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Chinese Literature - Historic events thematically (jishi benmo 紀事本末)
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Tongjian jishi benmo 通鑑紀事本末 "Historic events the 'Comprehensive Mirror' thematically in their entirety"
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Literature by theme
The biographical type of historiography as well as the chronological type of historiography both had their advantages and disadvantages. The former was concise in the descriptions of a person's life and performance and additionally provided the reader with information about important topics of government in the monographies; on the other side, many events are reported redundantly in several chapters, and the reader does barely learn about the historical circumstances before and after the life of a certain person. The chronological type helped the reader to have an overview of the flux of time and events over a whole period, but it does not provide him with the necessary background knowledge - and omitts the interesting encyclopedical part of the monographies of the biographical type of historiography.
To know more about the development of factors that lead to a certain event and to learn about the outcome of intrigues, decisions and wars, the Southern Song scholar Yuan Shu 袁樞 (1132-1205) rearranged the material of the Zizhi tongjian to create a new type of historiography that he called jishi benmo 紀事本末 "reporting origin and result of historic events". While the Zizhi tongjian stayed the father of a new historiography and the Tongjian gangmu became the orthodox type of moralizing history, the Jishi benmo type became the popular style of historiography with dozens of writings, especially during the Qing Dynasty:
10. Wu and Shu on good terms
20th year of the era Jian'an "Establishing peace" of Emperor Han Xiandi. When LIU BEI still resided in Jingzhou (modern Wuhan), ZHOU YUY and GAN NING several times tried to pursue SUN QUAN to conquer Shu (modern Sichuan). SUN QUAN sent a messanger to LIU BEI, telling him: "LIU ZHANG is not fighting and will be unable to protect himself. If CAO CAO conquers Shu, Jiangnan will be in great danger. If somebody would first conquer the territory of LIU ZHANG (modern Sichuan) and then that of ZHANG LU, the whole south would be united, and even ten CAO CAOs would do no harm." LIU BEI answered: "The territory of Yizhou (modern Sichuan) is rich, but not easily accessible [...] Disputing about that matter, you can see that CAO CAO has been defeated at the Red Cliff, and could say that his force has vanished, he is nobody to worry about. But now, CAO CAO possesses already two parts of the three parts of China and wishes to drink his horses in the green sea and to show his soldiers in Wu and the capital Kuaiji. How could we stand this situation and sit there until we grow old? [...]"
Translated by Ulrich Theobald
e difficult to hold our position for longer time. CAO CAO has tied his war-ships together. If bow and stern are firmly bound together, it is easy to burn all the ships and make him run away." HUANG made use of ten big war-ships, filled them with fire wood and dry reeds, soaked with oil and stuffed with fabrics. On the top he erected his flags, and provided also ships to push these burning ships forward, binding them at the stern of the latter. He had written a letter to CAO CAO, pretending to go over to him. At this time, a fierce wind came the south-east, and HUANG GAI moved forward with his war ships, the burning ships forward. In the middle of the Yangtse stream, he hoisted up the sails. The other fighting ships followed them. The soldiers of CAO CAO's army all left the camp to gaze at the incoming ships of HUANG GAI who had pretented to desert. When the distance to CAO CAO's camp was two miles, they incended the ships. In the fierce wind, the ships immediately kept fire and rushed forward like arrows. The fire burned down CAO CAO's whole northern flot and immediately spread to the camp where the flames reaches high up to the sky. Masses of people and horses died in the flames. ZHOU YU commanded his troops, and with the sound of thunder drums, they marched forward. The northern army was scattered in all directions, and CAO CAO could not but withdraw to the north. On land and water, LIU BEI and ZHOU YU marched forward and reached the prefecture Nanjun. Of CAO CAO's army, more than half had died.
Translated by Ulrich Theobald