An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

Lüshi chunqiu 呂氏春秋

Jul 24, 2010 © Ulrich Theobald

Lüshi chunqiu 呂氏春秋 "Spring and Autumn of Master Lü", occasionally abbreviated to Lülan 呂覽 "Lü's examinations" (which is actually the second part of the tripartite collection), is a collection of treatises on cosmological matters from the late Warring States period 戰國 (5th cent.-221 BCE). It is said to have been compiled by the numerous retainers of Lü Buwei 呂不韋 (d. 253 BCE), Counsellor-in-chief of the state of Qin 秦. Retainers of nobles during that time were often men of higher education who represented a philosophical school or school of thinkers. They were used not only to entertain their master but also to provide him with useful knowledge or advice in daily politics. The universal history Shiji 史記 says that Lü Buwei had as many as 3,000 retainers, so that is must be assumed that the Lüshi chunqiu is the product of a large group of authors.

The Lüshi chunqiu consists of 8 chapters of examinations (lan 覽), 6 chapters of discourses (lun 論), and 16 chapters of almanachs (ji 紀), in 160 parts. The transmitted version is arranged in 26 juan or fascicles. In ancient bibliographies, the book is usually listed among the miscellaneous masters (zajia 雜家), although it contains also Confucian and Daoist thought as well as theories of the dialecticians (mingjia 名家), legalists, Mohists, agronomists and the Yin-Yang thinkers. Even if the Lüshi chunqiu has been compiled by the hands of many authors the final redaction must have been in the hands of an team of experts who transformed the whole compilation into a very consistent and integrative corpus. It covers a vast range of topics, beginning with the seasons, the corresponding phaenology and the integrative correlation of all phenomena in the universe (bei tiandi wanwu gujin zhi shi 備天地萬物古今之事 "it covers all aspects of Heaven and Earth, the ten thousand things, the past and the present"), and treating all different matters in state and society, economy, military, and individual behaviour. It thus serves as a handbook for persons in a positions and trains them to better understand the correlations of all things on earth. The language of the Lüshi chunqiu is very vivid, especially by the use of parables and allegories and the many semi-historical stories reported.

The Lüshi chunqiu was not always held in high esteem. The Song-period 宋 (960-1279) scholar Huang Zhen 黃震 (1213-1281) and the Qing-period 清 (1644-1911) scholar Lu Wenchao 盧文弨 (1717-1795) tried to play down the merits of Lü Buwei as the patron and organizer of the compilation. Yet the preface clearly describes how Lü Buwei picked up the idea to compile "annals" that systematically encompassed all aspects of the universe, the physical world, and human affairs. The book provides not only an excellent insight into the cosmological interpretation of the world, but also presents a vast amount of historical and semi-historical narratives. It is an overview of the most important theories and ideologies of the time, from Confucianism and its idea of learning and education to Daoism, Yin-Yang thought, military strategies, agricultural activities and scientific Mohism.

The value of this collection cannot be underestimated when considering the fact that soon after its compilation the First Emperor of Qin 秦始皇帝 (r. 246-210 BCE) prohibited or had annihilated many ancient texts, and that a hundred years later Confucianism became the prevalent ideology of the empire. The concept of "negating the present" (fei jin 非今) is often mentioned in the Lüshi chunqiu. It contradicts the rather modern and revolutionary state philosophy of legalism and is inclined to Confucianism, which idealized the past, and Daoism, which abstains from political activism in general. Yet the tendency to standardize and define relations and positions in the universe shows the prevalence in Chinese thought to bring all aspects in the world into a clear and unambiguous pattern, in other words, to condition and to unify the world, at least in a notional or theoretical way. The Lüshu chunqiu in this way influenced many early texts like the Daoist writing Huainanzi 淮南子 or the universal history Shiji.

There is a commentary by the Later-Han-period 後漢 (25-220 CE) scholar Gao You 高誘 (late 2nd cent. CE), the Lüshu chunqiu zhu 呂氏春秋注. Because of its categorization as a "miscellaneous book", it lost attraction for long centuries. Only during the Ming period 明 (1368-1644), scholars again became interested in this comprehensive manual, like Jiao Hong 焦竑 (1540-1620) or Weng Zhengchun 翁正春 (1553-1626). During the Qing period, commentaries were written by Bi Yuan 畢沅 (1730-1797, Lüshi chunqiu xin jiaozheng 呂氏春秋新校正), Liang Yusheng 梁玉繩 (1744-1792, Lüzi jiaobu 呂子校補), Cai Yun 蔡雲 (d. 1622, Lüshi jiaobu xianyi 呂氏校補獻疑). The most important modern commentaries are Xu Weiyu's 許維遹 (1902-1951) Lüshi chunqiu jizhi 呂氏春秋集釋, Sun Qiangming's 孫鏘鳴 (1817-1901) Lüshi chunqiu Gao zhu buzheng 呂氏春秋高注補正, Fan Gengyan's 范耕研 (1894-1960) Lüshi chunqiu buzhu 呂氏春秋補注 and Chen Qiyou's 陳奇猷 (d. 1635) Lüshi chunqiu jiaoshi 呂氏春秋校釋.

