Sima Guang and His Zi Zhi Tong Jian
Sima Guang, though conservative and against the reforms initiated by Wang Anshi, was an erudite recognized as a great scholar in history.
Sima Guang's father was strict about his early education, though the son was himself also a conscientious, hard worker. It was said that the child when only five or six years old was able to fluently recite The Analects of Confucius and Mencius. At age seven, he had already perused the Zuo Zhuan. and could recount the essence of the book to adults. All this laid a solid foundation for his later accomplishments as a great scholar. Sima Guang in his teens was clever and quick-minded. Once, a group of children were enjoying a game of hide-and-seek in the garden, when one child fell time, household water jars were immense in size, and the drowning boy was struggling into a huge water jar. At that time, household water jars were immense in side. All the other children looked on helplessly, crying loudly with fright. Sima Guang, who was reading inside the house, dashed outside. In that exact moment, his mind worked swiftly, and he picked up a huge rock and threw it at the jar. The jar broke and the water gushed out of the cracks. The child was thus saved.
When young Sima Guang was awarded the title of jinshi and had started off on his official career, he took a strong interest in history and read a great deal, only to find that, despite the wealth of historical information left by various dynasties, there was still no book that had kept a complete record of historical facts from time immemorial to his day. Sima Guang decided to undertake the task himself. After Yingzong had fallen ill and died, Shenzong succeeded him; he thought highly of Sima Guang's work, in which he saw that exemplary rulers of some dynasties ran the country well and achieved prosperity; while other rulers ruined the country only to ultimately meet their doom. The emperor thought that the book could serve as a guide to rulers of later times. In 1084 Zi Zhi Tong Jian (Historical Events Retold as a Mirror for Government), compiled by Sima Guang, was completed. By then he had a weak constitution and gray hair, and all his teeth falling out. Zi Zhi Tong Jian had consumed 19 years of the prime of his life.
He had been writing day and night, often forgetting to eat or sleep. To avoid oversleeping, Sima Guang made himself a round wooden pillow. While sleeping, whenever he turned over, the pillow, because of its round shape, would roll away and fall off the bed, and the thump would wake him up. Sima Guang called it a "pillow alarm."
Sima Guang possessed a sense of justice and of remaining faithful to reality. In Zi Zhi Tong Jian, his appraisals of monarchs of various dynasties, while affirming the good deeds they had performed for the country and people, also laid bare their exploitation and oppression of the people as well as their luxurious decadence, superstitions and absurdities. For people studying the history of China before the Song, this is of great reference value. The works are still an important cultural legacy left by ancient China.