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Merging Horizons: Authority, Hermeneutics, and the Zuo Tradition from Western Han to Western Jin (2nd c. BCE -3rd c. CE)

  • Author(s): Wai, Pauli
  • Advisor(s): Ashmore, Robert
  • et al.
Abstract

This dissertation examines the central forms of exegetical authority in early to early medieval China, focusing on the reception history of the Zuo Tradition from Western Han to Western Jin (2nd c. BCE-3rd c. CE). Most modern scholarly works treat the Zuo Tradition as a historical narrative of great literary value about China's Spring and Autumn period (722-468 BCE). My research, however, studies the value and status of this text as an exegetical tradition from the perspective of classicists spanning five centuries. These early scholars on the Zuo Tradition measured its worth according to how well it preserved and explicated the visions of Confucius as lodged in the wording of Annals the Classic. Conceptions about the Zuo Tradition evolved through a series of debates and arguments in expository letters, memorials, and essays, as well as commentaries on the Annals and Zuo Tradition.

During the Western Han (206 BCE-9 CE), the Shiji advanced the conception of the Zuo Tradition as a corrective to the divergent interpretations of the Annals. In late Western Han, Liu Xin (46 BCE-23 CE) vied to establish the Zuo Tradition on equal footing with officially sponsored exegetical traditions. But during early Eastern Han (25-220 CE), the Fan Sheng (fl. 28 CE) versus Chen Yuan (fl. 28 CE) debate showed that doubts remained about the authority of the text as an interpretation of Confucius' messages. Implicitly responding to such doubts, Ban Gu's (32-92) writings elaborated on previous accounts about the authorship, transmission, and official precedence of the Zuo Tradition. During the mid-Eastern Han, Jia Kui (30-101) represented the Zuo Tradition as a source of legitimization for the imperial house, while other scholars added to the myths about the Zuo Tradition. The Western Jin (265-317) scholar Du Yu (222-284) worked to further shore up the text's authority by both redefining conceptions about the Annals and privileging the Zuo Tradition as an exclusive system of interpretation of the Classic.

In the period under study, successive generations of Zuo Tradition scholars made steps to secure its status in a range of ways, all of them aiming to strengthen the text's relationship to the Classic. These incremental steps enabled the Zuo Tradition to attain definitive authority in the early Tang (7th c. CE), allowing us to observe a process fraught with conflicting ideas about the text. Thus the study of this historical process helps to merge the intellectual horizons of modern scholars with those of classicists.

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