An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

Gangjian yizhi lu 綱鑒易知錄

Jan 7, 2012 © Ulrich Theobald

Gangjian yizhi lu 綱鑒易知錄 (綱鑑易知錄) "Easy access to the Outlines and Details" is a refined version of Zhu Xi's 朱熹 (1130-1200) historical critique Tongjian gangmu 通鑒綱目 and its continuations. The 107-juan long book was written by the Qing-period 清 (1644-1911) scholar Wu Chengquan 吳乘權 (1655-1719), courtesy name Ziyu 子輿, style Chucai 楚材 (Wu Chucai 吳楚材). The book was finished in 1711 and printed in the same year. Yet there are more than 20 different print versions, the best of which is that of the Saoyeshanfang Studio 掃葉山房. A facsimile of this version had been published in 1960 by the Zhonghua shuju press 中華書局.

Wu Chengquan hailed from Shanyin 山陰 (modern Shaoxing 紹興, Zhejiang) and had failed several times in the state examinations, so he decided serving his uncle Wu Xingzuo 吳興祚 (1632-1697), who was governor (xunfu 巡撫) of Fujian and later Fan Shizong 范時崇, the governor-general (zongdu 總督) of Zhe-Min.

Wu Chengquan also compiled the anthologies Guwen guanzhi 古文觀止 and Xiaoxue chushi 小學初筮.

The book Ganjian yizhi lu is a universal history written in the style of the gangmu 綱目 "outlines and details" histories. It covers the time from the mythological emperors down to the Ming period 明 (1368-1644). The first part (Qianbian 前編) in 4 juan covers the time from the creation of the universe by Pan Gu 盤古 to the reign of King Weilie 周威烈王 (r. 425-402 BCE) of the Zhou dynasty 周 (11th. cent.-221 BC). It is a resumé of Jin Lüxiang's 金履祥 Tongjian qianbian 通鑒前編 and Liu Shu's 劉恕 Tongjian waiji 通鑒外紀.

The main part (Zhengbian 正編) of the book, in 59 juan, covers the time from the Warring States period 戰國 (5th cent.-221 BCE) to the Five Dynasties 五代 (907-960 CE). It is based on Zhu Xi's Zizhi tongjian gangmu. The third part (Xubian 續編) in 29 juan covers the Song 宋 (960-1279) and Yuan 元 (1279-1368) periods and is based on Shang Lu's 商輅 Tongjian gangmu xubian 通鑒綱目續編 and Zhu Guobiao's 朱國標 Mingji chaolüe 明紀鈔略.

The structure of the central part of the book is somewhat different that that of the two others, but only in name (gang 綱 and mu 目 vs. gang 綱 and ji 紀 in the first and third part of the book). The gang "outlines" are brief statements informing the reader about the most important historical events, while the "meshes" (mu, ji) provide a more detailed account. Wu Chucai sometimes adds his own commentaries to the events, as well as notes to certain words and their meaning or pronunciation, or to personal and geographical names.

The book provides a very elegant and convenient overview over more than two thousand years of history and provides the reader with exact facts without overburdening him with details. It therefore soon became a kind of textbook that was widely used. The Yizhilu is nevertheless not fully reliable as a historiographical source and can only provide a first overview over events and their background. It is a destillation of earlier texts and by no means a new view on history.

In some respects, it even copied the biased view on history as provided in Zhu Xi's rather conservative book. The empire of Shu 蜀漢 (221-263), one of the Three Empires 三國 (220-280), is therefore given prevalence over the empire of Wei 曹魏 (220-265), in spite of the latter's political predominance.

Chen Mo 陳墨 (1994). "Gangjian yizhi lu 綱鑒易知錄", in Zhou Gucheng 周谷城 (ed.), Zhongguo xueshu mingzhu tiyao 中國學術名著提要, Vol. Lishi 歷史 (Shanghai: Fudan daxue chubanshe), 154.