Chinese classics

Chinese classics

Chinese classic texts or canonical texts (Chineset 中國古典典籍, s 中国古典典籍, p Zhōngguó gǔdiǎn diǎnjí) refers to the Chinese texts which originated before the imperial unification by the Qin dynasty in 221 BC, particularly the "Four Books and Five Classics" of the Neo-Confucian tradition, themselves a customary abridgment of the "Thirteen Classics". All of these pre-Qin texts were written in classical Chinese. All three canons are collectively known as the classics (t , s , jīng, lit. "warp").[1]

Chinese classic texts may more broadly refer to texts written either in vernacular Chinese or in the classical Chinese that was current until the fall of the last imperial dynasty, the Qing, in 1912. These can include shi (, historical works), zi (, philosophical works belonging to schools of thought other than the Confucian but also including works on agriculture, medicine, mathematics, astronomy, divination, art criticism, and other miscellaneous writings) and ji (, literary works) as well as jing.

In the Ming and Qing dynasties, the Four Books and Five Classics were the subject of mandatory study by those Confucian scholars who wished to take the imperial exams to become government officials. Any political discussion was full of references to this background, and one could not be one of the literati (or, in some periods, even a military officer) without having memorized them. Generally, children first memorized the Chinese characters of the "Three Character Classic" and the "Hundred Family Surnames" and then went on to memorize the other classics. The literate elite therefore shared a common culture and set of values.

Scholarship on these texts naturally divides itself into two periods, before and after the burning of the books during the fall of the Qin dynasty, when many of the original pre-Qin texts were lost.[1]


  • Before 221 BC 1
  • After 206 BC 2
  • Further reference 3
  • See also 4
  • Notes 5
  • External links 6
    • Traditional Chinese 6.1
    • Simplified Chinese 6.2

Before 221 BC

  • The Classics of Confucianism
    • The Four Books
      • The Great Learning is a chapter from the Classic of Rites (see below).
      • The Doctrine of the Mean is another chapter from the Classic of Rites.
      • The Analects of Confucius (Lun Yu), a twenty-chapter work of dialogues attributed to Confucius and his disciples; traditionally believed to have been written by Confucius's own circle it is thought to have been set down by later Confucian scholars.
      • The Mencius (Mengzi), a book of anecdotes and conversations of Mencius, a disciple of Confucius.
    • The Five Classics
      • The I Ching (or Book of Changes) is a manual of divination based on the eight trigrams attributed to the mythical figure Fuxi (by at least the time of the early Eastern Zhou these eight trigrams had been multiplied to sixty-four hexagrams). The I Ching is still used by modern adherents of folk religion.
      • The Classic of Poetry (Shi Jing) is 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 traditionally credited as a compilation from Confucius. A standard version, named Maoshi Zhengyi, was compiled in the mid-7th century under the leadership of Kong Yingda.[2]
      • The Three Rites, which are listed among the classics of Confucianism, record social forms and ceremonies of the Western Zhou (thought to be versions compiled by 3rd-century scholars, following the burning of Confucian texts in 213 BC).
        • The Classic of Rites (Li Chi) describes social forms, administration, and ceremonial rites.
        • The Rites of Zhou was conferred the status of a classic in the 12th century (in place of the lost Classic of Music; see below).
        • The Book of Etiquette and Ceremonial (Yi Li) describes ancient rites, social forms and court ceremonies.
      • The Classic of History or Book of Documents (Shu Jing) is a collection of documents and speeches allegedly from the Xia, Shang and Western Zhou periods, and even earlier. It contains some of the earliest examples of Chinese prose.
      • The Spring and Autumn Annals is chronologically the earliest of the annals; comprising about 16,000 ideograms, it records the events of the State of Lu from 722 BC to 481 BC, with implied condemnation of usurpations, murder, incest, etc.
        • The Zuo Zhuan (Commentary of Zuo) is a different report of the same events as the Spring and Autumn Annals with a few significant differences. It covers a longer period than the Spring and Autumn Annals.
        • The Commentary of Gongyang, another surviving commentary on the same events (see Spring and Autumn Annals).
        • The Commentary of Guliang, another surviving commentary on the same events (see Spring and Autumn Annals).
      • The Classic of Music is sometimes referred to as the sixth classic; it was lost by the time of the Han Dynasty.
    • Other Confucian classics
      • The Classic of Filial Piety (Xiao Jing) is a small book giving advice on filial piety; how to behave towards a senior (such as a father, an elder brother, or ruler).
      • The Erya is a dictionary explaining the meaning and interpretation of words in the context of the Confucian Canon.
  • The Classics of Taoism
  • The Classic of Mohism
    • Mozi, attributed to the philosopher of the same name, Mozi.
  • The Classics of Legalism
  • The Classics of Military Science
  • Other classics

After 206 BC

Further reference

  • Endymion Wilkinson. Chinese History: A New Manual. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Asia Center, Harvard-Yenching Institute Monograph Series. New Edition; Second, Revised printing March 2013). ISBN 9780674067158 ISBN 0674067150. See esp. pp. 365- 377, Ch. 28, "The Confucian Classics."

See also


  1. ^ a b Voorst, Robert E. Van (2007). Anthology of World Scriptures. Cengage Learning. p. 140.  
  2. ^ "Detailed List 19-24 - lawpark's JimdoPage!". 2014-01-27. Retrieved 2014-04-30. 

External links

  • Chinese Text Project (English Chinese) (Chinese philosophy texts in classical Chinese with English and modern Chinese translations)
  • Chinese Classics (James 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)
  • The Canonical Books of Confucianism, David K. Jordan
  • Relevant Electronic Resources for Chinese Classical Studies

Traditional Chinese

  • Scripta Sinica Big classic texts database by Academia Sinica
  • Palace Museum Chinese Text Database
  • 中國電子古籍世界 Classics database
  • Research Center for Chinese Ancient Texts includes CHANT (CHinese ANcient Texts) Database
  • Chinese classic text online

Simplified Chinese

  • 凌云小筑 In Chinese, with articles and discussions on literature, history, and philosophy.