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Flag MengTzu December 10, 2010 1:08 AM EST

    One of the most important elements of Confucianism is its classics.  Throughout history, instead of using a fixed, uniform canon, Confucian scholars in different eras added and omitted texts to the canon - in fact, sometimes different Confucians in the same era used different lists and enumerations of classics.  While some of the core classics are always included in the canon and some classics are omitted at one time and returned to the canon later, the general trend was to expand the canon to incorporate more books.  Perhaps the two most widely accepted versions of the canon today are 1) the Thirteen Classics and 2) the Four Books and the ´╗┐Five Classics.  Below is a brief summary and description of the classics and the development of the canon.  Please note that I am taking considerable liberty with how I translate some of the titles of classics and key phrases.  I will be more than happy to clarify in case there is any confusion due to my deviance from conventional translations. 

The Thirteen Classics

1) The Classic of Changes (Yi Jing)
2) The Classic of Songs (Shi Jing)
3) The Classic of Ancient Documents (Shang Shu)
4) The Rituals of Zhou (Zhou Li)
5) The Classic of Rituals (Yi Li)
6) The Commentaries on the Rituals (Li Ji)
7) "Spring and Autumn" with Zuo's Commentaries (Chun Qiu Zuo Zhuan)
8) "Spring and Autumn" with Gong-Yang's Commentaries (Chun Qiu Gong Yang Zhuan)
9) "Spring and Autumn" with Gu-Liang's Commentaries (Chun Qiu Gu Liang Zhuan)
10) The Analects (Lun Yu)
11) The Classic of Filial Piety (Xiao Jing)
12) Emulation of the Elegant Dialect (Er Ya)
13) Mencius (Meng Zi)

The Four Books and the Five Classics

Four Books:
1) The Great Learning (Da Xue)
2) The Analects (Lun Yu)
3) Mencius (Meng Zi)
4) The Middle Way (Zhong Yong)
Five Classics:
1) The Classic of Changes (Yi Jing)
2) The Classic of Songs (Shi Jing)
3) The Classic of Ancient Documents (Shang Shu)
4) The Commentaries on Rituals (Li Ji)
5) "Spring and Autumn" (Chun Qiu)

    Although the "Four Books and Five Classics" version of the canon is more popularly recognized, the "Thirteen Classics" version is more inclusive and contains all the texts in the "Four Books and Five Classics" version.  Note: the Great Learning and the Middle Way are actual two treatises in the Commentaries on the Rituals, so even though they are not listed separately in the "Thirteen Classics" canon, they are in fact included in it, as the Commentaries on the Rituals is one of the Thirteen Classics.

Descriptions of the Classics

    Since the "13 Classics" version of the canon is more inclusive and contains all the texts listed in the "4 Books and 5 Classics" version of the canon, the below is based on the 13-Classic list.

1) The Classic of Changes (Yi Jing)

    Also popularly known as I Ching in the West, the Classic of Changes was originally a fortune-telling manual, but the Confucians interpreted it philosophically and metaphysically.  The book consists of various parts: 1) 64 hexagrams (a hexagram is a symbol that consists of two trigrams, and each trigram consists of six yao; each yao is either a solid line or a broken line), 2) the main text explaining the hexagrams and their yao, 3) the commentaries.  The commentaries in turn consist of 7 commentaries; three of the commentaries are each divided into two parts, so the commentaries are sometimes referred to as the 10 "wings". 

    According to a traditional account, the legendary Fuxi developed the 8 trigrams, King Wen of Zhou (circa 1100 BCE) developed the 64 hexagrams and composed the main texts (another account says that King Wen only composed the portions of the main texts explaining the hexagrams, while his brother Duke Zhou composed the portions explaining the yao), and Confucius composed the commentaries.  Most scholars today do not believe in this traditional explanation and suggest that the work was the accumulated effort of generations of authors.  The commentaries were originally not a part of the Classic of Changes.  While the above explanation of the history and authorship of the book is unreliable, it is safe to say that the Classic of Changes (without the commentaries) existed before Confucius and was adopted by Confucius as a part of the cirriculum for his students.

    The Classic of Changes is an important basis for many metaphysical, philosophical, and cosmological concepts in classical Confucianism and neo-Confucianism.  It is also an important work to many non-Confucians, such as the Daoists.

To be continued....

Flag MengTzu December 10, 2010 2:51 PM EST

2) The Classic of Songs (Shi Jing)

    A collection of poems.  It consists of 311 poems, 6 of which have only titles and no contents, and so there are really 305 poems.  According to one account, there were originally some 3000 poems, of which Confucius selected 311 as a part of his students' cirriculum.  This Confucian edition became the standard Classic of Songs we still read today.

