The period of the Five Dynasties (the Later Liang, Later Tang, Later Jin, Later Han and Later Zhou) and Ten Kingdoms (Former Shu, Wu, Min, Wu-Yue, Chu, Southern Han, Southern Ping, Later Shu, Southern Tang Northern Han started in 907, when the Later Liang Dynasty was established. It ended in 960 when the Later Zhou fell and the Northern Song Dynasty was established.
Northern Song was under threat for most of its existence from states set up by minority ethnic groups, such as Liao and Jin in the northeast and Western Xia in the northwest. In 1127, the Jin army captured Kaifeng, the Northern Song capital. Zhao Gou, the emperor, escaped to the south and set up what is historically known as the Southern Song Dynasty, with Hangzhou as its capital. In 1206, Temujin united the Mongolian tribes and was addressed, Genghis Khan. The Mongols went on to build a huge empire. In 1260, Genghis Khan’s grandson Kublai founded the Yuan Dynasty, with its capital in Beijing. The Yuan army seized Hangzhou in 1276, and in 1279 it crushed the remaining forces of the Southern Song Dynasty and united the whole of China. The Yuan Dynasty continued to exist until 1368 when a rebel army led by Zhu Yuanzhang seized Beijing and established the Ming Dynasty.
Trade flourished in the Northern Song period, as did science and technology. In China, there appeared the earliest paper currency in the world. Firearms were widely used, and the compass assisted navigation. Moveable type was used to print large numbers of books. The territory of the Yuan Dynasty was broader than that of any of the preceding dynasties, and Beijing became a world-renowned commercial metropolis. An Italian merchant named Marco Polo came to China during the reign of Emperor Shizu (1271-1294). He stayed for over 10 years. He described the prosperity of Dadu (today’s Beijing) and other parts of China in his book The Travels of Marco Polo.
Relieving the Generals of Their Commands at a Feast
After the downfall of the Tang Dynasty, China entered a chaotic period of the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms. In the Later Zhou Dynasty (951-960), Emperor Shizong let Zhao Kuangyin control the military leadership. After Emperor Shizong died, his young son succeeded to the throne. Taking this chance, Zhao Kuangyin seized the imperial power and established the Song Dynasty as Emperor Taizu.
Not long after Zhao Kuangyin came to the throne, two local military governors revolted against the central authority. It took Zhao Kuangyin a lot of energy to suppress the revolt, which upset him very much. Once he talked with Zhao Pu who had been with him for many years. He said that since the downfall of the Tang Dynasty there had appeared many dynasties with endless wars. Numerous People had died. What was the reason for all of these? Zhao Pu said the reason was very simple. The chaotic situation in a country lay in the scattering of the military power. The country would be restored to peace as soon as the military power was returned to the overall control of the central authority. Emperor Taizu agreed with this opinion, and it was by controlling the military leadership that he had seized the imperial power. In order to prevent the same thing from happening again, Emperor Taizu decided to take back military power from local authorities. In an autumn evening in 961, Emperor Taizu held a banquet in the imperial palace and invited Shi Shouxin and other senior generals. The emperor held up the cup and said, “But for your help, I wouldn’t be what I am like nowadays. But you don’t know that it is very difficult being an emperor. In fact, it’s happier being a local military governor than being an emperor.” Shi Shouxin and the other generals were very surprised when they heard this and asked why. Emperor Taizu said, “It is quite obvious. Who does not want to be the emperor?” The generals got the underlying meaning of his words and became flustered. They knelt on the ground hurriedly and said, “we won’t betray you at any time.” Emperor Taizu shook his head and said, “I have confidence in all of you. But Tm afraid your subordinates may be ambitious and hanker after riches and honors. When they wrap the yellow gown (a symbol for emperor) around you and support you to be the emperor, can you refuse them?” The generals were so frightened that their faces were covered with beads of perspiration. The next day they asked to resign and the emperor agreed immediately. He gave them a large amount of money and took back their military power. This was called “relieving the generals of their commands at a feast” in history.
