15 Quotes From the ‘Twenty-Four Histories’ of China

The 'Ttwenty-Four Histories' in Chinese.'

'Twenty-Four Histories' is a collective title that refers to the standard histories of China’s dynasties up until the Ming (1368–1644); together, they form a comprehensive history covering thousands of years and presenting a galaxy of historical facts. (Image: via chiculture.org.hk)

Twenty-Four Histories, which is also known as the Standard Histories (zhengshi 正史), is a collection of Chinese official historical books that covers more than 2,000 years to the Ming Dynasty in the 17th century.

Sima Qian, who was a Han Dynasty official, established many of the conventions of the genre, but the form was not set until much later. It all started with the Tang Dynasty, and then each dynasty established an official office to write the history of its predecessor using only official court records. It was fixed and edited in the Qing Dynasty, with the whole set containing 3,213 volumes and about 40 million words.

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Sima_Qian
Sima Qian was a historian of the early Han Dynasty and is considered the father of Chinese historiography. (Image: via Public Domain)

The Twenty-Four Histories is considered to be the most important source of Chinese history and culture.

The title of the collection dates back to 1775, which was the 40th year in the reign of the Qianlong Emperor. This was when the last volume, the “History of Ming,” was re-worked, and then the complete set of the histories was produced.

Twenty-Four Histories was completed during the reign of the Qianlong Emperor.
The title of the collection dates back to 1775, which was the 40th year in the reign of the Qianlong Emperor. (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

Classic quotations from the ‘Twenty-Four Histories’

1. Money motivates the ordinary person, while a gentleman is motivated by justice. — Jin • Fu Teng Zhuan

2. Managing a country means providing trust and justice to people, rather than just food. — Song • Jiang Yi Zhuan

3. A wise man will make a mistake once in a while, and a foolish man can be right once in a while. — Historical Records • Huaiyin Hou Zhuan

4. When Heaven knows, Earth knows, I know, and you know, how can you say: “No one knows?” — Han • Yang Zhen Zhuan

5. If you stand by the pond and want the fish in it, you are better off going home to make a fishnet than to continue standing by the pond. — Han • Dong Zhongshu Zhuan

6. People who comply with moral principles will prosper; those who don’t comply will perish. — Han • Emperor Ji 

7. Agriculture supports all people in the state and is the foundation of the world. — Han • Emperor Ji

8. It is called a mistake when one does something wrong without repentance. — Han • Emperor Ji

9. A wise man can foresee danger before it comes into being; a wise man can see disaster before it happens. — Three Kingdom • Wei Shu • Zhong Hui Zhuan

10. One cannot be harmed by seeking to study, but can be harmed by avoiding it. — Three Kingdom • Wu Shu

11. Leave your offspring an honorable name as their inheritance, for it is a generous gift. — Southern History • Xu Main Zhuan

12. Officials of the state should be clean and uncorrupt. Do not let the temptation of money ruin your life. — Yuan Shi • Liu Bin Zhuan

13. If officials of the imperial court do not behave properly, how can you ask ordinary people to behave properly?— Jin Shi • Shi Zong

14. Smart people get rid of weaknesses and use their strengths to succeed.— Hou Han• Wang Fu Zhuan

15. Gentleman should cultivate their character from many aspects, but the most important ones are filial piety and sincerity. — Sui • Emperor Ji

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