At the beginning of the Zhenguan Era, Emperor Taizong (599-649) of the Tang dynasty decreed that Qunshu Zhiyao (The Compilation of Books and Writings on the Important Governing Principles) be compiled. At the tender age of sixteen, Taizong enlisted himself in the army, and joined his father’s forces to try to stop the turmoil that was going on in the society. For more than ten years, he dwelt himself in military matters. After he ascended to the throne at the age of twenty-seven, he laid down his armor and began to promote culture and education, paying particular attention to the principles of governing, and bringing peace to the country. He sought to rejuvenate the nation from the aftermath of civil strife by restoring order to life, lessening the burdens of ordinary people, and increasing prosperity.
Although Taizong was an intelligent, brave, and eloquent man, he regretted that his earlier military expeditions had prevented him from obtaining much formal education. He also learned from the mistakes made by the fallen Sui dynasty and realized that to start a new dynasty was no easy task, and to sustain it would be even harder. Hence during his reign, he encouraged his ministers to point out his mistakes and to candidly criticize his imperial policies. To make up for lost time, Taizong ordered two advisors, the honorable Wei Zheng and Yu Shinan, to comb through all the historical records on imperial governing principles from the Six Classics, the Four Collections of History and the Hundreds of Schools , and to extract the most important lessons related to the cultivation of oneself, management of family, good government, and ways to bring about peace in the world. The result was a collection, titled Qunshu Zhiyao, carefully excerptedfrom 14,000 books and 89,000 scrolls of ancient writings—500,000 words in all, and covering sixty-five book categories—dating from the era of the Five Legendary Emperors to the Jin dynasty.