Book of Han

The Book of Han or History of the Former Han (Qián Hàn Shū,《前汉书》) is a history of China finished in 111AD, covering the Western, or Former Han dynasty from the first emperor in 206 BCE to the fall of Wang Mang in 23 CE.[1] It is also called the Book of Former Han.

Book of Han
Traditional Chinese漢書
Simplified Chinese汉书

The work was composed by Ban Gu (32–92 CE), an Eastern Han court official, with the help of his sister Ban Zhao, continuing the work of their father, Ban Biao. They modeled their work on the Records of the Grand Historian,[2] a cross-dynastic general history, but theirs was the first in this annals-biography form to cover a single dynasty. It is the best source, sometimes the only one, for many topics such as literature in this period. A second work, the Book of the Later Han covers the Eastern Han period from 25 to 220, and was composed in the fifth century by Fan Ye (398–445).[3]


This history developed from a continuation of Sima Qian's Records of the Grand Historian, initiated by Ban Gu's father, Ban Biao, at the beginning of the Later Han dynasty. This work is usually referred to as Later Traditions (後傳), which indicates that the elder Ban's work was meant to be a continuation. Other scholars of the time, including Liu Xin and Yang Xiong also worked on continuations of Sima's history. After Ban Biao's death, his eldest son Ban Gu was dissatisfied with what his father had completed, and he began a new history that started with the beginning of the Han dynasty. This distinguished it from Sima Qian's history, which had begun with China's earliest legendary rulers. In this way, Ban Gu initiated the Jizhuanti (紀傳體,纪传体) format for dynastic histories that was to remain the model for the official histories until modern times.

For the periods where they overlapped, Ban Gu adopted nearly verbatim much of Sima Qian's material, though in some cases he also expanded it. He also incorporated at least some of what his father had written, though it is difficult to know how much. The completed work ran to a total of 100 fascicles 卷, and included essays on law, science, geography, and literature. Ban Gu's younger sister Ban Zhao finished writing the book in 111, 19 years after Ban Gu had died in prison. An outstanding scholar in her own right, she is thought to have written volumes 13–20 (eight chronological tables) and 26 (treatise on astronomy), the latter with the help of Ma Xu. As with the Records of the Grand Historian, Zhang Qian, a notable Chinese general who travelled to the west, was a key source for the cultural and socio-economic data on the Western Regions contained in the 96th fascicle. The "Annals" section and the three chapters covering the reign of Wang Mang were translated into English by Homer H. Dubs.[4] Other chapters have been rendered into English by A. F. P. Hulsewé, Clyde B. Sargent, Nancy Lee Swann, and Burton Watson.

The text includes a description of the Triple Concordance Calendar System 三統曆 developed by Liu Xin in fascicle 21. This is translated to English by Cullen.[5]

Ban Gu's history set the standard for the writings of later Chinese dynasties, and today it is a reference used to study the Han period. It is regarded as one of the "Four Histories" 四史 of the Twenty-Four Histories canon, together with the Records of the Grand Historian, Records of the Three Kingdoms and History of the Later Han.


Ji (紀, annal), 12 volumes. Emperors' biographies in strict annal form, which offer a chronological overview of the most important occurrences, as seen from the imperial court.

#NumberTitle (Chinese)Title (English)
001Volume 1 (Part 1), Volume 1 (Part 2)高帝紀Annals of Emperor Gaozu, 206–195 BCE
002Volume 2惠帝紀Annals of Emperor Hui, 194–188 BCE
003Volume 3高后紀Annals of Empress Lü Zhi (regent 195–180 BCE)
004Volume 4文帝紀Annals of Emperor Wen, 179–157 BCE
005Volume 5景帝紀Annals of Emperor Jing, 156–141 BCE
006Volume 6武帝紀Annals of Emperor Wu, 140–87 BCE
007Volume 7昭帝紀Annals of Emperor Zhao, 86–74 BCE
008Volume 8宣帝紀Annals of Emperor Xuan, 73–49 BCE
009Volume 9元帝紀Annals of Emperor Yuan, 48–33 BCE
010Volume 10成帝紀Annals of Emperor Cheng, 32–7 BCE
011Volume 11哀帝紀Annals of Emperor Ai, 6–1 BCE
012Volume 12平帝紀Annals of Emperor Ping, 1 BCE – 5 CE

Chronological tables

Biao (表, tables), 8 volumes. Chronological tables of important people.

