The Spring and Autumn Annals of Master Yan. Translated and annotated by OLIVIA MILBURN. Sinica Leidensia, vol. 128. Leiden: BRILL, 2016. Pp. xxx + 485. [euro]161, $193.
The Spring and Autumn Annals of Master Yan (Yanzi chunqiu [phrase omitted] is one of the least studied works of China's pre-imperial Masters' (zi [phrase omitted]) lore. Doubts about its authenticity, its bad state of preservation, a certain degree of repetitiveness among its anecdotes--all these seem to have hindered traditional and modern scholars from focusing on this text. Some of these problems have been resolved in recent decades: at the very least, the discovery of several Yanzi chunqiu-related manuscripts dating from the Former Han (206/202 BCE-9 CE) suffices to refute a suspicion that the entire text is a post-Han forgery. Yet scholars remain fundamentally divided: should we treat the text as related to its main protagonist, the major Springs-and-Autumns period (770-453 BCE) statesman Yan Ying [phrase omitted] (d. ca. 500 BCE)? Or is it a Warring States period (453-221 BCE) text that just borrows Yan Ying's name but is unrelated to him and to his legacy? Unable to resolve this controversy, many scholars, especially in the West, have simply decided to shun the text altogether.
Recently this situation has begun to change. Two scholars have worked simultaneously on translating the text into English: Olivia Milburn's translation cum study was published first, while that of Yoav Ariel is due to be published in 2018 (by China Renmin Univ. Press). In addition, Scott Cook's study of the concept of loyalty in Yanzi chunqiu promises to be the first step toward a comprehensive analysis of the text's ideology (in Ideology of Power and Power of Ideology in Early China, ed. Yuri Pines, Paul R. Goldin, and Martin Kern [Leiden: Brill, 2015], 181-210). Milburn should be particularly congratulated on her contribution to what appears to be renewed engagement with Yanzi chunqiu on the part of Western scholars. Her translation is fluid, generally accurate (aside from a few minor flaws discussed below), and richly annotated. Accompanying chapters discuss the text's history, its protagonists, its political context, and its ideology. The study will surely benefit both established scholars and, particularly, students, who may now be encouraged to engage with the text systematically. Milburn laudably introduces her readers to the research achievements of traditional and modern Chinese (and to a much lesser extent Japanese) scholars, whose studies of Yanzi chunqiu have considerably advanced our understanding of the text. All this makes Milburn's book a welcome contribution to the field.
Milburn deserves praise for her ongoing project of translating less...