CHINAKNOWLEDGE - a universal guide for China studies | HOME | About
Encoding: Unicode (UTF-8) [Location: HOME > Literature > Historiographical category > Annals and chronicles > Zizhi tongjian]

Chinese Literature
Zizhi tongjian 資治通鑒 "Comprehensive Mirror to Aid in Government"

The Zizhi tongjian 資治通鑒 "Comprehensive mirror to aid in government" is one of the most important traditional histories of China. In respect of influence it is only second to the first universal history of China, the Shiji 史記, or even surpasses the latter. The Zizhi tongjian was written by the Northern Song period 北宋 (960-1126) writer and politician Sima Guang 司馬光. The Zizhi tongjian consists of 294 juan "scrolls" plus 30 juan of register (mulu 目錄) and a text-critical apparatus (kaoyi 考異) of 30 juan. It covers the time period between the reign of King Weilie 周威烈王 (r. 425-402 BCE) of the Eastern Zhou dynasty 東周 (770-221 BCE) and the reign of Emperor Shizong 後周世宗 (r. 954-959) of the Later Zhou 後周 (951-960), or the years 403 BCE to 959 CE.
Sima Guang had always been interested in history but was repelled by the bad structure of traditional historiography which made an access to events and their circumstances very cubersome, especially in the official dynastic histories that are written in a biographic-thematic style (jizhuanti 紀傳體). He therefore decided to write history by himself. His first work was a draft called Tongzhi 通志 "Comprehensive records" in 8 juan, covering the Warring States period 戰國 (5th cent.-221 BCE)and the short-lived Qin dynasty 秦 (221-206 BC). He submitted this book to Emperor Yingzong 宋英宗 (r. 1063-1067) in 1066 who immediately appreciated it and ordered to continue the work. Emperor Shenzong 宋神宗 (r. 1067-1085) granted the book the title of Zizhi tongjian, wrote a preface to it and had it included in the Institute for the Veneration of Literature 崇文院 of the Imperial Archives. In 1084 the whole book was completed.
Although Sima Guang is often called the sole author of the book he had only written part of it. The rest was compiled by a team of historians under his supervision. The most important members of the team were Liu Shu 劉恕, Liu Ban 劉攽 and Fan Zuyu 范祖禹. Liu Shu was a historian of wide knowledge who constructed the theoretical background of the Zizhi tongjian. Liu Ban was an expert on the history of the Han period, Fan Zuyu on that of the Tang period 唐 (618-907).
The composition of the Zizhi tongjian was made in three steps. In the first step the compilers collected all available source material from all ages, put together accounts on specific events and arranged the material chronologically. The result was the so-called congmu 叢目 "clustered overview". The second step was to screen the material, to eredicate redundancies, to select the most detailed passages, and to clear contradictions. The result was the changbian 長編 "long version". This version was again, in a third step done by Sima Guang himself, abbreviated and refined.
The compilers of the Zizhi tongjian used a vast amount of material, not only the official dynastic histories and miscellaneous histories, but, especially for the Tang period, a lot of official and private sources of all kinds: veritable records (shilu 實錄), family registers (jiapu 家譜, pudie 譜牒), family biographies, condolences and essays. The text-critical apparatus is of great help to reconstruct wordings in primary sources.
The great advantage of the Zizhi tongjian over the official dynastic histories is that it is arranged chronologically. While the latter are following a biographic-thematic pattern of historiography (jizhuanti 紀傳體) in which specific historical events are to be found in many different chapters, namely the biographies of the persons involved, the Zizhi tongjian follows a chronological pattern (biannianti 編年體), coupled with a short introduction and summary to each important event. This makes is very easy for the reader to follow the course of events and to understand how things in history developed. Inspite of this great advantage the Zizhi tongjian is still a traditional history which lays most stress on political events, not on the history of culture, economy, literature, and so on. It is also influenced by Confucian thinking of righteous rule and usurpatious rule and is therefore biased towards persons thought to be not backed by a right to rule. Sima Guang gives his own comments to history, in paragraphs introduced by the words chen Guang yue 臣光曰 "servant Guang says". His book served in first line as a textbook on governance and should be read by princes and emperors as a guideline how to rule and what not to do as a ruler. Sima Guang was an excellent author whose literary talent is seen in the Zizhi tongjian. It is one of the most-read traditional histories of China.
A textual revision was undertaken after the submission to the throne, and in 1086 the Zizhi tongjian was printed in Hangzhou 杭州, Zhejiang. The print is lost, and from a print from 1132 only fragments exist. During the Qing period 清 (1644-1911) Hu Kejia 胡克家 reprinted a Yuan period 元 (1279-1368) version, which served also as the base for the modern reprint by the Zhonghua shuju press 中華書局 in 1956.
The most important commentary to the Zizhi tongjian is Hu Sanxing's 胡三省 Tongjian yinzhu 通鑒音注. Less important - but helpful - commentaries are Shi Zhao's 史炤 Tongjian shiwen 通鑒釋文 from the Southern Song period 南宋 (1127-1279), Wang Yinglin's 王應麟 Tongjian dili tongshi 通鑒地理通釋 and Yan Yan's 嚴衍 Zizhi tongjian bu 資治通鑒補.
The late Ming period 明 (1368-1644) historian Chen Renxi 陳仁錫 has compiled a collectaneum including the main text of the Zizhi tongjian as well as other, supplmentary books written by Sima Guang and later scholars. This is the Zizhi tongjian daquan 資治通鑒大全, printed in 1629:

