The Gongyangzhuan 公羊传 Commentary by Gongyang


The Gongyangzhuan 公羊传 is a commentary to the Confucian Classic Chunqiu 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 the Confucian Canon to be studied in the National University (taixue 太学). The most important professor (boshi 博士 “erudite”) for the Gongyang commentary 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 Chunqiu who 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 the Chunqiu 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. The Gongyangzhuan 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.

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