Confucianism: The Classical Canon
CONFUCIANISM: THE CLASSICAL CANON
A focus on the ritual, music, and texts of a bygone era of social harmony has been a central feature of many of the traditions now identified as Confucian, from classical studies to moral education for government service. In teaching disciples and rulers Kongzi (Confucius, 551–479 bce) relied on songs preserved in the Classic of Odes (Shijing) and myriad forms of ceremony and etiquette believed to date back to the earliest years of the Zhou dynasty (c. 1150 to 256 bce). Since Kongzi's time the task of preserving the culture of the ancient sages has been understood to require the transmission and interpretation of a normative set of texts and practices. While different eras used different taxonomies for the canon, from the Five Classics (wujing ) to the Thirteen Classics (shisanjing ) to the Four Books (sishu ), a certain attitude and approach to these works was basic to the training that aspiring scholars and officials received. In the Analects, Kongzi tells his son, "If you do not study the odes, you will have nothing to use when you speak.… If you do not study the rites, you will have nothing to use to establish yourself." On hearing this a disciple remarks that he has learned about three important things: the odes, the rites, and how Kongzi kept the proper distance from his son. Since a "proper distance" exemplified the normative relationship between teacher and student, Kongzi's insistence on it even in the case of teaching his son illustrates the way Kongzi was seen not only as valuing the past, but how he was the paradigm for the right means of teaching the classics and applying the practices of the past.
At the core of debates about canon and orthodoxy in China is the word jing, which, although its connotations shift over time, will here be consistently translated as "classic." John B. Henderson borrows Wang Chong's (27–c. 100 ce) distinction between the classics (jing ) of the "sages" (shengren ) and the commentaries (zhuan ) of the "worthies" (xianren ) and argues that the hierarchical distinction between classic and commentary is made less on the basis of content than "according to their respective sources" (1991, p. 71). Henderson says the resulting one is similar to the Hindu distinction between "revealed scripture" (sruti) and "explanations" (smirti) of saints and prophets (p. 71). Because the role of the classical canon both within Confucian traditions and Chinese society as a whole changed over time, this treatment of the classical canon is divided into three chronological sections: the Five Classics of the preimperial and early imperial periods (through 220 ce), redefinitions of the canon culminating in the Tang (618–907) and Northern Song (960–1127 ce) dynasty establishment of the Thirteen Classics, and the recognition of the Four Books by Zhu Xi (1130–1200). The reformulations of the canon reflect different assumptions about the relationship of text and tradition, which were translated into new commentarial practices, culminating in a modern situation in which the approach to the Confucian classics is intertwined with that of other traditions to their canons.
The Five Classics
The Five Classics (wujing ), established as the basis of the imperial curriculum in the second century bce, were seen as vehicles for the preservation of the norms and practices of the Zhou dynasty, a goal that was seen as a continuation of a project begun by Kongzi. As such, training oneself using these texts was an undertaking that was itself traditional, and the word for a person who had received such training was classicist (ru). While the term ru is usually translated as "Confucian" based on the traditional view of Kongzi as the first classicist, this article will attempt to distinguish between the several Chinese terms translated as "Confucian" to preserve distinctions made by practitioners themselves. The earliest records of classicists connect them specifically to the teaching and performance of the Classic of Odes and the Classic of Documents (Shujing), which, with the Classic of Changes (Yijing), Spring and Autumn (Chunqiu), and the Records of Rites (Liji), comprise the Five Classics.
Classic of Odes
The Classic of Odes is a collection of 305 songs (excluding six titles transmitted without text), dating from the beginning through the middle of the Zhou dynasty, with the final compilation thought to have taken place in, or slightly before, Kongzi's time. Both the form and content of these songs varies and the classical division of the collection into sections reflect a generic distinction, and perhaps signal that these divisions were once independent texts. Modern scholarship has used particular songs as evidence for Zhou ancestral sacrifice and popular religious festivals. In pedagogical contexts their narration of affective dispositions (qing ) in particular situations in the past has been seen as a guide for training one's reactions so as to conform with the dispositions of the sage kings.
