Seishi (Official Histories) (正史)
The term "seishi" refers to the following:
In various countries in East Asia, seishi are history books officially compiled by the ruling dynasties of their respective countries. China's Twenty-four Dynastic Histories are a good example of this type of seishi. See below for a more detailed explanation.
"Seishi" can also refer to an "official history" in the sense of the orthodox view of history endorsed by a country's government, the version they promote abroad, or the government's stance on history taught in that country's schools.
The term "seishi" (particularly seishi that take the form of danseishi, or dynastic histories, which will be discussed further below) might at first glance be thought to be merely an abbreviation for "true history" as the two characters used are "sei" ("correct, true") and "shi" ("history"), but in fact seishi may include sections where events did not actually occur as described. This is because seishi are often written by people in service to the dynasty of the time, and after earlier dynasties have come to an end, so there is a tendency to exaggerate the evils of the rulers of the preceding dynasty beyond what is attested in historical records. Moreover, in compiling seishi the most common sources are the records left by the chroniclers of the preceding dynasty, and it is likely that these records were edited as they were often written in order to excise anything that reflected poorly on the dynasty and can exaggerate the dynasty's good points. The term "seishi" or "official history", then, refers simply to "those history books that are endorsed by the ruling dynasty as legitimate", so even when it is possible to describe them as highly reliable historical sources, that does not change the fact that they must still be subjected to a rigorous evalation of their historicity in accordance with established historiographical techniques.
Japan's official histories
In Japan, the first recorded history works were the "Teiki" (Imperial Records) and "Kyuji" (Ancient Dicta), both compiled in the first half of the seventh century. Thereafter, the proliferation of the kanbun (literary Chinese) writing system also introduced the standard format of the official history from China, leading to the creation of the "Nihon shoki" (Chronicles of Japan) in the first half of the eighth century. From that point onward, official histories were written in chronological order, but beginning with Shoku Nihongi (Chronicles of Japan, Continued), a unique new style emerged in which the history, although at its fundamental level still written chronologically, also included accounts of the deaths of famous people as well as simple biographies; this style was termed "Kokushitai" (Japanese-style chronological history). The histories written in this style are called "Rikkokushi" (The Six National Histories of Japan), ending with the sixth, the Nihon Sandai Jitsuroku (Veritable Records of Three Reigns of Japan), which was compiled in 901 (and recorded the events of 858 to 887); after this point, despite working on the compilation of historical records, the Imperial Court was no longer able to bring such histories to completion. An example of one such work permanently left unfinished is the "Shin Kokushi" (New National History), fragments of the manuscript of which are still extant. Even after the Meiji Restoration, the new Meiji government proceeded to launch history compilation projects, planning to create a chronological history of Greater Japan, but this effort petered to a halt because of opposition to the objectives of the plan and due to the "slip of the pen" incident involving Kunitake KUME, who was central to the compilation effort; in place of the proposed chronological history, Dainippon Shiryo (Historical Materials of Greater Japan) was compiled instead.
Rikkokushi (The Six National Histories of Japan):
Nihon Shoki (Chronicles of Japan)
Shoku Nihongi (Chronicles of Japan, Continued)
Nihon Koki (Later Chronicles of Japan)
Shoku Nihon Koki (Later Chronicles of Japan, Continued)
The Nihon Montoku Tenno jitsuroku (Veritable Records of Emperor Montoku of Japan)
Nihon Sandai Jitsuroku (Veritable Records of Three Reigns in Japan)
Shinkokushi (Shoku Sandai Jitsuroku) (The New National Histories: Veritable Records of Three Reigns, Continued)
Other important works of Japanese history not considered official histories:
The Kojiki (Records of Ancient Matters)
- A work of history which claims in the preface to have preceded "Nihon Shoki" in date of composition.
Honcho Tsugan (Complete Mirror of Japan)
- A chronological history sponsored by the Edo shogunate and compiled by the Hayashi family.
The Dainihonshi (History of Greater Japan)
- A history written in the form of annals and biographies and compiled in Mito domain.
Dainihon Shiryo (Historical Materials of Greater Japan)
- Representing a collection of historical materials dating from the era of the Six National Histories, it was (and is) in the process of compilation for many years by the Office of Historiography in the Faculty of Letters at Tokyo Imperial University (today's Historiographical Institute at the University of Tokyo).
The official histories of China
In China, chronological histories like the "Spring and Autumn Annals" previously thought to be the work of Confucius have long been standard, but beginning with Qian SIMA's "Shiji" (The Historical Records), histories written in biographical annal format began to flourish. With Gu BAN's "Hanshu" (The Book of Han), a history book about the former Han dynasty that was a successor to the Shiji, histories written in biographical annal format that also demarcated historical eras by dynastic change (what are called "dynastic histories") grew in popularity. At first, the biographical annal histories written in those days, beginning with the "Shiji" and the "Hanshu", and including such works as the "Annals of the Three Kingdoms" (the historical work, not the romance) by Western Jin historian Shou CHEN, the "Hou Hanshu" (Later Book of Han) by Southern Liu Song historian Ye FAN, and the "Songshu" (Book of Song) by the Southern Liang historian Yue SHEN, were all compiled privately, as personal efforts.
