Ban Gu – Biography of Dongfang Shuo

One of many sources concerning the clever and outspoken Dongfang Shuo 東方朔 (c. 160 – c. 93 BCE), part courtier, part jester and, according to some more outlandish claims, a Daoist immortal.  Known among ordinary people for his dazzling wit and intricate riddles, he was also noted for being willing to speak out boldly when occasion demanded and he felt the mood of the emperor was right. 

There are several plays featuring him in his jesterish guise which we will feature in this bibliography separately. For now, he has his own dedicated biography in the Hanshu 漢書 (History of the Former Han), by Ban Gu 班固 (32-92), although he was not the first historian to mention him.   Sima Qian 司馬遷 (c. 145-86 BC) also included him in his ‘Biographies of Jesters’ in the Records of the Historian 史記 a few hundred years earlier. 

See also one of many depictions of Dongfang Shuo, this one by the Japanese artist Torei Hijikata 土方稲嶺 (1741-1807).

Quotation: `Dongfang Shuo zhuan' 東方朔傳, in Hanshu 漢書, by Ban Gu 班固 (32-92)
Quotation: `Dongfang Shuo zhuan' 東方朔傳, in Hanshu 漢書, by Ban Gu 班固 (32-92)


`Dongfang Shuo zhuan’ 東方朔傳, in Hanshu 漢書, by Ban Gu 班固(32-92), fol. 65, Ershisi Shiji 二十四史記, Zhang Shenshi 張沈石and Wu Shuping 吾樹平 (eds) (Beijing: Zhonghua Shuju, 1980), vol. VI, fol. 65, pp. 2841-76.

A digital version is available online at the Chinese Text Project. 

Translation: ‘The Biography of Tung-fang Shuo’ in Courtier and Commoner in Ancient China: Selections from the `History of the Former Han’ by Pan Ku [Ban Gu], trans. by Burton Watson (New York: Columbia University Press, 1974), pp. 79-106.

`Guji liezhuan’ 滑稽列傳 (‘Biographies of Jesters’), by Sima Qian 司馬遷 (c. 145-86 BC), in Shiji 史記, annot. Pei Yin 裴駰 (Shanghai: Zhonghua Shuju, 1963), vol. 10, fol. 126, pp. 3197-3214.



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