Comprehensive Mirror to Aid in Government


Zi zhi tong jian (Comprehensive mirror to aid in government) was a pioneering reference work in Chinese historiography, first published in 1084 in the form of a chronicle. In 1065 Emperor Yingzong (reigned 1064–67) of the Song ordered the great historian Sima Guang (1019–86) to lead a group of scholars in compiling a universal history of China. The task took 19 years to complete and the finished work was presented in 1084 to the succeeding Emperor Shenzong (reigned 1068–85). Its subject is Chinese history from 403 BC to 959 AD, covering 16 dynasties and spanning 1,363 years, in 294 juan and about 3 million Chinese characters. This is an incomplete copy, with 38 juan missing. Other copies listed in various book catalogs are also incomplete. Each page has 11 columns, each column containing 19 characters. The commentaries are written in small characters in double lines, with about 25 characters. Features of the printing include white ban xin (the area of the center column of the page) and double fish tails (fish-shaped segments of ban xin), with the engraver’s name and page numbers. The Qing scholar Lu Xinyuan (1834–94) stated in his work Yigutang ti ba (Inscriptions of Yigutang) that this edition with large characters was printed at Jinxiutang workshop in Guangdu, Sichuan, and was a Fei edition, named after the shop owner Fei. During the Song dynasty such editions were called long zhao ben (Dragon feet edition), as the woodblocks were made of long zhao huai (Chinese pagoda tree), a flexible material for engraving. However, there is one distinctive feature of this work that differs from a Fei edition: a printer’s plate at the end of juan 68, which reads “printed at Hushan Shuyuan, home of Grand Tutor Meng of Ezhou.” The note clearly indicates that this is not a Fei edition printed in Guangdu. This copy might have been misidentified by Lu Xinyuan because it was very incomplete and lacked the name of the workshop.

Subject Date

Publication Information

Ezhou, Hubei, China


Title in Original Language


Type of Item

Physical Description

294 juan, 24.2 x 18.1 centimeters


  • Only juan 1–4 are included in the WDL presentation.

Last updated: August 21, 2013