安 Address to Emperor Wu (Liu Che 劉徹)
G. Zhao Chongguo’s 趙充國 Exchange with Emperor Xuan (Liu Bingyi 劉病已)
H. Wei Xiang’s 魏相Address to Emperor Xuan (Liu Bingyi 劉病已)
I. Hou Ying’s 侯應 Address to Emperor Yuan (Liu Shi 劉奭)
J. Yan You’s嚴尤 Address to Wang Mang 王莽

An innovative approach to historical records assesses how evidence claims and policy arguments were put forth in the royal courts of early China.


What were the intentions of early China's historians? Modern readers must contend with the tension between the narrators' moralizing commentary and their description of events. Although these historians had notions of evidence, it is not clear to what extent they valued what contemporary scholars would deem "hard" facts. Offering an innovative approach to premodern historical documents, Garret P. S. Olberding argues that the speeches of court advisors reveal subtle strategies of information management in the early monarchic context. Olberding focuses on those addresses concerning military campaigns where evidence would be important in guiding immediate social and political policy. His analysis reveals the sophisticated conventions that governed the imperial advisor's logic and suasion in critical state discussions, which were specifically intended to counter anticipated doubts. Dubious Facts illuminates both the decision-making processes that informed early Chinese military campaigns and the historical records that represent them.

Garret P. S. Olberding is Assistant Professor of History at the University of Oklahoma.


"…[a] remarkable contribution to the historical study of the Han period in particular, and to the Chinese historiographical tradition in general. " — Monumenta Serica

"This is an extraordinarily rich and insightful book that greatly contributes to our understanding and appreciation of these issues in the study of traditional court memorials and addresses and of the traditional historical accounts of them. Importantly, this book clears up many long-standing misconceptions about the conception and role of fact and evidence in these court memorials and offers the makings of a master key for understanding and interpreting them on a wide range of issues. " — Philosophy East & West