|Chapter 1:||Inscribing the Past: A History of Chinese History|
But we can still describe what we do see and attempt to make some sense of the fragments. One approach to considering the past—the one undertaken here—is to focus on the historian rather than the history. The history of history is the discovery of human joys and anxieties, influenced by the agencies of history itself. The Polish historian Krystof Pomain believed that the “scientific” and “positivistic” views of history are now obsolete:
A discussion of an ancient work such as the History of the Han can at best highlight certain trends and strategies within the text and, in the process, conjure other issues for later inquiry. Throughout this book my intention is to cast some light on the impetus and anxieties behind the History of the Han’s authorship by considering the family and personal history of its author. I explore the intellectual climate that prevailed during Ban Gu’s life so as to suggest some reasons for the accolades he showered upon the royal family of the Han (202 BC–AD 220) and the dynasty it ruled—accolades that may well seem sycophantic to a modern reader.
While much has been said about Ban Gu in previous scholarship as the writer of the History of the Han, little has been said about his other works, and even less has been said about him as a person. He has been imagined, as has his predecessor Sima Qian, simply as a historian laboring to preserve in text great events and great people. Ban Gu’s significance, however, extends beyond historical record; beyond the study of Chinese historiography; and beyond the study of poetics, stele inscriptions, and “hypothetical discourses.”18