The earliest references to the Classic of Odes mention the sections "Airs" (feng ), "Elegantiae" (ya ), and "Hymns" (song ), with the Elegantiae section further divided into "Lesser" (xiao ) and "Greater" (da ) subsections. In the "Prefaces to the Odes " (Shi xu ), associated with early imperial members of the disciple traditions of Zixia (507–400 bce), this four-part structure is called the "four beginnings" (sishi). The folksong-like Airs are divided into subsections associated with different states, and the "Great Preface" (Da xu ) explains that its songs "take a given country's affairs and tie them to their sources in particular individuals." The Elegantiae sections contain court pieces about the culture heroes of the Zhou dynasty, as well as pieces for special occasions and, occasionally, criticisms and plaints. The "Great Preface" explains that "elegantiae means 'correct'" and explains their function as describing "the origins of the rise and fall of kingly government." The Hymns, many of which likely were performance pieces for sacrificial occasions, are described in the "Great Preface" as "praising the form and appearance of flourishing virtue in order to report completed accomplishments to the luminous spirits." Similarly, discovered in the 1990s, the early third-century bce "Kongzi's discussion of the Odes " (Kongzi Shilun ) says, "The Hymns are (about) sagely virtue." An example of these last forty songs is the "Great Brightness" song, addressed to the people or soldiers of Zhou, justifying their rule with the phrase "There is a mandate (ming) that comes from Heaven, that mandates [the rule of] our own King Wen."
Classic of Documents
The concept of "Heaven's mandate" (tianming ) is also at the core of many of the proclamations that make up the fifty-eight-fascicle Classic of Documents (Shujing), also known as the Books of the Predecessors (Shangshu ). Among the core chapters widely accepted as genuine are the "Great Announcement" (Da gao ), "Announcement of Kang" (Kang gao ), "Announcement of Shao" (Shao gao ), "Many Officials" (Duo shi ), and "Lord Shi" (Jun shi ), traditionally dated to the reign of King Cheng of Zhou (d. 1006 bce). While Heaven's mandate was historically the command issued to the Zhou founders to overthrow the last corrupt ruler of the Shang dynasty (c. 1500–1050 bce), the term is also used more generally for a divine justification for authority claimed by both rulers and rebels alike. The "Great Announcement" records how divination using tortoise shells conveyed Heaven's mandate to the imperial regent, the duke of Zhou (Zhougong). Because the basis of Heaven's endorsement of the dynasty was the personal virtue (de ) of its founders and rulers, politics was intimately linked to a discussion of character and to the possession of particular traits such as reverence (jing ). The "Announcement of Kang" argues that since Heaven's mandate may change, the ruler must always keep the possibility of its withdrawal in mind, which causes him to be reverent.
For much of modern Chinese history the authenticity of a large portion of the Classic of Documents has been contested. Following the literary purges of the Qin dynasty (221–206 bce), there were several discoveries of lost portions of the text, beginning with Fu Sheng's (c. 245–c. 180 bce) claim to have preserved twenty-nine fascicles of the text in the wall of his house. The discovery of other materials transmitted by Kongzi's descendents resulted in an "ancient text" (guwen ) version of the Fu Sheng materials with twenty-four fascicles of other material. In the first century ce Liu Xiang (79–8 bce) championed this version of the classic, and in the fourth century ce the Fu Sheng chapters were redivided into thirty-four fascicles, resulting in the fifty-eight-fascicle text transmitted today. Beginning in the late Tang and Northern Song dynasties textual scholars noted discrepancies that caused them to question the authenticity of the "ancient text" chapters. Nevertheless, the archaeological discovery of attributed quotations of "ancient text" chapters dating to the late Warring States period (403–221 bce) indicates that even sections of the Classic of Documents that are not authentic records of the early sage kings may well be forgeries of great antiquity.
Classic of Changes
The use of divination to provide justification for rule is one instance of the use of the divination or omen text the Classic of Changes (Yijing). The Classic of Changes is a layered text consisting of an early Zhou dynasty omen manual transmitted alongside a set of increasingly abstract commentaries dating to the Warring States and early imperial periods. Its title (and its alternate title Changes of the Zhou, or Zhouyi) refers to the "change" inherent in the moment of performance of casting and counting out milfoil stalks or, probably in its earliest form, reading cracks produced by heat in cattle scapulae or tortoise plastrons. These media were seen as particularly sensitive membranes between the natural or spirit worlds and that of human beings, and skilled diviners could use them to read incipient patterns. In the context of producing and reading these patterns the Classic of Changes is used to interpret the resulting symbols: a hexagram or hexagrams (gua ) diagnostic for particular questions or concerns. In its history as one of the Five Classics, however, the original practical aspect of the Classic of Changes was less important than its status as a description of a natural system that subsumed considerations of change and contingency and so could be applied to analyze history, alchemy, and a host of other areas.
