The Commentarial Transformation of the Spring and Autumn

By Newell Ann Van Auken

Subjects: Asian Literature, Historiography, Asian Religion And Philosophy, Asian Studies, History
Series: SUNY series in Chinese Philosophy and Culture
Paperback : 9781438463001, 352 pages, July 2017
Hardcover : 9781438462998, 352 pages, December 2016

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Table of contents

Scholarly Conventions

Text, Commentary, and Authority
The Spring and Autumn: An Overview and Brief Reception History
The Zuô Tradition and Spring and Autumn Commentary
Overview of the Book

1. Orthodoxy and Transformation: Two Categories of Commentary
Dù Yù's "Preface": Zhōu Gōng and Confucius
After Dù Yù: Reception and Rejection of the Direct Commentary Passages
Perceptions of the Direct Commentary's Place in Zuô Tradition Composition History
General and Specific Remarks: Nomenclature
Formal Description of the Direct Commentary Passages

2. The Ritual Filter and the Centrality of Lǔ
Reporting and Recording
The Centrality of the Lǔ Ruler
"Avoiding the ugly"
The Ritual Filter: Rules, Ritual Deficiencies, and Criticism

3. Hierarchy, Criticism, and Commendation: Recognizing Merit and Assigning Fault
Rank, Hierarchy, and Prestige
Criticism and Assignment of Fault
Commendation and Honor
"Subtle words conveying praise and blame" Revisited

4. Two Ways of Teaching the Spring and Autumn: The Sources of the Direct Commentaries
Before Interlinear Commentaries
Thematic Clustering and the Source of the Specific Remarks
The "Fifty Generalizations"
Teaching and Commentary: Texts for Teaching Texts

5. Other Approaches to Commentary in the Zuô Tradition: The Gentleman and Confucius
The Remarks of the "Gentleman" and "Confucius" versus the Direct Commentary
Introducing Ambiguity: Composite Passages and Conflations
A Commentarial Essay: Merging Approaches to History
"Only the Sage could have revised it"
From Ritual Prescriptions to Praise and Blame

6. Incomplete Correspondences and the Likelihood of Mediated
Contact: The Relation of the Direct Commentaries to Gōngyáng and Gǔliáng
The Direct Commentaries as Later Interpolations?
Comparison of Corresponding Gōngyáng and Gǔliáng, and Direct Commentary Remarks
Formulaic Expressions, Complexity, and Specificity
Approaches to Commentary: Teaching Texts and Teaching about Texts

7. From Recording Rules to Written Text: Conceptual Antecedents to Gōngyáng and Gǔliáng in the Direct Commentaries
Rules of Exclusion Pertaining to Records: Omitted Events and Exceptional Records
Rules of Exclusion and Omission of Details: Names, Dates, and Locations
The Special Status of Lǔ: Implicit Assumptions versus Overt Recognition
Hidden Messages and the Language of Praise and Blame
Conclusions: The Commentarial Transformation of the Spring and Autumn

From Zhōu Gōng to Confucius: Textual Creation Myths Forgotten and Replaced

Summaries and Topical Lists of the Direct Commentary Passages
Summaries: Specific Remarks
Summaries: General Remarks
Topical Lists of Direct Commentary Passages


Shows how the text evolved from a non-narrative historical record into a Confucian classic.


The Spring and Autumn is among the earliest surviving Chinese historical records, covering the period 722–479 BCE. It is a curious text: the canonical interpretation claims that it was composed by Confucius and embodies his moral judgments, but this view appears to be contradicted by the brief and dispassionate records themselves. Newell Ann Van Auken addresses this puzzling discrepancy through an examination of early interpretations of the Spring and Autumn, and uncovers a crucial missing link in two sets of commentarial remarks embedded in the Zuǒ Tradition. These embedded commentaries do not seek moral judgments in the Spring and Autumn, but instead interpret its records as produced by a historiographical tradition that was governed by rules related to hierarchy and ritual practice. Van Auken's exploration of the Zuǒ Tradition and other early commentaries sheds light on the transformation of the Spring and Autumn from a simple, non-narrative historical record into a Confucian classic.

Newell Ann Van Auken teaches in the Department of Asian and Slavic Languages and Literatures at the University of Iowa.


"…this book is a finely illuminating piece of research and exposition, executed with great care and precision." — Dao