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Home History and Culture The Four Books and Five Classics
The Four Books and Five Classics
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ConfucianismThe Four Books (sì shū 四书) refer to The Analects of Confucius (lún yǔ 论语), The Mencius (mèng zǐ 孟子), The Great Learning (dà xué 大学) and The Doctrine of the Golden Mean (zhōng yōng 中庸). The former two are collections of sayings and teachings of Confucius (kǒng zǐ 孔子) and Mencius (mèng zǐ 孟子) as well as sayings of their disciples while the latter two are chapters in The Classic of Rites (lǐ jì 礼记). Chu His (zhū xī 朱熹), a famous scholar of the Southern Song Dynasty (nán sòng 南宋), held that The Four Books together outlined the basic system of Confucian thoughts (rú jiā sī xiǎng 儒家思想) and constituted a better introduction to the complicated materials in the Classics (jīng diǎn 经典), thus selecting these four texts from Classics and put them together as the Four Books.

The Four Books is an abbreviation for 'The Books of the Four Philosophers’ because The Analects of Confucius, The Mencius, The Doctrine of the Golden Mean and The Great Learning are respectively attributed to four great Confucian philosophers, namely Confucius, Mencius, Zisi  (zǐ sī 子思 the grandson of Confucius), Tsang Shan ( zēng shēn 曾参 a disciple of Confucius). In the Ming and Qing Dynasties the Four Books were made the core of the official curriculum for the civil service examinations (kē jǔ kǎo shì 科举考试), which endowed them with the superior status in China.

The Great Learning

The Great LearningThe Great Learning was originally one chapter in Li Ji (the Records of Rites). It consists of a short main text attributed to Confucius and nine commentary chapters by Zeng Zi (zēng zǐ 曾子), one of Confucius' disciples. Its importance is illustrated by Zeng Zi's foreword that this is the gateway of learning. It is significant because it expresses many themes of Chinese philosophy and political thinking, and has therefore been extremely influential both in classical and modern Chinese thought. Government, self cultivation and investigation of things are linked. It links together individual action in the form of self-cultivation with higher goals such as ultimate world peace as well as linking together the spiritual and the material. In addition, by defining the path of learning (Dao) in governmental and social terms, the Great Learning both links the spiritual with the practical, and creates a vision of Dao that is radically different from that presented by Daoism (dào jiào 道教). In particular, the Great Learning sets Confucianism (rú jiào 儒教) as being this-worldly rather than other-worldly. Finally, the Great Learning also creates a conservative political discourse. Instead of basing its authority on an external deity, the Great Learning bases its authority on the practices of ancient kings.

The Doctrine of the Mean

The Doctrine of the Mean was also one chapter in Li Ji. By tradition, the Doctrine of the Mean is attributed to Confucius' grandson Zisi (zǐ sī 子思). The purpose of this small, 33-chapter book is to demonstrate the usefulness of a golden way to gain perfect virtue. It focuses on the "way" that is prescribed by a heavenly mandate not only to the ruler but to everyone. To follow these heavenly instructions by learning and teaching will automatically result in a Confucian virtue. Because Heaven has laid down what is the way to perfect virtue, it is not that difficult to follow the steps of the holy rulers of old if one only knows what the right way is.

ConfuciusThe Analects of Confucius

The Analects of Confucius are a record of the words and acts of the central Chinese thinker and philosopher Confucius and his disciples, as well as the discussions they held. The Chinese title literally means "discussion over Confucius' words." Written during the Spring and Autumn Period (chūn qiū shí qī 春秋时期) through the Warring States Period (zhàn guó shí qī 战国时期 ca. 479 BC - 221 BC), the Analects is the representative work of Confucianism and continues to have a tremendous influence on Chinese and East Asian thought and values today.

The Mencius

The Mencius is a collection of conversations of the scholar Mencius with kings of his time. In contrast to the sayings of Confucius, which are short and self-contained, the Mencius consists of long dialogues with extensive prose. Mencius argued that human beings are born with an innate moral sense, but that society corrupted it through lack of a positive cultivating influence. Therefore, the goal of moral cultivation is to return to the people's innate morality. Consistent with his belief in the individual, Mencius contended that it was permissible for people to overthrow or kill a ruler who ignored the public's needs or ruled harshly.

