Chinese classic texts or canonical texts (simplified Chinese: 中国古典典籍; traditional Chinese: 中國古典典籍; pinyin: Zhōngguó gǔdiǎn diǎnjí) refers to the Chinese texts which originated before the imperial unification by the Qin dynasty in 221 BC, particularly the "Four Books and Five Classics" of the Neo-Confucian tradition, themselves a customary abridgment of the "Thirteen Classics". All of these pre-Qin texts were written in classical Chinese. All three canons are collectively known as the classics (t 經, s 经, jīng, lit. "warp").
Chinese classic texts may more broadly refer to texts written either in vernacular Chinese or in the classical Chinese that was current until the fall of the last imperial dynasty, the Qing, in 1912. These can include shi (史, historical works), zi (子, philosophical works belonging to schools of thought other than the Confucian but also including works on agriculture, medicine, mathematics, astronomy, divination, art criticism, and other miscellaneous writings) and ji (集, literary works) as well as jing (Chinese medicine).
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 take the imperial exams to become government officials. Any political discussion was full of references to this background, and one could not be one of the literati (or, in some periods, even a military officer) without having memorized them. Generally, children first memorized the Chinese characters of the "Three Character Classic" and the "Hundred Family Surnames" and then went on to memorize the other classics. The literate elite therefore shared a common culture and set of values.
Scholarship on these texts naturally divides itself into two periods, before and after the burning of the books during the fall of the Qin dynasty, when many of the original pre-Qin texts were lost.
Before 221 BC
- The Classics of Confucianism
- The Four Books
- The Great Learning is a chapter from the Classic of Rites (see below).
- The Doctrine of the Mean is another chapter from the Classic of Rites.
- The Analects of Confucius (Lun Yu), a twenty-chapter work of dialogues attributed to Confucius and his disciples; traditionally believed to have been written by Confucius's own circle it is thought to have been set down by later Confucian scholars.
- The Mencius (Mengzi), a book of anecdotes and conversations of Mencius, a disciple of Confucius.
- The Five Classics
- The I Ching (or Book of Changes) is a manual of divination based on the eight trigrams attributed to the mythical figure Fuxi (by at least the time of the early Eastern Zhou 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 (Shi Jing) 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, which are listed among the classics of Confucianism, record social forms and ceremonies of the Western Zhou (thought to be versions compiled by 3rd-century scholars, following the burning of Confucian texts in 213 BC).
- The Classic of Rites (Li Chi) describes social forms, administration, and ceremonial rites.
- The Rites of Zhou was conferred the status of a classic in the 12th century (in place of the lost Classic of Music; see below).
- The Book of Etiquette and Ceremonial (Yi Li) describes ancient rites, social forms and court ceremonies.
- The Classic of History or Book of Documents (Shu Jing) is a collection of documents and speeches allegedly from the Xia, Shang and Western Zhou periods, and even earlier. It contains some of the earliest examples of Chinese prose.
- The Spring and Autumn Annals is chronologically the earliest of the annals; comprising about 16,000 characters, it records the events of the State of Lu from 722 BC to 481 BC, 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 Four Books
- The Classics of Taoism
- 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 (孫子兵法), attributed to Sunzi.
- The Thirty-Six Stratagems, recently recovered.
- The Three Strategies of Huang Shigong (黃石公三略), attributed to Jiang Ziya.
- The The Methods of the Sima (司馬法) (Sima Fa), attributed to Sima Rangju.
- Wuzi (吳子), attributed to Wu Qi.
- Wei Liaozi (尉繚子), attributed to Wei Liao.
- Six Secret Teachings (六韜), attributed to Jiang Ziya (Taigong)
- Questions and Replies between Tang Taizong and Li Weigong (唐太宗李衛公問對)
- Other classics
- Shizi, attributed to Shi Jiao
- The Discourses of the States (Guoyu), a collection of historical records of numerous states recorded the period from Western Zhou to 453 BC.
- The Classic of Mountains and Seas (Shan Hai Jing), a compilation of early geography and myths from various locations.
- Xunzi, attributed to Xun Kuang, an ancient Chinese collection of philosophical writings that makes the distinction between what is born in man and what must be learned through rigorous education.
After 206 BC
- 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 (Zizhi Tongjian), 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 AD 1705.
- Endymion Wilkinson. Chinese History: A New Manual. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Asia Center, Harvard-Yenching Institute Monograph Series. New Edition; Second, Revised printing March 2013). ISBN 9780674067158 ISBN 0674067150. See esp. pp. 365– 377, Ch. 28, "The Confucian Classics."
- 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
- Chinese Text Project (English Chinese) (Chinese philosophy texts in classical Chinese with English and modern Chinese translations)
- Chinese Classics (James Legge's translations of the Analects of Confucius, the Great Learning, the Doctrine of the Mean, the Works of Mencius and the Tao Te Ching)
- The Canonical Books of Confucianism, David K. Jordan
- Relevant Electronic Resources for Chinese Classical Studies
- Scripta Sinica Big classic texts database by Academia Sinica
- Palace Museum Chinese Text Database
- 中國電子古籍世界 Classics database
- Research Center for Chinese Ancient Texts includes CHANT (CHinese ANcient Texts) Database
- Chinese classic text online