The historiographical type of annals or chronicles (in the terminology of the imperial collectanea Siku quanshu 四庫全書 called biannian lei 編年類) is the second subcategory to the literary category of historiography (shibu 史部) in traditional bibliographies. Unlike the official dynastic histories (zhengshi 正史), which are arranged in a biographic-thematic style (jizhuanti 紀傳體), the annals are strictly written chronologically (in a style called biannianti 編年體). The term biannian first appears in a commentary to the Chunqiu 春秋 "Spring and Autumn Annals", the Gongyangzhuan 公羊傳, where it is said that the structure of the Chunqiu ensured the chronological completion of a year by mentioning all four seasons.
The descriptive bibliography Siku quanshu zongmu tiyao 四庫全書總目提要 says that unlike the official dynastic histories that covered the reigns of each and all dynasties, there was not a similar corpus of annals recording the events of all dynasties in the same manner. The genre of annals was nevertheless so important that they could serve as "secondary source" to the official dynastic histories (xiang fu er xing 相輔而行 "[may] circulate in an assisting function [to the dynastic histories]").
In another section the compilers even explain that annalistic historiography was, before the compilation of the Shiji 史記, the one and only, and therefore also the correct, way of writing history. Similarly it is said in the Guoshi jingji zhi 國史經籍志 that both styles had their advantages, but the annals style was the older and therefore the more "canonical" (dianxun 典訓) one.
The style of annals was also praised for its neutrality in moral questions. While the biography-style histories had problems to justify the existence of imperial annals for Empress Dowager Lü 呂太后 (regent 188–180 BCE) and Empress Wu Zetian 武則天 (regent 684–690, ruler 690–704), it was clear from the chronological perspective that if there was no legitimate male ruler the years had to be counted according to the reign of the female regent.
The annals section of the Siku quanshu contains 38 books, the chapter of texts described but not included (cunmu 存目) a further 37 texts.
The following list presents the chronicles described in this encyclopaedia. Apart from texts included in the Siku quanshu, its descriptive catalogue and the Xuxiu siku quanshu 續修四庫全書, the most important "veritable records" will be found. The Siku quanshu includes in this subcategory also the military annals of the foundation of the Manchu dynasty, Huang-Qing kaiguo fanglüe 皇清開國方略, while the other military annals (fanglüe 方略) are found in the subsection of theme-centered "histories in their entirety" (jishi benmo 紀事本末).
An overview of the historical development of the bibliographical category of "annals and chronicles" can be found further below.
|春秋左傳||Chunqiu-Zuozhuan → Confucian Classics||(Zhou) NN|
|竹書紀年 二卷||Zhushu jinian||(Zhou) NN; (Liang) 沈約 Shen Yue (comm.)|
|前漢紀 (漢紀) 三十卷||Qianhanji (Hanji)||(Han) 荀悅 Xun Yue|
|後漢紀 三十卷||Houhanji||(Jin) 袁宏 Yuan Hong|
