Who is a ren [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]? The use of ren in spring and autumn records and its interpretation in the Zuo, Gongyang, and Guliang commentaries.

Author:Van Auken, Newell Ann


Nearly seventy years ago the Journal of the American Oriental Society published an article by George Kennedy entitled "Interpretation of the Ch'un-Ch'iu." (1) In that article Kennedy examined the form of a selection of Spring and Autumn (Ch[u.bar] nqi[u.bar] [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) records, which he compared to corresponding commentarial passages from the G[o.bar]ngycing zhuan [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] and Guliang zhuan [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] .His purpose was to evaluate the accuracy and explanatory power of the commentaries, and he stated that "we are forced to conclude that neither Kung-yang nor Ku-liang have any convincing explanation for variations in the form of the Ch'un-Ch'iu records that are under discussion." Because Kennedy found G[o.bar]ngyang and Guliang unconvincing, he dismissed them entirely, writing that their interpretations "do not merit serious consideration. " (2) Indeed, some of their explanations do seem far-fetched or even fanciful, a fact regularly noted in earlier works of the Western sinological tradition. (3) Yet since the commentaries were only written down centuries after the last entry of the Spring and Autumn was recorded, it should come as no surprise that they missed the mark on some, if not many, counts More interesting than tha question of "accuracy" is that of why these later commentaries came to understand the Spring and Autumn as they did.

The Spring and Autumn appears to have been in origin the official historical record of the state of Lu [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], covering the period from 722-481 B.C.E., but by the Western Han (206 B.c.E.-9 c.E.) it had come to be understood as a Confucian classic embodying moral lessons with contemporary relevance. (4) The Spring and Autumn is associated with three commentarial traditions, the so-called s[a.bar]n zhuan [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], G[o.bar]ngyang, Guliang, and Zuo [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], and it is normally read through the lens of one or more of these works. G[o.bar]ngydng and Gulidng consist mainly of exegetical passages remarking directly on the Spring and Autumn records, supplemented with occasional historical narratives. These two works are widely recognized as closely related texts, which share common lexicon, grammar, and form, and contain passages with very similar (or on occasion, identical) content and phrasing. The versions that have been handed down to us today may not have been written down until the late Warring States period (5th to 3rd c. B.c.E.) or even Western Han, but they may nevertheless represent traditions of reading the Spring and Autumn that extended back much earlier in time. Calking was granted official recognition after G[o.bar]ngyang and is generally considered to be the later of the two, but neither the relative date nor the absolute date of either work is certain, (5) The Zuo zhuan is best known for its historical narratives, but it too contains a set of exegetical passages that comment directly on the form of Spring and Autumn records. (6) Although these passages were combined with other textual material to form the Zuo zhuan, they likely derived from an independent set of commentarial writings on the Spring and Autumn. (7) Because the exegetical material in the Zuo zhuan displays little evidence of direct contact with the G[o.bar]ngyang and Guliang traditions, its date relative to the other two traditions is difficult to ascertain.

The Spring and Autumn records display a high degree of formal regularity, and it is this feature more than any other that has invited commentarial attention. The associated exegetical traditions are firmly anchored on the formal patterns of the records, seeking both to describe the standard conventions to which most records adhere and to explain why a few exceptional records depart from the regular form. (8) The goal of this study is not to evaluate the commentarial explanations with respect to accuracy--it is to be assumed that they fell short sometimes, if not often--but to understand why they made some of the claims they did about the Spring and Autumn. Conventionally, of course, texts are read through commentaries, with the commentary serving as a guide to understanding the primary text. This study takes the opposite approach, first seeking to describe the text and to ascertain the significance of regular patterns employed by the text, and then proceeding to consider the related commentarial assertions in light of these patterns. The commentaries themselves may offer only limited insight into the original significance and function of the Spring and Autumn, but this study demonstrates that they are not, as Kennedy and others suggested, simply overly complicated attempts to read moral explanations into a text where none existed, but rather are based on observable formal features of the records and may in fact contain a grain of truth.

