A universal guide for China studies
Chinese Literature - The Confucian Classics
Encoding: Unicode (UTF-8) [Location: HOME > Literature > Confucian classics][bottom]
Shisanjing 十三經 "The Thirteen Confucian Classics"
|Literature by A to Z|
Literature by time
Literature by theme
The Confucian Classics are said to have been thoroughly composed by the great social thinker Confucius (Kongzi 孔子) himself, at least the so-called Five Classics. Indeed, only a small part of the whole canon is his time, the late Spring and Autumn period 春秋時代. Parts of the Book of Documents, the Book of Poetry (or Songs), the Book of Changes and the Spring and Autumn Annals existed already during the Zhou Dynasty. But the main part of the corpus was written or at least compiled under the Han Dynasty 漢, when Confucianism became the official state philosophy and thinking.
The books are divided in the "Five Canonical Works" Wujing 五經, including the "Book of Changes" Yijing 易經, the "Book of Documents" Shujing 書經 (or Shangshu 尚書), the "Book of Poetry" Shijing 詩經 (or Maoshi 毛詩), the "Records of Rites" Liji 禮記 and the "Spring and Autumn Annals" Chunqiu 春秋 (widened by the so-called "Commentary" to the Annals by Zuo Qiuming 左丘明 Zuozhuan 左傳), and the "Four Books" Sishu 四書, including the teachings of the four philosophers Kongzi 孔子 (the "Analects" Lunyu 論語), his disciple Zeng Shen 曾參 (the "Great Learning" Daxue 大學), Kong Ji 孔伋, a grandson of Confucius (the "Doctrine of the Mean" Zhongyong 中庸), and the book Mengzi 孟子.
Traditional texts tell us of the “Six Classics” (Liujing 六經 or Liuyi 六藝), inlcuding a classical book about music that has vanished. This book about music could now be part of the Liji Classic as "Record of Music" Yueji 樂記. If it ever existed as a separated classic is not sure. Other interpretations say that the term Liujing has to be understood as the “Six Arts” (like the middle-age Artes Liberales): the Shangshu representing speeches, the Chunqiu representing historiography, the Shijing representing poetry, the Yijing representing divining, the Liji (or Yili) representing ritus, and finally the Ars Musica.
Later scholars count nine Canonical Works (Jiujing 九經) which additionally include the other writings on rites, the "Rites of the Zhou" Zhouli 周禮 and the "Etiquette and Rites" Yili 儀禮, and the two commentaries to the "Spring and Autumn Annals", the commentary by Gongyang Gao 公羊高; and Guliang Xi 穀梁喜. During the reign of Emperor Tang Taizong 唐太宗, the "smaller classics" were added and thus formed the corpus of the Thirteen Confucian Classics (Shisanjing 十三經). The smaller classics are the "Book on Filial Piety" Xiaojing 孝經, the Lunyu, the Mengzi, the "Doctrine of the Mean", the "Great Learning", and the semantical dictionary Erya 爾雅. Not counting the Doctrine and the Great Learning, because they are both part of the Liji, the canon of thirteen classics is full.
The first to view, collect and compile the classical books were the Han time scholar Liu Xiang 劉向 and his son Liu Xin 劉歆. Xin composed a catalogue of existant writings of the six arts, the Liuyilüe 六藝略. This catalogue lists many different versions of one single classic and thus shows how complicate it was to find out the orthodox version of a text and to what quarrels it eventually lead. The books that were written on bamboo tablets have been partially destroyed by war and other catastrophs. Until the end of the Han Dynasty, the orthodox version had won through and was cut into slabs of stone in 175 AD (Xiping Stone Classics 熹平石經). A second cutting was undertaken during the Three Kingdoms period 三國時期 under the guidance of the emperor of Wei in 245 AD (Zhengshi Stone Classics 正始石經). It was cut in three different forms of characters. The third stone cutting (Kaicheng Stone Classics 開成石經) was made in 836 by the Tang emperor.
The Confucian Classics have been like the bible to the Western world. Scholars attempting to graduate in the state examination had to learn, to explain and to exegete the most important of these books. For the Confucian society, these classical writings contained the basic knowledge for the state system as well as for the conduct at home.
The following table gives an overview of the Classics and some writings that belong to the same field of interest like the classics but are not included in the canon: