Songshi 宋史 "History of the Song" is the official dynastic history (zhengshi 正史) of the great Song dynasty 宋 (960-1279). It consists of 496 juan, of which 47 are imperial annals (benji 本紀), 162 juan treatises (zhi 志), 32 juan tables (biao 表), and 255 juan normal, hereditary and collective biographies (liezhuan 列傳). It is the largest one of the twenty-four dynastic histories (ershisishi 二十四史) that were compiled in imperial times. The compilation was undertaken by a professional team of the Historiography Institute (guoshiguan 國史館).
In 1343 Emperor Shun 元順帝 (r. 1333 – 1368) of the Yuan dynasty 元 (1279-1368) decreed the compilation of the three dynastic histories of the Song, Liao (Liaoshi 遼史) and Jin (Jinshi 金史) dynasties. The compilation team was headed by Prince Toqtoɣa (Chinese transcription: Tuotuo 脫脫) and needed no more than two years to finish the Songshi. The team leaders were Temür Daši 帖睦爾達世, He Weiyi 賀惟一 (1301-1363), Zhang Qiyan 張起岩 (1285-1353), Ouyang Xuan 歐陽玄 (1283-1357), Li Haowen 李好文 (jinshi degree 1321), Wang Yi 王沂 (jinshi degree 1314) and Yang Zongduan 楊宗端 who led a team of 23 persons, the largest part of which were Chinese historians.
The source material from the Song period was extremely rich, especially the official annals like the "veritable records" (shilu 實錄) and the imperial diaries (qijuzhu 起居注) of the Song emperors. After the conquest of the Southern Song capital Lin'an 臨安 (modern Hangzhou 杭州, Zhejiang) the Yuan administration brought more than 5,000 volumes of historiographical sources to the new capital Dadu 大都 (modern Beijing). For this reason, the Songshi is a real treasure for the history of the whole Song period. While there are many other histories covering certain parts of the Song period, the Songshi is the only book that covers the whole history of that dynasty. It furthermore contains valuable information about institutional history, as can be seen in the large size of the treatise part in the Songshi. The Songshi is the only one of the dynastic histories containing a collective biography of Neo-Confucians (427-430 Daoxue liezhuan 道學列傳) because this philosophical trend emerged and flourished during that time.
Compared with other dynastic histories, the Songshi includes only a restricted amount of tables, namely such on the Counsellors-in-chief (211-214 Zaifu biao 宰表), and such on the imperial house (215-241 Zongshi shixi biao 宗室世系表), the latter comparatively detailed and useful as a genealogy of the side branches of the dynasty.
The treatises cover the themes astronomy (48-60 Tianwen zhi 天文志), the Five Agents (61-67 Wuxing zhi 五行志), musical tuning and calendar (68-84 Lüli zhi 律曆志), administrative geography (85-90 Dili zhi 地理志), hydraulic works (91-97 Hequ zhi 河渠志), rituals (98-125 Li zhi 禮志), court music (126-142 Yue zhi 樂志), ceremonies (143-148 Yiwei zhi 儀衛志), state coaches and court robes (149-154 Yufu zhi 輿服志), selection and appointment of officials (155-160 Xuanju zhi 選舉志), state offices (161-172 Zhiguan biao 職官志), food and commodities (173-186 Shihuo zhi 食貨志), military (187-198 Bing zhi 兵志), penal law (199-201 Xingfa zhi 刑法志), and the imperial bibliography (202-209 Yiwen zhi 藝文志).
