Saturday, April 19, 2008

Sima Qian's Tomb

I was at Sima Qian’s (司馬遷) tomb!

It was near the top of a hill about 20 kilometers outside HanCheng (韓城), 230 kilometers to the east of Xian, very close to the Yellow River. This was one of the views on the way up, involving some steep slops and a couple hundred steps. For me, the hike wasn’t very hard. But just outside those chains was a sheer drop of several hundred feet. I have to admit my legs went weak when I looked down - I had, somehow, become more afraid of the heights as I grew older. So you can imagine how I felt when I had to turn around to take photos of the views from the steps.

Here I was, just 2 steps from the top. It was a tremendous view looking over the plains around the hill. The fields were in so many different shades of green. The trees were of different shapes and colors, and lined up in intriguing patterns. My photos with a limited viewing angle cannot really give it justice. You have to be there. The highway bridge looked like a monstrous long legged millipede in a future world. Just behind it, in the distance was the Yellow River, which I last saw in Lanzhou in January. It was relatively small, cold and clear then. Now it is vast, shallow, and muddy. On this side of the river is Shannxi (陕西). On the other side? Shanxi (山西). The names are confusing in pinyin, but not in Chinese.

Sima Qian is the greatest historian that China have ever seen. He is worthy of our respect not just for the way he wrote “Records of the Grand Historian”(史記), an overview of the history of China covering more than two thousand years from the Yellow Emperor to Emperor Han Wudi (漢武帝), creating a style and method for countless aspiring historians to follow. It is also because of the way he stood up to the emperor, defending General Li Ning (李陵) who lost in a battle with the XiongNu (匈奴). He is my hero! So I was most respectful standing in front of his tomb.

It was not easy getting there from Xian. As to how I got there? It is another story for another day. It is late and I must go to bed.


Anonymous said...

I just wonder why they took so much trouble to bury a dead man on a hill top. (It must be quite some tasks in those days and they had to make a path there too.) Was it because of 風水 or some other things of deeper widsom?

StephenC said...

To show respect, perhaps? I believe it was an emperor several hundred years (in ~300 AD) after Sima Qian died (in 90 BC) who built this tomb.

It is great honors for a historian, don't you think?