Early Life. The son of a classical scholar, Li Tao was fond of learning. From his early childhood he read broadly, not only Confucian classics but also history and books on medicine, agriculture, cosmology, and predictions. Among these works, he was particularly interested in the / Chang (Book of Changes).
Specialization. History became his area of specialty over other subjects. He committed himself to studying the Spring and Autumn Annals. Emphasizing the moral-didactic view of history writing, he believed that the historian should act as an ethical commentator and use the Spring and Autumn Annals as a model. While compiling his history, he praised or blamed participants in historical events as a means to encourage the good and warn the evil. He also took compassion on the con-duct of the lower classes and paid attention to local events. For this reason, he was considered a positivist historian rather than an active traditionalist.
Local Official. In 1132, when he was seventeen years old, he passed the prefectural examination and began to write two historical works, The Mirror of Both Han Dynasties and The Discussion about the Restoration of Righteousness, both of which contributed to his fame as a moralist historian. He received the Jinshi degree in 1138 and was appointed later as subprefectural registrar of a region. He asked the government, however, for a delay of his assumption of the new office for several years and continued his studies at home. In 1142, when he took the post, he was encouraged by friends to seek a higher position in the central government, but he rejected their suggestions. During this time as a local official he used his energy on academic works, namely the collection and arrangement of historical sources.
Compiler. After his father died in 1147, he returned home to observe mourning; three years later he was appointed judge of a prefecture. He then started to compile his life’s work, The Manuscript for the Extension of the Broad Mirror for Helping Government. In 1162 he was appointed administrator of a prefecture. Five years later he was summoned to the central government and appointed an assistant in the Ministry of War and concurrently an official of the Bureau of Compilation of the Reign History. He became vice director of the Imperial Library and Provisional Secretariat Imperial Reader in 1169, and seven years later assumed the position of director of the Imperial Library, provisional associate compiler of the Bureau of Compilation of Reign History, and associate compiler of the Bureau of Compilation of Veritable Records. He worked on the compilation of the Reign History of Four Thrones until his death in 1184.
Etienne Balazs and Yves Hervouet, eds., A Sung Bibliography (Hong Kong: Chinese University Press, 1978).
Herbert Franke, ed., Sung Biographies, 4 volumes (Wiesbaden: Steiner, 1976).