資治通鑒大全 Zizhi tongjian daquan
(Ming) 陳仁錫 Chen Renxi (comp.)
書名, length in juan Title Author(s)
資治通鑒釋例圖譜 一卷 Zizhi tongjian shili tupu (Song) 司馬光 Sima Guang
資治通鑒問疑 一卷 Zizhi tongjian wenyi (Song) 劉羲仲 Liu Xizhong
資治通鑒目錄 三十卷 Zizhi tongjian mulu (Song) 司馬光 Sima Guang
資治通鑒 二百九十四卷 Zizhi tongjian (Song) 司馬光 Sima Guang; (Yuan) 胡三省 Hu Sanxing (comm.)
甲子會紀 五卷 Jiazi huiji (Ming) 薛應旂 Xue Yingqi
通鑒前編 十八卷
舉要 二卷
首 一卷
Tongjian qianbian
(Song) 金履祥 Jin Lüxiang
通鑒釋文辯誤 十二卷 Tongjian shiwen biancuo (Song) 胡三省 Hu Sanxing
宋元資治通鑒 六十四卷 Song-Yuan zizhi tongjian (Ming) 王宗沐 Wang Zongmu
Shanghai tushuguan 上海圖書館 (ed. 1982), Zhongguo congshu zonglu 中國叢書綜錄, vol 1, p. 638. Shanghai: Shanghai guji chubanshe.

During the Guangxu reign 光緒 (1875-1908) the Suzhou press 蘇州書局 published the collectaneum Zizhi tongjian huike 資治通鑒彙刻 that includes the most important additions and supplements to the Zizhi tongjian:

資治通鑒彙刻 Zizhi tongjian huike
(Qing) 蘇州書局 Suzhou Printing House (comp.)
書名, length in juan Title Author(s)
資治通鑒 二百九十四卷 Zizhi tongjian (Song) 司馬光 Sima Guang,
comm. by (Yuan) 胡三省 Hu Sanxing
通鑒釋文辨誤 十二卷 Tongjian shiwen bianwu (Yuan) 胡三省 Hu Sanxing
資治通鑒目錄 三十卷 Zizhi tongjian mulu (Song) 司馬光 Sima Guang
稽古錄 二十卷
(附)校勘記 一卷
(Song) 司馬光 Sima Guang
通鑒宋本校勘記 五卷 Tongjian Songben jiaokanji (Qing) 張瑛 Zhang Ying
通鑒元本校勘記 二卷 Tongjian Yuanben jiaokanji (Qing) 張瑛 Zhang Ying
通鑒外紀 十卷
(附)目錄 五卷
Tongjian waiji
(Song) 劉恕 Liu Shu; (Qing) 胡克家 Hu Kejia (comm., suppl.)
續資治通鑒 二百二十卷 Xu zizhi tongjian (Qing) 畢沅 Bi Yuan
明通鑒 九十卷
(附)目錄 二十卷
(附)前編 四卷
(附)附編 六卷
Ming tongjian
(Qing) 陳鶴 Chen He; (Qing) 陳克家 Chen Kejia, 夏燮 Xia Xie (suppl.)
Shanghai tushuguan 上海圖書館 (ed. 1982), Zhongguo congshu zonglu 中國叢書綜錄, vol 1, pp. 638-639. Shanghai: Shanghai guji chubanshe.

