Chinese classic texts or Chinese canonical texts (Chinese: 典籍; pinyin: diǎnjí) refer to the pre-Qin Chinese texts, especially the Confucian Four Books and Five Classics (四書五經). All of these pre-Qin text were written in classical Chinese. They can be referred to as jing (經).
More broadly speaking, Chinese classic texts may refer to texts, be they written in vernacular Chinese or in classical Chinese, that existed before 1912, when the last imperial Chinese dynasty, the Qing Dynasty, fell. These can include shi (史, historical works), zi (子, philosophical works belonging to schools of thought other than the Confucian, but also works of agriculture, medicine, mathematics, astronomy, divination, art criticism, and all sorts of miscellaneous writings) and ji (集, literary works) as well as jing.
In the Ming and Qing dynasties, the Four Books and Five Classics, Chinese classic texts chosen by Song dynasty Neo-Confucianist Zhu Xi, were the subject of mandatory study by those Confucian scholars who wished to become government officials. Any political discussion was full of references to this background, and one could not be one of the literati, or even a military officer, without knowing them. Generally, children first studied the Chinese characters with rote memorization of the Three Character Classic and Hundred Family Surnames, then went on to memorize the other classics, in order to ascend in the social hierarchy.
Scholarship on these texts naturally divides itself into two periods, before and after the "Qin Fire", when many of the original texts, especially those of Confucianism, were burned in a political purge.
Before 221 BCE
- The Classics of Confucianism
- The Four Books
- The Great Learning is a chapter from the Classic of Rites.
- The Doctrine of the Mean is another chapter from the Classic of Rites.
- The Analects of Confucius, a twenty-chapter work of dialogues between Confucius and his disciples, recorded by later Confucian scholars.
- The Mencius, a book of conversations between Mencius and some kings of his time.
- The Five Classics
- The I Ching is a manual of divination based on the eight trigrams attributed to the mythical figure Fuxi (by the time of Confucius these eight trigrams had been multiplied to sixty-four hexagrams). The I Ching is still used by modern adherents of folk religion.
- The Classic of Poetry is made up of 305 poems divided into 160 folk songs, 74 minor festal songs, traditionally sung at court festivities, 31 major festal songs, sung at more solemn court ceremonies, and 40 hymns and eulogies, sung at sacrifices to gods and ancestral spirits of the royal house. This book is traditionally credited as a compilation from Confucius.
- The Three Rites are the three ancient ritual texts listed among the classics of Confucianism, a record of social forms and ceremonies of the Western Zhou, and a restoration of the original copy after the burning of Confucian texts in 213 BCE
- The Classic of History is a collection of documents and speeches of the Xia, Shang and Western Zhou and period before. It contains examples of the earliest Chinese prose.
- The Spring and Autumn Annals is chronologically the earliest annal; consisting of about 16,000 words, it records the events of the State of Lu from 722 BCE to 481 BCE, with implied condemnation of usurpations, murder, incest, etc.
- The Zuo Zhuan (Commentary of Zuo) is a different report of the same events as the Spring and Autumn Annals with a few significant differences. It covers a longer period than the Spring and Autumn Annals.
- The Commentary of Gongyang, another surviving commentary on the same events (see Spring and Autumn Annals).
- The Commentary of Guliang, another surviving commentary on the same events (see Spring and Autumn Annals).
- The Classic of Music is sometimes referred to as the sixth classic; it was lost by the time of the Han Dynasty.
- Other Confucian classics
- The Classic of Filial Piety is a very small classical book on how to behave towards a senior, be it one's father, an elder brother, or the ruler.
- The Erya is a dictionary explaining the meaning and interpretation of words in the context of the Confucian Canon.
- The Classics of Taoism
- The Classic of Mohism
- Mozi, attributed to the philosopher of the same name, Mozi.
- The Classics of Legalism
- The Classics of Military Science
- The Classics of the History of China
- The Guoyu, a collection of historical records of numerous states recorded the period from Western Zhou to 453 BCE.
- The Shan Hai Jing, a collection of mythical tales from various locations.
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