    The 311 poems can be divided into 3 types: "Feng" (Folksongs; literally "Wind"), "Ya" (Aristocratic poems and songs used in court festivities and ceremonies), and "Song" (Hymns used in solemn rituals).  The "Ya" poems are divided further into the Major Ya poems and the Minor Ya poems.

To be continued....

Flag MengTzu June 7, 2012 5:16 PM EDT


After a long hiatus, I'm finally back to continue this project.

    A few more remarks about the Classic of Songs - it can alternatively be translated as "The Classic of Poems," "The Classic of Odes," etc.  During the early periods (circa 5th centry BC to 3nd century AD), various schools studying the Classic of Songs developed.  The only one that has survived down the ages, and whose version of the Classic of Songs has survived, is the Mao school.  Because of this, and because the Mao school's commentarial introductions to the poems have become a part of the authoritative edition of the Classic of Songs, the Classic of Songs are sometimes referred to as "Mao Shi" or "the Mao [School's Classic of] Songs/Poems."

3)*    Classic of Documents (Shang Shu)

    *The conventional ordering of the classics (at least according to the "Jinwen" Schools) is to place Classic of Documents 2nd and the Classic of Songs 3rd.  I have switched their places here by mistake, not for some special reason.

    Also known as Classic of History or Classic of Ancient Documents.  "Shang" means ancient; "Shu" means documents.  It is a compilation of historical documents, many of which contain, at least purportedly, the various pronouncements, orders, declarations, etc. of ancient kings and their officials, or conversations among the same ancient figures.  Many of them also contain narratives describing the events and backgrounds related to the pronouncements, orders, declarations, etc.  So ancient are these figures involved, that they were already regarded as ancient by the time of Confucius.  The period allegedly covered by these documents started from King Yao (circa 24th century BC) to the Western Zhou Dynasty (which ended circa 8th century BC.)  The earlier parts of this period are so far removed from even Confucius' time that their related documents are likely to be inaccurate.  Coupled with the possibility that changes, additions, and omissions had been made throughout the centuries, their reliability is further undercut.  The earlier texts are especially suspicious, and many of which were probably written long after the fact.  In addition, 25 of the 58 surviving Documents have been confirmed by most scholars to be forgeries, probably created around the 4th century AD.  The remaining 33 Documents are either authentic or contain both authentic and inauthentic parts.

    Despite the miserable state in which the Documents have survived, they remain valuable source of Confucian learning even today.  The 33 Documents contain authentic texts.  Even the 25 forged texts might contain some fragments taken from authentic texts.

Flag MengTzu June 7, 2012 9:18 PM EDT

4)    The Rituals of Zhou ("Zhou Li")

    Also known as Zhou Guan (a.k.a. the Officialdom or Bureacracy of Zhou), the Rituals of Zhou is a purported record of the government system of the Zhou dynasty (circa 11th century BC - 3rd century BC.)  Most scholars today suspect that the government system described therein does not reflect the actual system of the Zhou dynasty, but suggest rather that it is an idealized account.  Nonetheless, some portions of it probably reflect the reality of the Zhou government.

    The Rituals of Zhou divide the government into six departments:

    a)  The central department, headed by the Official of Heaven.  It is simultaneously the chief of the departments and governs the internal affairs of all the departments, such that its chief official is both the prime minister of the state and the chief of staff of all the departments.

    b)  The governing department, headed by the Official of Earth, which manages the distribution of the lands, the organization of the population (including census collection), agricultural matters, etc.

    c)  The ceremony department, headed by the Official of Spring, which manages all matters related to rituals, including sacrifices, the ceremonies of the king and the dukes, etc.  

    d)  The military department, headed by the Official of Summer.

    e)  The justice department, headed by the Official of Autumn.

    f)  The labor department, headed by the Official of Winter, which manages the construction of various structures, the production of various items, etc.

    The Rituals of Zhou is divided into six parts, each discussing one of the departments above.  The chapter regarding the labor department was lost and replaced by a commentarial text regarding the same subject.  The Rituals of Zhou also covered various concepts including ownership of land, the methods of punishment, etc.

Flag MengTzu June 7, 2012 9:21 PM EDT

5)    The Classic of Rituals ("Yi Li")

    The Classic of Rituals is a collection of manuals concerning various rituals, including marriage, funerals, memorials, initiation rites for children becoming adults, and ceremonial meetings of kings and dukes.  They also cover the rituals involved in archery competitions, banquets, etc.  There are 17 chapters surviving, each covering a different ritual.

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