The Loyal Generals of the Yang Family
There are many stories about JL the exploits of the generals from the Yang Family and their faithful service to the Northern Song Dynasty. In the early days of Northern Song, people in the frontier had always been annoyed by the Liao. Yang Ye led his army to guard Yanmen Pass, a town of military importance. In 980, Liao commanded 100 000 troops to attack Yanmen Pass. At that time, he had only several thousands of troops. However, leaving the major troops in camp to hold their ground, he, with his only hundreds of cavalries, rounded the back of Liao troops and launched a surprise assault. The Liao army was unprepared and suffered a crushing defeat.
In addition, Yang Ye achieved other great victories. From then on, the Liao troops had hardly seen his battle Flags when they began to shiver. And people nicknamed him “Mr. Invincibility”.
Two years later, Song Taizong was determined to launch a large-scale offensive attack on Liao. Yang Ye was appointed as the assistant to the Chief Commander in the western route. Everything went well at the very beginning.
However, since the eastern route had made a cash advance to the enemy, Song lost its battle and had to retreat. Due to a moral failure in a strategic decision, Yang Ye suffered an ambuscade. After all of his soldiers died, he still insisted on fighting, but was wounded and captured at last. In the camp of the Liao troops, Yang Ye rejected hauling down his colors. He died in a hunger strike.
After he died, his offspring inherited his unfulfilled wish, safeguarding the border of the Song Dynasty. His son Yang Yanzhao and his grandson Yang Wenguang fought many glorious battles to repel the incursions by the Liao. The deeds of the Yang Family generals became the stuff of folk legend.
The Pact of Chanyuan
Khitan was an ancient nomadic tribe in the Liaohe River valley. In 916, Yelu Abaoji founded the State of Khitan, then renamed as the “Liao”, choosing Shang Du (in today’s Inner Mongolia) as its capital. In the time of the military confrontation between Khitan and the Five Dynasties, the Liao expanded its forces after it had got the 16 prefectures of You and Yun ceded by Shi Jingtang. This posed a threat to the security of the Northern Song. In 1004, the empress dowager and the emperor Shengzong of Liao (Yelu Longxu) declared a war on the Northern Song. The Northern Song army suffered several defeats and the Liao army marched south. In the 11th month, the Liao army reached Chanzhou, a place of strategic importance by the Yellow River, posing a threat to Dongjing, the capital of the Northern Song. Both the government and populace were on tenterhooks. At this very moment. Song Zhenzong, under the insistence of his minister Kou Zhun, decided to go out to battle. His action did encourage the morale of his soldiers when the two armies were locked in a face-off. Shortly after, they signed a pact. According to it, the government of the Northern Song would send 100 000 taels of silver coin, 200 000 bolts of thin silk. Historically, this is what we call “the Pact of Chanyuan”. From then on, there was no large-scale war being waged. Economic and cultural communication had been further developed.
Bao the Upright Judge
Many stories have been handed down among the Chinese people about a judge known for his fearless espousal of justice. He was known as “Clear Sky Bao” or “Clear Sky Bao Milord”, meaning that no wrongdoing could be hidden from his impartial eye and that he gave justice to the common people. Indeed, there was a virtuous official in history during the Song Dynasty named Bao Zheng.
Bao Zheng (999-1062) was from Hefei, in today’s Anhui Province. He served in the local government as well as in the court. When he was a county magistrate, his uncle once violated the law. Bao Zheng showed no partiality for friends or relatives, and he treated him according to the law. He sent runners to take his uncle to the local official and even sentenced his uncle to death. Many relatives pleaded for his uncle, but Bao Zheng said, “It is not because I am ruthless, it is he who violated the law.”
When Lord Bao became a court official, he upheld the law firm. One year, there occurred a flood in the capital, Kaifeng, which threatened to engulf the poorer quarters of the city. Bao Zheng found that the flood had been caused by the intrusion of waterside gardens and pavilions built for the pleasure of senior officials. For the safety of Kaifeng, without any hesitation, he ordered that these constructions be removed. Whoever violated the law, even if they were relatives of the emperor, Bao Zheng did not show any mercy. He kept proposing his opinion to the emperor until those people were punished.
