China has a wealth of classical literature, both poetry and prose, dating from the Eastern Zhou Dynasty (1122 BC - 256 BC) and including the Chinese classics texts, or Chinese canonical texts. Some of them are attributed to Confucius but he's probably only the editor of them. One of the aspects of the culture that allows its continuity is the importance given to those ancient texts, that shape the philosophies of the culture.

S shū wǔ jīng (四書五經), the Four Books and the Five Classics, were mandated study of those Confucian scholars who wished to become government officials. Any political discussion was full of references to this background and one couldn't be a literati, and even a military officier, without knowing them perfectly.

Chinese children first studied the Chinese characters with the Hundred Family Surnames (Bai Jia Xing) and the Three Character Classic (三字經 San Zi Jing). Then, they studied the following Classics, in order to climb the social hierarchy.

The Four Books (四書 S shū) are

  • The Great Learning, (大學 D Xu), the name of a chapter in the Classic of Rites.
  • The Doctrine of the Golden Mean (中庸 Zhōng Yng), the name of another chapter in the Classic of Rites.
  • The Analects of Confucius (論語 Ln Yǔ), a book of pithy sayings attributed to Confucius and recorded by his disciples.
  • The Mencius (孟子 Mng Zǐ), a book of conversations between Mencius and some kings of his time.

The Five Classics (五經 Wǔ jīng) are
  • The Classic of Poetry (詩經 Shī Jīng), made up of 305 poems divided into 160 folk songs; 74 minor festal songs, traditionally sung at court festivities; 31 major festal songs, sung at more solemn court ceremonies; and 40 hymns and eulogies, sung at sacrifices to gods and ancestral spirits of the royal house. This book is probably a compilation from Confucius.
  • The Classic of History (書經 Shū Jīng) is a collection of documents and speeches alleged to have been written by rulers and officials of the early Zhou period and before. It contains examples of early Chinese prose.
  • The Book of Changes or I Ching (易經 Y Jīng), a manual of divination based on the eight trigrams attributed to the mythical emperor Fu Xi. (By Confucius' time these eight trigrams had been multiplied to sixty-four hexagrams.) The I Ching is still used by adherents of folk religion.
  • The Classic of Rites (禮記 Lǐ J), social forms and ceremonies (also spelled Liki), a restoration of the original Lijing, lost in the third century B.C., describes ancient rites and court ceremonies.
  • The Spring and Autumn Annals (春秋 Chūn Qiū, also known as 麟經 Ln Jīng), a historical record of the principality of Lu, Confucius' native state, from 722 B.C to 479 B.C written (or edited) by Confucius, with implied condemnation of usurpations, murder, incest, etc.
  • The Classic of Music (樂經) is sometime referred to as the sixth classic, but is lost.

Other classics:
  • The Classic of The Way and its Virtue or Tao Te Ching (道德經 Dao De Jing), attributed to Lao Zi.
  • The True Classic of Perfect Emptiness, attributed to Lie Zi.
  • The Classic of Filial Piety (孝經 Xiao Jing)

See also: Chinese literature, Imperial examination.

External links

  • Wengu text database with Classic of Poetry, Analects of Confucius, Tao Te Ching and I Ching, in Chinese and translations.
  • Legge's translations of the Analects of Confucius, the Great Learning, the Doctrine of the Mean, the Works of Mencius and the Tao Te Ching.