An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

Tongjian gangmu 通鑒綱目

Jul 3, 2010 © Ulrich Theobald

Tongjian gangmu 通鑒綱目 (通鑑綱目) "Outlines and details of the Comprehensive Mirror", also called Zizhi tongjian gangmu 資治通鑒綱目 (資治通鑑綱目), is a historical critique written by the Southern Song period 南宋 (1127-1279) philosopher Zhu Xi 朱熹 (1130-1200). It is based on the universal history Zizhi tongjian 資治通鑒 "Comprehensive mirror to aid in government" of the Northern Song period 北宋 (960-1126) historian and politician Sima Guang 司馬光 (1019-1086).

The Tongjian gangmu is 59-juan long, enriched by a prehistory chapter (Qianbian 前編) in 1 juan, an "outer record" (Waiji 外紀) in 1 juan covering the history before the start of the Zizhi tongjian far into antiquity, an excerpt containing the most important statements (Juyao 舉要) in 3 juan, and a continuation (Xubian 續編) in 29 juan. In 1708, these parts were published in one book, containing the personal notes of the Kangxi Emperor 康熙 (r. 1662-1722).

During Zhu Xi's lifetime the book had been amended several times. The transmitted version corresponds to the print version of 1219. According to the bibliographic catalogue Zhizhai shulu jieti 直齋書録解題, there were still severals version in circulation, like the one of Wen Ling 溫陵. The principles of compilation (Fanli 凡例) were originally published separately and were for the first time merged with the main text in the print of 1265. The Tongjian gangmu was printed many times during the Yuan 元 (1279-1368) and Ming 明 (1368-1644) periods. The print from 1489 by Huang Zhongzhao 黃仲昭 (1435-1508) was the first that contained all seven commentaries.

Zhu Xi is mainly known as the great Neo-Confucian philosopher. Accordingly, his book Tongjian gangmu interpretes history from the viewpoint of Confucianism. The idea to construct a book on history along great guidelines (gang 綱 "ropes") whose interstices were filled with particular details (mu 目 "meshes") came from Sima Guang, compiler of the Zizhi tongjian. Such a structure would help the reader to get a better overview of many events and circumstances. Sima's book Juyaoli 舉要歷 was drafted according to this idea, yet Sima Guang died before it was finished. His collaborator Hu Anguo 胡安國 (1074-1138) added what was still missing, so that an 80-juan long book was the result.

More than a century later, Zhu Xi adopted this idea and started reorganising the text of the Zizhi tongjian according to these principles. He began work at the Tongjian gangmu in 1167 with the compilation of the Fanli. His main assistant was Cai Jitong 蔡季通 (1135-1198). Five years later the draft was finished, and he added a preface. The draft was refined with the help of Cai Jitong, Li Boliang 李伯諒, Zhang Yuanshan 張元善 and Yang Boqi 楊伯起 and was finished in 1175. It took Zhu Xi another decade before the last brush stroke was done, yet his bad health forced him to have Zhao Shiyuan 趙師淵 (c. 1150-1210) do the refining work. The book was only printed after Zhu Xi's death.

The importance of Zhao Shiyuan for the last version was so great that it was for a long time believed that Zhu Xi had only written the gang, while the "meshes" of the net, the mu, were written by Zhao Shiyuan. Some scholars even doubted that Zhu Xi had written anything apart from the Fanli.

The Tongjian gangmu is a restructuring of the history narrated in Sima Guang's Zizhi tongjian. It is arranged chronologically and begins during the reing of King Weilie 周威烈王 (r. 425-402 BCE) of the Zhou dynasty 周 (11th cent.-221 BCE) and ends with the foundation of the Song dynasty in 960. All historical events are described in two parts, first, the great outlines, written in large characters, and second, in detailed explanations, written in smaller typesetting.

This method can be compared to the Confucian Classic Chunqiu 春秋 "Spring and Autumn Annals" with their short, precise and sometimes cryptic text, and the much more narrative parallel tradition and commentary Zuozhuan 左傳. The basic trend and evolutions in history can thus easily be perceived when reading the guidelines, while more detailed information is included in the comments.

The amount of text has generally been reduced, and the Tongjian gangmu is much shorter than the Zizhi tongjian. Zhu Xi's merit is to have condensed history to a great extent without that important information is missing. Yet there are still some things narrated in the Zizhi tongjian that Zhu Xi shortened, and he also added some information not included in Sima Guang's book. Zhu Xi amended the problem of the Zizhi tongjian that the latter used reign mottos as headlines of chapters, inspite of the fact that these were sometimes changed in the course of a year, so that the headline of the chapter did not correspond any more to the content. Zhu Xi clearly followed the factual periods of the reign mottos as a chronological measure.

