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Remarks on the Source, Selection, Reliability, and Function of the Non-terrestrial Events Recorded in the Hou Han shu 後漢書 ‘Benji’ 本紀 Imperial Annals

Abstract : The ‘annals’ form (ji 紀, chunqiu 春秋) is contingent on the astral sciences, be it in its more fundamental, chronological reliance on li 曆, mathematical astronomy, or in its articulation of human events with ‘heavenly patterns’ (tianwen 天文). The Hou Han shu 後漢書 ‘Benji’ 本紀 are no exception in this regard, being framed in time and being punctuated by eclipses, comets, meteorites, and planetary events, and these elements offer us a unique perspective into how their author, Fan Ye 范曄 (398–446), composed his history. Focusing on the annals’ tianwen contents, we will review what we know of Fan Ye’s potential sources: institutional data collection, the circulation of observational records, and their historiographical treatment in the annals and monographs (zhi 志) of his predecessors. The question of selection is made somewhat easy: it turns out that Fan Ye’s list of annals-worthy phenomena is nearly identical to that in Yuan Hong’s 袁宏 (328–376) Hou Han ji 後漢紀, which, in turn, reproduces (and cites) the monographs later collected in Sima Biao’s 司馬彪 (c.240–c.306) Xu Han zhi 續漢志. Dispelling doubts about outright fabrication as raised most recently by Huang Yi-long 黃一農 (2004), we will reassure ourselves that these annals-worthy phenomena are largely plausible and reproducible, allowing us to focus on a small handful of discrepancies – discrepancies between historical records and astronomical reality and, more importantly, discrepancies between editorial decisions. The real difference between Fan Ye, Yuan Hong, the monographs, and, where extant, the Dongguan Han ji 東觀漢記 annals, however, is not so much selection as it is presentation – the hermeneutics and the historiographical ends of ‘heavenly patterns’ – and we will focus in the final portion of this paper on how Fan Ye appears to divest these phenomena of meaning and what, if anything, that may mean.
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Submitted on : Tuesday, March 28, 2017 - 2:18:37 PM
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Daniel Patrick Morgan. Remarks on the Source, Selection, Reliability, and Function of the Non-terrestrial Events Recorded in the Hou Han shu 後漢書 ‘Benji’ 本紀 Imperial Annals. Journée d'étude Hou Han shu 後漢書, CRCAO – Collège de France, Sep 2017, Paris, France. ⟨halshs-01497223⟩

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