Lüshi Chunqiu

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Lüshi Chunqiu in Vietnamese

The Lüshi Chunqiu is an encyclopedic Chinese classic text compiled around 239 B.C.E. under the patronage of the Qin Dynasty Chancellor Lü Buwei. The feudal courts of the Warring States Period were great patrons of learning, and Lü Buwei, anxious to establish the superiority of Qin, assembled a large group of scholars and ordered them to write down everything they had learned, and create a work encompassing the "totality of affairs of Heaven and Earth, of the myriad things, and of the past and present." The result was the Lüshi chūnqiū, comprising 26 juan (巻 "scrolls; books") in 160 pian (篇 "sections"), divided into three major parts corresponding to the Confucian realms of Heaven, Earth and human beings: The Ji (Chinese: 紀, "The Almanacs"), the Lan (Chinese: 覧, "The Examinations"), and the Lun (Chinese: 論, "The Discourses").

The Lüshi chunqiu represents the Chinese intellectual world of the late third century B.C.E. and was intended as a guide for a monarch ruling over a large territory by means of a bureaucracy made up of wise and able administrators. It lays out a philosophy, fully developed during the later Han dynasty, in which the ruler, cultivating himself to maintain an internal state of harmony with the cosmos, gives direction to his administrators, who carry out all the everyday tasks of governing. Lüshi chunqiu is an example of Chinese correlative thinking, in which every aspect of human life and of nature is related with an underlying cosmic cycle influencing life on earth. Itself a compilation of earlier texts, passages from the Lüshi chunqiu were incorporated into later Chinese philosophical texts, including the restoration of the Confucian Book of Rites during the Han dynasty, and the Daoist classic, Wenzi.


The Shiji (chap. 85, p. 2510) biography of Lü Buwei contains the earliest references to the Lüshi Chunqiu. Lü Buwei (Simplified Chinese: 吕不韦; Traditional Chinese: 呂不韋; pinyin: Lǚ Bùwéi; Wade-Giles: Lü Pu-wei, 291?–235 B.C.E.) was a successful merchant from Handan who befriended King Zhuangxiang of Qin while he was a boy living in Handan as a royal hostage of the kingdom of Zhao. The Shiji relates that Lü Buwei helped the prince regain his status as heir to the throne of Qin, and gave him his pregnant concubine as a wife. When Zhuangxiang ascended the throne, Lü Buwei was made the prime minister and given the title Wen Xing Hou (Marquisterritorying) and the terrritory of Luoyang. King Zhuangxiang died after 3 years to rule over, and Lü Buwei became regent for the king’s 13-year-old son Zheng (the Shiji suggests that Zheng was actually Lü's son). Zheng eventually became the first emperor Qin Shi Huang in 221 B.C.E..

The feudal courts of the third century B.C.E. were great patrons of learning. According to the Shiji, the Lord of Xinling (ruler of Wei, 魏), the Lord of Chunshen (ruler of Chu, 楚), the Lord of Pingyuan (ruler of Zhao, 趙/赵), and the Lord of Mengchang (ruler of Qi, 齊/齐) “treated scholars with deference and delighted in entertaining guests who would test each other's abilities. Lü Buwei was ashamed that Qin, for all its power, was not the equal of the other states in this, so he, too, recruited scholars, treating them generously so that his retainers came to number 3,000.” Lü had probably begun gathering scholars under his patronage while he was still in Handan; he seems to have issued a further invitation to scholars when he became Marquis of Wenxin in 250 B.C.E., and he may have added more scholars in 247 B.C.E. when he became Regent for the thirteen year old future First Emperor of Qin.

In 239 B.C.E., according to the Shiji, Lü Buwei

…ordered that his retainers write down all that they had learned and assemble their theses into a work consisting of eight "Examinations," six "Discourses," and twelve "Almanacs," totaling more than 200,000 words.[1]

When it was completed, Lü exhibited the encyclopedic text at the market gate in Xianyang, the capital of Qin, with a thousand measures of gold hung above it, supposedly offered as a prize to any traveling scholar who could "add or subtract even a single character."

Lüshi Chunqiu

The term chunqiu (春秋 lit. "spring and autumn") means "annals; chronicle" and is a classical reference to the Confucianist Chunqiu "Spring and Autumn Annals," which chronicles the history of the State of Lu from 772–481 B.C.E.. Lüshi is a respectful title “Mr. Lu;” Lüshi chunqiu, therefore, means "Almanac of Mister Lü," or "Annals of Mr. Lu."

The Lüshi Chunqiu text comprises 26 juan (巻 "scrolls; books") in 160 pian (篇 "sections"), and is divided into three major parts; the Ji (Chinese: 紀, "The Almanacs"), the Lan (Chinese: 覧, "The Examinations"), and the Lun (Chinese: 論, "The Discourses"). The three parts correspond to the Confucian realms of Heaven, Earth and human beings. The Ji consists of Books 1-12, corresponding to each month of the year, and listing appropriate seasonal activities and ceremonial rites that the government should carry out to ensure the smooth and propitious advancement of the state. This part, which corresponds to the Yueling chapter in Liji, takes many passages from other texts, often without attribution. The Lan is made up of Books 13–20, each with 8 sections, corresponding to the 64 Hexagrams in the Yijing. This is the longest and most eclectic part, incorporating quotations from many early texts, some no longer extant. The Lun, Books 21–26, mostly deals with rulership, except for the final four sections about agriculture. This part resembles the Lan in composition.

The Lüshi chunqiu represents the Chinese intellectual world of the late third century B.C.E.. The Yiwenzhi (藝文志 "Bibliographical Treatise") of the Hanshu history categorizes the Lüshi Chunqiu as belonging to the Zajia (雜家/杂家 "Mixed School"), within the Hundred Schools of Thought framework. Although this text is frequently characterized as "syncretic," "eclectic," or "miscellaneous," it was a cohesive summary of contemporary philosophical thought, including Confucianism, Mohism, Daoism, and to a lesser extent, Legalism. It stands out among early works for its organization and comprehensive subject matter, and contains extensive passages on topics such as music and agriculture, which are not found elsewhere. It is also one of the longest of the early texts (over 100,000 characters). Lüshi chunqiu borrows from a variety of texts with differing grammatical characteristics, and different sections of the book exhibit different patterns of word usage.[2]


Did you know?
Lüshi chunqiu, an encyclopedic Chinese classic text compiled around 239 B.C.E., was intended as a guide for the ruler who would eventually unify China

Lüshi chunqiu was intended as a guide for the ruler who would eventually unify China. This leader would control a large state by means of a bureaucracy of capable officials whose ability and knowledge would compensate for his own deficiencies. The monarch and the officials occupied different positions and had distinct responsibilities. The role of the monarch was to cultivate himself so that he was in harmony with the natural order of Heaven and Earth and could overcome his own arbitrary and selfish nature to give proper guidance to his followers. The monarch himself did not act, but gave commands to his officials, who faithfully carried out his orders. The monarch served as a standard and an internal guide, restraining and correcting his officials. As long as the officials remained upright and faithfully carried out the monarch’s directions, they were fulfilling their duty and nothing further was required of them. The ruler could not interfere with his officials’ management, and they could not infringe on his sovereignty.

[The monarch] who has attained the Way is bound to be quiescent. Because he is quiescent, he is unknowing; his knowing is like unknowing. Thus we can speak of the Way of the Ruler. Thus it is said that the desires which arise within him cannot get out. We say that they are locked in. The desires that arise from outside him cannot get in. We say that they are closed out… He has a water-level, but he does not level with it. He ahs a carpenter’s line, but he does not draw perpendiculars with it. His is the greatest quiescence in the natural order; he is not only serene, but tranquil. Because fo that he can provide the standard for all under Heaven.[3]

Lüshi chunqiu is an example of Chinese correlative thinking, in which every aspect of human life and of nature is related with an underlying cosmic cycle influencing life on earth. The first chapters explain the influence of Yin and Yang and the Five Phases or Elements (wuxing, 五行) on nature and the human world, including the government. Just as every living being has a beginning and an end, every dynasty must also begin and end. Every dynasty is identified with one of the five elements (earth 土, wood 木, metal 金, fire 火, water 水) and five corresponding colors (yellow, green, white, red, black). Every season of the year corresponds with a cardinal direction. The south side of a hill or north bank of a river is correlated to the yang 陽 energy (warmth, growth, pleasure), the north side of a hill with the opposite energy of yin 陰 (cold, mourning, dying).[4] According to the historian Sima Qian, when "a good man" asked Lü Buwei about the "Twelve Almanacs," he replied that the almanacs, “record the principles that lead to order and anarchy and to survival and destruction, and to the knowledge that leads to an understanding of the factors that determine old age and premature death, good fortune and calamity. They ascertain the indication in Heaven above, the conforming signs on Earth below, and what to look for among men in the middle.”[5]

Major positions

In The Annals of Lü Buwei: A Complete Translation and Study (2000:46-54), John Knoblock and Jeffrey Riegel list 18 major points made in the Lüshi Chunqiu:

