Formation of the earliest layer of Chinese literature was influenced by oral traditions of different social and professional provenance: cult and lay musical practices (Shijing), divination (Yi jing), astronomy, exorcism. An attempt at tracing the genealogy of Chinese literature to religious spells and incantations (the six zhu 六祝, as presented in the "Da zhu" chapter of the Rites of Zhou) was made by Liu Shipei.
There is a wealth of early Chinese literature dating from the Hundred Schools of Thought that occurred during the Eastern Zhou Dynasty (770–256 BC). The most important of these include the Classics of Confucianism, of Daoism, of Mohism, of Legalism, as well as works of military science and Chinese history. Note that, except for the books of poems and songs, most of this literature is philosophical and didactic; there is little in the way of fiction. However, these texts maintained their significance through both their ideas and their prose style.
The Confucian works in particular have been of key importance to Chinese culture and history, as a set of works known as the Four Books and Five Classics were, in the 12th century AD, chosen as the basis for the Imperial examination for any government post. These nine books therefore became the center of the educational system. They have been grouped into two categories: the Five Classics, allegedly commented and edited by Confucius, and the Four Books. The Five Classics are:
The Four Books are:
Other important[according to whom?] philosophical works include the Mohist Mozi, which taught "inclusive love" as both an ethical and social principle, and Hanfeizi, one of the central Legalist texts.
Important Daoist classics include the Dao De Jing, the Zhuangzi, and the Classic of the Perfect Emptiness. Later authors combined Daoism with Confucianism and Legalism, such as Liu An (2nd century BC), whose Huainanzi (The Philosophers of Huai-nan) also added to the fields of geography and topography.
Among the classics of military science, The Art of War by Sun Tau (6th century BC) was perhaps the first to outline guidelines for effective international diplomacy. It was also the first in a tradition of Chinese military treatises, such as the Jingling Zongyao (Collection of the Most Important Military Techniques, 1044 AD) and the Woolongong (Fire Dragon Manual, 14th century AD).