#NumberTitle (Chinese)Title (English)
013Volume 13異姓諸侯王表Table of nobles not related to the imperial clan
014Volume 14諸侯王表Table of nobles related to the imperial clan
015Volume 15王子侯表Table of sons of nobles
016Volume 16高惠高后文功臣表Table of meritorious officials during the reigns of (Emperors) Gao, Hui, Wen and Empress Gao
017Volume 17景武昭宣元成功臣表Table of meritorious officials during the reigns of (Emperors) Jing, Wu, Zhao, Xuan, Yuan and Cheng
018Volume 18外戚恩澤侯表Table of nobles from families of the imperial consorts
019Volume 19百官公卿表Table of nobility ranks and government offices
020Volume 20古今人表Prominent people from the past until the present


Zhi (志, memoirs), 10 volumes. Each treatise describes an area of effort of the state.

#NumberTitle (Chinese)Title (English)
021Volume 21律曆志Treatise on Rhythm and the Calendar
022Volume 22禮樂志Treatise on Rites and Music
023Volume 23刑法志Treatise on Punishment and Law
024Volume 24 (Part 1), Volume 24 (Part 2)食貨志Treatise on Foodstuffs
025Volume 25 (Part 1), Volume 25 (Part 2)郊祀志Treatise on Sacrifices
026Volume 26天文志Treatise on Astronomy
027Volume 27 (Part 1), Volume 27 (Part 2), Volume 27 (Part 3), Volume 27 (Part 4), Volume 27 (Part 5)五行志Treatise on the Five Elements
028Volume 28 (Part 1), Volume 28 (Part 2)地理志Treatise on Geography
029Volume 29溝洫志Treatise on Rivers and Canals
030Volume 30藝文志Treatise on Literature


Zhuan (傳, exemplary traditions, usually translated as biographies), 70 volumes. Biographies of important people. The biographies confine themselves to the description of events that clearly show the exemplary character of the person. Two or more people are treated in one main article, as they belong to the same class of people. The last articles describe the relations between China and the various peoples at and beyond the frontiers, including the contested areas of Ba in present-day Yunnan; Nanyue in present-day Guangdong, Guangxi, and Vietnam; and Minyue in present-day Fujian.[6]

