An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

Gongyangzhuan 公羊傳

Jul 24, 2010 © Ulrich Theobald

Gongyangzhuan 公羊傳 is a commentary on 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 漢景帝 (r. 157-141 BCE) of the Han dynasty 漢 (206 BCE-220 CE) the book was declared part of the Confucian Canon, and was therefore to be studied at the National University (taixue 太學). The most important "erudite" (boshi 博士) for the Gongyang Commentary was Gongsun Hong 公孫弘 (200-121 BCE), who taught during the reign of Emperor Wu 漢武帝 (r. 141-87 BCE).

Nearly as important was his predecessor Dong Zhongshu 董仲舒 (179-104 BCE), an expert on the Chunqiu who had written the book Chunqiu fanlu 春秋繁露 "Rich dew of Spring and Autumn", a text that was later rated as a sub-classic.

The Gongyang Commentary is based on a great number of older explanations of the events recorded in the Chunqiu chronicle. Although the names of Luzi 魯子, Gaozi 高子, Zi Shenzi 子沈子 and Zi Simazi 子司馬子 are mentioned as authors of these precursory texts, 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 interpret the Chunqiu Annals through their own philosophy. The text obtained its final shape in the middle of the Former Han period 前漢 (206 BCE-8 CE), probably through Gongyang Shou 公羊壽 and Master Humu (Huwu) 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 be. The Chunqiu was thus interpreted as an exemplary book to be read by a ruler who would then be informed on the way of good government. Bad outcome of a battle was interpreted as a lack in etiquette or a punishment for a ruler's former evil deeds. The Gongyangzhuan has two main concepts of state and society, namely a great unity (da yi tong 大一統) and secondly an historical development in three phases (san shi shuo 三世說), the last of which was the period during which Confucius lived and was an eyewittnes and even an actor in the events described in the Annals.

Quotation 1. The First Month of the Royal Calendar
隱公元年 First Year of Duke Yin (722 BCE)
【經】元年春王正月。 [The Chunqiu Classic] First year, the spring, the king's first month.
【公羊傳】元年者何?君之始年也。 [Gongyang Commentary] What means, "the first year"? It means, the lord's [i.e. Duke Yin's] first year of reign.
春者何?歲之始也。 What does "spring" mean? It is the beginning of a year.
王者孰謂?謂文王也。 Who is meant by "the king"? This points at King Wen of Zhou.
曷為先言王而後言正月?王正月也。 Why does the text first say "the king", and then, "first month"? Because it was the first month of the calendar of the Zhou dynasty.
何言乎王正月?大一統也。公何以不言即位? Why is the royal first month particularly mentioned? In order to stress the great unity [of the kingdom and its regional states].
Translation according to Xu & Mei (1995).

The method of interpretation in the Gongyangzhuan is often described as "explaining great matters by small words" (wei yan da yi 微言大義), a circumstance that gave the text a somewhat mysterious and apocryphal character.

The commentaries on the entries of 37 years in the Chunqiu Annals are missing.

The oldest commentary on the Gongyangzhuan was written by He Xiu 何休 (129-182). For his Chunqiu Gongyang jiegu 春秋公羊解詁 he had made use of older explanations written by the early Gongyang erudite Master Humu. The next commentary was written during the Song period 宋 (960-1279) by Xu Yan 徐彥 (Gongyangzhuan shu 公羊傳疏). Both commentaries were integrated in the book Chunqiu Gongyangzhuan zhushu 春秋公羊傳注疏, together with the zhu 注 commentary of He Xiu and the shu 疏 commentary of Xu Yan. The Qing-period 清 (1644-1911) scholar Chen Li 陳立 (1810-1882) wrote a summarizing commentary called Chunqiu Gongyang yishu 春秋公羊義疏.

