Four Books and Five Classics

The Four Books and Five Classics (Chinese: 四書五經; pinyin: Sìshū wǔjīng) are the authoritative books of Confucianism in China written before 300 BC.[1]

The Four Books (四書; Sìshū) are Chinese classic texts illustrating the core value and belief systems in Confucianism. They were selected by Zhu Xi in the Song dynasty to serve as general introduction to Confucian thought, and they were, in the Ming and Qing dynasties, made the core of the official curriculum for the civil service examinations.[2] They are:

The Five Classics (五經; Wǔ Jīng) are five pre-Qin Chinese books that form part of the traditional Confucian canon. Several of the texts were already prominent by the Warring States period. Mencius, the leading Confucian scholar of the time, regarded the Spring and Autumn Annals as being equally important as the semi-legendary chronicles of earlier periods. During the Western Han dynasty, which adopted Confucianism as its official ideology, these texts became part of the state-sponsored curriculum. It was during this period that the texts first began to be considered together as a set collection, and to be called collectively the "Five Classics".[3]

The Five Classics are:

The Classic of Music is sometimes considered as the sixth classic but was lost in the Burning of the Books.

Up to the Western Han, authors would typically list the Classics in the order Poems-Documents-Rituals-Changes-Spring&Autumn. However, from the Eastern Han the default order instead became Changes-Documents-Poems-Rituals-Spring&Autumn.

Traditionally, it was thought that Confucius himself had compiled or edited the texts of the Five Classics. The scholar Yao Hsin-chung allows that there are good reasons to believe that Confucian classics took shape in the hands of Confucius, but that “nothing can be taken for granted in the matter of the early versions of the classics.” From the time of the Western Han dynasty, Yao continues, most Confucian scholars believed that Confucius re-collected and edited the prior works, thereby “fixing” the versions of the ancient writings which became the Classics. In the twentieth century, many Chinese scholars still held to this tradition. The New Confucian scholar, Xiong Shili (1885 -1968), for instance, held that the Six Classics were the final versions "fixed up" by Confucius in his old age. Other scholars had and have different views. The Old Text School, for instance, relied on versions found in the Han dynasty which supposedly survived the Qin dynasty burning of the books but many of them held that these works had not been edited by Confucius but survived directly from the Zhou dynasty.

For quite different reasons, mainly having to do with modern textual scholarship, a greater number of twentieth century scholars both in China and in other countries hold that Confucius had nothing to do with editing the classics, much less writing them. Yao Hsin-chung reports that still other scholars hold the “pragmatic” view that the history of the Classics is a long one and that Confucius and his followers, although they did not intend to create a system of classics, “contributed to their formation.”[4] In any case, it is undisputed that for most of the last 2,000 years, Confucius was believed to have either written or edited these classics.

This page was last edited on 11 April 2018, at 03:14 (UTC).
Reference: under CC BY-SA license.

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