The Book of Han is a history of China finished in 111 CE, covering the Western, or Former Han dynasty from the first emperor in 206 BCE to the fall of Wang Mang in 23 CE.[1] 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 modelled their work on the Records of the Grand Historian (c. 91 BCE),[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. The Book of Han is also called the Book of the Former Han (前漢書; Qián Hàn shū) to distinguish it from the Book of the Later Han (後漢書; Hòu Hàn shū) which covers the Eastern Han period (25–220 CE), and was composed in the fifth century by Fan Ye (398–445 CE).[3]

Book of Han
Traditional Chinese漢書
Simplified Chinese汉书
Hanyu PinyinHàn shū



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.

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

Chronological tables


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

# Number Title (Chinese) Title (English)
013 Volume 13 異姓諸侯王表 Table of nobles not related to the imperial clan
014 Volume 14 諸侯王表 Table of nobles related to the imperial clan
015 Volume 15 王子侯表 Table of sons of nobles
016 Volume 16 高惠高后文功臣表 Table of meritorious officials during the reigns of (Emperors) Gao, Hui, Wen and Empress Gao
017 Volume 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
018 Volume 18 外戚恩澤侯表 Table of nobles from families of the imperial consorts
019 Volume 19 百官公卿表 Table of nobility ranks and government offices
020 Volume 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.

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

# Number Title (Chinese) Title (English)
031 Volume 31 陳勝項籍傳 Chen Sheng and Xiang Yu
032 Volume 32 張耳陳餘傳 Zhang Er and Chen Yu
033 Volume 33 魏豹田儋韓王信傳 Wei Bao, Tian Dan and Hán Xin (King of Han)
034 Volume 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)
035 Volume 35 荊燕吳傳 the Princes of Jing, Yan and Wu
036 Volume 36 楚元王傳 Prince Yuan of Chu – Liu Xiang and Liu Xin
037 Volume 37 季布欒布田叔傳 Ji Bu, Luan Bu and Tian Shu
038 Volume 38 高五王傳 the five sons of Emperor Gao
039 Volume 39 蕭何曹參傳 Xiao He and Cao Shen
040 Volume 40 張陳王周傳 Zhang, Chen, Wang and Zhou – Zhang Liang, Chen Ping, Wang Ling (王陵) and Zhou Bo
041 Volume 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)
042 Volume 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)
043 Volume 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)
044 Volume 44 淮南衡山濟北王傳 the kings of Huainan, Hengshan and Jibei
045 Volume 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)
046 Volume 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)
047 Volume 47 文三王傳 the three sons of Emperor Wen
048 Volume 48 賈誼傳 Jia Yi
049 Volume 49 爰盎晁錯傳 Yuan Ang and Chao Cuo
050 Volume 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)
051 Volume 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)
052 Volume 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)
053 Volume 53 景十三王傳 the thirteen sons of Emperor Jing
054 Volume 54 李廣蘇建傳 Li Guang and Su Jian
055 Volume 55 衛青霍去病傳 Wei Qing and Huo Qubing
056 Volume 56 董仲舒傳 Dong Zhongshu
057 Volume 57 (Part 1), Volume 57 (Part 2) 司馬相如傳 Sima Xiangru
058 Volume 58 公孫弘卜式兒寬傳 Gongsun Hong, Bu Shi and Er Kuan
059 Volume 59 張湯傳 Zhang Tang
060 Volume 60 杜周傳 Du Zhou
061 Volume 61 張騫李廣利傳 Zhang Qian and Li Guangli
062 Volume 62 司馬遷傳 Sima Qian
063 Volume 63 武五子傳 the five sons of Emperor Wu
064 Volume 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
065 Volume 65 東方朔傳 Dongfang Shuo
066 Volume 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)
067 Volume 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)
068 Volume 68 霍光金日磾傳 Huo Guang and Jin Midi
069 Volume 69 趙充國辛慶忌傳 Zhao Chongguo and Xin Qingji
070 Volume 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)
071 Volume 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)
072 Volume 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
073 Volume 73 韋賢傳 Wei Xian
074 Volume 74 魏相丙吉傳 Wei Xiang and Bing Ji
075 Volume 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)
076 Volume 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)
077 Volume 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)
078 Volume 78 蕭望之傳 Xiao Wangzhi
079 Volume 79 馮奉世傳 Feng Fengshi
080 Volume 80 宣元六王傳 the six sons of Emperors Xuan and Yuan
081 Volume 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)
082 Volume 82 王商史丹傅喜傳 Wang Shang, Shi Dan and Fu Xi
083 Volume 83 薛宣朱博傳 Xue Xuan and Zhu Bo
084 Volume 84 翟方進傳 Zhai Fangjin
085 Volume 85 谷永杜鄴傳 Gu Yong and Du Ye
086 Volume 86 何武王嘉師丹傳 He Wu, Wang Jia and Shi Dan
087 Volume 87 (Part 1), Volume 87 (Part 2) 揚雄傳 Yang Xiong
088 Volume 88 儒林傳 Confucian Scholars
089 Volume 89 循吏傳 Upright Officials
090 Volume 90 酷吏傳 Cruel Officials
091 Volume 91 貨殖傳 Usurers
092 Volume 92 游俠傳 Youxias
093 Volume 93 佞幸傳 Flatterers
094 Volume 94 (Part 1), Volume 94 (Part 2) 匈奴傳 Traditions of the Xiongnu
095 Volume 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
096 Volume 96 (Part 1), Volume 96 (Part 2) 西域傳 Traditions of the Western Regions
097 Volume 97 (Part 1), Volume 97 (Part 2) 外戚傳 the Empresses and Imperial Affines
098 Volume 98 元后傳 Wang Zhengjun
099 Volume 99 (Part 1), Volume 99 (Part 2), Volume 99 (Part 3) 王莽傳 Wang Mang
100 Volume 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 978-0-765-61929-7.
  2. ^ Bary, Wm. Theodore de; Bloom, Irene (1999). Sources of Chinese Tradition: From Earliest Times to 1600. Columbia University Press. ISBN 978-0-231-51798-0.
  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.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  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: [1]
  • 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.
  • Schaab-Hanke, Dorothee. Review of 'Politik und Geschichtsschreibung im alten China: Pan-ma i-t’ung 班馬異同' by Hans van Ess (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2014). T’oung Pao 102-1-3 (2016), pp. 225-235.
  • 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. Amazon Digital Services LLC - KDP Print US. ISBN 978-1792829154.