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Lüshi Chunqiu

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Lüshi Chunqiu

Lüshi Chunqiu
Traditional Chinese 呂氏春秋
Simplified Chinese 吕氏春秋
Literal meaning Lü's [Spring and Autumn] Annals

The Lüshi Chunqiu (Lü-shih Ch'un-ch'iu) is an encyclopedic Chinese classic text compiled around 239 BCE under the patronage of the Qin Dynasty Chancellor Lü Buwei. In the evaluation of Michael Carson and Michael Loewe,

The Lü shih ch'un ch'iu is unique among early works in that it is well organized and comprehensive, containing extensive passages on such subjects as music and agriculture, which are unknown elsewhere. It is also one of the longest of the early texts, extending to something over 100,000 characters. (1993:324)


The Shiji (chap. 85, p. 2510) biography of Lü Buwei has the earliest information about the Lüshi Chunqiu. Lü was a successful merchant from Handan who befriended King Zhuangxiang of Qin. The king's son Zheng (政, who the Shiji suggests was actually Lü's son) eventually became the first emperor Qin Shi Huang in 221 BCE. When Zhuangxiang died in 247 BCE, Lü Buwei was made regent for the 13-year-old Zheng. In order to establish Qin as the intellectual center of China, Lü "recruited scholars, treating them generously so that his retainers came to number three thousand" (tr. Knoblock and Riegel 2000:13). In 239 BCE, he, in the words of the Shiji

...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.(Knoblock and Riegel 2000:14)

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

The Hanshu Yiwenzhi lists the Lüshi Chunqiu as belonging to the Zajia (雜家/杂家 "Mixed School"), within the Philosophers domain (諸子略), or Hundred Schools of Thought. Although this text is frequently characterized as "syncretic," "eclectic", or "miscellaneous", it was a cohesive summary of contemporary philosophical thought, including Legalism, Confucianism, Mohism, and Daoism.


The title uses chunqiu (春秋 lit. "spring and autumn") meaning "annals; chronicle" in a classical reference to the Confucianist Chunqiu Spring and Autumn Annals, which chronicles the State of Lu history from 772–481 BCE.

The Lüshi Chunqiu text comprises 26 juan (巻 "scrolls; books") in 160 pian (篇 "sections"), and is divided into three major parts; the Ji (紀, "The Almanacs"). Books 1-12 correspond to the months of the year, and list appropriate seasonal activities to ensure that the state runs smoothly. This part, which was copied as the Liji chapter Yueling, takes many passages from other texts, often without attribution, the Lan (覧, "The Examinations"). Books 13–20 each have 8 sections corresponding to the 64 Hexagrams in the Yijing. This is the longest and most eclectic part, giving quotations from many early texts, some no longer extant, and the Lun (論, "The Discourses"). Books 21–26 mostly deal with rulership, excepting the final four sections about agriculture. This part resembles the Lan in composition.

Integrity of the text

Composition features, measure of completeness (i.e. veracity of the Shi ji account) and\or possible corruption of the original Annals has been a subject of scholarly attention. It has been mentioned that the Almanacs have much higher measure of integrity and thematic organization than the other two parts of the text.

"Yu da" 諭大 chapter of the Examinations, for example, contains the text almost identical to the "Wu da" 務大 chapter of the Discourses, though in the first case it is ascribed to "Jizi" 季子, and in the second - to Confucius.


Liang Qichao (1873-1929): "This book, through the course of two thousand years, has had no deletions nor corruptions. Moreover, it has the excellent commentary of Gao You. Truly it is the most perfect and easily read work among the ancient books."[1]

Liang's position, mildly criticized afterwards, was dictated by the lack of canonical status ascribed to the book.

Major positions

Admitting the difficulties of summarizing the Lüshi Chunqiu, John Knoblock and Jeffrey Riegel list 18 major points.

  1. Affirmation of self-cultivation and impartiality
  2. Rejection of hereditary ruler over the empire
  3. Stupidity as the cause 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. Primary task for a ruler is to select his ministers
  9. Need for a ruler to trust the expertise of his advisors
  10. Need for a ruler to practice quiescence
  11. The attack on Qin practices
  12. Just warfare
  13. Respect for civil arts
  14. Emphasis on agriculture
  15. Facilitating trade and commerce
  16. Encouraging economy and conservation
  17. Lightening of taxes and duties
  18. Emphasis on filial piety and loyalty. (2000:46–54)

The Lüshi chunqiu is an invaluable compendium of early Chinese thought and civilization.


  • Gao You (Eastern Han, early 3 c.), 《呂氏春秋注》
  • Bi Yuan 畢沅 (1730-1797), 《呂氏春秋新校正》
  • 許維遹, 《呂氏春秋集釋》


  1. ^ Stephen W. Durrant, "The Cloudy Mirror", p.80
  • Carson, Michael and Michael Loewe. 1993. "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. pp. 324–330.
  • Knoblock, John and Jeffrey Riegel. 2000. The Annals of Lü Buwei: A Complete Translation and Study. Stanford: Stanford University Press. ISBN 0-8047-3354-6
  • Sellmann, James D. 2002. Timing and Rulership in Master Lü's Spring and Autumn Annals (Lüshi chunqiu). Albany: State University of New York Press.

External links

  • 呂氏春秋, complete text in Chinese
  • Lüshi chunqiu 呂氏春秋, ChinaKnowledge entry
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