The Five Classics

The Five Classics (wǔ jīng 五经) is a corpus of five ancient Chinese books used by Confucianism as the basis of studies. The Five Classics refer to The Book of Songs (shī jīng 诗经), The Classic of History (shū jīng 书经), The Classic of Rites, The Book of Changes (a.k.a I Ching zhōu yì 周易), and The Spring and Autumn Annals (chūn qiū 春秋), all of which are said to be compiled or revised by Confucius.

The Book of Songs
The Book of Songs
The Book of Songs (a.k.a The Classic of Poetry or The Book of Odes), 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. It is the earliest collection of Chinese poems and it is the source of Chinese verse and the starting point of the Chinese realistic epic. Therefore, The Book of Songs serves as the most valuable and important material in the study of the Chinese language from the 11th century to the 6th century B.C.

The Classic of History

The Classic of History is a collection of documents and speeches alleged to have been written by rulers and officials of the early Zhou period and before. It contains examples of early Chinese prose.

The Classic of Rites

The Classic of Rites, the earliest and most complete record of social hierarchies and ceremonies in ancient China, lost in the third century B.C., describes ancient rites and court ceremonies.

The Book of ChangesGua

The Book of Changes, also referred to as Zhou Yi (Book of Changes of the Zhou Dynasty) or the I Ching, is regarded as the most preeminent among all Classics in ancient China.

The spring and Autumn Annals

The spring and Autumn Annals were the official chronicles of the states during the Pre-Qin Period (xiān qín shí qī 先秦时期), however, only that of the State of Lu covering the period from 722 BC to 481 BC survived. This book was also compiled by Confucius thereby gaining extra significance and becoming a Confucian Classic. It is also the forerunner of the "chronological style" (biān nián tǐ 编年体) of historiography.

The Four Books and Five Classics (sì shū wǔ jīng 四书五经) have far-reaching influence on Chinese culture and also exert profound influence on the mentalities of Chinese people.

The Four Books and Five Classics
     《四书五经》是中国传统文化的重要组成部分,是儒家思想的核心载体,更是中国历史文化古籍中的宝典。儒家经典《四书五经》包含内容极其广泛、深刻,她在世界文化史、思想史上具有极高的地位。《四书五经》翔实的记载了中华民族思想文化发展史上最活跃时期的政治、军事、外交、文化等各方面的史实资料及影响中国 文化几千年的孔孟重要哲学思想。历代科兴选仕,试卷命题无他,必出自《四书五经》足见其对为官从政之道、为人处世之道的重要程度。时至今日,《四书五经》 所载内容及哲学思想仍对我们现代人具有积极的意义和极强的参考价值。《四书五经》在社会规范、人际交流,社会文化等产生不可估量的影响,其影响播于海内 外,福荫子孙万代。《四书五经》延续中华文化的千古名篇,人类文明的共同遗产。


      《四书五经》中的《四书》是《大学》、《中庸》、《论语》、《孟子》这四部著作的总称。据称它们分别出于早期儒家的四位代表性人物曾参、子思、孔子、孟子,所以称为《四子书》(也称《四子》),简称为《四书》。南宋光宗绍熙远年(1190年),当时著名朱熹理学家在福建漳州将《大学》、《论语》、《孟 子》、《中庸》汇集到一起,作为一套经书刊刻问世。这位儒家大学者认为“先读《大学》,以定其规模;次读《论语》,以定其根本;次读《孟子》,以观其发 越;次读《中庸》,以求古人之微妙处”并曾说“《四子》,《六经》之阶梯”(《朱子语类》)朱熹著《四书章句集注》,具有划时代意义。


      《大学》原本是《礼记》中一篇,在南宋前从未单独刊印。传为孔子弟子曾参(前505—前434)作。自唐代韩愈、李翱维护道统而推崇《大学》(与《中庸》),至北宋二程百般褒奖宣扬,甚至称“《大学》,孔氏之遗书而初学入德之门也”,再到南宋朱熹继承二程思想,便把《大学》从《礼记》中抽出来,与《论语》、《孟子》、《中庸》并列,到朱熹撰《四书章句集注》时,便成了《四书》之一。按朱熹和宋代另一位著名学者程颐的看法,《大学》是孔子及其门徒留下来 的遗书,是儒学的人门读物。所以,朱熹把它列为"四书"之首。


