Spring and Autumn Annals

19th-century replica of Du Yu's 3rd-century AD annotated Annals
Spring and Autumn Annals
Chunqiu (Chinese characters).svg
Chunqiu in seal script (top) and regular (bottom) Chinese characters
Literal meaning"Springs and Autumns"

The Spring and Autumn Annals or Chunqiu is an ancient Chinese chronicle that has been one of the core Chinese classics since ancient times. The Annals is the official chronicle of the State of Lu, and covers a 241-year period from 722 to 481 BC. It is the earliest surviving Chinese historical text to be arranged in annals form.[1] Because it was traditionally regarded as having been compiled by Confucius (after a claim to this effect by Mencius), it was included as one of the Five Classics of Chinese literature.

The Annals records main events that occurred in Lu during each year, such as the accessions, marriages, deaths, and funerals of rulers, battles fought, sacrificial rituals observed, celestial phenomena considered ritually important, and natural disasters.[1] The entries are tersely written, averaging only 10 characters per entry, and contain no elaboration on events or recording of speeches.[1]

During the Warring States period (475–221 BC), a number of commentaries to the Annals were created that attempted to elaborate on or find deeper meaning in the brief entries in the Annals. The Commentary of Zuo (Zuo zhuan 左傳), the best known of these commentaries, became a classic in its own right, and is the source of more Chinese sayings and idioms than any other classical work.[1]

History and content

The Spring and Autumn Annals was likely composed in the 5th century BC, and apart from the Bamboo Annals is the only such work to have survived from that period.[1] By the time of Confucius, in the 6th century BC, the term "springs and autumns" (chūnqiū 春秋, Old Chinese *tʰun tsʰiw) had come to mean "year" and was probably becoming a generic term for "annals" or "scribal records".[1] The Annals was not the only work of its kind, as many other Eastern Zhou states also kept annals in their archives.[2]

The Annals is a succinct scribal record, with terse entries that record events such as the accessions, marriages, deaths, and funerals of rulers, battles fought, sacrificial records observed, natural disasters, and celestial phenomena believed to be of ritual significance.[1] The entries average only 10 characters in length; the longest entry in the entire work is only 47 characters long, and a number of the entries are only a single character long.[1] There are 11 entries that read simply *tung (pinyin: zhōng) – "a plague of insects" (probably locusts).[1]

Some modern scholars have questioned whether the entries were ever originally intended as a chronicle for human readers, and have suggested that the Annals entries may have been intended as "ritual messages directed primarily to the ancestral spirits."[1]

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