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The first universal history of China was the Shiji "Records of the Grand Scribe", written by Sima Tan (d. ca. 110 BC) and his son Sima Qian (145-86 BC), who both were court astrologers (taishi) during the Former Han Dynasty. The office of astrologer was very important to interprete and predict the course of government according to the stars and heavenly phenomena like sun eclipses, earthquakes, drought and so on.

Sima Qian completed the work of his father although he has been castrated for sympathizing with a general that had lost a battle. The pattern of his historiographic work was unique and should serve as model for the official standard histories of the imperial dynasties for the next two thousand years. The official histories of China are compilated to the corpus of Twenty-five Histories.
The first four official Chinese historiographies are called together the "Four Historiographies": The Shiji (reporting events from the Yellow Emperor to Emperor Han Wudi) by Sima Tan and Qian, the Hanshu (History of Former Han) by Ban Gu, the Hou Hanshu (History of Later Han) by Fan Ye, and the Sanguozhi (History of the Three Kingdoms) by Chen Shou.

Sima father and son used a biographical type of historiography instead of an annalistic type. They distinguish five types of chapters:
Benji--Imperial Biographies
Shijia--Biographies of the Feudal Houses and Eminent Persons
Liezhuan--Biographies and Collective Biographies

The three commentators of the Shiji are:
Jijie "Collected Explanations" by Pei Yin
Suoyin "Guiderope to Obscurities" by Sima Zhen
Zhengyi "Correct Meaning" by Zhang Shoujie

There are lots of translations of the Shiji into English, the most important being the Burton Watson translation.