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

Yixin GU*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review


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.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)217-249
Number of pages33
JournalT'oung Pao
Issue number3-4
Early online date7 Sept 2023
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2023

Bibliographical note

This article was first presented as a paper at the 2021 annual meeting of the
American Oriental Society. My gratitude goes to the two anonymous reviewers
for their constructive feedback and critical comments.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 Brill Academic Publishers. All rights reserved.


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