  1. Affirmation of self-cultivation and impartiality
  2. Rejection of hereditary rule over the empire
  3. Stupidity as the origin of the concept of hereditary rule
  4. Need for government to honor the concerns of the people
  5. The central importance of learning and teachers
  6. Support and admiration for learning as the basis of rule
  7. Non-assertion on the part of the ruler
  8. Assertion that the primary task for a ruler is to select his ministers
  9. The need for a ruler to trust the expertise of his advisers
  10. The need for a ruler to practice quiescence
  11. An attack on Qin practices
  12. Just warfare
  13. Respect for civil arts
  14. Emphasis on agriculture
  15. Emphasis on facilitating trade and commerce
  16. Encouragement of economy and conservation
  17. Lightening of taxes and duties
  18. Emphasis on filial piety and loyalty


Lüshi chunqiu was written in 239 B.C.E. and Lü committed suicide four years later after being implicated in a palace scandal. Zheng eventually conquered all the surrounding states and declared himself Emperor Qin Shi Huang, First Emperor of Qin, in 221 B.C.E., ruling over the first unified empire in China. The Qin dynasty lasted less than 3 years after Zheng's death in 209 B.C.E. The subsequent Han dynasty (206 B.C.E.–22 C.E.), developed the ideas expressed in Lüshi chunqiu and established a centralized government based on ritual and bureaucracy, capable of ruling from a single center of power and justified by the belief that it embodied the order of the cosmos. The system was wholeheartedly supported by the aristocracy, but drew a clear line of distinction between the position of emperor and that of his officials.

The Book of Rites, one of the Five Classics of Confucianism, was compiled during the Han Dynasty as a restoration of the original Classic of Rites (Lijing) that had been lost during the third century B.C.E. Lüshi chunqiu is one of the most important texts included in the Book of Rites.

The Wenzi (Chinese: 文子; pinyin: Wénzǐ; Wade-Giles: Wen-tzu; literally "[Book of] Master Wen"), or Tongxuan zhenjing (Chinese: 通玄真經; pinyin: Tōngxuán zhēnjīng; Wade-Giles: T'ung-hsuan chen-ching; literally "Authentic Scripture of Pervading Mystery"), a controversial Daoist classic allegedly written by a disciple of Laozi (6th century B.C.E.) and canonized in 742 C.E. by Emperor Xuanzong of Tang, contains numerous passages that parallel passages in Lüshi chunqiu. References as early as the Book of Han (first century C.E.) declared it a forgery, and it is likely that the Wenzi borrowed from Lüshi chunqiu.[6]

See also


  1. John Knoblock and Jeffrey Riegel, The Annals of Lü Buwei: A Complete Translation and Study (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2000, ISBN 0804733546).
  2. Michael Carson and Michael Loewe, Lü shih ch'un ch'iu 呂氏春秋, In Early Chinese Texts: A Bibliographical Guide, edited by Michael Loewe (Berkeley: University of California, Institute of East Asian Studies. 1993), 324.
  3. Google Books, Sources of Chinese Tradition 1: From Earliest Times to 1600 (New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1999, ISBN 9780231109383). Retrieved October 18, 2008.
  4. China Knowledge, Chinese Literature Lüshi chunqiu 呂氏春秋 "Spring and Autumn of Master Lü." Retrieved October 9, 2008.
  5. J. Knoblock and J. Riegel, LÜ BUWEI, 1996. Retrieved October 10, 2008.
  6. Ho Che Wah, On the Questionable Nature of the Texts Found in the Lüshi Chunqiu and the Plagiarizing Relationship between the Huainanzi and the Wenzi (A Summary). Retrieved October 11, 2008.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • de Bary, Wm. Theodore, and Michael Cohen (eds.). Sources of Chinese Tradition 1. From Earliest Times to 1600. Retrieved October 18, 2008. New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 1999. ISBN 978-0231109383
  • Ho, Che Wah. "On the Questionable Nature of the Texts found in Lüshi Chunqiu and the Plagiarizing Relationship between the Huainanzi and the Wenzi." Journal of Chinese Studies 11 (2002): 497-535.
  • Knoblock, John, and Jeffrey Riegel. The Annals of Lü Buwei: A Complete Translation and Study. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2000. ISBN 0804733546
  • Loewe, Michael (ed.). Early Chinese Texts: A Bibliographical Guide. Berkeley, CA: University of California, Institute of East Asian Studies, 1993. ISBN 978-1557290434
  • Peerenboom, Randal P. Law and Morality in Ancient China: the Silk Manuscripts of Huang-Lao. Albany, NY: State University of New York (SUNY) Press, 1995. ISBN 0791412377
  • Sellmann, James D. Timing and Rulership in Master Lü's Spring and Autumn Annals (Lüshi chunqiu). Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2002. ISBN 978-0791452318

External links

All links retrieved November 5, 2022.


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