Shitong (All about Historiography)
The Shitong (史通) "All about historiography" is one of China’s oldest books containing a systematic critique to historiography. It was written by the Tang period (618-907) scholar Liu Zhiji (刘知几), contains 20 chapters (juan, "scrolls") and was finished in 710. Liu Zhiji was himself a very important historiographer at the Tang court and wrote himself several histories: a Tangshu (唐书) "Book of the [origin of the] Tang" in 80 juan (together with with Zhu Jingze 朱敬则), the veritable records of Empress Wu Zetian (武则天) (r. 690-704), Wuhou shilu (武后实录) (with Xu Jian 徐坚), and two genalogies called Shizuzhi (氏族志) "Families and clans" (with Liu Chong 刘冲) and Xingzu xilu (姓族系錄) "The genealogies of the [great] families", the latter in 200 juan, further the veritable records of emperor Ruizong (r. 684 and 710-712), Ruizong shilu (睿宗实录) in 20 juan (with Wu Jing 吴競) and emperor Zhongzong (r. 683-684 and 705-709), Zhongzong shilu (中宗实录) in 20 juan, as well as a revised record of the empress, the Zetian shilu (则天实录) in 30 juan.
In 708 he retired from his office – at least for some time – in order to compile his Shitong. The main reason was that he was very displeased with the influence high officials tried to exert on the historiographers in order to conceal negative facts or to embellish mediocre performances.
His book contains 39 so-called inner chapters, of which 3 were lost during the Song period (960-1279), and 13 outer chapters. Liu systematically treats all aspects of historiography and highlights his standpoint with examples. He thus tried to establish rules for an objective kind of historiography. His book is very important to know more about the offices and procedures in ancient Chinese historiography. Liu stressed that a historian has straightly to write down facts, without "beating around the bush", but he has also to highlight the good and to criticise the bad. The second important point is a good composition. Only this will allow a book obtaining the status of a classic. Thirdly he has to XXX. A historian, Liu says, must know how to interprete sources, he has to have knowledge of history, and must be trained in historiography .
Though Liu Zhiji developed important guidelines for a more objective historiography he did not leave the traditional paths of the prevalent two types of history writing, which was either done in a biographic-thematic style (纪传体) or in an annalistic form (编年体). He made no proposals for better forms of writing history in the future.
The late Tang scholar Liu Can (柳璨) wrote a commentary, the Shitong xiwei (史通析微). The earliest exant printing dates from the Ming period (1368-1644). The Ming time scholar Li Weizhen (李维桢) wrote the commentary called Shitong pingshi (史通评释), Guo Kongyan (郭孔延) a commentary with the same title, and Wang Weijian (王维俭) wrote the Shitong xungu (史通训诂). All those commenaries were considered in Pu Qilong’s Shitong tongshi (史通通释) which was printed in 1752. This is the most widespread commentary. It was was reprinted in 1978 by the Shanghai guji press (上海古籍出版社).