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On the Integral Nature of the Zuo zhuan 左傳 (Zuo Tradition) as Seen from Such Factors as Character Development

Scott Bradley Cook, Yale-NUS College

November 8, 2023 · 4:30 pm6:00 pm · 202 Jones Hall

East Asian Studies Program

The Zuo zhuan is at once our most important source of textual knowledge about pre-imperial China and yet one whose level of factual historicity is most notoriously difficult to assess. On the one hand, it provides us with a vast array of internally coherent facts concerning the dates, locations, and other details of major events of the Chunqiu period, while, on the other, it is rife with elaborate speeches and narrative details that betray unmistakable signs of literary embellishment, coupled with moralizing assessments that show greater concern with the lessons to be drawn from the historical record than the demonstrable facts of that record itself. Most fundamentally, there is also the question of what the Zuo zhuan, at its core, really is—an annalistic commentary to the Spring and Autumn Annals, or a work of some different nature whose present form is merely the result of a conscious, later attempt to forcibly graft it to that classic. In response to some recent studies that have tended to view the work as a relatively haphazardly aggregate of disparate parts, this lecture re-examines the Zuo zhuan in terms of its relation to both the historical events recorded in the Chunqiu annals and contemporaneous events known from other sources. After examining the merits and drawbacks of the recent scholarship in question, the talk will focus on a particular instance of character development in the work to argue that the Zuo zhuan may still best be viewed as a largely coherent whole, assembled carefully through the conscious design of a compiler intent on making intelligible sense of both the events recorded in the Chunqiu annals and major events of the period that were somehow excluded or otherwise omitted therefrom.

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