Ban Gu (AD 32-92), courtesy name Mengjian, was born in Anling, Fufeng county (now Xianyang, Shaanxi) in the Han Dynasty. He was an excellent historian and litterateur following Sima Qian.
His family was a prominent one. His father Ban Biao was a famous scholar and once head of Wangdu county. Smart and diligent in his childhood, Ban Gu was able to write articles and remember poems and fu at nine. When studying in the Imperial College (Taixue), he read extensively so he was familiar with almost all the academic schools, such as Confucianism, Taoism, Mohism and Legalism. As he was easygoing and modest, many scholars at that time admired him.
When his father died in AD 54, Ban Gu returned to his hometown for mourning. During this time, he was dissatisfied with the continuation of The Records of the Grand Historian that his father had written, so he decided to compose a new history book. He did not start writing the Book of Han until he worked for Dongping King Liu Cang.
Ban Gu devoted himself to the book for more than 20 years, but it was finally completed by his sister Ban Zhao and Ma Xu after his death.
While working on the formats of The Records of the Grand Historian, Bao Gu changed the name of Treatises from “Shu” to “Zhi” and merged Hereditary Families (Shijia) into Ranked Biographies (Liezhuan), so the book is made up of Annals (Benji, 12 volumes), Chronological tables (Biao, eight volumes), Treatises (10 volumes) and Biographies (Zhuan, 70 volumes).
In the first half, Ban Gu adopted nearly verbatim much of Sima Qian's material with a little addition and adaption, while the second half, based on his father’s work, tells the history of the six emperors Zhao, Xuan, Yuan, Cheng, Ai and Ping.
The book was the first in China in an annal-biographical form to cover dynastic history. It was the best source in later dynasties for academic and historic studies as the Treatises describe the institutions, economy and culture of the Han dynasty, especially its geography and literature with great influence. The Treatises on Geography elaborates on the territories, establishments, feudal hereditary and customs from the Xia, Shang and Zhou dynasties, and the Warring States period, to the Qin and Han periods. The Treatises on Literature is not only a book catalog but also a brief academic history, a crucial help for later study of ancient knowledge.
Ban Gu was serious and careful and respectful of historic facts when composing the book.
The large amount of poetry and proses in it is another important reason why it is loved by scholars of later generations, even though that style may dilute the narration.
Ban Gu was also a famous fu writer of the early Eastern Han Dynasty. His well-known piece, Liangdufu, uses elegant words to describe the gorgeous, magnificent capitals of Chang’an and Luoyang, while Youtongfu and Dabinxi are also of high literary value. Ban Gu created 41 other works in various literary forms.