#NumberTitle (Chinese)Title (English)
031Volume 31陳勝項籍傳Chen Sheng and Xiang Yu
032Volume 32張耳陳餘傳Zhang Er and Chen Yu
033Volume 33魏豹田儋韓王信傳Wei Bao, Tian Dan and Hán Xin (King of Han)
034Volume 34韓彭英盧吳傳Han, Peng, Ying, Lu and Wu – Han Xin, Peng Yue, Ying Bu, Lu Wan and Wu Rui (吳芮)
035Volume 35荊燕吳傳the Princes of Jing, Yan and Wu
036Volume 36楚元王傳Prince Yuan of Chu – Liu Xiang and Liu Xin
037Volume 37季布欒布田叔傳Ji Bu, Luan Bu and Tian Shu
038Volume 38高五王傳the five sons of Emperor Gao
039Volume 39蕭何曹參傳Xiao He and Cao Shen
040Volume 40張陳王周傳Zhang, Chen, Wang and Zhou – Zhang Liang, Chen Ping, Wang Ling (王陵) and Zhou Bo
041Volume 41樊酈滕灌傅靳周傳Fan, Li, Teng, Guan, Fu, Jin and Zhou – Fan Kuai, Li Shang (酈商), Xiahou Ying, Guan Ying (灌嬰), Fu Kuan, Jin She (靳歙) and Zhou Xue (周緤)
042Volume 42張周趙任申屠傳Zhang, Zhou, Zhao, Ren and Shentu – Zhang Cang (張蒼), Zhou Chang (周昌), Zhao Yao (趙堯), Ren Ao (任敖) and Shentu Jia (申屠嘉)
043Volume 43酈陸朱劉叔孫傳Li, Lu, Zhu, Liu and Shusun – Li Yiji (酈食其), Lu Gu (陸賈), Zhu Jian (朱建), Lou Jing (婁敬) and Shusun Tong (叔孫通)
044Volume 44淮南衡山濟北王傳the kings of Huainan, Hengshan and Jibei
045Volume 45蒯伍江息夫傳Kuai, Wu, Jiang and Xifu – Kuai Tong (蒯通), Wu Bei (伍被), Jiang Chong (江充) and Xifu Gong (息夫躬)
046Volume 46萬石衛直周張傳the lords of Wan, Wei, Zhi, Zhou and Zhang – Shi Fen (石奮), Wei Wan (衛綰), Zhi Buyi (直不疑), Zhou Ren (周仁) and Zhang Ou (張歐)
047Volume 47文三王傳the three sons of Emperor Wen
048Volume 48賈誼傳Jia Yi
049Volume 49爰盎晁錯傳Yuan Ang and Chao Cuo
050Volume 50張馮汲鄭傳Zhang, Feng, Ji and Zheng – Zhang Shizhi (張釋之), Feng Tang (馮唐), Ji An (汲黯) and Zheng Dangshi (鄭當時)
051Volume 51賈鄒枚路傳Jia, Zou, Mei and Lu – Jia Shan (賈山, Zou Yang (鄒陽), Mei Cheng (枚乘) and Lu Wenshu (路溫舒)
052Volume 52竇田灌韓傳Dou, Tian, Guan and Han – Dou Ying (竇嬰), Tian Fen (田蚡), Guan Fu (灌夫) and Han Anguo (韓安國)
053Volume 53景十三王傳the thirteen sons of Emperor Jing
054Volume 54李廣蘇建傳Li Guang and Su Jian
055Volume 55衛青霍去病傳Wei Qing and Huo Qubing
056Volume 56董仲舒傳Dong Zhongshu
057Volume 57 (Part 1), Volume 57 (Part 2)司馬相如傳Sima Xiangru
058Volume 58公孫弘卜式兒寬傳Gongsun Hong, Bu Shi and Er Kuan
059Volume 59張湯傳Zhang Tang
060Volume 60杜周傳Du Zhou
061Volume 61張騫李廣利傳Zhang Qian and Li Guangli
062Volume 62司馬遷傳Sima Qian
063Volume 63武五子傳the five sons of Emperor Wu
064Volume 64 (Part 1), Volume 64 (Part 2)嚴朱吾丘主父徐嚴終王賈傳Yan, Zhu, Wuqiu, Zhufu, Xu, Yan, Zhong, Wang and Jia – Yan Zhu (嚴助), Zhu Maichen (朱買臣), Wuqiu Shouwang (吾丘壽王), Zhufu Yan (主父偃), Xu Yue (徐樂), Yan An (嚴安), Zhong Jun (終軍), Wang Bao (王褒) and Jia Juanzhi (賈捐之); two parts
065Volume 65東方朔傳Dongfang Shuo
066Volume 66公孫劉田王楊蔡陳鄭傳Gongsun, Liu, Tian, Wang, Yang, Cai, Chen and Zheng – Gongsun He (公孫賀), Liu Quli (劉屈氂), Tian Qiuqian (田千秋), Wang Xin (王訢), Yang Chang (楊敞), Cai Yi (蔡義), Chen Wannian (陳萬年) and Zheng Hong (鄭弘)
067Volume 67楊胡朱梅云傳Yang, Hu, Zhu, Mei and Yun – Yang Wangsun (楊王孫), Hu Jian (胡建), Zhu Yun (朱雲), Mei Fu (梅福) and Yun Chang (云敞)
068Volume 68霍光金日磾傳Huo Guang and Jin Midi
069Volume 69趙充國辛慶忌傳Zhao Chongguo and Xin Qingji
070Volume 70傅常鄭甘陳段傳Fu, Chang, Zheng, Gan, Chen and Duan – Fu Jiezi, Chang Hui (常惠), Zheng Ji, Gan Yannian (甘延壽), Chen Tang and Duan Huizong (段會宗)
071Volume 71雋疏于薛平彭傳Jun, Shu, Yu, Xue, Ping and Peng – Jun Buyi (雋不疑), Shu Guang (疏廣) and Shu Shou (疏受), Yu Dingguo (于定國), Xue Guangde (薛廣德), Ping Dang (平當) and Peng Xuan (彭宣)
072Volume 72王貢兩龔鮑傳Wang, Gong, two Gongs and Bao – Wang Ji (王吉), Gong Yu (貢禹), Gong Sheng (龔勝) and Gong She (龔舍) and Bao Xuan
073Volume 73韋賢傳Wei Xian
074Volume 74魏相丙吉傳Wei Xiang and Bing Ji
075Volume 75眭兩夏侯京翼李傳Sui, two Xiahous, Jing, Ji and Li – Sui Hong (眭弘), Xiahou Shichang (夏侯始昌) and Xiahou Sheng (夏侯勝), Jing Fang (京房), Ji Feng (翼奉) and Li Xun (李尋)
076Volume 76趙尹韓張兩王傳Zhao, Yin, Han, Zhang and two Wangs – Zhao Guanghan (趙廣漢), Yin Wenggui (尹翁歸), Han Yanshou (韓延壽), Zhang Chang (張敞), Wang Zun (王尊) and Wang Zhang (王章)
077Volume 77蓋諸葛劉鄭孫毋將何傳Gai, Zhuge, Liu, Zheng, Sun, Wujiang and He – Gai: Gai Kuanrao (蓋寬饒), Zhuge: Zhuge Feng (諸葛豐), Liu: Liu Fu (劉輔), Zheng: Zheng Chong (鄭崇), Sun: Sun Bao (孫寶), Wujiang: Wujiang Long (毋將隆), He: He Bing (何並)
078Volume 78蕭望之傳Xiao Wangzhi
079Volume 79馮奉世傳Feng Fengshi
080Volume 80宣元六王傳the six sons of Emperors Xuan and Yuan
081Volume 81匡張孔馬傳Kuang, Zhang, Kong and Ma – Kuang Heng (匡衡), Zhang Yu (張禹), Kong Guang (孔光) and Ma Gong (馬宮)
082Volume 82王商史丹傅喜傳Wang Shang, Shi Dan and Fu Xi
083Volume 83薛宣朱博傳Xue Xuan and Zhu Bo
084Volume 84翟方進傳Zhai Fangjin
085Volume 85谷永杜鄴傳Gu Yong and Du Ye
086Volume 86何武王嘉師丹傳He Wu, Wang Jia and Shi Dan
087Volume 87 (Part 1), Volume 87 (Part 2)揚雄傳Yang Xiong
088Volume 88儒林傳Confucian Scholars
089Volume 89循吏傳Upright Officials
090Volume 90酷吏傳Cruel Officials
091Volume 91貨殖傳Usurers
092Volume 92游俠傳Youxias
093Volume 93佞幸傳Flatterers
094Volume 94 (Part 1), Volume 94 (Part 2)匈奴傳Traditions of the Xiongnu
095Volume 95西南夷兩粵朝鮮傳Traditions of the Yi of the southeast, the two Yues, and Joseon (Korea) – Nanyue and Min Yue
096Volume 96 (Part 1), Volume 96 (Part 2)西域傳Traditions of the Western Regions
097Volume 97 (Part 1), Volume 97 (Part 2)外戚傳the Empresses and Imperial Affines
098Volume 98元后傳Wang Zhengjun
099Volume 99 (Part 1), Volume 99 (Part 2), Volume 99 (Part 3)王莽傳Wang Mang
100Volume 100 (Part 1), Volume 100 (Part 2)敘傳Afterword and Family History

