Lüshi Chunqiu

The Lüshi Chunqiu, also known in English as Master Lü's Spring and Autumn Annals,[1][2] is an encyclopedic Chinese classic text compiled around 239 BC 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 words.[3]

Lüshi Chunqiu
Lüshi Chunqiu, Qing dynasty, Hunan Museum.jpg
An Edo period (1603-1868) edition
AuthorLü Buwei
Original title呂氏春秋
GenreChinese classics
Lüshi chunqiu
Traditional Chinese春秋
Simplified Chinese春秋
Literal meaning"Mr. Lü's Spring and Autumn [Annals]"


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, who the Shiji suggests was actually Lü's son, eventually became the first emperor Qin Shi Huang in 221 BC. When Zhuangxiang died in 247 BC, 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 BC, 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)

According to Shiji, Lü exhibited the completed encyclopedic text at the city gate of Xianyang, capital of Qin, and above it was a notice offering a thousand measures of gold to any traveling scholar who could add or subtract even a single word.

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 722–481 BC.

The Lüshi Chunqiu text comprises 26 juan (卷 "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. This is the longest and most eclectic part, giving quotations from many early texts, some no longer extant. 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 textEdit

Composition features, measure of completeness (i.e. veracity of the Shi ji account) and/or possible corruption of the original Annals have been subjects 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.

The "Yu da" 諭大 chapter of the Examinations, for example, contains 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."[4]

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

1000 taels for a correctionEdit

Records of the Grand Historian told that after Lü Buwei presented the finished Lüshi Chunqiu for the public at the gate of Hanyang (Qin's capital) and announced that anyone could correct the book's content would be awarded 1000 taels of gold for every corrected word. This event lead to the Chinese idiom "One word worths thousand golds." (一字千金)

None of the contemporary scholars pointed out any mistakes in the Lüshi Chunqiu, although later scholars managed to detected a number of them. It is believed that although Lü Buwei's contemporaries were able to detect the book's inaccuracies, but none dare to openly criticize a powerful figure like Lü.

Major positionsEdit

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 advisers
  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.

Popular cultureEdit

In the Japanese manga Kingdom, the annals were created by Lü himself, and using his own coffers he hired several intellectuals, philosophers, and other people to formulate them. After the annals' release, he challenged others to add to or edit them in exchange for rewards.


  1. ^ Sellman, James D. (2002), Timing and Rulership in Master Lü's Spring and Autumn Annals, Albany: State University of New York Press.
  2. ^ Sellman, James D. (1998), "Lushi Chunqiu", Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor & Francis, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-G057-1.
  3. ^ Loewe & Carson (1993:324).
  4. ^ Stephen W. Durrant, "The Cloudy Mirror", p.80
Works cited
  • Carson, Michael; Loewe, Michael (1993). "Lü shih ch'un ch'iu 呂氏春秋". In Loewe, Michael (ed.). Early Chinese Texts: A Bibliographical Guide. Berkeley: Society for the Study of Early China; Institute of East Asian Studies, University of California Berkeley. pp. 324–30. ISBN 1-55729-043-1.
  • 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 linksEdit