The base text of the Classic of Changes consists of sixty-four named hexagrams, each constructed of six solid or broken lines, a brief "hexagram statement" (guaci), and a series of "line statements" (yaoci) indexed to numbers generated as part of the process of determining each line of the hexagram. The first two hexagrams, qian and kun, are made up of six solid and six broken lines, respectively, and each is followed by a terse and somewhat opaque hexagram statement, and then six-line statements that apply only if the lines of the hexagram are solid or broken lines of a certain kind. The attached commentaries to the base text are also collectively known as the "Ten Wings" (Shiyi). The earliest layers of commentary are devoted to the further elucidation of the symbolic features of the hexagram, such as the Judgements (Duan) and Greater and Lesser Images (Da/Xiao Xiang). Later layers are essays on the hexagrams and the cosmos, such as the bipartite Commentary on the Appended Phrases (Xici), the Explanations of the Trigrams (Shuogua), and the Order of the Hexagrams (Xugua). The Words about the Patterns (Wenyan) commentary contains detailed commentary on the first two hexagrams only, and the Miscellaneous Hexagrams (Zagua) provides pithy explanations of the meanings of pairs of hexagrams. While these commentaries have become part of the Classic of Changes itself, commentary on the Yijing has been a feature of Chinese literature of all types and affiliations. Han dynasty (206 bce–220 ce) commentaries are classed as "image and number" (xiangshu ) because they correlated each element of the hexagram to an image and a set of numbers. Wang Bi (226–249 ce) initiated a strategy of reading the text in isolation from the universe of correlations previously employed. This type of commentary, known as "meaning and pattern" (yili), became dominant by the Northern Song dynasty.
Spring and Autumn
The Spring and Autumn (Chunqiu) is a concise chronicle of diplomatic, political, and other noteworthy happenings in Kongzi's home state of Lu from the period 722 to 481 bce. The term annals is often added as a suffix to the translation to express the sense in which the terms spring and autumn signify the passage of the year, and the nature of the text as a year-by-year description of events. Although its content appears to have been based on official Lu records, later traditions recount that Kongzi composed it shortly before his death, as a means to preserve his normative vision once he had given up on transforming the society in which he lived. This view, which emphasizes the political import of the Spring and Autumn among the Five Classics, is seen in the Mengzi (Mencius, c. 380–c. 290 bce), which quotes Kongzi as saying, "Those who understand me will do so on account of the Spring and Autumn, and those who berate me will also do so on account of the Spring and Autumn." Indeed, for the commentarial schools that developed in the early imperial period, the style of the work was seen to contain subtle clues to moral evaluations of historical figures, and small deviations were read as indications of Kongzi's praise or censure. Zhao Qi (c. 107–201), in commenting on Kongzi's speech in the Mengzi, uses the term unsullied king (suwang) to express a view that became associated with the "new text" (jinwen ) school of Confucianism, that Kongzi was the ideal ruler and the Spring and Autumn was the key to his method of government.
In the early imperial period three commentaries to the Spring and Autumn defined three separate schools of interpretation of the events and of Kongzi's historiography: the Gongyang, Guliang, and Zuo traditions. Each of these schools developed around a particular commentary to the Spring and Autumn. The two commentaries most representative of the "praise and censure" approach are the Gongyang and Guliang commentaries, which formally resemble a catechism: simple questions and answers about the judgments behind choices of words made by Kongzi. The Gongyang commentary, supposedly written by the late Warring States period figure Gongyang Gao from the state of Qi, but actually dating to the second century bce, is allegedly based on centuries of esoteric transmission through the lineages of disciples of Kongzi. The Guliang commentary is associated with Guliang Chi, supposedly an early Warring States period figure from the state of Lu, who Yang Shixun, the Tang dynasty subcommentator, claims received training in the Spring and Autumn from Kongzi's disciple Zixia. The most influential commentary, however, is the one associated with the fifth-century bce state of Lu historian Zuo Qiuming, although it probably is an amalgam of a number of sources, both historical and fictive. The Zuo commentary differs from the other two because of its incorporation of detailed narratives and by the fact that its coverage of the Spring and Autumn events extends to 469 bce, while the Gongyang and the Guliang commentaries both extend to 482 bce. That the Zuo version covers events that postdate the traditional death of Confucius was explained by Du Yu (222–284), the Jin dynasty (265–420) commentator, as being the result of the master's disciples having completed his work based on the archives of Lu. Modern scholars tend to see these differences as reflecting a more basic difference in the nature of the source material on which the commentaries were based.