The Lüshi chunqiu was printed quite a few times from the Yuan period 元 (1279-1368) on, like by Liu Zhenjia 劉貞嘉 (Hegu Hall 禾學宮 during the Zhizheng reign 至正, 1341-1368), Li Han 李瀚 (1498, reprint), Xu Zonglu 許宗魯 (1528), Zhang Dengyun 張登雲 (1579), Jiang Bizi 姜璧資 (1579, Zhenzuo Study 政左室), Song Bangfu 宋邦父 (Wanli reign 萬曆, 1573-1619), Wang Yiluan 汪一鸞 (1605, reprint), Ling Zhilong 淩稚隆 (1602), Huang Fuchong 黃甫寵 (Wanli or Tianqi reign 天啟, 1621-1627), and many times more. The Annals are to be found in the series Ershierzi 二十二子, Sibu congkan 四部叢刊, Sibu beiyao 四部備要, Zhuzi jicheng 諸子集成 and Siku quanshu 四庫全書.

There is a complete translation into English by John Knoblock (2000). The Annals of Lü Buwei. Stanford: Stanford University Press. A translation into French by Ivan P. Kamenarovic (1998). Printemps et Automnes de Lü Buwei. Paris: Éditions du Cerf. And a partial translation into German by Richard Wilhelm (1928). Frühling und Herbst des Lü Bu We. Jena: Diederichs.

Table 1. Contents of the Lüshi chunqiu 呂氏春秋
Ji The Almanacs
1. 孟春紀 Mengchun The first month of spring
2. 仲春紀 Zhongchun The second month of spring
3. 季春紀 Jichun The third month of spring
4. 孟夏紀 Mengxia The first month of summer
5. 仲夏紀 Zhongxia The second month of summer
6. 季夏紀 Jixia The third month of summer
7. 孟秋紀 Mengqiu The first month of autumn
8. 仲秋紀 Zhongqiu The second month of autumn
9. 季秋紀 Jiqiu The third month of autumn
10. 孟冬紀 Mengdong The first month of winter
11. 仲冬紀 Zhongdong The second month of winter
12. 季冬紀 Jidong The third month of winter
Lan The Examinations
1.(13.) 有始覽 Youshi The beginning
2.(14.) 孝行覽 Xiaoxing Filial conduct
3.(15.) 慎大覽 Shenda Being careful when [the state] is large
4.(16.) 先識覽 Xianshi Foreknowledge
5.(17.) 審分覽 Shenfen On examining divisions [of responsibility]
6.(18.) 審應覽 Shenying Examining responses
7.(19.) 離俗覽 Lisu Departing from conventional [conduct]
8.(20.) 恃君覽 Shijun Relying on rulers
Lun The Discourses
1.(21.) 開春論 Kaichun The opening of spring
2.(22.) 慎行論 Shenxing Being cautious in one's conduct
3.(23.) 貴直論 Guizhi Valuing straight [talk]
4.(24.) 不苟論 Bugou Nothing indecorous
5.(25.) 似順論 Sishun Apparent accord
6.(26.) 士容論 Shirong The comportment of the scholar-knight
Carson, Michael, Michael Loewe (1993). "Lü shih ch‘un ch‘iu", in Michael Loewe, ed. Early Chinese Texts: A Bibliographical Guide (Berkeley: Society for the Study of Early China/Institute of East Asian Studies), 324-330.
Hong Zhanhou 洪湛侯 (1986). "Lüshi chunqiu 呂氏春秋", in Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, part Zhongguo wenxue 中國文學 (Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe), Vol. 1, 491-492.
Li Xueqin 李學勤, Lü Wenyu 呂文鬰, eds. (1996). Siku da cidian 四庫大辭典 (Changchun: Jilin daxue chubanshe), Vol. 2, 1878.
Mou Zhongjian 牟鍾鋻 (1992). "Lüshi chunqiu 呂氏春秋", in Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, part Zhongguo lishi 中國歷史 (Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe), Vol. 2, 629.