The Spring and Autumn Annals
is the official chronicle of the State of Lu covering the period from 722 BCE to 481 BCE. It is the earliest surviving Chinese historical text to be arranged on annalistic
Annals are a concise form of historical representation which record events chronologically, year by year. The Oxford English Dictionary defines annals as "a narrative of events written year by year"...
principles. The text is extremely concise and, if all the commentaries are excluded, about 16,000 words long. Because of this its meaning can only be appreciated with the aid of ancient commentaries, especially the traditional Commentary of Zuo
Because it was traditionally regarded as having been compiled by Confucius
Confucius , literally "Master Kong", was a Chinese thinker and social philosopher of the Spring and Autumn Period....
(after a claim to this effect by Mencius
Mencius was a Chinese philosopher who was arguably the most famous Confucian after Confucius himself.-Life:Mencius, also known by his birth name Meng Ke or Ko, was born in the State of Zou, now forming the territory of the county-level city of Zoucheng , Shandong province, only thirty kilometres ...
), it was included as one of the Five Classics of Chinese literature. However, few modern scholars believe that Confucius had much influence on the formation of the text; this is now assigned to various chroniclers from the State of Lu.
Content and organization
In early China, "spring and autumn" was a commonly used metonymy
Metonymy is a figure of speech used in rhetoric in which a thing or concept is not called by its own name, but by the name of something intimately associated with that thing or concept...
for the year as a whole, and the phrase was used as a title for the chronicles of several Chinese states during this period. For example, the chapter of Obvious Existence of Ghosts
in the Mozi
Mozi |Lat.]] as Micius, ca. 470 BC – ca. 391 BC), original name Mo Di , was a Chinese philosopher during the Hundred Schools of Thought period . Born in Tengzhou, Shandong Province, China, he founded the school of Mohism, and argued strongly against Confucianism and Daoism...
refers to numerous Spring and Autumn Annals
The Zhou Dynasty was a Chinese dynasty that followed the Shang Dynasty and preceded the Qin Dynasty. Although the Zhou Dynasty lasted longer than any other dynasty in Chinese history, the actual political and military control of China by the Ji family lasted only until 771 BC, a period known as...
, Yan, Song
Sòng was a state during the Eastern Zhou Spring and Autumn Period . Its capital was Shangqiu . In 701 BC, a political marriage between Lady Yong of Song and Duke Zhuang of Zheng empowered Song to manipulate the management of Zheng.- Origin :After King Wu of Zhou overthrew King Zhou of Shang,...
and Qi. All these texts are now lost; only the chronicle of the State of Lu has survived.
The scope of events recorded in the book is quite limited. The focus is on various feudal states' diplomatic relations, alliances and military actions, as well as births and deaths among the ruling families. The chronicle also takes note of natural disasters such as floods, earthquakes, locusts and solar eclipses, since these were seen as reflecting the influence of heaven on the world of humans.
Events are narrated in chronological order, dated by the reign-year of the Duke of Lu, the season, the month and the day according to the Chinese sexagenary cycle
The Chinese sexagenary cycle , also known as the Stems-and-Branches , is a cycle of sixty terms used for recording days or years. It appears, as a means of recording days, in the first Chinese written texts, the Shang dynasty oracle bones from the late second millennium BC. Its use to record years...
. The annalist structure is followed strictly, to the extent of listing the four seasons of each year even when no events are recorded.
The style is terse and impersonal, and gives no clue as to the actual authorship.
Since the text of this book is terse and its contents limited, a number of commentaries were composed to explain and expand on its meanings. The Book of Han
The Book of Han, Hanshu or History of the Former Han Dynasty |Fan Ye]] . Various scholars have estimated that the earliest material covered in the book dates back to between 206 and 202 BCE...
vol. 30 lists five commentaries:
- The Commentary of Zou (鄒氏傳)
- The Commentary of Jia (夾氏傳)
- The Commentary of Gongyang
The Gōngyáng Zhuàn is a commentary on the Spring and Autumn Annals and one of the classic books of ancient Chinese history. It is believed to have been written by Zi-xia disciple Gongyang Gao of the State of Qi during the Warring States Period of Chinese history...
- The Commentary of Guliang
The Gǔliáng Zhuàn is considered one of the classic books of ancient Chinese history. It is traditionally attributed to a writer with the surname of Guliang in the disciple tradition of Zi-xia , but versions of his name vary and there is no definitive way to date the text...
- The Commentary of Zuo (左氏傳) (also known as 左氏春秋)
No text of the Zou or Jia commentaries has survived. The Gongyang and Guliang commentaries were compiled during the 2nd century BCE, although modern scholars had suggested they probably incorporate earlier written and oral traditions of explanation from the period of Warring States. They are based upon different editions of the Spring and Autumn Annals, and are phrased as questions and answers. The surviving commentaries are known collectively as the Three Commentaries on the Spring and Autumn Annals
The Three Commentaries on the Spring and Autumn Annals , are a series of works that annotate the classic Chinese historical text the Spring and Autumn Annals. They comprise the Zuo Zhuan, Gongyang Zhuan and Guliang Zhuan....
The Commentary of Zuo, also known as the Zuo Zhuan, composed in the early 4th century BCE, is a general history covering the period from 722 to 468 BCE which follows the succession of the rulers of the State of Lu
The State of Lu, was a Zhou Dynasty ducal vassal state before and during the Spring and Autumn Period of Chinese history. Founded in the 10th century BC, its dukes used Ji as their family name. The first duke was Boqin |Qi]] and to the south by the powerful state of Chu...
. Modern scholars disagree about whether it is truly a commentary on the Spring and Autumn Annals
or an independent work. In any case, scholars have found it by far the most useful among the three surviving 'commentaries' both as a historical source for the period and as a guide to interpreting the Annals
(Spring and Autumn Annals - Commentary of Guliang)]]