Zhu Xi has also corrected some errors in the Zizhi tongjian. The text of the Tongjian gangmu is written in a quite simple language and easy to understand, both for educational purposes, and to highlight what Zhu Xi, as a philosopher, wanted to say.

Sima Guang's book had been written as a neutral and objective history. Yet the philosopher Zhu Xi saw his duty in a moral description of historical events. Like the commentaries of the Chunqiu, Zhu Xi laid stress on the correct use of names and terms, like it is brought forward in Confucius' request to "rectify the names and terms" (zhengming 正名). This is the reason why Zhu Xi has written a very long chapter on the principles of his compilation, in which he instructs the reader on his understanding of imperial houses, designations of years, titles, positions and reign mottos. With the help of such designations and terms, Zhu Xi was able to praise and criticise all actors in history. The Tongjian gangmu is therefore often seen as the paramount history book of rigid and orthodox Neo-Confucianism.

There are seven important commentaries to the Tongjian gangmu: Yin Qixin's 尹起莘 Faming 發明, Liu Youyi's 劉友益 (1248-1332) Shufa 書法 from the late Southern Song period that both are semantic commentaries. Wang Kekuan's 汪克寬 (1301-1372) Kaoyi 考異 from the Yuan period 元 (1279-1368) is a text-critical commentary. Wang Youxue's 王幼學 (1275-1368) Jilan 集覽 and Xu Zhaowen's 徐昭文 Kaozheng 考證 from the Yuan period, as well as the Ming period commentaries Jilan zhengwu 集覽正誤 by Chen Ji 陳濟 (1363-1424) and Zhishi 質實 by Feng Zhishu 馮智舒 (or Liu Hongyi 劉宏毅?) are also semantic commentaries concentrating on the explanation of terms.

There are also some commentaries from the Qing period 清 (1644-1911), like Rui Changxu's 芮長恤 Gangmu fenzhu buyi 綱目分註補遺 or Zhang Geng's 張庚 (1685-1760) Tongjian gangmu shidi jiumiu 通鑒綱目釋地糾謬. Other text-critical commentaries are Zhou mi's 周密 Gangmu yiwu 綱目疑誤, Wang Yinglin's 王應麟 (1223-1296) Tongjian dawen 通鑒答問, Zhao Yi's 趙翼 (1727-1814) Gaichu congkao 陔餘叢考 and Chen Jingyun's 陳景雲 (1670-1747) Gangmu dingwu 綱目訂誤. Numerous later commentaries have actually nothing to do with the Tongjian gangmu but are dedicated to the honour of the Neo-Confucian demigod Zhu Xi.

The Kangxi Emperor tried to establish a scholarly and philosophically reliable version. The basic text of his edition followed the print of Chen Renxi 陳仁錫 (1581-1636). The result was his imperial edition Yupi Tongjian gangmu 御批通鑒綱目 "Imperially commented outlines and details to the Comprehensive Mirror".

The Yuan-period philosopher Jin Lüxiang 金履祥 (1232-1303) wrote a revision version of Liu Shu's 劉恕 (1032-1078) Tongjian waiji 通鑒外紀 by using quotations from the Confucian Classics and other historiographic material. This book covered the time from the mythological Emperor Yao 堯 down to the time of King Weilie of Zhou, when the Zizhi tongjian sets in. Jin Lüxiang at the same time extended Zhu Xi's Tongjian gangmu to the Tongjian (gangmu) qianbian 通鑒綱目前編. It includes an explanatory chapter (tiyao 提要). This book was printed together with the Tongjian gangmu by Chen Renxi and annotated by the Kangxi Emperor.

The sequel Tongjian gangmu xubian 通鑒綱目續編 (also called Xu Song-Yuan zizhi tongjian gangmu 續宋元資治通鑒綱目 or shortly Xu zizhi tongjian gangmu 續資治通鑒綱目) by the Ming-period writer Shang Lu 商輅 (1414-1486) which extended the Tongjian gangmu into the Song period, was full of errors. Chen Renxi tried to amend these errors and included the Xubian in his edition. His edition of several Tongjian gangmu books, original and continuations, has been lauded and recommended by the Qianlong Emperor 乾隆 (r. 1735-1795).

The Tongjian gangmu was the first history of China the Europeans read and translated, like Joseph-Anne-Marie de Moyriac de Mailla's (1669-1748) Histoire générale de la Chine or Henri Cordier's (1849-1925) Histoire générale.

The style of the Tongjian gangmu influenced historiography, so that for some continuations of the Zizhi tongjian, corresponding gangmus were written. It was also imitated in other East Asian countries.

