Confucian Classics

views updated May 11 2018

Confucian Classics. A canonical collection of works whose prestige in traditional China was comparable to that of Greek and Roman classics in the W., and whose authority was as unassailable as that of biblical scripture.

Three of them predate Confucius: the Shih (Song Lyrics), the Shu (Historical Documents of Archaic Times), and the I or Yi (Change). The Ch'un Ch'iu (Springs and Autumns) is supposed to be from the brush of the Master himself. Texts on ritually correct behaviour are collectively called Li Chi (Ritual Scriptures). A canon of ritual music (Yüeh Ching) is said to have been lost before the 3rd cent. BCE, but its contents can be surmised from other, surviving texts. All these works were supposed to have been edited by Confucius, or have him as their figure of authority; hence the term, Confucian Classics.

The corpus of Confucian Classics varied over the course of time. The Five Scriptures taught in the state college of the Han dynasty (from 136 BCE–220 CE) were Shih, Shu, Yi, Ch'un Ch'iu, and Li (at first the Yi Li, or Ceremonials and Rituals, and later the Li Chi, or Records of Rituals). To these there were then added the Lun Yü or Analects, and the Hsiao Ching, or Scripture of Filiality, to make up Seven Scriptures. In the Tʾang period (618–907) the Canon comprised Nine Scriptures, including Shih, Shu, Yi, the Three Ritual Collections (Yi Li, Li Chi, and Chou Li or Chou Kuan, an idealized description of governmental institutions in early Chou times, ?1111–256 BCE), and the Three Exegeses, meaning the Ch'un Ch'iu with its ancient exegeses (chuan) named for their putative authors: Kungyang Chuan, Ku-liang Chuan, Tso Chuan. The final version of the Confucian Classics was the Thirteen Scriptures with Notes and Commentaries, which appeared at the very end of the 12th cent. In addition to all of the above enumerated texts, it included the book of the philosopher Meng (Meng Tzu, or Mencius) and the earliest dictionary, called Er Ya.

The neo-Confucian philosophers of the Sung dynasty (960–1279) identified a corpus within this corpus which they called the Four Books, or Books of the Four Philosophers (Ssu Shu): the Analects, Mencius, Ta Hsüeh (Great Learning), and Chung Yung (Doctrine of the Mean), the latter two being small texts extracted from Li Chi.

Classics, Confucian

views updated Jun 27 2018

Classics, Confucian: see CONFUCIAN CLASSICS.