Bao Zheng had great sympathy for those who were unjustly convicted. He would determinedly carry out detailed investigations and bring justice to the victims. People admired his character so much that they praised him as the “Clear Sky Bao”.
Although Bao was a high-ranking official, there was little change in his house and he lived a simple and frugal life just like commoners. His will declared that if his descendants were to be corrupt officials, they would be forbidden to return home and they would be denied the right to be buried in the family graveyard.
Bao was well respected by people because of his righteousness, and his legend was spread among the regions. Since people were used to calling him Lord Bao, his real name was rarely mentioned.
Lord Bao and the Inkstones
Bao Zheng was incorruptible and never received a bribe in all his life. He had been the magistrate of Duanzhou (today’s Zhaoqing in Guangdong Province) for almost three years. Duanzhou was famous for its Duan inkstones. Writing brush, ink, paper, and inkstones are altogether called “the four treasures of study”, and Hu writing brush, Hui ink, Xuan paper and Duan inkstones are the best of all. The stone of Duan inkstone is hard as well as smooth, and its texture is fine. As Duan inkstone is easy to grind the ink with and hard to dry, writing used with the ink ground by it is rather smooth and convenient. These inkstones were so fine that they were even presented as a tribute to emperors since the Tang dynasty. Bao Zheng’s predecessors had often extorted inkstones from the people and used them to bribe court officials. But when Bao Zheng governed there he did not extort any Duan inkstones and refused to stoop to flattery. In fact, although he was a keen calligrapher himself, he did not take a single inkstone with him when he left Duanzhou.
General Yue Fei, a Paragon of Loyalty
Yue Fei was a general of the JL Southern Song Dynasty, who fought victoriously against the invading forces of the Jin Dynasty. He studied hard since he was a child, and was particularly interested in strategics. He joined the army when he was 20 and became famous for his bravery. Yue Fei wanted to reoccupy the territory of middle China which had been occupied by the Jin Dynasty with all his heart. While he was rather strict with himself, he cared for and cherished the soldiers. The Yue army led by him was very intrepid and never lost on the battlefield.
In 1140, the Jin army under General Wu Zhu attacked the Southern Song Dynasty. Yue Fei commanded the Yue Army to fight against them. Wu Zhu had cavalries with special training. The soldiers and warhorses were all clad in thick armor called “guaizi horse” and had them to attack the Yue army. Yue Fei found out the weakness of “guaizi horse” and instructed his men to bend and to hack at the horses’ unprotected legs. In this way, the Jin troops fell down from the horses and were crushingly defeated. When Wuzhu heard about this sad news, he burst into a cry bitterly. He said that since he commanded the army to fight, his victories all depended on the “guaizi horse”, that all was over. The Yue army reoccupied a lot of lost territory of the Central Plains. There was a saying in the Jin army that, “It is easier to shake a mountain than to shake the Yue army”, which means it is easy to push down a mountain, but it is too hard to beat the army led by Yue Fei!
Later, however, the fatuous Emperor Gaozong of the Southern Song Dynasty made peace with Jin and asked Yue Fei to retreat from the battlefront. Yue Fei was dismissed, and in 1142 executed on a trumped-up charge of “moxuyou” (a local dialect meaning “perhaps having guilt”). Yue Fei was only 39 years old when he died.
