Technical Arts in the Han Histories

Tables and Treatises in the Shiji and Hanshu

Edited by Mark Csikszentmihalyi & Michael Nylan

Subjects: Chinese Studies, Asian Studies, Chinese Religion And Philosophy, History, History Of Science
Series: SUNY series in Chinese Philosophy and Culture
Hardcover : 9781438485430, 426 pages, November 2021
Paperback : 9781438485423, 426 pages, July 2022

Alternative formats available from:

Table of contents


Michael Nylan 戴梅可 and Mark Csikszentmihalyi 齊思敏

1. Land Tenure and the Decline of Imperial Government in Eastern Han
Michael Loewe 魯惟一

2. Water Control and Policy-Making in the Shiji and Hanshu
Luke Habberstad 何祿凱

3. The Hanshu Geographic Treatise on the Eastern Capital
Lee Chi-hsiang 李紀祥

4. Celestial Signs in Three Historical Treatises
Jesse J. Chapman 柴傑思

5. On Hanshu "Wuxing zhi" 五行志 and Ban Gu's Project
Michael Nylan 戴梅可

6. Western Han Sacrifices to Taiyi
Tian Tian 田天

7. Writing Abstractly in Mathematical Texts from Early Imperial China
Karine Chemla 林力娜

8. Commentarial Episodes in Early Chinese Medicine: An Experiment in Decentering the Standard Histories
Miranda Brown 董慕達

9. Narratives of Decline and Fragmentation, and the Hanshu Bibliographic Taxonomies of Technical Arts
Mark Csikszentmihalyi 齊思敏 and Zheng Yifan 鄭伊凡


The first concerted attempt to analyze how the histories Shiji and Hanshu described the technical arts as they were applied in vital areas of the administration of pre-Han and Han China.


While cultural literacy in early China was grounded in learning the Classics, basic competence in official life was generally predicated on acquiring several forms of technical knowledge. Recent archaeological finds have brought renewed attention to the use of technical manuals and mantic techniques within a huge range of discrete contexts, pushing historians to move beyond the generalities offered by past scholarship. To explore these uses, Technical Arts in the Han Histories delves deeply into the rarely studied "Treatises" and "Tables" compiled for the first two standard histories, the Shiji (Historical Records) and Hanshu (History of Han), important supplements to the better-known biographical chapters, and models for the inclusion of technical subjects in the twenty-three later "Standard Histories" of imperial China. Indeed, for a great many aspects of life in early imperial society, they constitute our best primary sources for understanding complex realities and perceptions. The essays in this volume seek to explain how different social groups thought of, disseminated, and withheld technical knowledge relating to the body, body politic, and cosmos, in the process of detailing the preoccupations of successive courts from Qin through Eastern Han in administering the localities, the frontier zones, and their numerous subjects (at the time, roughly one-quarter of the world's population).

Mark Csikszentmihalyi is Marjorie Meyer Eliaser Chair of International Studies and Professor of Chinese at the University of California at Berkeley. His books include Material Virtue: Ethics and the Body in Early China. Michael Nylan is Sather Professor of History at the University of California at Berkeley. In addition to her works devoted to Han history, she is the translator of several classics of early China, including The Art of War, ascribed to Sunzi, and Yang Xiong's Exemplary Figures and Canon of Supreme Mystery.