Xi Zuochi (after 316[1] – 384[2]), courtesy name Yanwei, was a Jin dynasty historian native to Xiangyang, Hubei. He is principally remembered for being the first historian to regard the Wei dynasty as an illegitimate successor to the Han dynasty.

Xi Zuochi
Traditional Chinese習鑿齒
Simplified Chinese习凿齿
Yanwei (courtesy name)
Traditional Chinese彥威
Simplified Chinese彦威


Born into a powerful family of local magnates, Xi Zuochi was ambitious and studious from a young age. Beginning his career as a clerk, Xi Zuochi came to the attention of Inspector of Jing Province Huan Wen through the repeated recommendations of Yuan Qiao (袁喬), magistrate of Jiangxia Commandery.[3] Huan Wen greatly esteemed Xi Zuochi, promoting him three times during the course of a single year,[4] such that Xi Zuochi held the position of Superintendent of Records in the central administration of Jing Province while he was still a young man, possibly not yet thirty years old.[5] Huan Wen would occasionally employ Xi Zuochi as an administrative aide whilst on campaign, and he excelled in all his duties whether in camp or in the office.[6]

Xi Zuochi's relationship with his employer became strained after a visit to the capital city, where he met Sima Yu, future Emperor Jianwen of Jin and political rival of Huan Wen. Xi Zuochi was apparently so taken with Sima Yu that Huan Wen felt it best to distance himself from Xi Zuochi, and demoted him to Grand Administrator of Hengyang, in the Xiang river basin far to the south, in present-day Hunan.[6][7][8][9] Xi Zuochi may have suffered a stroke at this time, contributing to his difficulty walking later in life.[10]

While in quasi-banishment in the deep south, Xi Zuochi composed his greatest work, The Annals of Han and Jin (漢晉春秋), in 54 fascicles. Intended as a corrective against Huan Wen's increasingly undeserved imperial ambitions, Xi Zuochi took the inventive and iconoclastic step of delegitimating the Wei dynasty, theorising that ritual abdication alone was not enough to establish a legitimate dynasty with a true mandate. He developed a disease of the feet which caused him to limp, quit his post, and went home to Xiangyang, collecting a local history gazette titled Records of the Elders of Xiangyang (襄陽耆舊記).[11]

Xiangyang at this time was a flourishing centre of Buddhism, due in no small part to the activity of Shi Dao'an,[12] whom Xi Zuochi greatly admired, advocated, and was friendly with. He introduced himself to Shi Dao'an via letter in 365, and the two met shortly thereafter.[13][14] In a separate letter to Xie An, one of the most powerful figures in the Jin court, Xi Zuochi effuses solemnly about Shi Dao'an's monastic mastery, and advocates that the two ought meet.[15][16] In 378, northern armies under Fu Jian besieged Xiangyang, and in 379 the city fell. Xi Zuochi and Shi Dao'an were taken to Fu Jian's capital at Chang'an.[17][18] Fu Jian was extremely pleased with his acquisition of two such eminent intellectuals, and rewarded them richly. However Xi Zuochi, citing illness, refused entry into Fu Jian's service and returned to Xiangyang.[18][19][20]

Jin forces recaptured Xiangyang in 383, and the court offered Xi Zuochi the job of compiling an official national history, but his death interrupted any progress he may have made on the project.[18]

The Annals of Han and JinEdit

In 220, Emperor Xian of Han formally abdicated the imperial throne to Cao Pi, who then became the founding emperor of the Wei dynasty. This succession reflected the political reality of Cao Wei control over the imperial court as well as the majority of economic and demographic resources in China, and satisfied propriety through the ritual abdication ceremony. Since the time of Chen Shou, who compiled his massive Records of the Three Kingdoms sometime in the 280s or 290s, historians had treated the Wei dynasty as the legitimate as well as de facto successors to the Han, in part because the ruling Jin dynasty partially derived its legitimacy through a smooth transfer of the mandate through Wei.[21] Xi Zuochi put forth an alternative judgment, stating that as Wei neither controlled the whole of China nor had imperial blood in its ruling house, it should be considered an illegitimate dynasty, no better than the Xin Dynasty of Wang Mang.[22] According to Xi Zuochi's biography in the Book of Jin, he formulated his theory of dynastic legitimation in the Annals of Han and Jin (漢晉春秋 Han Jin Chunqiu) in order to curb and correct his overambitious patron, Huan Wen.[18]

Even the work's title, naming the Han and Jin dynasties without mention of the intervening Wei, is indicative of its primary thrust. The annals began with Emperor Guangwu of Han, restorer of the dynasty and founding emperor of the Eastern (or Later) Han, and continued through to the time of Emperor Min of Jin, final emperor of the Western Jin (i.e. years CE 25–317).[18] Although his primary goal was to argue that ritual abdication was insufficient to achieve a legitimate mandate, Xi Zuochi's aims had the secondary effect of legitimating Liu Bei's Shu Han as the legitimate successor to the Han dynasty, which he displayed by employing the Shu Han calendar, going so far as to use dynastic founder Emperor Wu of Jin's taboo personal name in recording the events of Liu Shan's final regnal year.[23] Late in life, in his final memorial to the throne, Xi Zuochi laid bare his rationale and method behind delegitimating Wei while conducting the balancing act of considering the Jin dynasty still legitimate.[24]

