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Who Said, “Confucius Composed the Chunqiu”? ——The Genealogy of the “Chunqiu” Canon in the Pre-Han and Han Periods

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It is often said that “Confucius composed the Chunqiu 春秋 (The Spring and Autumn Annals) to convey the way of the king.” Scholars have long noticed that before the founding of and during the Han Dynasty the phrase that served as the title of the allegedly Confucian work, “Chunqiu,” was also often used to designate history in general. In what intellectual and textual contexts did the term evolve from something general into a specific concept associated with Confucius? What works or ideas did pre-Han and Han scholars have in mind when discussing Confucius’s Chunqiu and the broader “Chunqiu” canon? Exploring these questions, the study that follows begins by systematically documenting the occurrences of this term in pre-Han and Han texts. It demonstrates that while Mencius was the first person to associate Confucius’s teachings with the Chunqiu, his statement was a solitary and surprising voice in the pre-Han era. Not until the Western Han Dynasty was Confucius widely heralded as the creator of the Chunqiu. But few scholars are aware that Western Han scholars never strictly distinguished the laconic Chunqiu from the detailed historical knowledge preserved in the Gongyang 公羊, Guliang 谷梁, and Zuo 左 commentaries. Furthermore, as the Chunqiu gained canonical status, the phrase still served as a generic term, referring to various historical narratives. Zhang Xuecheng 章学诚 is famous for claiming that “The Six Classics are all history,” and I shall show that in the minds of the people of the Han Dynasty, all historical works were classics.


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