After the Jin conquered the Liao, seeing that the Northern Song was corrupt as well as weakly defended, Jin decided to take the chance to overthrow the Song Dynasty and unify China. In October 1125, the Jin troops came directly from the north, and marched towards Dong Jing, the capital of the Song Dynasty. Emperor Huizong of the Song Dynasty was in a panic and did not dare to burden the duty of fighting back. In January 1126, he issued an imperial edict of abdication and let the prince Zhao Huan (Emperor Qinzong of the Song Dynasty) succeed the throne, and changed the reign title into Jingkang. The next year, the Jin army breached Dongjing and captured over 30 000 people, including Emperor Huizong, Emperor Qinzong, imperial concubines, imperial relatives, and ministers. The Northern Song Dynasty was over and this was called the “Jingkang Incident” in history. In the same year, Zhaogou (the brother of Emperor Qinzong) succeeded in Yingtianfu (today’s Shangqiu, Henan Province), and later moved the capital to Lin (today’s Hangzhou, Zhejiang province). This is the “Southern Song Dynasty” in history.
Wen Tianxiang, a Renowned Minister
Wen Tianxiang, who was born in Jiangxi Province, was a renowned minister in history. In his youth, he was fond of reading biographies of loyal ministers and made up his mind to model himself on them. Later, he achieved the first place in the imperial civil examination.
When Kublai Khan founded the Yuan Dynasty and commanded armies to approach Lin’an (the capital of the Southern Song Dynasty, today’s Hangzhou). The Northern Song Dynasty called on troops from all over the country to rescue the emperor, Wen Tianxiang raised a volunteer force of more than ten thousand in Jiangxi Province and prepared to go to Lin’an. A friend of’ his dissuaded him that, fighting against the Yuan army with the temporarily organized army was like fighting against a furious tiger with a group of sheep. However, Wen Tianxiang said, “How harrowing it will be when the country is in danger but nobody is willing to do anything about it! I know that my ability was limited, but I would rather die for my country.”
Appointed the Prime Minister by the Southern Song in the emergency situation, Wen Tianxiang went to negotiate with the Yuan army. However, Wen was detained by the Yuan side but managed to escape on the way of being escorted to Dadu. Wen Tianxiang escaped to Fuzhou and Guangdong, where he reorganized forces to fight against the Yuan army. He was captured once more because of the great disparity between the two sides and was sent to Dadu. Wen Tianxiang spent three years as a prisoner in Dadu. He would rather die than surrender. Emperor Shizu, Kublai Khan told Wen by himself that, “I fully understand your loyalty. If you can change your mind now and are willing to hold an official position in the Yuan Dynasty, I will keep you as the Prime Minister.” Wen Tianxiang replied that “Now that the Song Dynasty is over, all I want is death, and I have nothing more to say.” Wen Tianxiang died in 1283 at the age of 47. The Song of Integrity, which he wrote behind prison bars, is regarded as a classic of its kind.
Song of Integrity
There is integrity that is embodied in various forms.
On the earth it is mountains and rivers, in the sky, it is the sun and stars.
In man, it is the noble spirit that fills up the whole world.
The imperial road should be cleared of barbarians and be flooded with light.
In times of great danger man’s high moral principle shows itself and leaves its record in history.
This is revealed in the records of Qi, the writings of Dong Hu of Jin.
Zhang Liang’s service to Qin and Su Wu’s moral courage in the Han Dynasty.
It was General Yan’s head, Ji Kang’s blood, Zhang Suiyang’s teeth and Yan Changshan’s tongue.
It was the Liaodong hat that could withstand ice and snow.
It was Zhuge Liang’s memorial which was so heroic that it moved the immortals.
It was the river-crossing oar that wiped out the nomad invaders.
It was the Mongolian scepter that crushed treacherous vassals’ heads.
Integrity is so majestic that it will never die out.
It shoots up to the sun and the moon, and life and death are of no importance before it.
It supports both the earth and the sky.
Our lives hinge on our cardinal guides and our foundation rests on our morality.
But now everything is upside down.
Divested of his headgear this prisoner is kept behind prison bars in the north.
He would be only glad to be burned in the barbarians* crucible.
Ghost flame rages in the room and the courtyard is wrapped in darkness.
Oxen and steeds live in the same fold and chickens and phoenixes share the same food.
The earth is shrouded in mist and fog.
If things go on like this, miseries and disasters will spread.
I am sad that this swamp used to be my paradise-like homeland.
Fallacies cannot become truth nor can Yin and Yang be confused.