Xi Zuochi's heterodox theory met with little acceptance during his lifetime or in the centuries immediately following his death. It was not until the Song dynasty when Ouyang Xiu and Sima Guang echoed his criteria for dynastic legitimacy that mainstream historiography embraced Xi Zuochi's thought.[25][26] Zhu Xi was extremely politically concerned with legitimating Shu Han, and arrived at the same conclusions as Xi Zuochi from a different basis and direction.[25] From that point on, according to the compilers of the Siku Quanshu, "there were none who did not reject Chen Shou [i.e. a legitimate Wei dynasty], accepting instead Xi Zuochi", although they emphasised that both men were products of their environments.[21][27]


Pei Songzhi cites Xi Zuochi repeatedly in his Annotations to Records of the Three Kingdoms, even preferring his account of certain events over historically closer records.[28] However, he also accuses Xi Zuochi of forging a letter from Wang Ling to his nephew Linghu Yu (令狐愚), basing his suspicions on the letter's style and language, as well as the fact that Xi Zuochi's work alone out of all his sources carried the text.[29] In a separate account, Pei Songzhi cites an episode from Xi Zuochi's Records of the Elders of Xiangyang, about Xiangyang native Dong Hui assisting Fei Yi in a difficult diplomatic encounter with Sun Quan, and subsequently being appointed to the chancellery staff of Zhuge Liang and made grand administrator of Ba commandery. Pei Songzhi goes on to note that Xi Zuochi's own Annals of Han and Jin disagrees with this episode, and that Dong Hui's rapid promotion is incompatible with Chen Shou's base text remarking that Dong Hui held only a minor appointment. Pei Songzhi chides Xi Zuochi as something of an incautious scholar because of these discrepancies.[30]


  • Uncles: Luo Chong (羅崇) and Luo You (羅友)[6]
  • Son: Xi Piqiang (習辟彊 or 辟強), Palace Retainer for the General of Cavalry[31]


  1. ^ Shishuo Xinyu 4§80 states Xi Zuochi held high rank in Huan Wen's provincial government before the age of thirty. Huan Wen became Inspector of Jing Province following the death of Yu Yi (庾翼) in 345, indicating a birth year after 316 for Xi Zuochi. Shishuo Xinyu is not a reliable historical text, but this is the closest we have to a record of Xi Zuochi's birth. See Mather, p 142.
  2. ^ Xi Zuochi's death has traditionally been dated to October or November 384, as recorded in the Tang-era Veritable Records of Jiankang, p 275. However, a single line of text in Xi Zuochi's Records of the Elders of Xiangyang records the death of Zhu Xu (朱序) in 393. The editors of the modern annotated version of this work treat the line as a later interpolation (see Shu Fen and Zhang Lingchun, p 407 n 4). By contrast, American Xi Zuochi expert Andrew Chittick adds at least nine years to Xi Zuochi's lifespan (see Chittick, p 41 n 39). Chittick's theory has gained some currency in English-language sinology, being adopted for example by J. Michael Farmer (p 55), who gives vital dates of ca. 318 – ca. 395. The traditional dating of 384 remains the standard for Chinese-language studies.
  3. ^ Book of Jin, 82.2152
  4. ^ Tan Daoluan (檀道鸞), 續晉陽秋 (Continuation of the Annals of Jin), 2§2, in Tang Qiu and Qiao Zhizhong, p 243
  5. ^ Shishuo Xinyu 4§80
  6. ^ a b c Book of Jin, 82.2153
  7. ^ Mather, pp 142–3
  8. ^ Chittick calls this episode "so patently self-serving a tale that it deserves little credence." (Chittick, p 40 n 36)
  9. ^ Many sources have Xingyang (滎陽) for Hengyang (衡陽) as the locale of Xi Zuochi's quasi-banishment, but this was politically impossible, as Xingyang was not only not under Huan Wen's jurisdiction, but in fact was not even controlled by the Jin dynasty until after Huan Wen's death. See Cheng Yanzhen's (程炎震) commentary to Shishuo Xinyu 4§80, p 217 n 2, and Wu Shijian's (吳士鑑) commentary to the Book of Jin, included in the same note.
  10. ^ Mather, 143
  11. ^ Despite its title, Records of the Elders of Xiangyang was not merely biographical, additionally containing records of natural topography and human habitation. See either of the modern publications of this work: Shu Fen and Zhang Linchuan (1986), or Huang Huixian (1987).
  12. ^ Zürcher, pp 187–97
  13. ^ Zürcher, p 190; also 72, 105, 315.
  14. ^ Yan Kejun, 134.1447–8
  15. ^ Zürcher, 189
  16. ^ Yan Kejun, 134.1446
  17. ^ Zürcher, 198
  18. ^ a b c d e Book of Jin, 82.2154
  19. ^ Zürcher, 201
  20. ^ Chittick, 47
  21. ^ a b Yong Rong, 45.17
  22. ^ Chittick, 41
  23. ^ Tang Qiu, 30. Liu Shan's final regnal period was Yanxing (炎興); Emperor Wu of Jin's personal name was Sima Yan (司馬炎).
  24. ^ Book of Jin, 82.2154–8; Tang Qiu 1–4; Tang Qiu and Qiao Zhizhong 3–5; Yan Kejun 134.1448–50.
  25. ^ a b Chittick, p 50
  26. ^ Sima Guang's monumental Zizhi Tongjian employed the Cao Wei calendar, but Sima Guang explicitly states that this was a matter of convenience rather than ideological acceptance of the legitimacy of Wei. Zizhi Tongjian, 69.2187–8
  27. ^ This section on the theoretical basis, goals, and legacy of the Annals of Han and Jin follows closely Andrew Chittick's full treatment of the subject (dynastic Legitimacy during the Eastern Chin: Hsi Tso-ch'ih and the Problem of Huan Wen), q.v.
  28. ^ See, for example, Records of the Three Kingdoms 4.144–5, on the assassination of Cao Mao.
  29. ^ Records of the Three Kingdoms 28.759 n 1
  30. ^ Records of the Three Kingdoms 39.986–7 n 1
  31. ^ Book of Jin, 82.2158


