The Gongyangzhuan 公羊传 “Commentary by Gongyang [Gao]”

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The Gongyangzhuan 公羊传 is a commentary to the Confucian ClassicChunqiu 春秋 “Spring and Autumn Annals”. It is said to have been written by Gongyang Gao 公羊高, a disciple of Zixia 子夏, who was himself a disciple of Confucius. During the reign of Emperor Jing 汉景帝 (r. 157-141 BCE) of the Han period 汉 (206 BCE-220 CE) it was declared a part of theConfucian Canon to be studied in the National University (taixue 太学). The most important professor (boshi 博士 “erudite”) for the Gongyangcommentary to the Chunqiu classic was Gongsun Hong 公孙弘 who taught during the reign of Emperor Wu 汉武帝 (r. 141-87 BCE). No less important was his predecessor Dong Zhongshu 董仲舒, an expert on the Chunqiuwho also wrote the sub-classic Chunqiu fanlu 春秋繁露 “Rich Dew of Spring and Autumn”.

The Gongyang commentary is based on a lot of older explanations to the events recorded in the Chunqiu chronicle. Although the names of Luzi 鲁子, Gaozi 高子, Zi Shenzi 子沈子 and Zi Simazi 子司马子 are mentioned nothing is known about their lives or their writings. What is certain is that there was a long tradition among the disciples of Confucius to interprete theChunqiu annals with their own philosophy. The text obtained its final shape in the mid of the Former Han period, probably by the hands of Gongyang Shou 公羊寿 and Master Humu 胡毋生. It is thus a book of the new text classic tradition.
The Gongyang commentary works with a question-and-answer pattern to explain the political meaning of a certain event or action. All explanations fit into the Confucian concept of how an ideal government, based on ritual and etiquette, should look like. The Chunqiu was thus interpreted as an exemplary book to be read by a ruler who then was instructed on good government. Bad outcome of a battle is interpreted as a lack in etiquette or as a punishment for the evil deeds of a ruler in the past. TheGongyangzhuan has two main concepts of state and society, namely a great unity (da yi tong 大一统), and secondly, a historical development in three phases (san shi shuo 三世).

The commentaries to the entries of 37 years in the Chunqiu annals are missing.

The oldest commentary to the Gongyangzhuan is that of the Later Han period scholar He Xiu 何休. For his Chunqiu Gongyang jiegu 春秋公羊解诂 he had made use of older explanations written by the early Gongyangprofessor Master Humu. The next commentary was written by the Song period 宋 (960-1279) scholar Xu Yan 徐彦 (Gongyangzhuan shu 公羊传疏). Both commentaries are unified in the Chunqiu Gongyangzhuan zhushu 春秋公羊传注疏, with the zhu commentary of He Xiu and the shu commentary of Xu Yan. The Qing period 清 (1644-1911) scholar Chen Li 陈立 has written a summarizing commentary called Chunqiu Gongyang yishu 春秋公羊义疏.

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