Sima Guang 司马光

A historian who created a general history for reference

Overview

Chinese Name: 司马光

English Name: Sima Guang

Other Names: Sima Wengong 司马温公, Mr. Sushui 涑水先生, Sima Wenzheng 司马文正

Born: November 17, 1019

Died: October 11, 1086

Achievements:

Preside over the compilation of Zizhi Tongjian 主持编纂《资治通鉴》

Serve four dynasties and achieve outstanding political achievements 历仕四朝,政绩卓著

Main Works:

Zizhi Tongjian 资治通鉴

Sima Guang 司马光
Sima Guang 司马光

Brief Biography of Sima Guang

Sima Guang was a statesman, historian, and writer of the Northern Song Dynasty. He claimed to be the successor of Sima Fu 司马孚, the king of Anping 安平 in the Western Jin Dynasty 西晋.

Sima Guang (November 17, 1019-October 11, 1086), courtesy name Junshi 君实, art name Yusou 迂叟, was born in Sushui Township 涑水乡, Xia County 夏县, Shaanxi Province 陕州 (now Xia County 夏县, Shanxi Province 山西省), and was known as Mr. Sushui 涑水先生.

In the first year of Baoyuan 宝元 of Song Renzong 宋仁宗 (1038), he was a scholar and was promoted to LongTuge. During the reign of Emperor Shenzong of the Song Dynasty 宋神宗, he opposed Wang Anshi’s reform and left the court for 15 years. He presided over the compilation of the chronicle of general history, Zizhi Tongjian 资治通鉴.

The statue of Sima Guang 司马光塑像
The statue of Sima Guang 司马光塑像

He went through the four dynasties of Renzong 仁宗, Yingzong 英宗, Shenzong 神宗, and Zhezong 哲总. In the 1st year of Yuan you 元祐 (1086), he died and was posthumously titled the grand master 太师 and Wen Guogong 温国公, with the posthumous title of Wenzheng 文正. He was listed as a member of the Yuan you party 元祐党 and was entitled to the Temple Court of Zhezong of Song.

Being gentle, modest, and upright, he worked hard, which can be regarded as a model under the Enlightenment of Confucianism. There are many works in his life, including Wen Guowen Zheng Sima’s official document collection 温国文正司马公文集, Ji Gu Lu 稽古录, Su Shui Ji Wen 涑水记闻, and Qian Xu 潜虚.

Personal Life and Major Contributions

Enter the officialdom

In the first year of Baoyuan 宝元 (1038), Sima Guang was 20 years old. He participated in the examination and became a scholar at one stroke. From then on, he entered the officialdom and became a judge of Huazhou 华州 (now Hua County 华县, Shanxi Province 陕西省).

At this time, Sima Chi 司马池 was the governor of Tongzhou 同州 (now Dali 大荔, Shaanxi 陕西). The two places were close to each other. Sima Guang often went to visit his parents. In Tongzhou, he met Shi Changyan 石昌言, a scholar of the same discipline. Shi Changyan was a talented person. Although he was more than 20 years older than Sima Guangguang, they talked very well. They often exchanged knowledge, discussed the past and present, and became good friends. In the same year, he married Zhang Cun 张存’s daughter.

The former residence of Sima Guang 司马光故居
The former residence of Sima Guang 司马光故居

In the second year of Baoyuan (1039), because his father was transferred to Hangzhou, Sima Guang resigned from the judge of Huazhou and changed to the judge of Suzhou 苏州判官. Just as he was progressing in his official career with grand ambitions, his mother died of illness. According to feudal ethics, he had to resign and go home to mourn for three years.

During this period, Yuan Hao 元昊, a member of the northern Dangxiang ethnic group 党项族, proclaimed himself Emperor (in the first year of Baoyuan, 1038) and established the Xixia state 西夏. In order to get rid of its subordinate status to the Song Dynasty, Xixia fought a war with the Song Dynasty, and the Song Dynasty failed repeatedly.

Academic achievements

Sima Guang’s main achievements are reflected in the academic field. Among them, the most significant contribution is to preside over the compilation “Zizhi Tongjian 资治通鉴”. During the Xining 熙宁 period of emperor Shenzong of the Song Dynasty 宋神宗, Sima Guang strongly opposed Wang Anshi’s reform and asked for a foreign post.

In the 4th year of Xining (1071), he was arranged to be Xijing Yushitai, and lived in Luoyang 洛阳 for 15 years, regardless of political affairs. During this period of wandering, Sima Guang presided over the compilation of 294 volumes of nearly 4 million words of the chronicle history book Zizhi Tongjian. Sima Guang’s unique paradise is not only his residence but also the location of the Zizhi Tongjian bookstore.

Zizhi Tongjian 资治通鉴
Zizhi Tongjian 资治通鉴

The beautiful environment and simple style here reflect the interest and pursuit of the garden owner. The book company was established in Bianjing 汴京. In addition to Sima Guang, the famous scholars Liu Shu 刘恕, Liu Wei 刘攽, and fan Zuyu 范祖禹 at that time all participated in the work of the book company. Among them, Sima Guang was the editor-in-chief, Liu Shu, Liu Yi, and fan Zuyu were the assistants, and Sima Kang 司马康, the son of Sima Guang, was the work of reviewing the text.

After Sima Guang came to Luoyang, he moved the Zizhi Tongjian book office from Bianliang 汴梁 to Luoyang. Not only the staff of the publishing house but also the famous celebrities of Luoyang, such as Ercheng 二程, Shao Yong 邵雍and Wen Yanbo 文彦博, often came here to gather. It can be called an academic center.

Sima Guang smash the cylinder

Once, Sima Guang and his friends were playing in the backyard. There is a large water tank in the yard. A child climbed onto the edge of the tank to play. He accidentally fell into the water tank. The tank was so deep that the child was almost dead. As soon as the other children saw that something had happened, they were so frightened that they cried and ran outside to ask the adults for help.

Sima Guang smash the cylinder 司马光砸缸
Sima Guang smash the cylinder 司马光砸缸

Sima Guang, however, was quick-witted. He picked up a large stone from the ground and threw it hard at the water tank. With a “bang”, the water tank broke and the water in the tank came out. The drowned child was also saved. Young Sima Guang is calm, intelligent, and clever when he is in trouble. He has always looked like a little adult since childhood. This accidental incident made Sima Guang famous. Some people in Luoyang painted this incident and it was widely spread.

Video: What makes a Good Leader? Lessons from Chinese History. Sima Guang’s Virtue- Talent Matrix

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