      《中庸》原来也是《礼记》中一篇,在南宋前从未单独刊印。一般认为它出于孔子的孙子子思(前483-前402)之手,《史记·孔子世家》称“子思作《中 庸》”。自唐代韩愈、李翱维护道统而推崇《中庸》(与《大学》),至北宋二程百般褒奖宣扬,甚至认为《中庸》是“孔门传收授心法”,再到南宋朱熹继承二程 思想,便把《中庸》从《礼记》中抽出来,与《论语》、《孟子》、《大学》并列,到朱熹撰《四书章句集注》时,便成了《四书》之一。


      《论语》是记载孔子及其学生言行的一部书。孔子(前551--前479),名丘,字仲尼,春秋时鲁国陬邑(今山东曲阜)人。儒家学派创始人,中国古代最著 名的思想家、政治家、教育家,对中国思想文化的发展有极其深远的影响。《论语》成书于春秋战国之际,是孔子的学生及其再传学生所记录整理。《论语》涉及哲 学、政治、经济,教育、文艺等诸多方面,内容非常丰富,是儒学最主要的经典。在表达上,《论语》语言精炼而形象生动,是语录体散文的典范。在编排上,《论 语》没有严格的编纂体例,每一条就是一章,集章为篇,篇、章之间并无紧密联系,只是大致归类,并有重复章节出现。

     《孟子》是记载孟子及其学生言行的一部书。孟子(约前372-前289),名轲,字子舆,战国中期邹国(今山东邹县东南人),离孔子的故乡曲阜不远。是著名的思想家、政治家、教育家,孔子学说的继承者。到南宋孝宗时,朱熹编《四书》列入了《孟子》,正式把《孟子》提到了非常高的地位。元、明以后又成为科举 考试的内容,更是读书人的必读书了。和孔子一样,孟子也曾带领学生游历魏、齐、宋、鲁、滕、薛等国,并一度担任过齐宣王的客卿。由于他的政治主张也与孔子 的一样不被重用,所以便回到家乡聚徒讲学,与学生万章等人著书立说,“序《诗》《书》,述仲尼之意,作《孟子》七篇。”(《史记·孟子荀卿列传》)



Story from The Book of Songs




      《尚书》古时称《书》、《书经》,至汉称《尚书》。“尚”便是指“上”,“上古”,该书是古代最早的一部历史文献汇编。记载上起传说中的尧舜时代,下至东 周(春秋中期),约1500多年。基本内容是古代帝王的文告和君臣谈话内容的记录。《史记·孔子世家》称孔子“序《书传》,上纪唐虞之际,下至秦缪,编次 其事”,相传为孔子编定。古时称赞人“饱读诗书”,“诗书”便是分别指《诗经》、《尚书》。




      《左传》也称《左氏春秋》、《春秋古文》、《春秋左氏传》,古代编年体历史著作。《史记》称为春秋时左丘明所作。它的取材范围包括了王室档案,鲁史策书, 诸侯国史等。记事基本以《春秋》鲁十二公为次序,内容包括诸侯国之间的聘问、会盟、征伐、婚丧、篡弑等,对后世史学文学都有重要影响。


      《周易》,也称《易》、《易经》,是占卜之书,其外层神秘,而内蕴的哲理至深至弘。作者应是筮官,经多人完成。内容广泛记录了西周社会各方面,包含史料价值、思想价值和文学价值。以前的人们对自然与人圣变幻规律的认识模式,从没有超越阴阳八卦的思维框架。相传龙马驮“河图”出现在黄河,上古圣人伏羲始作八 卦;《史记》又称“盖文王拘,而演《周易》”(一说伏羲重卦,有说神农),并作爻辞(或谓周公);后至春秋,又有孔圣作“十翼”之说,世称“人更三圣,世历三古”(《汉书·艺文志》)。


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