The collective biographies cover those of imperial consorts (242-243 Houfei liezhuan 后妃列傳), the imperial house (244-247 Zongshi liezhuan 宗室列傳), imperial princesses (248 Gongzhu liezhuan 公主列傳), benevolent officials (426 Xunli liezhuan 循吏列傳), Neo-Confucian masters (427-430 Daoxue liezhuan 道學列傳), Confucian scholars (431-438 Rulin liezhuan 儒林列傳), writers (439-445 Wenyuan liezhuan 文苑列傳), persons of loyal conduct (446-455 Zhongyi liezhuan 忠義列傳), persons of filial conduct (456 Xiaoyi liezhuan 孝義列傳), scholars living in seclusion (457-459 Yinyi liezhuan 隱逸列傳), persons of moral superiority (459 Zhuoxing liezhuan 卓行列傳), outstanding women (460 Lienü zhuan 列女傳), magicians and diviners (461-462 Fangji liezhuan 方技列傳), kinsmen of imperial consorts (463-465 Waiqi liezhuan 外戚列傳), eunuchs (466-469 Huanzhe liezhuan 宦者列傳), flatterers and imperial minions (470 Ningxing liezhuan 佞幸列傳), treacherous ministers (471-474 Jianchen liezhuan 姦臣列傳, like Cai Jing 蔡京, Qin Hui 秦檜 and Jia Sidao 賈似道), and rebellious subjects (475-477 Panchen liezhuan 叛臣列傳, like Zhang Bangchang 張邦昌, Liu Yu 劉豫 or Li Quan 李全).
The latter is followed by a section called "hereditary biographies" (shijia 世家): Chapters 478-483 include the annals of the rulers of the Ten States 十國 (902~979) that had ruled over southern China before the foundation and in the early years of the Song period. Chapter 484 includes the biographies of three ministers of the Later Zhou 後周 (951-960), the last of the Five Dynasties 五代 (907-960). The Songshi closes with the descriptions of foreign countries (485-492 Waiguo 外國) and "barbarian" peoples living within the borders of Song China (493 Manyi 蠻夷). This is the earliest case that there is a clear distinction between "barbarians" living inside China and such inhabiting areas beyond the border, to be seen in the exact indication of the minorities' living space, like for instance, the many Man from Lizhou 黎州諸蠻, the Man of the three circuits of Xuzhou 敍州三路蠻, or the Man living in Weizhou, Maozhou and Yuzhou 威茂渝州蠻. According to the self-perception of the Song empire, the Liao empire of the Kitans and the Jin empire of the Jurchens that both ruled over northern China, were not considered as foreign countries (in contrast to the Western Xia 西夏, 1038-1227), but are simply ignored, because information on them could be won from the companion works Liaoshi and Jinshi.
That the Songshi had been compiled in an extremely short time has of course negative results. The draft was not reviewed and polished, and therefore it contains many contradictions and errors and there are qualitative differences from chapter to chapter. Many paragraphs were shortened in a very crude way in order to save space. Although the primary sources from the Southern Song dynasty were far richer than those for the Northern Song, the compilation team did not exploit these rich sources and instead laid stress on the first part of the Song period. The negative effects of shortening the text are particularly seen in the chapters covering the last decades of the Song, when the military activities against the Mongols took place. Accounts of these are often heavily abridged and favour the Mongol cause. The Song general Wang Jian 王堅 (1198-1264), for instance, was not granted an own biography. The attribution of moral characteristics is sometimes not justified. The reformer Lü Huiliu 呂惠柳, for example, is vilified as a "treacherous minister" (jianchen 姦臣), while the notorious Shi Miyuan 史彌遠 (1164-1233) is not seen as a such.
The earliest print of the Songshi was published in 1346 in Hangzhou; a kind of blueprint for an imperial edition was produced during the Wanli reign-period 萬曆 (1573-1619); a print of the imperial Hall of Military Glory (Wuyingdian 武英殿) was published in 1739, and a last premodern one in 1875 by the Zhejiang Shuju Press 浙江書局. In 1934, the Shanghai Yinshuguan Press 上海印書館 published the so-called Bona edition 百衲本, which has a quite good quality because the editors critically compared several older versions. In 1977 the Zhonghua Book Company 中華書局 published a modern punctuated version with a critical annotation. Yet this edition suffers from quite a few printing errors.