So I am worried and look up at the white clouds floating in the sky.
My heart is full of sorrow and I wonder where the sky will end.
The ancient sages are far away, my execution is nearing.
I open a book to read, and there is sunshine on the ancient words.
Genghis Khan and Kublai Khan
The Mongol was an ancient nationality in the north of China. At the end of the 12th century, Temujin united all the Mongolian tribes after 10 years of warfare. In 1206, he was chosen their khan, with the title of Genghis Khan which means “tough monarch”. Under Genghis Khan, the Mongol Empire which crossed the Eurasian landmass was very strong with its military action affecting the Danube River in Europe and having great influence in the developing of the world history. After Genghis Khan’s death, the Mongols continued to wipe out the Western Xia kingdom and the Jin Dynasty and incorporated northern China into their empire.
In 1260, Kublai (the grandson of Genghis Khan), succeeded to the position of Khan, and in 1264, he decided on Dadu (today’s Beijing) as his capital. In 1271, Kublai Khan formally proclaimed himself emperor, historically known as Emperor Shizu, of the newly established Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368). After consolidating his rule over the north, he moved south to attack the Southern Song Dynasty, which fell in 1279, and China was unified into one nation once again.
Kublai Khan reformed the system of administration at both the local and central levels after he became the emperor. First, he established the Zhongshusheng (Metropolitan Secretariat) in the central government as the highest administrative institution, and Xingzhongshusheng in local governments officially as the highest local administrative institutions, called Xingsheng for short. There were 10 Xingsheng altogether in the whole country. In addition, Tubo (today’s Tibet) officially became one of China5 s administrative regions in the Yuan Dynasty, under the direct administration of Xuanzhengyuan (Commission for Buddhist and Tibetan Affairs) in the central government. In the Yuan Dynasty, too, the government set up Penghu Xunjiansi, which ruled the Island of Taiwan and Penghu. This was the beginning of the Chinese central government administration over Taiwan.
The setting up of the Xingsheng system strengthened the relations between the central and local governments, as well as those between different local governments. It made the central government administration over border areas more effective than that of any previous dynasty, solidifying the unity of China as a multi-ethnic country. This was a pioneering work of Kublai, Emperor Shizu. Moreover, it was the basis of the administrative systems of later dynasties, and even of today’s China.
Dadu in the Yuan Dynasty
Dadu was the capital of the Yuan Dynasty. The Mongol called it “Hanbah”, which means “the city of Khan”. After conquering the Jin Dynasty, in 1246, Kublai Khan embarked on laying out and building a new capital city centered on the Provisional Imperial Palace with a great view in the northeast, on the site of the Jin capital, Zhongdu. The construction of Dadu was completed in 1276. The new capital consisted of the Outer City, the Imperial City and the Palace City. With grand buildings and a strictly ordered pattern of streets and quarters, Dadu was the largest commercial center in the Yuan Dynasty and one of the most grandiose and most prosperous cities of that time in the world. There were over 30 markets of various types, comprehensive commercial centers and downtown streets devoted to different trades. The city of Beijing during the Ming and Qing dynasties was rebuilt and extended on the basis of Dadu, and many of the Yuan Dynasty buildings are still preserved.
Marco Polo’s Travels in China
The Yuan Dynasty had worldwide contacts with different countries in Asia, Africa, and Europe. Among the many foreigners who came to China at that time, Marco Polo (1254-1324), an Italian from Venice, Italy, was the most famous.
In the summer of 1271, Marco Polo arrived in China with his father and uncle after a journey which had taken them four years.
Marco Polo was very smart and hard-working. Soon he acquired Mongolian, equitation, and toxophily, and became a favorite of Kublai Khan, who often sent him on inspection tours. Later, he wrote a book which described many places in the northwest, southwest, the middle south of China as well as northern China and eastern China. It is said that he served as the magistrate of Yangzhou for three years.
After their long settlement in China, the three Europeans missed their homeland very much and pleaded to return back several times. They got permission and began an adventurous journey home. The three Europeans finally returned to their homeland in 1295.