But beginning in the era of the Tang dynasty, the task of compiling histories became an affair of the state; the Tang state proceeded to compile several histories one after another, including the "Book of Jin", the "Book of Liang", the "Book of Zhou", and the "Book of Sui", and pairing these new histories with a selection of histories in biographical annal format that had already been written such as the Shiji, the Book of Han, and the Annals of the Three Kingdoms, declared the combined set the official histories. Since all of these histories were compiled and edited by the Tang, whose pedigree descended from the Northern Court, the works are said to display a tendency towards treating the various Northern Court dynasties as more legitimate than the Southern Court, who were the actual successors to the Jin dynasty. Therefore, beginning in the Tang and continuing thereafter, the official histories became a tool to display the legitimacy of the current dynasty's rule, so before long, whenever a new dynasty arose it would act to compile an official history of the dynasty that had just collapsed. As a result, the first priority of such histories shifted away from accuracy and towards political calculations, and as such their value as historical sources suffered significant damage.
Standard techniques for compiling an official history were also established under the Tang dynasty. The chroniclers serving the emperor at court would store up those of the 'collected sayings' of the emperor that touched on matters of critical importance to the emperor or the state, and then for each generation, after the emperor passed away, they would compile and edit a 'veritable record', which contained his collected sayings. The general process, then, was when a dynasty crumbled, to compile an official history based on the 'veritable record' of each emperor of the preceding dynasty; this task was one of the affairs of state for the dynasty legitimately succeeding them. Consequently, it is the veritable records (provided they remain extant after the compilation of the official history), not the official histories themselves, that have the higher value as historical sources. For example, more historical detail survives in 'Ming Veritable Records' than 'The History of the Ming', the official history based on those records.
During the Qing period, twenty-four books were again selected as official histories and began to be referred to simply as 'the twenty-four histories', so in general the term "official histories of China" is taken to be referring to these twenty-four books. The terms 'the twenty-five histories' or 'the twenty-six histories' referring to the regular twenty-four plus the PRC-era compilations "The New History of the Yuan" and/or the "Draft History of the Qing", are also sometimes used. Additionally, the Republic of China government in Taiwan has produced an official history entitled "History of the Qing" (in fact it is a revised version of the PRC's "Draft History of the Qing"), but the PRC government refuses to acknowledge this work. The PRC is in the process of compiling their own unique, stand-alone history of the Qing dynasty, and are aiming to complete it by 2013.
Other important Chinese historical works not considered official histories:
Zizhi Tongjian (Comprehensive Mirror for Aid in Government)
- It was compiled by the Northern Song historian Guang SIMA. This history book is a chronological compilation of the history of the Five Dynasties.
Shiba Shilue (Eighteen Abbreviated Histories of Ancient China)
- Compiled by Xianji ZHEN of the Yuan (dynasty). It provides a simple chronological summary of historical events up to the downfall of the Southern Song dynasty.
Official histories of Korea
In Korea, the first official history was the biographical annal "Samguk Sagi" ("History of the Three Kingdoms", completed in 1145), which was created by Busik KIM of the Goryeo dynasty and covered the history of the three kingdoms of Goguryeo, Baekje, and Silla; it is also Korea's oldest extant history book of any kind. After the Goryeo dynasty gave way to the Joseon dynasty founded by Seong-gye YI, the new dynasty studied China's compilation methods for official histories and then produced the biographical annal "History of Goryeo". The most noteworthy characteristic of "The History of Goryeo" is that the history of the Goryeo kings is written as a 'history of a lordly family', invoking feudal terminology and a vassal connotation, rather than as an 'imperial chronicle' which would claim Son of Heaven (i.e. Imperial) status for them. This is because only the histories of Chinese emperors could be termed 'imperial chronicles', and it indicates that the kings of Goryeo-era Korea were vassals of the Chinese emperor. Quite separate from this work a chronological history entitled "The Essential History of Goryeo" was also created. During the era of the Joseon dynasty, which lasted until the beginning of the twentieth century, the chronological accounts (veritable records) of each king's reign continued to be compiled into what is called the "Veritable Records of the Joseon Dynasty", but no official history in the biographical annal format was ever created for the Joseon dynasty.
Other important Korean historical works not considered official histories:
An Anecdotal History of the Three Kingdoms of Ancient Korea
- It was compiled by the Goryeo-era monk Iyreon (1209-1289). This history, like Samguk Sagi (History of the Three Kingdoms), chronicles the events of the Three Kingdoms period of Korea.
Official histories of the Ryukyu kingdom:
Chuzan Sekan (Mirror of the Ages of Chuzan)