"Historiography and Hermeneutics in Early China: A Translation of the Gongyang and Guliang Commentaries to Spring and Autumn Annals"

Project Details


The Gongyang and Guliang commentaries have exerted tremendous influence on Chinese political and intellectual life for two millennia. Instrumental in elevating Confucius to the status of one of the greatest sages of Chinese culture, the texts envision him as author of the Spring and Autumn Annals, bequeathing to future generations this court chronicle containing a hidden and esoteric blueprint for world salvation.

In collaboration with Stephen Durrant (Professor Emeritus, Chinese Literature, University of Oregon), we will produce the first scholarly English translation of the commentaries, side by side with the original and accompanied by rich introductory and explanatory material. This work, expected to be part of the new translation series “Hsu-T’ang Library of Classical Chinese Literature” launched by Oxford University Press, will make the texts readily available for study by early-China scholars, comparatists, political scientists, philosophers and historians.

The translations will be of interest to scholars and students in a wide range of fields. From a comparative perspective, these two commentaries occupy a unique position in world history in several respects. They are the earliest extant commentaries that attempt to fully explain an entire earlier text systematically by defining exegetical rules down to the level of word meaning and syntax. Furthermore, in their interpretation of Annals, their exegetical rules established what may well be the earliest systematic attempt in world history to define the historiographical principles, literary patterns, and meaning of a previous historical text. The commentaries contain sophisticated reflections on the reliability of sources and on the putative historical viewpoint of the author, and they offer an overall theory of history in a consensus-oriented, argumentative, rule-governed and terminologically articulated communication. All this makes them important contributions to global intellectual history and highly significant for historians.

Due to its distinctive vision of the Central States as part of a conglomerate of other states, it has been one of the major reference texts for Chinese modernizers and reformers since the late 19th century and for Chinese intellectuals up to the present day, which should make it of considerable interest to Political Studies scholars interested in international relations. Indeed, the stunning number of extraordinary features of these commentaries presented here in a concise form should engage and stimulate not only students and specialists of the Chinese past but also scholars and readers beyond the sinological world.

A grant ($200 000) of the National Endowment for the Humanities allows us to fully concentrate on the translation for two years from Oct 2021 to Sept 2023. The grant is part of the Scholarly Editions and Translations program, which provides grants to organizations to support collaborative teams who are editing, annotating and translating foundational humanities texts that are vital to learning and research but are currently inaccessible or are available only in inadequate editions or translations. It will support two years of research.
Effective start/end date1/10/2130/09/23


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