Notes on the Spring and Autumn Annals

The “Chunqiu” or Spring and Autumn Annals are a collection of the earliest Chinese historical annals dating back to the ancient State of Lu 722-481 BC. In essence it is an early chronicle of the Zhou period. It is widely believed that Confucius wrote or at least compiled the text. It is considered one of the five ancient Chinese Confucian classics. Like Herodotus, the Spring and Autumn Annals touches on themes political philosophy: What makes a good leader? What makes a just state? How should one govern?

The style of the Spring and Autumn Annals is terse and direct. It begins during the first year of the reign of Duke Yin of Lu (722 BC) and it ends abruptly during the fourteenth year of the reign of Duke Ai (482 BC). The content of the text highlights leaders who are good, upstanding, moral human beings as superior. An example of the terse writing style is:

“Autumn; eighth month; locusts.”

Many names and particular occurrences appear throughout the text, such as pestilences and plagues, or unusual weather events.

From a Western perspective, the Spring and Autumn Annals is a difficult text to approach. Nearly every word seems to carry an obscure, esoteric, ancient Chinese reference. A variety of other classical Chinese texts have been written to help elucidate the Spring and Autumn Annals: such as the Zuozhuan, Gongyang Zhuan and Guliang Zhuan.

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