|元經 十卷||Yuanjing||(Sui) 王通 Wang Tong (?), (Tang) 薛收 Xue Shou (comp.)|
|大唐創業起居注 三卷||(Da-)Tang chuangye qijuzhu||(Tang) 溫大雅 Wen Daya|
|通曆 (通紀) 十二卷||Tongli (Tongji)||(Tang) 馬總 Ma Zong; (Song) 孫光憲 Sun Guangxian (cont.)|
|五代春秋 二卷 (存目)||Wudai chunqiu||(Song) 尹洙 Yin Zhu|
|資治通鑒 二百九十四卷||Zizhi tongjian||(Song) 司馬光 Sima Guang; (Yuan) 胡三省 Hu Sanxing (comm.)|
|稽古錄 二十卷||Jigulu||(Song) 司馬光 Sima Guang|
|資治通鑑外紀 十卷||Zizhi tongjian waiji||(Song) 劉恕 Liu Shu|
|皇王大紀 八十卷||Huangwang daji||(Song) 胡宏 Hu Hong|
|宋中興紀事本末 七十六卷||Song zhongxing jishi benmo||(Song) 熊克 Xiong Ke|
|續資治通鑒長編 五百二十卷||Xu zizhi tongjian changbian||(Song) 李燾 Li Tao|
|大事記 十二卷||Dashiji||(Song) 呂祖謙 Lü Zuqian|
|建炎以來系年要錄 二百卷||Jianyan yilai xinian yaolu||(Song) 李心傳 Li Xinchuan|
|續宋編年資治通鑒 十五卷||Xu Song biannian zizhi tongjian||(Song) 劉時舉 Liu Shiju|
|續宋編年資治通鑒 十八卷 (存目)||Xu Song biannian zizhi tongjian||(Song) 李燾 Li Tao (?)|
|皇宋十朝綱要 二十五卷 (續修)||Huang-Song shichao gangyao||(Song) 李𡌴[=埴] Li Zhi|
|靖康要錄 十二卷||Jingkang yaolu||(Song) 汪藻 Wang Zao|
|通鑒綱目前編 三卷 (存目)||Tongjian gangmu qianbian||(Ming) 許誥 Xu Gao|
|宋史全文 三十六卷||Songshi quanwen||(Yuan) NN|
|資治通鑒前編 十八卷||Zizhi tongjian qianbian||(Song) 金履祥 Jin Lüxiang|
|通鑒綱目||Tongjian gangmu → Historical critique||(Song) 朱熹 Zhu Xi|
|資治通鑒續編 二十四卷||Zizhi tongjian xubian||(Yuan/Ming) 陳桱 Chen Jing|
|大事記續編 七十七卷||Da shiji xubian||(Yuan) 王禕 Wang Yi|
|元史續編 十六卷||Yuanshi xubian||(Ming) 胡粹中 Hu Cuizhong|
|國榷 一卷 (續修)||Guoque||(Ming) 談遷 Tan Qian|
|明大政記 二十五卷 (存目)||Ming dazheng ji||(Ming) 雷禮 Lei Li|
|通鑒綱目前編 二十五卷 (存目)||Tongjian gangmu qianbian||(Ming) 南軒 Nan Xuan|
|龍飛紀略 八卷 (存目)||Longfei jilüe||(Ming) 吳樸 Wu Pu|
|皇明通紀 *||Huang-Ming tongji||(Ming) 陳建 Chen Jian|
|皇朝啟運錄 *||Huangchao qiyun lu||(Ming) 陳建 Chen Jian|
|皇明從信錄 四十卷 (續修)||Huang-Ming congxin lu||(Ming) 陳建 Chen Jian; 沈國元 Shen Guoyuan (rev., suppl.)|
|兩朝從信錄 三十五卷 (續修)||Huang-Ming congxin lu||(Ming) 沈國元 Shen Guoyuan|
|皇明法傳錄 二十八卷 (續修)||Huang-Ming fazhuan lu||(Ming) 陳建 Chen Jian; 高汝栻 Gao Rushi (rev., suppl.); 吳楨 Wu Zhen (rev.)|
|宋元資治通鑒 *||Song-Yuan zizhi tongjian||(Ming) 王宗沐 Wang Zongmu|
|宋元資治通鑒 一百五十七卷 (存目)||Song-Yuan zizhi tongjian||(Ming) 薛應旂 Xue Yingqi|
|憲章錄 四十七卷 (存目,續修)||Xianzhanglu||(Ming) 薛應旂 Xue Yingqi|
|兩朝憲章錄 二十卷 (存目,續修)||Liangchao xianzhanglu||(Ming) 吳瑞登 Wu Ruideng|
|憲章外史續編 十四卷 (續修)||Xianzhang waishi xubian||(Ming/Qing) 許重熙 Xu Chongxi|
|昭代典則 二十八卷 (存目,續修)||Zhaodai dianze||(Ming) 黃光昇 Huang Guangsheng|
|明大政纂要 六十卷 (存目)||Ming dazheng zuanyao||(Ming) 譚希思 Tan Xisi|
|崇禎長編 *||Chongzhen changbian||(Qing) 王楫 Wang Ji|
|資治通鑒補(正) 二百九十四卷 (續修)||Zizhi tongjian bu(zheng)||(Ming) 嚴衍 Yan Yan|
|(御批)歷代通鍳輯覽 一百十六卷||(Yupi) Lidai tongjian jilan||(Qing) imp. ord. (comp.)|
|續資治通鑒 二百二十卷 (續修)||Xu zizhi tongjian||(Qing) 畢沅 Bi Yuan|
|明通鑒 九十卷 (續修)||Ming tongjian||(Qing) 夏燮 Xia Xie|
|明紀 *||Mingji||(Qing) 陳鶴 Chen He|
|滿文老檔 *||Manwen laodang||(Qing/Rep)|
|滿洲實錄 *||Manzhou shilu||(Qing/Rep)|
|武皇帝實錄 *||Wu huangdi shilu||(Qing/Rep)|
|東華錄 (續修)||Donghualu||(Qing) 蔣良騏 Jiang Liangqi; 王先謙 Wang Xianqian; 朱壽朋 Zhu Shouming|
|(御定)資治通鑒綱目三編 四十卷||(Yuding) Zizi tongjian gangmu sanbian||(Qing) 張廷玉 Zhang Tingyu et al. (imp. ord.)|