They had left their homeland for 24 years. The local people believed they had died abroad. However, they came back to eastern clothes. People thought they had brought back countless treasure and gave Marco the nickname, “a millionaire”.
Soon, Venice had a war with another city Genoa. Marco Polo brought a ship with his own money and sailed it himself to join the armada of Venice. Unfortunately, Venice lost the battle and he was captured and thrown into prison. The Genoa people heard about his travels to the East and often went to jail to listen to his stories of the East and China. There was a writer in jail who wrote down the stories told by Marco Polo and edited it into a book called The Travels of Marco Polo.
Marco Polo described a fabulous eastern world in his travel and introduced the great political events, customs, beliefs, famous cities, productions and commercial activities in detail. Since the book was published, it had been popular with Europeans and roused their interest in eastern civilization.
Since the 15th century, European navigators and explorers, generally influenced by Marco Polo, went to the East to search for a country full of gold.
The Four Great Inventions
The Technique of Making Paper
A crude type of paper was used for writing on as early as in the Western Han Dynasty. It was made from plant fiber and was rather rough, which was inconvenient to write on. Cai Lun, a eunuch of the Eastern Han Dynasty, improved the technique of making paper using tree bark, rags, and old fishing nets as raw materials, and produced a cheaper, more beautiful and more convenient type of paper. This kind of paper which used hemp as main material greatly generalized and promoted writing. By the third or fourth century, the paper had replaced bamboo slips and silk as the main material for writing on.
The Invention of the Compass
Natural magnets were ground into crude compasses which called (a device pointing the south) as early as in the Warring States Period, and that was the oldest compass in the world, 2 000 years ago from now. The magnetic effect of Sinan was weak, as was its ability to guide south.
By the Song Dynasty, artificial magnets had been invented, whose magnetism was more stable than that of natural magnets. The equipment of the compass had been improved a lot and people invented several guiding tools such as the compass fish, the compass turtle, and the floating compass.
In the Song Dynasty, the maritime trade was prosperous. In order to overcome the difficulties of traveling in the ocean, at the end of the Song Dynasty, compasses were used for navigation. There were even compass needles which were made by putting a compass on a dial with degree markings. This helped the sailors to find out the direction even during those days without sunlight and nights without moonlight.
The Technique of Printing
Printing has played a very important role in the history of civilization. Woodblock printing was in use at the time of the Sui Dynasty. But it involved a laborious and expensive process.
Bi Sheng of the Northern Song Dynasty was a smart printing worker, and he invented movable type of printing. He carved characters in reverse on blocks of clay. When a group was finished, the blocks were baked in a kiln. The slugs of the type were pressed onto a coating of resin, wax and paper ash spread on an iron tray, which was then heated and cooled to fix the slugs. If there was a wrong character, it could easily be replaced, and the tray, slugs, and coating could be used over and over again.
Bi Sheng laid the foundation for improving the technique of printing. There was wooden type in West Xia, and in the Ming Dynasty, the bronze type was invented, and later lead type was used.
Gunpowder and Firearms
Alchemists were the first people in ancient China to dabble in chemistry. In the search for “pills of immortality”, it was found that a mixture of sulfur, saltpeter, and charcoal could cause an explosion. People called the mixture of these three materials “gunpowder”. A book in the middle of the Tang Dynasty recorded the method to make gunpowder. At the end of the Tang Dynasty, gunpowder was applied for military use.
In the Song Dynasty, gunpowder was widely used. Not only was it used in daily life, such as for hunting, stone-mining, and fireworks, but also for military actions. The technique of making firearms had entered a new stage. The gunpowder weapons made in the Northern Song Dynasty were mainly for burning and explosions, such as fire arrows, pili burning balls and jili burning balls. In the Southern Song Dynasty, the fistulous firearms were invented. The Song army had invented a fistular kind of “fire guns” and used them to fight against the Mongolian army. The firing gun was made by putting the gunpowder into bamboo canisters and then adding “zike” into them. Zike resembled bullets in character but was made of stone and iron block. This was the oldest crude muskets in the world, which showed great progress in the history of firearm making.