Records of Ritual
The "Three Ritual Compendia" (sanli) are ostensibly collections of record of the archaic ritual system of the Zhou period, called Zhou Rituals (Zhouli), the Ceremonies and Rituals (Yili), and the Records of Ritual (Liji). The six sections of the Zhou Rituals formulaically reconstitute the governmental structure of the Zhou, with each section containing short descriptions of sixty offices under the jurisdiction of a different state bureau. While modern scholars generally do not think the Zhou Rituals predates the Han period (206 bce–220 ce), for much of Chinese history it has been treated as a source, albeit somewhat idealized, for information on predynastic China. The seventeen sections of the Ceremonies and Rituals provide a more practical description of ritual protocol in different situations, from capping rites for the children of members of the official class to guidelines for receiving and hosting the impersonator of the deceased during a funeral. While traditionally associated with the eleventh-century bce figure the duke of Zhou (Zhougong), the actual record of transmission of the Ceremonies and Rituals may only be verified as of the Han period. The forty-nine sections of the Records of Ritual, by contrast, are acknowledged to have been edited after the beginning of the dynastic period in 221 bce, although the discovery in the last two decades of exemplars of chapters of the work in preimperial tombs shows that it is constituted of older materials. Dai De (first century bce) and his nephew Dai Sheng (73–49 bce) are credited with paring a collection of ritual writings into the current diverse collection of dialogues about ceremony and etiquette between Kongzi and his disciples or the rulers he advised, abstract discussions of the minutiae and origins of particular ritual forms, and cosmological or psychological essays that integrate ritual into the discussion of other themes.
Early discussions of the Five Classics are vague about which of the "Three Ritual Compendia" were included, but the Records of Ritual soon gained prominence. While it is a composite text that contains many different views of the function and significance of ritual, its account of the importance of ritual both reflected and informed the central role that ritual plays in many forms of Confucianism. In one dialog between Kongzi and Duke Ai of Lu in chapter 48 of the Records of Ritual, Kongzi explains, "Inside, it is the way to govern the rites of the ancestral temple, sufficient to allow one to match the spirit luminances of Heaven and Earth. Outside, it is the way to govern the rites of correcting and instructing, sufficient to establish reverence between superior and inferior." Sun Yirang (1848–1908) explains that "matching the spirit luminances" in this passage refers to copying the movement of the sun and moon in the ancestral temple rites. This quotation reflects how ritual oriented the performer in both a cosmologically and socially optimal way and implies that there is a relationship between correct ritual behavior on the part of the ruler and maintenance of social order in the state.
The Five Classics in Chinese history
While the Five Classics came from diverse origins both generically and chronologically, in the early empire their reception became inextricably bound with the reputation of Kongzi. The establishment of a "Confucian orthodoxy" by the Martial Emperor (Wu, r. 140–87 bce) beginning in 136 bce led to the institutionalization of an examination system that made a knowledge of the Five Classics the requirement for an official career. Because of Kongzi's reputation as teacher and advisor, the ethical foundation in the Five Classics with which he came to be associated was seen to be necessary training for officials. As the preparatory system for the examinations became increasingly institutionalized, the commentary on and transmission of the classics became a path to salary and office.
Drawing on the authority of the orthodox classics, a new genre of text often called the "Confucian apocrypha" developed in the first century ce. While the classics were seen as the exoteric transmission of Confucius for use by everyone, and the Spring and Autumn was the exoteric transmission encoded for use by future sages, the apocrypha were seen in the Han as part of a genuinely esoteric transmission. The corpus generally referred to as the "apocrypha" (chenwei) is actually a combination of two types of work: "charts and proofs" or prophecy texts (tuchen ) and "weft books" (weishu ) or texts ancillary to the classics. The distinction between "charts and proof" texts and "weft books" is now made on the basis of whether or not the title includes the title of a companion "classic," but it is unclear whether this formal distinction actually reflects differences between the genesis of the two genres. In the latter part of the Han period many of the prophetic texts that had been used by different factions at the beginning of the dynasty to furnish political omens had the name of one of the Five Classics added as prefixes to their titles. As a result, while these texts came to be associated with particular classics, their origins and content generally have little to do with the classic with which they are associated.
