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: