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Sima Tan (traditional Chinese: 司馬談; simplified Chinese: 司马谈; pinyin: Sīmǎ Tán; Wade–Giles: Ssu-ma T'an, c. 165 BC – 110 BC) was a Chinese astrologer and historian during the Western Han Dynasty. He studied astronomy with Tang Du, the I Ching under Yang He, and Daoism under Master Huang. He held the position of Court Astrologer (太史令) between 140-110 BC. While Sima Tan had begun the Records of the Grand Historian (Shiji), he died before it was finished. It was left to his son, Sima Qian, to complete. The year of Sima Tan's death is the year of the great imperial sacrifice fengshan zh:封禅 by Han Wudi, for which the emperor appointed the fangshi, leaving Sima behind and thus probably causing him much frustration.

Sima Tan
Native name
Born165 BC
Longmen, Han Dynasty
(now Hejin, Shanxi)
Died110 BC (aged 55)
OccupationHistorian, astrologist
RelativesSima Qian (son)

An essay by him has survived within the Records of the Grand Historian. In this essay, Sima Tan speaks of six philosophical lineages or "schools" (家 jiā): Confucianism (儒家 Rú jiā), Daoism (道家 Dào jiā), Legalism (法家 Fǎ jiā), Mohism (墨家 Mò jiā), School of Names (名家 Míng jiā), and School of Naturalists (陰陽家/阴阳家 Yīnyáng jiā) – the central figure of this last "school" being Zou Yan. This organization of the philosophers of the past into six schools was somewhat original. As for his assessment of these schools, it is rather biased towards Daoism as Sima Tan was a follower of Huang-Lao, an early Han form of Daoism.

See alsoEdit


  • Sima Qian (1993), Records of the Grand Historian of China. Qin Dynasty. Translated by Burton Watson (Hong Kong: The Research Centre for Translation [The Chinese University of Hong Kong]; New York, Columbia University Press). ISBN 0-231-08168-5 (hbk); ISBN 0-231-08169-3 (pbk)
  • de Bary, W.T. & Bloom, I., Sources of Chinese Tradition, Volume One, 2nd ed. (New York, 1999).
  • Graham, A.C. The Disputers of the Tao. La Salle, IL: Open Court, 1989.