An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

Guoyu 國語

Jul 3, 2010 © Ulrich Theobald

Guoyu 國語 "Discourses of the states" is a collection of anecdotes and discourses, mostly between rulers and ministers, from the Spring and Autumn period 春秋 (770-5th cent. BCE). Zuo Qiuming 左丘明 (around 500) was formerly believed being the author of the collection, as well as that of the Zuozhuan 左傳, a parallel tradition and commentary to the Confucian Classic Chunqiu 春秋 "Spring and Autumn Annals". His authorship of the Guoyu cannot be attested.

The 21 juan of the Guoyu are arranged by the names of the eight states at whose court the discussion or the story took place, namely Zhou 周 – the old royal court -, Lu 魯 – the home state of Confucius -, Qi 齊, Jin 晉, Zheng 鄭, Chu 楚, Wu 吳, and Yue 越. The stories of Jin occupy the largest part of the Guoyu, that of the southern, "semi-barbarian" states Chu, Wu, and Yue only a relatively small part, although their rulers played a significant role in the hegemonial state system of the Spring and Autumn period. The time-frame is from the reign of King Zhou Muwang 周穆王 (10th cent.) to the time of Duke Daogong of Lu 魯悼公 (r. 466-429).

A lot of facts recorded in the Guoyu can be compared with that in the Zuozhuan commentary, which deals with the same period of time. The Guoyu is therefore occasionally given the title Chunqiu waizhuan 春秋外傳 "The outer (i.e. unofficial) tradition of the Chunqiu". Some stories are even not included in the Zuozhuan, and the Guoyu can thus serve as a supplementary source of that historical period.

The particular discussions and stories are arranged according to the names of the consultant ministers, of which a lot had his own political standpoint and philosophical theory. Guan Zhong 管仲 (前25-645), for example, advisor to the duke of Qi, is mostly seen as a legalist who advocated a strong state, while Fan Li 范蠡 (536-448) from the southern state of Yue preferred a rather Daoist stance of cautiousness in political matters and in war.

The literary standard of the Guoyu is not as high as that of the Zuozhuan but it is nevertheless one of the oldest examples of a Chinese narrative literature. Sima Qian 司馬遷 (145-c. 86 BCE, compiling the Shiji 史記, China's first dynastic history, extensively made use of the stories recorded in the Guoyu. As a loose collection of stories there is a great qualitative difference of the parts. The reason for the prominence of stories from the state of Jin is that during the Western Jin period 西晉 (265-316) three parts of a Guoyu collection were excavated in the tomb of King Xiang of Wei 魏襄王 (r. 334-319 BC), with stories from Chu and Jin. This proves that during the Warring States period 戰國 (5th cent.-221 BCE) collections of older stories of this type were already relatively widespread. The modern version must be a descendant from those findings.

The oldest commentary is the Guoyu jie 國語解 by Wei Zhao 韋昭 (204-273) from the Three Empires period 三國 (220-280), which was enlarged by the Qing period 清 (1644-1911) scholar Hong Liangji 洪亮吉 (Guoyu Wei Zhao zhushu 國語韋昭注疏) and by Dong Cengling's 董曾齡 Guoyu zhengyi 國語正義. The most recent commentary is Xu Yuangao's 徐元誥 Guoyu jijie 國語集解 from 1936.

Table 1. Contents of the Guoyu 國語
1 周語 Zhouyu Discourses of Zhou
2 魯語 Luyu Discourses of Lu
3 齊語 Qiyu Discourses of Qi
4 晉語 Jinyu Discourses of Jin
5 鄭語 Zhengyu Discourses of Zheng
6 楚語 Chuyu Discourses of Chu
7 吳語 Wuyu Discourses of Wu
Boltz, William G., Michael Loewe (1993). "Kuo yü", in Michael Loewe, ed. Early Chinese Texts: A Bibliographical Guide (Berkeley: Society for the Study of Early China/Institute of East Asian Studies), 263-268.
Feng Fang 馮方 (1996). "Guoyu 國語", in Feng Kezheng 馮克正, Fu Qingsheng 傅慶升, ed. Zhuzi bajia da cidian 諸子百家大辭典 (Shenyang: Liaoning renmin chubanshe), 315.
Jiang Xijin 蔣錫金, ed. (1990). Wen-shi-zhe xuexi cidian 文史哲學習辭典 (Changchun: Jilin wenshi chubanshe), 936.
Li Bingzhong 李秉忠, Wei Canjin 衛燦金, Lin Conglong 林從龍, ed. (1990). Jianming wenshi zhishi cidian 簡明文史知識詞典 (Xi'an: Shaanxi renmin chubanshe), 666.
Li Xueqin 李學勤, Lü Wenyu 呂文郁, ed. (1996). Siku da cidian 四庫大辭典 (Changchun: Jilin daxue chubanshe), Vol. 1, 935.
Lin Fei 林非, ed. (1997). Zhongguo sanwen da cidian 中國散文大辭典 (Zhengzhou: Zhongzhou guji chubanshe), 8.
Luo Shilie 羅世烈 (1986) "Guoyu 國語", in Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, Zhongguo wenxue 中國文學 (Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe), Vol. 1, 220.
Luo Shilie 羅世烈 (1992), "Guoyu 國語", in Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, Zhongguo lishi 中國歷史 (Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe), Vol. 1, 291.
Mickel, Stanley (1986). "Kuo-yü 國語", in William H. Nienhauser, ed. The Indiana Companion to Traditional Chinese Literature (Bloomington/Indianapolis: Indiana University Press), 524-525.
Wang Yuguang 王余光, Xu Yan 徐雁, ed. (1999). Zhongguo dushu da cidian 中國讀書大辭典 (Nanjing: Nanjing daxue chubanshe), 1152.
Wu Feng 吳楓, ed. (1994). Zhonghua gu wenxian da cidian 中華古文獻大辭典, Vol, Wenxue 文學卷 (Changchun: Jilin wenshi chubanshe), 400.
Zhang Huanzong 張煥宗 (1997). "Guoyu 國語", in Men Kui 門巋, Zhang Yanjin 張燕瑾, ed. Zhongua guocui da cidian 中華國粹大辭典 (Xianggang: Guoji wenhua chuban gongsi), 741.
Zhu Shunlong 朱順龍 (1992). "Guoyu 國語", in Zhou Gucheng 周谷城, ed. Zhongguo xueshu mingzhu tiyao 中國學術名著提要, Vol. Lishi 歷史卷 (Shanghai: Fudan daxue chubanshe), 295.

Further reading:
Goldin, Paul R. (2003). "Discourses of the States (Guoyu)", in Robin R. Wang, ed. Images of Women in Chinese Thought and Culture: Writings from the Pre-Qin Period through the Song Dynasty (Indianapolis: Hackett), 83-9.
Pines, Yuri (2005). "Speeches and the Question of Authenticity in Ancient Chinese Historical Records", in: Helwig Schmidt-Glintzer, Achim Mittag, Jörn Rüsen, ed. Historical Truth, Historical Criticism, and Ideology: Chinese Historiography and Historical Culture from a New Comparative Perspective (Leiden/Boston: Brill), 197-226.