Riverside Scene on the Pure Brightness Festival
Apart from the masterpieces of figure painting, landscape, flower-and-bird painting, the Song Dynasty also produced social genre paintings describing both urban and rural life. The most famous of the latter works is one known as the Riverside Scene on the Pure Brightness Festival. It was painted by Zhang Zeduan, who lived in the late Northern Song Dynasty and early Southern Song Dynasty. It depicts scenes along the Bianhe River at Dongjing (today’s Kaifeng in Henan Province), the capital of the Northern Song Dynasty, at the time of the Pure Brightness Festival.
Now it belongs to the collection of the Palace Museum in Beijing. The painting is divided into three parts: the first part shows a team of pack mules plodding along the river bank in the suburbs in the morning light; the second part shows the bustling scene of the transportation on Bianhe, especially the Rainbow Bridge spanning the river like a rainbow. There are many people and traffic on the bridge, so it is very busy there; the third part depicts the downtown streets, thronged with people plying all sorts of trades, and their customers. The whole scroll is 25.5 cm wide and 525 cm long and has over 800 human and 94 animal figures, and 170 trees. This fascinating painting shows vegetable garden scenes, transportation over the Bianhe, business in the streets, architecture along the river and the tense labor of boatmen, the leisure of officials, the grand Rainbow Bridge, lofty buildings as well as vehicles, sedan-chairs and camels, all of which are portrayed vividly. This painting is effective with a high value of appreciation. It is popular with common people and copied by many painters.
The Riverside Scene on the Pure Brightness Festival directly reflected the city visage of Dongjing during the North Song Dynasty. It is not only valuable for appreciation but also provides valuable material for the study of Dongjing during the North Song Dynasty.
Smashing the Vat by Sima Guang
It is said that one day at the age of seven Sima Guang was playing with other children in the courtyard of his house. There was a big vat of water in the courtyard. One child climbed to the edge of the vat and fell into it. The vat was big and the water was deep, the child was drowning. While the other children were running around howling in a panic, Sima Guang coolly picked up a large stone and smashed the side of the vat with it. The vat was broken, water flowed out through the hole, and the drowning child was saved.
Sima Guang and the Comprehensive Mirror for Aid in Government
Sima Guang (1019-1086) was statesman and historian of the Northern Song Dynasty. He was born in Xiaxian county, Shan Prefecture (belonging to Shanxi Province today) and he was born in an official family. He served as a prime minister at one time.
The most extraordinary achievement of Sima Guang was compiling the Comprehensive Mirror for Aid in Government. Sima Guang was convinced that those governing the country should be well versed in history. He spent two years in writing a history book including the history from the Warring States Period to the end of the Qin Dynasty, which was called General History. Later, when he submitted the book to Emperor Yingzong of the Song Dynasty, the Emperor was satisfied and encouraged him to continue to compile the book. Emperor Yingzong allowed Sima Guang to choose the compiling crew by himself and read the collected books of the library. Sima Guang was so delighted that he set up a press immediately and invited many Famous historians of that time to be his assistants, and began to compile the general history together. They collected a lot of materials, many of which had never been recorded in other history books, making them very precious.
It took Sima Guang’s painstaking effort to compile this book. He was afraid too much sleep would delay the work, so he ordered a pillow made of a round log. If he turned over during sleep, the pillow would slip from his head and he would wake up. This pillow was called the “alarm pillow”.
Sima Guang spent a total of 19 years on this book. The succeeded Emperor Shenzong of the Song Dynasty thought highly of the book and named it Comprehensive Mirror for Aid in Government. The book is a comprehensive history of China in chronological style covering 1 362 years from 403 BC to 959 AD. This magnum opus comprises 294 volumes containing more than 3 000 000 words. The material was very detailed, and the words were exquisite and fluent. This book became the model for later chronicle history books and is a precious cultural inheritance of ancient China.