  • Chittick, Andrew (1998). "Dynastic Legitimacy during the Eastern Chin: Hsi Tso-ch'ih and the Problem of Huan Wen". Asia Major. 11 (1): 21–52.
  • Fang Xuanling; et al., eds. (1974) [648]. 晉書 [Book of Jin]. Beijing: Zhonghua Publishing.
  • Farmer, J. Michael (Jan–Mar 2001). "What's in a Name? On the Appellative "Shu" in Early Medieval Chinese Historiography". Journal of the American Oriental Society. 121 (1): 44–59. doi:10.2307/606728. JSTOR 606728.
  • Huang Huixian (黃惠賢), ed. (1987). 襄陽耆舊記校補 [Revised Records of the Elders of Xiangyang]. Zhengzhou: Zhongzhou Ancient Books Publishing.
  • Liu Yiqing (劉義慶) (2008) [440s]. Yu Jiaxi (余嘉錫); Zhou Zuhan (周祖漢); Yu Shuyi (余淑宜) (eds.). 世說新語箋疏 [Annotated New Account of the Tales of the World]. Beijing: Zhonghua Publishing. ISBN 9787101056471.
  • Mather, Richard B. (2002). Shih-shuo Hsin-yü: A New Account of Tales of the World, by Liu I-ch'ing, with commentary by Liu Chün. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
  • Pei Songzhi, ed. (1971) [429]. 三國志注 [Annotated Records of the Three Kingdoms]. Beijing: Zhonghua Publishing.
  • Shu Fen (舒焚); Zhang Linchuan (張林川), eds. (1986). 襄陽耆舊記校注 [Annotated Records of the Elders of Xiangyang]. Wuhan: Jing Chu Publishing House.
  • Sima Guang, ed. (1956) [1084]. 資治通鑑 [Zizhi Tongjian]. Beijing: Zhonghua Publishing.
  • Tang Qiu (湯球), ed. (1936) [1800s]. 漢晉春秋輯本 [Annals of Han and Jin, Edited]. Shanghai: Commercial Press.
  • Tang Qiu (湯球); Qiao Zhizhong (乔治忠), eds. (1989). 眾家編年體晉史 [Assembled Annalistic Histories of Jin]. Tianjin: Tianjin Ancient Books Press. ISBN 7-80504-096-6.
  • Xu Song (許嵩), ed. (1986) [700s]. 建康實錄 [Veritable Records of Jiankang]. Beijing: Zhonghua Publishing.
  • Yan Kejun (嚴可均), ed. (1999) [1834]. 全上古三代秦漢三國六朝文6册:全晉文 [Complete Collection of Literature from the Ancient Past through the Six Dynasties, vol 6: Complete Literature of Jin]. Beijing: Commercial Press. ISBN 7-100-02936-8.
  • Yong Rong (永瑢); et al., eds. (1931) [1782]. 四庫全書總目提要 [Summary of the Siku Quanshu's Contents]. Vol. 10. Shanghai: Commercial Press.
  • Zürcher, Erik (2007) [1959]. The Buddhist Conquest of China. Leiden: Brill. ISBN 978-90-04-15604-3.