Mention of Japan

The people of Japan make their first unambiguous appearance in written history in this book (Book of Han, Volume 28, Treatise on Geography), in which it is recorded, "The people of Wo are located across the ocean from Lelang Commandery, are divided into more than one hundred tribes, and come to offer tribute from time to time." It is later recorded that in 57, the southern Wa kingdom of Na sent an emissary named Taifu to pay tribute to Emperor Guangwu and received a golden seal. The seal itself was discovered in northern Kyūshū in the 18th century.[7] According to the Book of Wei, the most powerful kingdom on the archipelago in the third century was called Yamatai and was ruled by the legendary Queen Himiko.


The comments of both Yan Shigu (581–645) and Su Lin are included in the Palace Edition. The Hanshu Buzhu 漢書補注 by Wang Xianqian[8] (1842–1918) contains notes by a number commentators, including Wang himself. Hanshu Kuiguan 漢書管窺 by Yang Shuda[9] is a modern commentary.

See also



  1. Notable Women of China. M.E. Sharpe. ISBN 978-0765619297.
  2. Bary, Wm Theodore de; Bloom, Irene (1999). Sources of Chinese Tradition: From Earliest Times to 1600. Columbia University Press. ISBN 978-0231517980.
  3. Wilkinson (2012), pp. 711–712.
  4. Homer H. Dubs. (trans.) The History of the Former Han Dynasty. 3 vols. Baltimore: Waverly, 1938–55.
  5. Cullen, Christopher (2017). Foundations of Celestial Reckoning – Three Ancient Chinese Astronomical Systems. London and New York: Routledge. pp. 32–137.
  6. Amies, Alex (2020). Hanshu Volume 95 The Southwest Peoples, Two Yues, and Chaoxian: Translation with Commentary. Project Gutenberg Self Publishing Press. pp. 12–53. ISBN 978-0-9833348-7-3.
  7. "Gold Seal (Kin-in)". Fukuoka City Museum. Retrieved 2007-11-10.
  8. Wang, Xianqian (1900). Hanshu Buzhu 漢書補注. Changsha.
  9. Yang, Shuda (2007). Hanshu Kuiguan 漢書管窺 (Kindle ed.). Changsha: Hunan Education Publishing House.