|開國紀略 無卷 *||Kaiguo jilüe||(Qing) NN|
|皇清開國方略 三十二卷||Huang-Qing kaiguo fanglüe||(Qing) 阿桂 Agūi, 梁國治 Liang Guozhi (et al.; imp. ord.)|
|資治通鑒後編 一百八十四卷||Zizhi tongjian houbian||(Qing) 徐乾學 Xu Qianxue|
|國朝大事記 十二卷||Guochao dashi ji||(Qing) 金象豫 Jin Xiangyu|
|籌辦夷務始末 二百三十四卷||Chouban yiwu shimo||(Qing) (imp. ord.)|
|宣統政記 *||Xuantong zhengji||(Rep) 金毓黻 Jin Yufu|
The term biannian is used as a historiographical category from the Xintangshu 新唐書 on. Before that, books of this type were called gushi 古史 "ancient histories" (or rather "old-style histories").
The bibliographic chapter Jingji zhi 經籍志 in the dynastic history Suishu 隋書 explains that during the Later Han period 後漢 (25-220 CE) Xun Yue 荀悅 was entrusted to write a history in the pattern of the Confucian Classic Chunqiu and its parallel and commentary Zuozhuan 左傳. The result, called Hanji 漢紀 (Qianhanji 前漢紀 ), was a very detailed chronicle of the Former Han period 前漢 (206 BCE-8 CE).
During the Jin period 晉 (265-420) the tomb library of King Xiang of Wei 魏襄王 (r. 318 -296 BCE), a feudal ruler of the Warring States period 戰國 (5th cent.-221 BCE), was discovered, but because the documents in it were written in a very peculiar type of script called kedou 科斗 (later explained as kedou 蝌蚪 "tadpole" script, but quite probable just large seal script), the grave robbers were unable to recognize the value of these texts. Fragments of it were collected by Xu Xun 荀勖 (231–289 CE) and He Qiao 和嶠 (dates unknown) because they had found out that they constituted "the annals of the state of Wei" (Wei guo zhi shi ji 魏國之史記). The text was written as a chronicle, and therefore it was believed that this was, like in the Chunqiu, the original, "ancient" form of historiography, in contrast to Sima Qian's 司馬遷 Shiji that consists of biographies, tables and treatises. The surviving fragments were later called "Bamboo Annals" (Zhushu jinian 竹書紀年), but the ancient title was Jizhoushu 汲冢書 "Book from the tomb of Ji".
The subcategory of "ancient histories" (gushi) in the Suishu includes the Jizhoushu and chronicles of each dynasty, from Xun Yue's Hanji to the book (Bei)-Qizhi (北)齊志 by Wang Shao 王劭 (c. 600). The oldest bibliographies show that there were several terms used for the names of chronicles written between the third and the seventh centuries, namely chunqiu "spring and autumn of..." (like Weishi chunqiu 魏氏春秋, Han-Wei chunqiu 漢魏春秋, 宋春秋 or Sanshiguo chunqiu 三十國春秋), showing the idea that they were "descendants" of the highly venerated ancient chronicle, further ji 紀 "annals of..." (note that the word ji is also part of the term benji 本紀, the imperial annals in the official dynastic histories, showing that these are not purely "biographical", but of a mixed character), and (more rarely) dian 典 "statutory (history)" (like Qidian 齊典 or Liangdian 梁典) and lüe 略 "concise report of" (like Songlüe 宋略 or 梁後略).
It must be noted that the Chunqiu itself, although the model for all annals, is part of the category of Confucian Classics.
