Zizhi Tongjian

Comprehensive Mirror to Aid in Government (資治通鑑)

Draft of the Zizhi Tongjian

Section from one of the original scrolls of the Zizhi Tongjian
Author Sima Guang et al.
Country China
Language Classical Chinese
Subject History of China
Publication date
Media type Scrolls
Zizhi Tongjian

"Zizhi tongjian" in Traditional (top) and Simplified (bottom) Chinese characters
Traditional Chinese 資治通鑑
Simplified Chinese 资治通鉴
Literal meaning "Comprehensive Mirror in Aid of Governance"

The Zizhi Tongjian (Chinese: 資治通鑑; literally: "Comprehensive Mirror in Aid of Governance") is a pioneering reference work in Chinese historiography, published in 1084 , in the form of a chronicle. In 1065 AD, Emperor Yingzong of Song ordered the great historian Sima Guang (1019–1086 AD) to lead with other scholars such as his chief assistants Liu Shu, Liu Ban and Fan Zuyu,[1] the compilation of a universal history of China. The task took 19 years to be completed,[1] and, in 1084 AD, it was presented to his successor Emperor Shenzong of Song. The Zizhi Tongjian records Chinese history from 403 BC to 959 AD, covering 16 dynasties and spanning across almost 1,400 years,[1] and contains 294 volumes () and about 3 million Chinese characters.

The text

A section from one of the original scrolls of the Zizhi Tongjian

The principal text of the Zizhi Tongjian was recorded on 294 juan (Chinese: ), which are scrolls corresponding to a volume, chapter, or section of the work. The text is a chronological narrative of the history of China from the Warring States to the Five Dynasties. The major contributor, Sima Guang, was active in each step from collecting events and dates from various previous works to drafting and publication.

Sima Guang left the traditional usage in Chinese historiography. For almost 1,000 years since the Shiji was written, standard Chinese dynastic histories had primarily divided chapters between annals () of rulers, and biographies () of officials. In Chinese terms, the book changed the format of histories from biographical style (Chinese: 紀傳體) to chronological style (Chinese: 編年體), which is better suited for analysis, activism and criticism. According to Wilkinson: "It had an enormous influence on later Chinese historical writing, either directly or through its many abbreviations, continuations, and adaptations. It remains an extraordinarily useful first reference for a quick and reliable coverage of events at a particular time."[2]

The 294 juan sweep through 11 Chinese historical periods (Warring States, Qin, Western Han, Eastern Han, Three Kingdoms, Jin and the Sixteen Kingdoms, Southern and Northern Dynasties, Sui, Tang, and Five Dynasties). It was one of the largest historical magna opera in history.

Derivative and commented works

In the 12th century, Zhu Xi produced a reworked, condensed version of Zizhi Tongjian, known as Tongjian Gangmu, or Zizhi Tongjian Gangmu (通鑒綱目). This condensed version was itself later translated into Manchu as ᡨᡠᠩ
Wylie: Tung giyan g'ang mu, Möllendorff: Tung giyan g'ang mu, upon the request of Qing Dynasty Kangxi Emperor. This Manchu version was itself translated into French by French Jesuit missionary Joseph-Anna-Marie de Moyriac de Mailla. His twelve-volume translation, "Histoire générale de la Chine, ou Annales de cet Empire; traduit du Tong-kien-kang-mou par de Mailla" was published posthumously in Paris in 1777-1783.[3]

The Zhonghua Shuju edition contains textual criticism made by Yuan Dynasty historian Hu Sanxing.

The whole of Zizhi tongjian Volumes 1-8, covering the years 403-207 BCE, have been translated into English with copious notes and annotations.[4] Some additional sections of Zizhi tongjian pertaining to China's relations with the Xiongnu have been translated into English.[5]


The only surviving 8 volumes of the original manuscript are housed in the National Library of China Ancient Books Library, Beijing

The book consisted of 294 volumes, of which the following number describe each respective dynastic era:

  1. 5 volumes - Zhou (1046-256 BC)
  2. 3 volumes - Qin (221-207 BC)
  3. 60 volumes - Han (206 BC-220 AD)
  4. 10 volumes - Wei (220-265)
  5. 40 volumes - Jin (265-420)
  6. 16 volumes - Liu Song (420-479)
  7. 10 volumes - Qi (479-502)
  8. 22 volumes - Liang (502-557)
  9. 10 volumes - Chen (557-589)
  10. 8 volumes - Sui (589-618 AD)
  11. 81 volumes - Tang (618-907)
  12. 6 volumes - Later Liang (907-923)
  13. 8 volumes - Later Tang (923-936)
  14. 6 volumes - Later Jin (936-947)
  15. 4 volumes - Later Han (947-951)
  16. 5 volumes - Later Zhou (951-960)

See also


  1. 1 2 3 Xu Elina-Qian, p.20
  2. Wilkinson (2000:499)
  3. Chinese Literature: Tongjian gangmu 通鑑綱目 Archived October 11, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.
  4. Yap (2016)
  5. Yap (2009)
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