The Ocean of Ambiguity

David Schaberg. A Patterned Past: Form and Thought in Early Chinese Historiography. Harvard 2001

There exist two texts. The Chun/Chyou (CC), in form a chronicle of events as seen from the court of Lu in the years 0722-0464, and the Dzwo Jwan (DJ; "Dzwo Commentary"), ostensibly a commentary on the CC. In substance, the two texts give sharply divergent pictures of the centuries in question; the one is not simply a fuller version of the other. In form, they contrast in these ways:

From these facts, a newcomer to the situation will conclude that the evidentially vindicated CC is to be preferred to the often defective DJ. In other words, that the seeming chronicle CC and the seeming commentary DJ are both what they seem to be.

Nevertheless, Chinese tradition since the DJ itself has been unanimous in dismissing the CC, and substituting for it the DJ, not as a moralizing interpretation, but as a primary record, of Spring and Autumn history. Western Sinologists have been either respectful in accepting, or energetic in reinforcing, this tradition. In this and a parallel review, we consider two works which are of the energetic in reinforcement type.

From a certain modern angle, the problem of justifying the DJ can be posed this way: How do precise and extensive records from many states in the 08th through 06th centuries find their way into an 04th century text? To this question, essentially two answers have been proposed:

The metaquestion is: Can there have been DJ-type contemporary records in the first place, whether written or oral? We can investigate this by considering the Bamboo Annals, a late 04c work from the state of Ngwei. Opinions vary, but this work undoubtedly either is, or reflects an 04c idea of, a state chronicle. In form, the Bamboo Annals resembles in form the CC and not the DJ. Then it is the CC which is the more plausible as reflecting the nature of any archive records which existed in the 08c-06c. Widening our consideration to all other known texts and inscriptions between the fall of Jou and the rise of Chin, we find that there is no literary analogue to the extended prose of the DJ prior to the 04th century, the time to which the internal evidence points as the DJ date of compilation.

A neutral observer would thus reject both of the above scenarios, and conclude that a choice of either is against all the literary evidence. Nevertheless, this is how the question is presently being discussed, and of the two scenarios, the book here under review (compare Pines) adopts the second.

It is no longer considered necessary to explore the details in detail. This review thus now consists of just this one page.

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3 Oct 2003 / Contact The Project