In the bibliographic chapter of the Jiutangshu 舊唐書 two terms are used for chronicles, namely gushi and biannian. These are, furthermore, mixed with "miscellaneous" histories (zashi 雜史). The according paragraph includes most of the books mentioned above, but also history books on "illegal" states, including Cui Hong's 崔鴻 Shiliuguo chunqiu 十六國春秋 and Chang Qu´'s 常璩 history of Sichuan, Huayang guo zhi 華陽國志. This type of history of dynasties other than the "rightful" ones (in this case, the Cao-Wei 曹魏, 220-265, and Jin 晉, 265-420, and the Southern Dynasties 南朝, 420-589, respectively) was later shifted to the category of histories of "illegal" dynasties (bashi 霸史, weishi 偽史).
In the Xintangshu bibliography the distinction of genres is again made clear. The section of annals there also includes books on the Sui 隋 (581-618) and Tang 唐 (618-907) dynasties, like Zhang Dasu's 張大素 (Zhang Taisu 張太素) Sui houlüe 隋後略, or three texts called Tang chunqiu 唐春秋, one by Wu Jing 吳兢, one by Wei Shu 韋述, and one written by Lu Changyuan 陸長源. It can be seen that the terminology for annals was still quite traditional during that time.
The annals section in the Xintangshu bibliography also includes books on calendars that might have been very prosaic chronicles, like Ma Zong's 馬摠 (also written 馬總) Tongli 通曆 or Zhang Dunsu's 張敦素 Jianyuan li 建元曆. For these calendars, Zheng Qiao 鄭樵 (1104–1162) created an own section (yunli 運曆) in the bibliographic chapter of his history Tongzhi 通志. A third type of genre found in the Xintangshu catalogue are universal chronicles covering more than one dynasty, namely—besides the Bamboo Annals (shortly called Jinian 紀年)—Li Kuangwen's 李匡文 Liang-Han zhi Tang nianji 兩漢至唐年紀 "Chronicle from the two Han dynasties to the Tang" or Miao Taifu's 苗台符 Gujin tongyao 古今通要 "Important dates from past and present".
How important it was to analyse the structure of a text rather than its title, can be seen in Wen Daya's 溫大雅 Da-Tang chuangye qijuzhu 大唐創業起居注, whose title suggests that Wen's book might be an imperial diary (qijuzhu 起居注), while the text shows that is is a chronicle. The book was accordingly listed in the annals section of Chao Gongwu's 晁公武 catalogue Junzhai dushu zhi 郡齋讀書志.
From the Song period on historians began to write more universal histories, beginning with Song Xiang's 宋庠 (996–1066) Jinian tongpu 紀年通譜 and Zhang Heng's 章衡 (1025–1099, sometimes erroneously written 張衡) Biannian tongzai 編年通載, and culminating in the writings of Sima Guang 司馬光, namely Jigulu 稽古錄 and the famous Zizhi tongjian 資治通鑒.
Because of this eminent "revival" of universal histories the bibliographer Zheng Qiao decided to separate them from the dynastic annals and created in the bibliographic chapter of his history Tongzhi a third-layer category for multi-dynastic annals (jilu 紀錄), where one finds the books Diwang shiji 帝王世紀 by Huangfu Mi 皇甫謐 (215-282), Xu diwang shiji 續帝王世紀 by He Maolin 何茂林, Dongji 洞紀 by Wei Zhao 韋昭, Xu dongji 續洞紀 by Zang Rongxu 臧榮緒, Shiwudai lüe 十五代略 by Ji Wenfu 吉文甫, Xiansheng benji 先聖本紀 by Liu Dao 劉縚 (also written 劉滔), Dilu 帝錄 by Zhuge Dan 諸葛耽, Diwang jilu 帝王紀錄 by Chu Wuliang 褚無量, Sanguo chunqiu 三國春秋 by Yuan Banqian 員半千, and a book of the same title by Cui Liangzuo 崔良佐, Jigudian 稽古典 by Tang Ying 唐穎, Tongli 通曆 by Li Renshi 李仁實, Ma Zong's Tongli, Xu tongli 續通曆 by Sun Guangxian 孫光憲, Biannian tongzai by Zhang Heng, and the Zizhi tongjian. Most of these text are lost today.
The late Ming period 明 (1368-1644) catalogue Guoshi jingji zhi separates thes last few books from the annals because they were more chronological lists (yunli 運歷) than history books.
The oldest bibliographies included the distinct subcategories of imperial diaries (qijuzhu) and "veritable records" (shilu 實錄). These were later merged into the annals section.