Quotation 2. The Earl of Zheng overcame Duan in Yan
隱公元年 First Year of Duke Yin (722 BCE)
【經】夏五月,鄭伯克段于鄢。 [The Chunqiu Classic] In summer, in the fifth month, the Earl of Zheng 鄭 overcame Duan 段 in Yan 鄢.
【公羊傳】克之者何?殺之也。 [Gongyang Commentary] What does mean "[the Earl] overcame him"? This means, [he] killed him.
殺之則曷為謂之克?大鄭伯之惡也。 Why is it said "overcame" (ke 克), if he indeed killed him? This is because the misdeed was great indeed which was committed by the Earl of Zheng.
曷為大鄭伯之惡?母欲立之,己殺之,〔不〕如勿與而已矣。 Why was this misdeed great which was committed by the Earl of Zheng? Their mother desired [Duan] to be [lord of Zheng], but in the end [the Duke] killed [Duan]. After all it would have been better if Duan would not have been granted [his territory of Jing 京, which made him strong and wealthy].
段者何?鄭伯之弟也。 Who was Duan (Gong Shu Duan 共叔段)? It was the Earl of Zheng's younger brother, [from the same mother].
何以不稱弟?當國也。 Why [do the Annals] not say "younger brother"? Because [Duan competed with his older brother for earlship] of the same state [and thus saw himself as a counter-ruler].
其地何?當國也。 Why is the place [recorded]? Because [Duan competed with his older brother for earlship] of the same state [and had built is own strong residence].
齊人殺無知,何以不地?在內也。在內、雖當國不地也,不當國、雖在外亦不地也。 When the men of [the Duke of] Qi 齊 killed Wuzhi 無知, why was the place not recorded? Because it happened in the residence town. As it happened in the town, it was not recorded, even if the event occurred in the same state. The same is true for a case when there is no competition for the rule of a state: if such a person is killed outside the residence town, the place of his end is also not recorded.
Quotation 3. The people of Jin seized Zhong Ji of Song
定公元年經 First Year of Duke Ding (509 BCE)
【經】三月,晉人執宋仲幾于京師。 [The Chunqiu Classic] In the [Duke's] first year, in spring, in the King's third month, the people of Jin 晉 seized Zhong Ji of Song 宋仲幾 in the royal capital.
【公羊傳】仲幾之罪何?不(蓑)〔衰〕城也。 [Gongyang Commentary] What was the crime of Zhong Ji? He had [refused to] supply support for the construction of the city wall [of the royal capital].
其言于京師何?伯討也。 Why is it said [he was arrested] in the royal capital? Because this was a judicial measure [ordered] by the earl [i.e. the Duke of Jin].
伯討則其稱人何?貶。 If it was the earl [Duke of Jin] who ordered his arrest, why is it said "the people of Jin"? In order to blame [the Duke of Jin].
曷為貶?不與大夫專執也。 Why is he blamed? Because he did not approve of the arrest carried out by his Grand Masters (dafu 大夫).
曷為不與?實與而文不與。 Why did he not approve? In fact, he did approve, but nominally, he did not.
文曷為不與?大夫之義、不得專執也。 Why [could] he not nominally approve? Because it is not a proper duty of a Grand Master to carry out an arrest.
Quotation 4. The regional state of Liang perished
僖公十九年 Nineteenth Year of Duke Xi (641 BCE)
【經】梁亡。 The regional state of Liang perished.
【公羊傳】此未有伐者,其言梁亡何?自亡也。其自亡奈何?魚爛而亡也。 There was no one attacking [that state]. Why, then, is it said that Liang perished? This means that it perished by its own doing. What does this mean? If a fish is rotten it will perish.
Ai Ping 艾平 (1997). "Gongyangzhuan 公羊傳", in Pang Pu 龐樸, ed., Zhongguo ruxue 中國儒學 (Shanghai: Dongfang chuban zhongxin), Vol. 3, 120.
Chen Jinsheng 陳金生 (1987). "Chunqiu gongyangzhuan 春秋公羊傳", in Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, Zhexue 哲學 (Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe), Vol. 1, 104.
Duan Xizhong 段熙仲 (2002). Chunqiu Gongyangxue jiangshu 春秋公羊學講疏 (Nanjing: Nanjing daxue chubanshe).
Hao Tiechuan 郝鐵川 (1996). "Gongyangzhuan 公羊傳", in Zhou Gucheng 周谷城, ed., Zhongguo xueshu mingzhu tiyao 中國學術名著提要, Zhengzhi falü 政治法律卷 (Shanghai: Fudan daxue chubanshe), 26.
Jiang Qing 蔣慶 (1995). Gongyangxue yinlun: Rujia de zhengzhi zhihui yu lishi xinyang 公羊學引論:儒家的政治智慧與歷史信仰 (Shenyang: Liaoning jiaoyu chubanshe).
Luo Shilie 羅世烈 (1992). "Gongyangzhuan 公羊傳", in Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, Zhongguo lishi 中國歷史 (Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe), Vol. 1, 254.
Xu Jialu 許嘉璐, Mei Ji 梅季 (1995). Wen-bai duizhao Shisanjing 文白對照十三經 (Guangzhou: Guangdong jiaoyu chubanshe et al.).
Zhao Shulian 趙書廉, ed. (1986). Zhongguo zhexueshi xiao cidian 中國哲學史小辭典 (Zhengzhou: Henan renmin chubanshe), 180.
Zhang Dahe 張大可 (1988). "Gongyangzhuan 公羊傳", in Zhao Jihui 趙吉惠, Guo Hou'an 郭厚安, ed., Zhongguo ruxue cidian 中國儒學辭典 (Shenyang: Liaoning renmin chubanshe), 365.

