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Comprehensive Mirror to Aid in Government 资治通鉴 – Top 100 Books in China

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The most accomplished chronicle in Chinese history


Chinese Name: 资治通鉴

English Name: Zizhi Tongjian, Comprehensive Mirror to Aid in Government

Other Name: Tong Jian 通鉴

Author: Sima Guang 司马光

Originally Published: 1084 A.D (Northern Song Dynasty)

Genre: History

Comprehensive Mirror to Aid in Government资治通鉴
Comprehensive Mirror to Aid in Government资治通鉴

Brief Introduction of Comprehensive Mirror to Aid in Government

Zizhi Tongjian资治通鉴( Comprehensive Mirror to Aid in Government ) is a multi volume chronological history book edited by Sima Guang, a historian of the Northern Song Dynasty, with a total of 294 volumes, which took 19 years to complete. It is mainly based on time and events. It has been written from 403 BC to 959 ad, covering the history of 1362 years of 16 dynasties.

In this book, the editor summed up many experiences and lessons for the rulers to learn from. Song Shenzong believed that this book “鉴于往事,有资于治道”, that is, it takes the gains and losses of history as a warning to strengthen its rule, so it was named “资治通鉴”。

Zizhi Tongjian 资治通鉴

The Comprehensive Mirror to Aid in Government has 294 volumes, about 3 million Chinese words.


The content of Zizhi Tongjian focuses on political, military and ethnic relations, as well as the evaluation of economic, cultural and historical figures. The purpose is to warn future generations by describing the ruling class policies related to the rise and fall of the country and the rise and fall of the nation.

This book narrates historical events successively according to time, often using the techniques of retrospection and final words to explain the causes and consequences of historical events, which is easy to make people get a systematic and clear impression.

Sima Guang wrote Zizhi Tongjian in order to consolidate the feudal regime at that time, which determines that the content of this book is mainly political history. Therefore, when compiling Zizhi Tongjian, it inherited its predecessors and developed at the same time.

In addition to politics, Zizhi Tongjian has records in culture, science and technology, economy, military and other aspects.


In terms of culture, as far as academic thought is concerned, the representatives and academic opinions of Confucianism, Legalism and yin-yang school in the pre-Qin period have been recorded. It also describes the origin and development of Buddhism and Taoism, as well as the struggle between Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism. The famous Bachelor of Arts and his works are also recorded.

In terms of science and technology, the most recorded is the calendar of previous dynasties. Others such as astronomy, geography, civil architecture (such as the Great Wall in the Qin Dynasty, Chang’an City and Luoyang City in the Sui and Tang Dynasties), and water conservancy projects (the Grand Canal in the Sui Dynasty) are also described.

Zizhi Tongjian also paid attention to the records of economy, because land taxes and taxes were the primary problems of feudal economy. Therefore, it has recorded the reform of Shang Yang, the rule of Wen Jingzhi and the equal field system of Emperor Xiaowen of the Northern Wei Dynasty.

For military records, Zizhi Tongjian is also very prominent, and the description of the war is also very vivid. All major campaigns have detailed records of the causes of the war, the analysis of the war situation, the process of the war and its impact. Such as the battle of Chibi and the battle of Feishui are outstanding examples.


Author of Zizhi Tongjian

Sima Guang司马光 (November 17, 1019 ~ October 11, 1086) was born in Sushui Township, Xia County, Shaanxi Province (now Xia County, Shanxi Province). Statesman, historian and writer of the Northern Song Dynasty.

Sima Guang司马光
Sima Guang司马光

At the age of six, his father Sima Chi司马池 taught Sima Guang to read. At the age of seven, he could not only recite Zuo’s Spring and Autumn左氏春秋, but also understand the main meaning of the book; And made the allusion of “smashing the jar to save friend司马光砸缸救友“, which shocked the capital.

Sima Guang’s erudition comes from many aspects. On the one hand, he is studious and knowledgeable, on the other hand, his father is also interested in training. He is honest and clever, and very clever and sensible. He is deeply loved by his father. At the same time, whenever he travels or talks with his colleagues and close friends, Sima Chi always takes him with him. As a result, Sima Guang was “凛然如成人as awe inspiring as an adult” in both knowledge and insight. Many ministers and celebrities at that time appreciated Sima Guang very much.


Sima Guang wrote a lot. In addition to Zizhi Tongjian, there are 《通鉴举要历》、《稽古录》、《本朝百官公卿表》.

In addition, he has studied and written in literature, Confucian classics, philosophy and even medicine. His main representative works include 《翰林诗草》、《注古文学经》、《易说》、《注太玄经》、《注扬子》、《书仪》、《游山行记》、《续诗治》、《医问》、《涑水纪闻》、《类篇》、《司马文正公集》.



Excerpts From Comprehensive Mirror to Aid in Government


Seeing the Yellow Finch, he wanted to catch it, but forgot that there was a trap in front of him; Smart people don’t do such things.


When the family is poor, they want to have a virtuous wife who can manage the housework. When the country is in turmoil, we want a prime minister who can govern the country.


It is human nature to be angry. Therefore, people who are angry are not terrible. Instead, those who smile and don’t get angry when they should be angry are unpredictable and even more frightening.

Evaluation of Zizhi Tongjian

Sima Guang’s Zizhi Tongjian is a great work in the world, and Sima Guang is also a great man.

Liang Qichao梁启超

I read it seventeen times. Every time I read it, I benefited a lot. What a rare book.

Mao Zedong毛泽东

Video:Comment on Zizhi Tongjian by CCTV (Chinese version)

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