This analysis examines a limited set of Spring and Autumn records, and the associated interpretative claims in the Zuo, G[o.bar]ngyang, and Guliang, specifically, those records in which human agents are not identified, but are referred to as unnamed ran [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. (9) The first part of this study seeks to determine the circumstances under which the word ren was used by analyzing the Spring and Autumn records themselves, contrasting unidentified agents, who are designated teen, with identified agents, that is, rulers and named noblemen. The second part examines remarks on the use of ren in the Zuo, G[o.bar]ngyang, and Guliang, in order to determine how the commentaries understood ran and to throw light on the connection between the conventions that governed the use of ren in Spring and Autumn records and later interpretative developments.

The word rein itself has received some scholarly attention, a brief review of which is in order. The most basic meaning of ren is of course 'human', in contrast to birds and beasts.Yet even in its earliest occurrences ren sometimes seems to have denoted not all of humankind, but a certain class or subset of humans. Ken-ichi Takashima suggested that in the Sh[a.bar]ng [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] oracle bone inscriptions (ca. 1200-1045 B.c.E.), ren referred to "the common folk from which the work force was drawn," perhaps in contrast to zhong [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] "state laborers attached to the ruler. " (10) A. C. Graham asserted that in early philosophical texts ren referred not to humans in general, but to members of " the aristocratic clans of [zhou [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]]." (11) Robert Gassmann has proposed an even more precise definition, suggesting that ren designated members of the ruling clan, who shared the same surname, and that it contrasted with min [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], which referred to those of other surnames. (12) According to each of these models, ren designated a class of humans that contrasted with other, perhaps lower, classes of humans.

In the Spring and Autumn, none of these contrasts clearly obtains. The records were written in the state of Lu, whose ruling house had the surname J[i.bar] [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. Although ren was never employed in reference to Lu rulers and noblemen (this is discussed further below), it was regularly used for other rulers and nobility regardless of surname, including not only those with the surname J[i.bar], such as members of the ruling houses of Zh[o.bar]u, jin [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], cai [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], and Wei [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], but also members of ruling houses of Qi [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], Ji 2, and Xu [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], who had the surname Ji[a.bar]ng [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], those of Song [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. surnamed Zi [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], those of Chu [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], surnamed Mi [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], and others. The term min does not occur in Spring and Autumn records. Thus, regardless of whether the contrast between ren and min proposed by Gassmann applies in other early texts, it is not evident in the Spring and Autumn. Even if, as Graham suggested, ren designated members of the Zh[o.bar]u aristocracy, the vast majority of agents mentioned in Spring and Autumn records belonged to this group. Thus this suggestion, too, is of little help in understanding how ren was used in Spring and Autumn records, and specifically why some individuals were identified and others were referred to as ren. (13)

Only members of the ruling class, that is, rulers and noblemen, received mention in the Spring and Autumn, and responsibility for actions, whether accomplishments or misconduct, was invariably ascribed to a single individual, or, in actions involving multiple states, to one principal per state. The evidence assembled below suggests that in the Spring and Autumn, ron was indeed linked to hierarchy, but in ostensible contrast to previous suggestions, the term was often employed to designate individuals of lower rank within the range of individuals who could be mentioned in the Spring and Autumn, that is, within the ruling class. The word rew was frequently used in place of name or title, perhaps as a means of deliberately denying recognition to those of relatively low rank, such as noblemen in contrast to rulers, or persons (whether noblemen or rulers) from smaller, less powerful states.) (14) All three commentarial traditions display awareness of the implicit connection between rim and relative low rank, and they associate ten with criticism. Although explaining ren as an indicator of criticism, and particularly as implying moral judgment, may not accurately capture the original sense of the records, the shift from ran as a designation of "inferior rank" to a loaded term denoting "morally inferior" is hardly surprising, and appears to be based on observable and...

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