Miller, Harry (2015). The Gongyang Commentary on the Spring and Autumn Annals. A Full Translation (New York: Palgrave Macmillan).

Further reading:
Arbuckle, Gary (1994). "The Gongyang School and Wang Mang", in Monumenta Serica, 42: 127-150.
Cheng, Anne (1993). "Ch‘un ch‘iu, Kung yang, Ku liang and Tso chuan", in Michael Loewe, ed. Early Chinese Texts: A Bibliographical Guide (Berkeley: Society for the Study of Early China/Institute of East Asian Studies), 67-76.
Cheng Hung Shing Leonard (2006). The Textual Intention of the Chunqiu Gongyang Jiegu (Ph.D. Diss., Hong Hong University of Science and Technology).
Defoort, Carine (2000). "Can Words Produce Order? Regicide in the Confucian Tradition", Cultural Dynamics, 12/1: 85-109.
Gentz, Joachim (2001). Das Gongyang zhuan: Auslegung und Kanonisierung der Frühlings- und Herbstannalen (Chunqiu) (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz).
Gentz, Joachim (2008). "Language of Heaven, Exegetical Skepticism and the Re-Insertion of Religious Concepts in the Gongyang Tradition", in John Lagerwey, Marc Kalinowski, ed., Early Chinese Religion, Part One: Shang through Han (1250 BC-220 AD), Vol. 1, 813-838.
Henderson, John B. (1991). "Scripture, Canon, and Commentary: A Comparison of Confucian and Western Exegesis" (Princeton: Princeton University Press).
Malmqvist, Göran, transl. (1975/1977). "Studies on the Gongyang and Guuliang Commentaries", Bulletin of the Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities, 47: 19-69, 49: 33-215.
Queen, Sarah A. (1996). From Chronicle to Canon: The Hermeneutics of the Spring and Autumn, According to Tung Chung-shu (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).
Wong, Young-tsu (2000). "Philosophical Hermeneutics and Political Reform: A Study of Kang Youwei's Use of Gongyang Confucianism", in Ching-I Tu, ed., Classics and Interpretations: The Hermeneutic Traditions in Chinese Culture (New Brunswick/London: Transaction Publishers), 383-410.
Yu, Kam-por (2010). "Confucian Views on War as Seen in the Gongyang Commentary on the Spring and Autumn Annals", Dao, 9/1: 97–111.