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The Four Books and Five Classics

2012-11-09 11:12 ChineseTime

The Four Books (sì shū 四书) refer to The Analects of Confucius (lún yǔ 论语), The Mencius (mèng zǐ 孟子), The Great Learning (dà xué 大学) and The Doctrine of the Golden Mean (zhōng yōng 中庸). The former two are collections of sayings and teachings of Confucius (kǒng zǐ 孔子) and Mencius (mèng zǐ 孟子) as well as sayings of their disciples while the latter two are chapters in The Classic of Rites (lǐ jì 礼记). Chu His (zhū xī 朱熹), a famous scholar of the Southern Song Dynasty (nán sòng 南宋), held that The Four Books together outlined the basic system of Confucian thoughts (rú jiā sī xiǎng 儒家思想) and constituted a better introduction to the complicated materials in the Classics (jīng diǎn 经典), thus selecting these four texts from Classics and put them together as the Four Books.

The Five Classics refer to The Book of Songs (shī jīng 诗经), The Classic of History (shàng shū 尚书), The Classic of Rites (lǐ jì 礼记), The Book of Changes (I Ching /zhōu yì 周易), and The Spring and Autumn Annals (chūn qiū 春秋), all of which are said to be compiled or revised by Confucius. The Book of Songs is the earliest collection of Chinese poems and it is the source of Chinese verse and the starting point of the Chinese realistic epic. Therefore, The Book of Songs serves as the most valuable and important material in the study of the Chinese language from the 11th century to the 6th century B.C. The Classic of History is a compilation of documentary records related to events in ancient China. The Classic of Rites is the earliest and most complete record of social hierarchies and ceremonies in ancient China. The Book of Changes, also referred to as Zhou Yi (Book of Changes of the Zhou Dynasty), is regarded as the most preeminent among all Classics in ancient China. The Spring and Autumn Annals were the official chronicles of the states during the Pre-Qin Period, however, only that of the State of Lu covering the period from 722 BC to 481 BC survived. This book was also compiled by Confucius thereby gaining extra significance and becoming a Confucian Classic. It is also the forerunner of the "chronological style" of historiography.
The Four Books and Five Classics have far-reaching influence on Chinese culture and also exert profound influence on the mentalities of Chinese people.

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