Transmitted Sayings and Their Transmissibility: Patterns and Meanings of Zhuan yue 傳曰 Quotations in Early Chinese Texts

In: T'oung Pao
Yixin Gu Lingnan University Hong Kong

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This article investigates the introductory formula zhuan yue 傳曰 (“a transmitted source says”) in early China, together with its “quotations” and their parallel texts. Rarely found in pre-imperial texts, the zhuan yue formula gained prominence especially from the mid-Western Han onward. As a vague, unspecific gesture of reference, the formula was flexibly applied to varying functions but also used with limited patterns and regularity. Both the formula and the quoted material are almost never found in the core texts of the “Five Classics” (wujing 五經); instead, zhuan yue appears to indicate sources that existed as an open repository outside of the emerging canon. Thus, in marking the non-canonical body, zhuan yue also helped define the canonical one. Finally, another usage of zhuan yue—which emerged in early Han times if not earlier—as an introduction to specific zhuan-commentaries of the classics is clearly a separate function altogether.

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