After the decline of the Han the long period of political disunity known as the Six Dynasties period (220–589) saw a variety of administrative structures come and go as short-lived kingdoms established themselves in a land divided for most of the period between north and south. This was also the period in which Buddhism took root in China, and during which organized Daoism became established. It saw the rise of the Classic of Filial Piety (Xiaojing) and the Analects (Lunyu) to the level of classic, leading to the occasional use of the term Seven Classics (Qijing) to refer to the Classic of Filial Piety and Analects added to the Five Classics. The terse, eighteen-section Classic of Filial Piety is likely a Han-period composition, although it is traditionally associated with Kongzi's disciple Zengzi (505–435 bce) and is largely composed of dialogues between the two. It centers on the importance of the virtue of "familial piety" (xiao, also translated as filial piety), both for individual development and for social order. The twenty sections of the Analects, while perhaps compiled as late as the early Han, are largely composed of dialogs featuring Kongzi, his disciples, and their patrons that probably date from the time of Kongzi through the Han. The Analects 's discussion of the noble ideal (junzi, often translated "gentleman") centers on the cultivation of a set of virtues that constitutes the Way (Dao), a means to achieving personal and political ideals. The expansion of the Five Classics attests to the beginning of the redefinition of the canon, one that had much to do with the expansion of the category of sacred texts to include works that were sacred for reasons other than their pedigree as a continuation of the golden age of the Zhou.
The Analects became increasingly important as the primary source of Kongzi's ethics and his view of service, and is now perhaps the best known of the Confucian classics. Collected from a body of diverse sayings and anecdotes written on bamboo slips and circulated in the late Spring and Autumn and Warring States periods, its aphoristic passages were likely originally intended as a guide to proper ritual behavior for princes and officials charged with maintaining court etiquette. The extant Analects was collated by Zheng Xuan (127–200), although one excavated version of the text unearthed in 1973 indicates it circulated in something close to its current form in 55 bce. The Analects discusses development of the character traits such as benevolence (ren ), which it explains in particular contexts. In chapter twelve Kongzi tells different disciples different things: for example, "If something goes against ritual propriety, do not look at it" (12.1); "When abroad, behave as though you were at home receiving an important guest" (12.2); and "The mark of benevolence is that one is hesitant to speak" (12.3). Traditional commentaries explain this as an example of Kongzi's use of expediencies directed at the strengths and weaknesses of particular disciples. Alternatively, this might represent the compilation of the Analects from diverse sources, perhaps transmitted in different disciple traditions.
Redefining the Canon: The Thirteen Classics and the Four Books
The reunification under the Sui (581–618) and Tang dynasties saw redefinitions but not reconceptualizations of the canon based on the model of the Five Classics. Emperor Wen (r. 179–157 bce) of the Tang dynasty sponsored the inscription of the Twelve Classics (shi'erjing ) on stelae at the Imperial Academy in what is today called Xi'an. The only major addition, however, was the Approaching Elegance (Erya), a nineteen-section systematic compilation of commentarial glosses that is effectively a dictionary. While the Approaching Elegance is thought to date from the third or second centuries bce, its inclusion among the classics was relatively late. Besides the Approaching Elegance, the Analects, Classic of Filial Piety, and Twelve Classics were either members of the Five Classics or commentaries thereon. Instead of only the Records of Ritual, the Twelve Classics also includes the Zhou Rituals and the Ceremonies and Rituals. Instead of the Spring and Autumn, the Twelve Classics includes the Gongyang, Guliang, and Zuo commentaries. These moves may best be seen as an expansion of the Five Classics rather than as a basic change in the canon.
At the same time the Tang imperial house had changed the civil examination system in significant ways. The Tang rulers traced their descent to the mythical sixth- or fifth-century Daoist sage Laozi and elevated several Daoist texts to the status of classics. This happened to both the Master Zhuang (Zhuangzi), which was renamed True Classic of Southern Splendor (Nanhua zhenjing) and the Master Lie (Liezi), renamed the True Classic of the Ultimate Virtue of the Void (Chongxu zhide zhenjing). At the same time, views of canon were influenced by the translation of the Buddhist Tripitika (sanzangjing ). The imperial house sponsored the publication of Buddhist and Daoist works, even as Emperor Taizong (599–649) commissioned Yan Shigu (581–645) to create a definitive annotated edition of the Five Classics. These developments signaled that the traditional rationale for the status of the Five Classics, their connection to the Zhou dynasty, could no longer be considered the sole operant ground for entry into the canon.