A similar collectaneum, the Zizhi tongjian quanshu 資治通鑒全書, has been published by Hu Yuanchang 胡元常 in 1888, printed in Changsha 長沙, Hunan, by Yang Dewu 楊德吾:

資治通鑒全書 Zizhi tongjian quanshu
(Qing) 胡元常 Hu Yuanchang (comp.)
書名, length in juan Title Author(s)
新校資治通鑒敍錄 三卷 Xinjiao zizhi tongjian xulu (Qing) 胡元常 Hu Yuanchang
資治通鑒 二百九十四卷 Zizhi tongjian (Song) 司馬光 Sima Guang; (Yuan) 胡三省 Hu Sanxing (comm.)
資治通鑒目錄 三十卷 Zizhi tongjian mulu (Song) 司馬光 Sima Guang
資治通鑒考異 三十卷 Zizhi tongjian kaoyi (Song) 司馬光 Sima Guang
資治通鑒釋例 一卷 Zizhi tongjian shili (Song) 司馬光 Sima Guang
資治通鑒問疑 一卷 Zizhi tongjian wenyi (Song) 劉羲仲 Liu Xizhong
資治通鑒釋文 三十卷 Zizhi tongjian shiwen (Song) 史炤 Shi Zhao
資治通鑒釋文辨誤 十二卷 Zizhi tongjian shiwen bianwu (Yuan) 胡三省 Hu Sanxing
Shanghai tushuguan 上海圖書館 (ed. 1982), Zhongguo congshu zonglu 中國叢書綜錄, vol 1, p. 639. Shanghai: Shanghai guji chubanshe.

The style of the Zizhi tongjian became so popular that historians started writing similar chronicles for a lot of other periods of history.
  • Zizhi tongjian bu 資治通鑒補 by Yan Yan 嚴衍 (1575-1645), same period as the Zizhi tongjian
  • Zizhi tongjian waiji 資治銅鑒外記 by Liu Shu 劉恕 (1032-1078), from mythological times to the end of the Spring and Autumn period 春秋 (770-5th cent. BCE)
  • Xu zizhi tongjian changbian 續資治通鑒長編 by Li Tao 李燾 (1115-1184), Northern Song: 960-1126
  • Jianyan yilai xinian yaolu 建炎以來繫年要錄 and Jianyan yilai chaoye zaji 建炎以來朝野雜記 by Li Xinzhuan 李心傳 (1166-1243), from 1127 on (Southern Song)
  • Xu Song biannian zizhi tongjian 續宋編年資治通鑒 by Li Shiju 劉時舉 (Southern Song), from 1127 to 1224
  • Zizhi tongjian qianbian 資治通鑒前編 by Jin Lüxiang 金履祥 (1242-1303), from mythological times to the end of the Spring and Autumn period
  • Zizhi tongjian xubian 資治通鑒續編 by Chen Cheng 陳檉 (Cheng Jing 陳桱), creation of the world and early Song
  • Song-Yuan zizhi tongjian 宋元資治通鑒 by Wang Zongmu 王宗沐 (16th cent.), and one by Xue Yingqi 薛應旂, Song and Yuan Dynasties
  • Zizhi tongjian houbian 資治通鑒後編 by Xu Qianxue 徐乾學 (Qing Dynasty), Song and Yuan Dynasties, lost
  • Xu zizhi tongjian 續資治通鑒 by Bi Yuan 畢沅 (1729-1797), Song and Yuan Dynasties
  • Mingji 明紀 by Chen He 陳鶴 (early 19th cent.) and Chen Kejia 陳克家 (fl. 1850), Ming dynasty
  • Ming tongjian 明通鑒 by Xia Xie 夏燮 (late 19th cent.), Ming dynasty
  • Xu tongjian changbian shibu 續通鑒長編拾補 by Qin Xiangye 秦湘業 or Huang Yizhou 黃以周 (late 19th cent.), additional notes

Source: Chen Guangchong 陳光崇 (1992). "Zizhi tongjian 資治通鑒", in: Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, Zhongguo lishi 中國歷史, vol. 3, pp. 1618-1619. Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe.

1.-5. 周紀 Zhou 1-5
6.-8. 秦紀 Qin 1-3
9.-68. 漢紀 Han 1-60
69.-78. 魏紀 Wei 1-10
79.-118. 晉紀 Jin 1-40
119.-134. 宋紀 Liu-Song 1-16
135.-144. 齊紀 Qi 1-10
145.-166. 梁紀 Liang 1-21
167.-176. 陳紀 Chen 1-10
177.-184. 隋紀 Sui 1-7
185.-265. 唐紀 Tang 1-81
266.-271. 後梁紀 Later Liang 1-6
272.-279. 後唐紀 Later Tang 1-8
280.-285. 後晉紀 Later Jin 1-6
286.-289. 後漢紀 Later Han 1-4
290.-294. 後周紀 Later Zhou 1-5
Chinese literature according to the four-category system

3 July, 2010 © Ulrich Theobald · Mail