The Chunqiu 春秋 “Spring and Autumn Annals”


The Chunqiu 春秋 “Spring and Autumn Annals” is the chronicle of the state of Lu 鲁 between 722 and 479. It is the oldest and the only surviving type of chronicles from the early Eastern Zhou period 东周 (770-221 BC). The book gained such a high position in traditional literature that the whole period covered by it was called the Spring and Autumn period 春秋 770-5th cent. BCE). The entries do not only list the reign year of the individual dukes of Lu and the months but a mid-level headline is inserted indicating the seasons, which gave the chronicle its title. The entries are very brief and concise and not easy to understand if special knowledge of the historical background is lacking. A part of the entries is also missing.

The Spring and Autumn chronicle does not only speak of the events occurring in the state of Lu itself but it also records a lot of events which took place in other states of that period. It is therefore able to give a quite detailed picture of interstate activities during the early Eastern Zhou period, in peace and in wartime. Natural disasters and eclipses of the sun also occupy in important place among the records of the annals. The records of eclipses are of important means for the dating of events and the matching of the old Chinese with the Western calendar.

In ancient times it was believed that Confucius 孔子 had revised the annals of Lu and so created the Spring and Autumn Annals. Confucius himself came from the state of Lu, and when Confucianism was made the state doctrine of the Han dynasty 汉 (206 BCE-220 CE), authorship of the Annals was attributed to him. This assumption was founded by the Han period scholars Dong Zhongshu 董仲舒, Sima Qian 司马迁 and Huan Kuan 桓宽. Lu was certainly not the only state having the institution of a historiographical office. The existence of such an office is at least known for theof states of Jin 晋, Qi 齐, Chu 楚 and Song 宋. The annals of the state of Chu had been called Taowu 梼杌, that of the state of Jin Cheng 乘. There are no fragments preserved of those annals. Of course Confucius knew the chronicle of Lu and its contents and held it in high esteem because it provided a lot of material for his interpretation of how a good government should work and what was to be avoided. The Jin period scholar Du Yu 杜预 was the first who believed that the Chunqiu Annals included not only neutral statements, but that the wording of the entries included praise and blame (bao bian 褒贬) for political actors. This assumption was later criticized by the Song period master Zheng Qiao 郑樵 who said that such an interpretations had only distorted the original, simply historiographical content of the Chunqiu.

The language of the Chunqiu is very concise and often obscure. It records all important political events in the state of Lu during the reign of twelve dukes, as well as inter-state relationship between Lu and the other feudal states of the Zhou empire, but also events that took place in other states. The Chunqiu is therefore to be seen as a chronicle of the early Eastern Zhou period from the viewpoint of the state of Lu. The annals include information about military campaigns, interstate alliances and meetings, rebellions, state sacrifices, natural diasters, and also eclipses of the sun and the moon. The latter are of great importance to show how exact the calendar of ancient China was and help to date certain events.

The Chunqiu is since Du Yu’s revision during the Jin period only in circulation in joint editions with the text of the Zuozhuan 左传, which is a kind of commentary and narrative extension of the Chunqiu. The two most important ancient proper commentaries to the Chunqiu are theGongyangzhuan 公羊传 and the Guliangzhuan 谷梁传. Editions of the tree commentaries (sanzhuan 三传) written to the Chunqiu also include the main text of the Chunqiu, sometimes with a wording that differs from the transmitted version of the Chunqiu. There are only very small differences between the Chunqiu texts which proves that the text was standardized at a very early point of time.

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