The culmination, and perhaps the most influential reformulation of the classics in later imperial China, was the Thirteen Classics (shisanjing ), which was established during the Northern Song dynasty. The chief change was the addition of the Mengzi, a late fourth- or early third-century bce work in the style of the Analects that located the latter work's self-cultivation program in a model of human nature. According to the Records of the Historian (Shiji, c. 100 bce) Mengzi (Mencius, 391–308 bce) "withdrew and together with the followers of [his disciple] Wan Zhang, put in order the [classics of] Odes and Documents and interpreted the intentions of Kongzi. They wrote the [Mengzi ] in seven chapters" (73.2343). This description of the composition of the Mengzi accurately identifies Mengzi as continuing the "intentions of Kongzi."
At the same time, the elevation of the Mengzi reflects the Confucian need for resources to address psychological claims made by Buddhists that the Analects did not contain. For example, Mengzi 2A2 argues that within each person's mind are incipient bases of the virtues of benevolence, righteousness (yi), ritual propriety (li), and wisdom (zhi). Mengzi 2A6 argues that people have these incipient dispositions to goodness "just like they have four limbs." By grounding morality in the human nature and the body the Mengzi was perhaps more consonant with the Buddhist goal of returning to an original "nature" unclouded by desires. The Mengzi 's place in the canon may be traced back at least to Han Yu's (768–824) contention that Mengzi was the last classical representative of the Transmission of the Way (Daotong).
A more radically alternative formulation of the canon was created by the Song scholar Zhu Xi. Zhu Xi singled out two chapters of the Records of Ritual —Great Learning (Daxue) and Doctrine of the Mean (Zhongyong) —along with the Analects and the Mengzi as members of the Four Books (Sishu ). The Great Learning and Doctrine of the Mean had some of the same appeal that the Mengzi had in the later imperial post-Buddhist period. Both texts, products of the Han synthetic combination of morality and cosmology, link psychology and ethics using concepts such as the magnetic power of "sincerity" (cheng ) and a quasi-divine conception of the "sage" (sheng ). Associating these three texts so closely with the Analects allowed Zhu Xi to read the latter text in a new way, one that proved immensely influential even through the present day.
In 1190 Zhu Xi published his commentary on the Four Books, called the Collected Commentaries on the Sentences and Sections of the Four Books (Sishu zhangju jizhu). Because of his intellectual stature, Zhu Xi's formulation had immediate influence on his contemporaries, and his Collected Commentaries on the Sentences and Sections of the Four Books became orthodox parts of the civil service examination system at the start of the fourteenth century. This happened despite Zhu Xi's criticism of the examination system as leading people to pursue training in the classics out of self-advancement.
Models of Canon Formation in China
The legacy of the Song dynasty today is two alternate Confucian canons. From the viewpoint of the history of Chinese literature the category of the Thirteen Classics is still widely used today. While there was a broadening of the canon as a result of the movement to historicize the classics in the Qing dynasty (1644–1911), the benchmark of "evidentiary scholarship" (kaozheng) is the Commentaries and Subcommentaries to the Thirteen Classics (Shisanjing zhushu), edited by Ruan Yuan (1764–1849) in 1815. From the viewpoint of the history of Chinese thought Zhu Xi's reformulation of the Four Books is still widely influential, and the Four Books are still the basis of elementary education in many parts of the Chinese diaspora.
At the same time, in contexts where classical scholarship is taught, the category of the Five Classics is often still used. This perhaps best reflects the fact that these three canons were selected and have authority for different reasons: the Five Classics based on the authority of the Zhou-period institutions and later on Kongzi's status as the transmitter of those institutions; the Thirteen Classics based on the authority of the late imperial sponsorship of authoritative and distinctively Confucian texts and commentaries that grew out of the Five Classics; and the Four Books based on the authority of Zhu Xi and his engagement of issues relevant to the post-Buddhist religious climate.
These three models of canon formation indicate the variety of functions that religious and philosophical literature fulfilled in traditional China. The inclusion of the Five Classics as translated by James Legge (1815–1897) in Max Müller's Sacred Books of the East (1879–1910) drew attention to their points of similarity to the canons of other religious traditions. In part as a result of such comparisons, the twentieth century saw changes in the reception of Confucianism both inside and outside of China. Imputing aspects of the role of the canon in other traditions led to the de-emphasis of ritual and the ritual classics in Confucianism, as well as an emphasis on Kongzi's role as a religious founder and on the Analects as an expression of his founding vision. At the same time, an appreciation of the way that the Confucian canon changed and developed within the tradition has led to a new emphasis on understanding the role of commentary and hermeneutics in the formation of meaning in Confucian traditions.
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