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Zizhi tongjian 資治通鑑 "Comprehensive mirror to aid in government"
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The official imperial historiography of China had developed during the Western or Former Han Dynasty. The historians Sima Tan and his son Sima Qian had invented a style of history writing that divided the whole book into two to five different types of chapters. The first are the biographies of the emperors (benji 本紀 or simply ji 紀), strictly chronological inside the report and not only reporting enfeoffments or military campaigns, but also important metaphysical events like thunders, earthquakes, and so on. The second chapter type are the biographies of important people (liezhuan 列傳 or simply zhuan 傳), beginning with the empresses and consorts, down to the scholars, and to geographical reports about foreign countries. Except these two types, there were some biographies of noble families (shijia), chronological tables (biao), and treatises or monographies (shu or zhi). This biographical-monographical style of historiography was called jizhuanti 紀傳體 "biographical style", because the biographies are the guideline for division into chapters. To have an overview over a person's life or a special topic like penal law or tax system, this style is adequate, but it fails to depict the historical context of a whole aera.
To give a context for historical causes and results, a simple chronological style is much better. The classical book Spring and Autumn, the annals of the state of Lu during the early Eastern Zhou period, is the forerunner for this type of historiography. It is strictly chronological and lists the events of every year under the respective season or the month. This type of historiography is called biannianti 編年體 "chronological style - linking year after year".
The Song Dynasty scholar Sima Guang (1019-1086) decided to compile a universal history in this style that reached the Warring States period (409 BC) to begin of Song Dynasty (959 AD). His book should serve as a guideline for the crown prince to govern in a righteous way and to learn the faults of the past, and the wise and clever rulers. The book was given the name Zizhi tongjian 資治通鑒 "Comprehensive mirror to aid in government".
Although the biographical style of historiography was in use until the end of Qing Dynasty, the new "comprehensive mirror" type became so popular that people of the next generations and centuries wrote sequels of the great opus of Sima Guang, and even filled the time back until the year when Sima Guang let his book begin. Here the most important examples:
See an example of the Mirror, reporting the events of the battle at the Red Cliff.
65. Records of Han 57, Emperor Han Xiandi, 13th year of the era Jian'an ("Establishing peace").
ZHUGE LIANG said: "Although our armies of Yuzhou have been defeated at Changbang, the people returning together with GUAN YU's naval army are ten thousand well equipped man, and there are not less than ten thousand soldiers who fought at Jiangxia under LIU QI. On the other side, CAO CAO's men are tired and exhausted, pursuing the Yuzhou army, their light cavalry did not have a rest for one day and one night on a distance of more than 300 miles. [...] And, the northern people are not accustomed with water ways. CAO CAO's followers in the area of Jingzhou do not serve him with their heart and feelings. Uniting the armies of