The problem of authorship was long discussed among historians. Many believe that the book was not written by Li Zhi himself, but by Wu Congxian 吳從先 (died c. 1640, courtesy name Ningye 寧野, style Xiaochuang 小窗) who 'borrowed' the name of this famous and hotly debated philosopher to promote the sales numbers of the Shigang pingyao. Wu Congxian was the author of the collections Xiaochuang ziji 小窗自紀, Xiaochuang yanji 小窗艷紀, Xiaochuang qingji 小窗清紀, and Xiaochuang bieji 小窗别紀, which are all described in the imperial catalogue Siku quanshu zongmu tiyao 四庫全書總目提要.
The 36-juan long Shigang pingyao has the character of a universal history and was compiled as a potpourri of quotations from important historiographical sources. Li Zhi added to these pointed critique, often with sarcastic undertones, but very helpful to obtain an insight into the shortcomings even of popular history books. It is an extremely rich source treating not only the reigns of 450 kings and emperors, but also recording the activities of 700 chief ministers and mentioning as much as 6,500 persons.
The arrangement of the Shigang pingyao is that of a chronicle, yet interspersed with commentaries. The text is therefore divided into relevant historical events (shigang 史綱) and historical critique (shiping 史評). Each dynasty is treated in one chronicle (ji 紀). The critical part consists of very brief inserted parts (pi 批) and summarizing parts (ping 評). Li Zhi did not only comment on persons and historical events, but occasionally also wrote about the way of writing history. Quite interestingly, the commentaries tend to vernacular Chinese, which makes reading easier for persons of a common educational background.
Li Zhi, who is known as an enfant terrible in the philosophical realm, also criticizes the standpoints of Confucian advisors in history, particularly their constant praise of benevolent rulership which stands in blatant contrast to the political practice. Li Zhi particularly dispised Neo-Confucian thought.
In many ways he stood in opposition to common historiography. While the latter demonized the First Emperor of Qin 秦始皇帝 (r. 246-210 BCE), Li Zhi stressed that his rule and its successes must be seen objectively. He also praised Xiao He 蕭何, the advisor of Liu Bang 劉邦, the founder of the Han dynasty 漢 (206 BCE-220 CE), and criticized Jia Yi 賈誼 and Chao Cuo 晁錯 who had advocated the suppression of the imperial princes, exclusively promoted agriculture (in contrast to trade and commerce), and urged Emperor Wu 漢武帝 (r. 141-87 BCE) to attack the steppe federation of the Xiongnu 匈奴.
The Shigang pingyao was published in 1974 by the Zhonghua Book Company 中華書局, an edition that was reedited in 2008 by the same publisher.