Chinese classic texts, or Chinese canonical texts, () today often refer to the pre-Qin Chinese texts, especially the Neo-Confucian titles of Four Books and Five Classics ( ), a selection of short books and chapters from the voluminous collection called the Thirteen Classics. All of these pre-Qin texts were written in classical Chinese. As canons they are collectively referred to as jing ( ).
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 ( , historical works), zi ( , 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 ( , literary works) as well as jing.
In the Ming and Qing dynasties, the Four Books and Five Classics, 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 anecdotes and conversations of Mencius, a disciple of Confucius.
- 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. A standard version, named Maoshi Zhengyi, was compiled in the mid-7th century under the leadership of Kong Yingda.
- 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 Rites
- The Rites of Zhou
- The Yili "Etiquette and Rites"
- 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. It also dictates proper treatment of juniors by their seniors, establishing a mutual benefit for both.
- The Erya is a dictionary explaining the meaning and interpretation of words in the context of the Confucian Canon.
- The Classics of Taoism
Tao Te Ching, attributed to Laozi.
Zhuangzi, attributed to the philosopher of the same name, Zhuangzi.
- The Classic of the Perfect Emptiness, attributed to Liezi.
- The Classic of Mohism
Mozi, attributed to the philosopher of the same name, Mozi.
- The Classics of Legalism
The Book of Lord Shang, attributed to Shang Yang.
Guanzi, attributed to Guan Zhong.
Hanfeizi, attributed to Han Fei.
Shenzi, attributed to Shen Buhai; all but one chapter is lost.
Shenzi, attributed to Shen Dao. It originally consisted of ten volumes and forty-two chapters, of which all but seven chapters have been lost.
- The Canon of Laws, attributed to Li Kui.
- The Classics of Military Science
- The Art of War, attributed to Sunzi.
- The Thirty-Six Stratagems, recently recovered.
- The Three Strategies of Huang Shigong, attributed to Jiang Ziya.
- The Sima Fa, attributed to Sima Rangju.
Wuzi, attributed to Wu Qi.
Wei Liaozi, attributed to Wei Liao.
- Other classics
- 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.
After 206 BCE
- The Twenty-Four Histories, a collection of authoritative histories of China, including the Records of the Grand Historian by Sima Qian and the Book of Han by Ban Gu.
- The Strategies of the Warring States, attributed to Liu Xiang.
- The Spring and Autumn Annals of the Sixteen Kingdoms, a historical record of the Sixteen Kingdoms, attributed to Cui Hong, is lost.
- The Shiming, is a dictionary compiled by Liu Xi by the end of 2nd century.
- The Dialogues between Li Jing and Tang Taizong, attributed to Li Jing
- The Comprehensive Mirror for Aid in Government, with Sima Guang as its main editor.
- The Spring and Autumn Annals of Wu and Yue, a historical record of the states of Wu and Yue during the period of Spring and Autumn, attributed to Zhao Ye.
- The Jiaoshi Yilin, a work modelled after the I Ching, composed during the Western Han Dynasty and attributed to Jiao Yanshou.
- The The Nine Chapters on the Mathematical Art, a mathematics Chinese book composed by several generations scholars of Han Dynasty.
- The Thousand Character Classic, attributed to Zhou Xingsi.
- The Treatise on Astrology of the Kaiyuan Era, compiled by Gautama Siddha, is a Chinese encyclopedia on astrology and divination.
- The Shitong, written by Liu Zhiji, a work on historiography.
- The Tongdian, written by Du You, a contemporary text focused on the Tang Dynasty.
- The Tang Huiyao, compiled by Wang Pu, a text based on the institutional history of the Tang Dynasty.
- The Great Tang Records on the Western Regions, compiled by Bianji; a recount of Xuanzang's journey.
- The Miscellaneous Morsels from Youyang, written by Duan Chengshi, records fantastic stories, anecdotes, and exotic customs.
- The Four Great Books of Song, a term referring to the four large compilations during the beginning of Song Dynasty.
- The Siku Quanshu, the largest compilation of literature in Chinese history.
- The New Songs from the Jade Terrace, a poetry collection from the Six Dynasties period.
- The Quantangshi, or Collected Tang Poems, compiled during the Qing Dynasty, published 1705 CE.
- Chinese literature
- Imperial examination
- List of early Chinese texts
- Kaicheng Stone Classics
- Seven Military Classics
- Old Texts
- Thomas Francis Wade
- Herbert Giles
- Lionel Giles
- Frederic H. Balfour
In Chinese, with articles and discussions on literature, history, and philosophy.
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