Works cited
  • Wilkinson, Endymion (2012). ""Main Sources (2): Hanshu". Chinese History: A New Manual. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Asia Center. pp. 711–713. ISBN 9780674067158.

Further reading

  • Amies, Alex (2020). Hanshu Volume 95 The Southwest Peoples, Two Yues, and Chaoxian: Translation with Commentary. Gutenberg Self Publishing Press. ISBN 978-0-9833348-7-3.
  • Dorn'eich, Chris M. (2008). Chinese sources on the History of the Niusi-Wusi-Asi(oi)-Rishi(ka)-Arsi-Arshi-Ruzhi and their Kueishuang-Kushan Dynasty. Shiji 110/Hanshu 94A: The Xiongnu: Synopsis of Chinese original Text and several Western Translations with Extant Annotations. Berlin. To read or download go to:
  • Dubs, Homer H. (trans.) The History of the Former Han Dynasty. 3 vols. Baltimore: Waverly, 1938–55. Digitized text. (Digitized text does not retain volume or page numbers and alters Dubs' footnote numbering.) Glossary.
  • Honey, David B. "The Han shu Manuscript Evidence, and the Textual Criticism of the Shih-chi: The Case of the Hsiung-nu lieh-chuan," CLEAR 21 (1999), 67–97.
  • Hulsewe, A. F .P. "A Striking Discrepancy between the Shih chi and the Han shu." T'oung Pao 76.4–5 (1990): 322–23.
  • Hulsewé, A. F. P. (1993). ""Han shu 漢書"". In Loewe, Michael (ed.). Early Chinese Texts – A Bibliographical Guide. Berkeley, CA: Society for the Study of Early China & Institute of East Asian Studies, University of California Berkeley. pp. 129–136. ISBN 1-55729-043-1.
  • Hulsewé, A. F. P. and Loewe, M. A. N. China in Central Asia: The Early Stage 125 BC – AD 23: an annotated translation of chapters 61 and 96 of the History of the Former Han Dynasty. Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1979.
  • Knechtges, David R. (2010). "Han shu 漢書". In Knechtges, David R.; Chang, Taiping (eds.). Ancient and Early Medieval Chinese Literature: A Reference Guide, Part One. Leiden, South Holland: Brill. pp. 339–45. ISBN 978-90-04-19127-3.
  • Sargent, Cyde B., Tr. Wang Mang; A Translation of the Official Account of His Rise to Power as Given in the History of the Former Han Dynasty, with Introd. and Notes. Shanghai: Graphic Art Book Co., 1947.
  • Swann, Nancy Lee, tr. Food and Money in Ancient China: The Earliest Economic History of China to A.D. 25. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1950; rpt. New York: Octagon Books, 1974.
  • Stange, Hans O.H. "Die monographie über Wang Mang." Abhandlungen für die kunde des morgenlandes XXIII, 3, 1939.
  • Stange, Hans O.H. Leben und persünlichkeit und werk Wang Mangs. Berlin, 1914.
  • Tinios, Ellis. "Sure Guidance for One's Own Time: Pan Ku and the Tsan to Han-shu 94." Early China 9–10 (1983–85): 184–203.
  • Van der Sprenkel, O. B. Pan Piao, Pan Ku, and the Han History. Centre for Oriental Studies Occasional Paper, no. 3. Canberra: Australian National University, 1964.
  • Watson, Burton. 1974. Courtier and Commoner in Ancient China. Selections from the History of the Former Han. Columbia University Press, New York. (A translation of chapters 54, 63, 65, 67, 68, 71, 74, 78, 92, and 97).
  • Wilbur, C. Martin. Slavery in China during the Former Han Dynasty, 206 B.C.–A.D. 25. Publications of Field Museum of Natural History, Anthropological Series, 35. Chicago: Field Museum of Natural History, 1943. Reprint. New York: Russell & Russell, 1967. Selected translations from the Han shu.
  • Wu, Shuping, "Hanshu" ("Book of Han"). Encyclopedia of China (Chinese Literature Edition), 1st ed.
  • Yap, Joseph P. (2019). The Western Regions, Xiongnu and Han, from the Shiji, Hanshu and Hou Hanshu. ISBN 978-1792829154.
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