Table 1. Derivates and imitations of the Tongjian gangmu 通鑒綱目
三朝北盟會編 Sanchao beimeng huibian (Song) 徐夢莘 Xu Mengxin, about foreign policy of the Song court
續宋元資治通鑒綱目 (續資治通鑒綱目, [資治]通鑒綱目續編) Xu Yuan-Song zizhi tongjian gangmu (Xu zizhi tongjian gangmu, [Zizhi] Tongjian gangmu xubian) (Ming) 商輅 Shang Lu
(資治)通鑒綱目前編 (Zizhi) Tongjian gangmu qianbian 1) (Ming) 許誥 Xu Gao, 2) 南軒 Nan Xuan
袁王綱鑒合編 Yuan-Wang Gangjian hebian Joint edition of (Ming) Yuan Huang's 袁黃 Lishi gangjian bu 歷史綱鑑補 and (Ming) Wang Shizhen's 王世貞 Gangjian huizuan 綱鑒會纂
遼金正史綱目 Liao-Jin zhengshi gangmu (Qing) 楊陸榮 Yang Lurong, not printed
(資治)通鑒綱目三編 (Zizhi) Tongjian gangmu sanbian (Qing) 沈德潛 Shen Deqian
(歷代)通鍳輯覽 (Lidai) Tongjian jilan (Qing) 傅恆 Fuheng et al.
本朝通鑒 Honchō tsūgan 林羅山 Hayashi Razan (1583-1657)
(欽定)越史通鑒綱目 (Khâm định) Việt sử thông giám cương mục 潘清簡 Phan Thanh Giản (1796-1867)
綱鑒易知錄 Gangjian yizhilu (Qing) 吳楚材 Wu Chucai, extract of Tongjian gangmu
Cheng Yu 程郁 (1994). "Tongjian gangmu 通鑒綱目", 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), 143.
Ge Zhen 戈振, Zhao Haijiang 趙海江 (1995). "Shilun Yuenan Qinding Yueshi tongjian gangmu de bianzhuan ji qi ruogan wenti 試論越南《欽定越史通鑒綱目》的編撰及其若干問題", Shixue yuekan 史學月刊, 1995 (11).
Gu Shaohua 顧少華 (2017). "Zizhi tongjian gangmu zuozhe wenti xintan 《資治通鑒綱目》作者問題新探", Shixue shi yanjiu 史學史研究, 2017 (3).
Ji Dejun 紀德君 (2004). "Lun Sanguo yanyi yu Tongjian, Tongjian gangmu zhi guanxi 論《三國志演義》与《通鑒》《通鑒綱目》之關係", Xueshu yanjiu 學術研究, 2004 (5).
Ji Dejun 紀德君, Hong Zhexiong 洪哲雄 (1999). "Shilun Zizhi tongjian, Zizhi tongjian gangmu yu anjian yanyi xiaoshuo zhi guanxi 試論《資治通鑒》、《資治通鑒綱目》與“按鑒”演義小說之關係", Jilin Daxue Shehui Kexue Yuan xuebao 吉林大學社会科學學報, 1999 (3).
Li Xueqin 李學勤, Lü Wenyu 呂文鬰, ed. (1996). Siku da cidian 四庫大辭典 (Changchun: Jilin daxue chubanshe), Vol. 1, 1528.
Ma Tao 馬濤 (2000). "Zhu Xi de Tongjian gangmu ji shixue sixiang de xin chanfa: Du Tang Qinfu xin zhu Zhu Xi de shixue sixiang 朱熹的《通鑒綱目》及史學思想的新闡發──讀湯勤福新著《朱熹的史學思想》", Xueshu yuekan 學術月刊, 2000 (11).
Standaert, Nicolas (2018). "Comprehensive Histories in Late Ming and Early Qing: The Genealogy of the gangjian Texts", Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities Bulletin, 79-80: 245-334.
Tang Qinfu 湯勤福 (1998). "Zhu Xi yu Tongjian gangmu 朱熹與《通鑒綱目》", Shixue shi yanjiu 史學史研究, 1998 (5).
Wang Xiuli 王秀麗 (2004). "Xu zizhi tongjian gangmu zuanxiu er ti 《續資治通鑒綱目》纂修二題", Shixue shi yanjiu 史學史研究, 2004 (5)
Wu Shangqing 武尚清 (1998). "Qinding Yueshi tongjian gangmu pingjie 《欽定越史通鑒綱目》評介", Shixue shi yanjiu 史學史研究 1998 (11).
Yan Wenru 嚴文儒 (1999). "Tongjian gangmu Song-Yuan banben kao 《通鑒綱目》宋元版本考", Huadong Shifan Daxue xuebao (Zhexue shehui kexue ban) 華東師範大學學報(哲學社會科學版), 1999 (6).