Zizhi Tongjian

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Comprehensive Mirror to Aid in Government
Draft of the Zizhi Tongjian
Section from one of the original scrolls of the Zizhi Tongjian
AuthorSima Guang et al.
LanguageClassical Chinese
SubjectHistory of China
Publication date
Media typeScrolls
Zizhi Tongjian
Traditional Chinese資治通鑑
Simplified Chinese资治通鉴
Literal meaning"Comprehensive Mirror in Aid of Governance"[1]

The Zizhi Tongjian (Chinese: 資治通鑑; lit. 'Comprehensive Mirror in Aid of Governance'[1]) is a pioneering reference work in Chinese historiography, published in 1084 AD during the Song dynasty 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,[2] the compilation of a universal history of China. The task took 19 years to complete,[2] 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 1400 years,[2] and contains 294 volumes () and about 3 million Chinese characters.

The text[edit]

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 (family name) 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 (紀傳體) to chronological style (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." [3]

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

Derivative and commented works[edit]

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
(Translteration: Tung giyan g'ang mu), upon the request of Qing Dynasty Kangxi Emperor. This Manchu version was itself translated into French by 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.[4]

The Zhonghua Shuju edition contains textual criticism made by Yuan Dynasty historian Hu Sanxing. The philosopher Wang Fuzhi also wrote a commentary on Tongjian, titled "Comments after reading the Tongjian" (讀通鑑論, "Du Tongjian Lun").

Historian Rafe de Crespigny has published translations of chapters 54-59 and 59-69 under the titles "Emperor Huan and Emperor Ling" and "To Establish Peace" (Australian National University), respectively, covering 157-220 CE, while the next ten chapters (70-79) covering up to 265 CE were previously translated by Achilles Fang in "The Chronicle of the Three Kingdoms" (Harvard University Press). Chapters 1-8, covering the years 403-207 BCE, have been translated into English with copious notes and annotations.[5] Some additional sections of Zizhi Tongjian pertaining to the Xiongnu people from Northern China have been translated into English.[6]


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

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

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

See also[edit]



  1. ^ a b The Chinese character “鉴” literally translates to “mirror” in English, thus the literal translation. But it is worth noting that what is actually meant by “鉴” here is “reflection”, as in the context “reflections on oneself, human destiny, etc.”, and in the case of this book, “Reflections on Governance”.[verification needed]
  2. ^ a b c Xu 2005, p. 20.
  3. ^ Wilkinson 2000, p. 499.
  4. ^ 通鑑綱目 [Chinese Literature: Tongjian gangmu]. Archived from the original on October 11, 2007.
  5. ^ Yap 2016.
  6. ^ Yap 2009.


  • Chen, Guangchong. "Zizhi Tongjian ("Comprehensive Mirror to Aid in Government")". Encyclopedia of China (1st Chinese History ed.).[permanent dead link]
  • Bo Yang. Modern Chinese Edition of Zizhi Tongjian. Taipei: Yuan-Liou Publishing Co. Ltd, vol. 1 ISBN 957-32-0795-8 to vol. 72 ISBN 957-32-1810-0.
  • De Crespigny, Rafe. (1973). "Universal Histories," in Essays on the Sources for Chinese History, Donald D. Leslie, Colin Mackerras, Wang Gungwu, eds., Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, pp. 64–70.
  • Ji Xiao-bin. (2003). "Mirror for Government: Ssu-ma Kuang's Thought on Politics and Government in Tzu-chih t'ung-chien," in The New and the Multiple, Thomas H.C. Lee, ed. Hong Kong: Chinese University Press, pp. 1–32.
  • Partington, James Riddick (1960). A History of Greek Fire and Gunpowder. Cambridge: W. Heffer & Sons Ltd.
  • Wilkinson, Endymion (2000). Chinese History: a manual (Revised and enlarged ed.). Cambridge: Harvard University Asia Center. ISBN 0-674-00249-0.
  • Xu, Elina-Qian (2005). "2.1 Introduction to the Sources on the Pre-dynastic Khitan". Historical development of the pre-dynastic Khitan (Doctoral dissertation). University of Helsinki, Faculty of Arts, Institute for Asian and African Studies.
  • Yap, Joseph P. (2009). Wars With The Xiongnu, A Translation from Zizhi tongjian. Bloomington, IN: AuthorHouse. ISBN 978-1-4490-0604-4..
  • Yap, Joseph P. (2016). Zizhi tongjian: Warring States and Qin by Sima Guang Volume 1 to 8 - 403-207 BCE. Translated by Yap, Joseph P. North Charleston, SC: CreateSpace. ISBN 978-1533086938. With annotations and translation of Yang Kuan's textual research on the Warring States.

External links[edit]