Classic of History

Classic of History

The Classic of History (simplified Chinese: ; traditional Chinese: ; pinyin: Shūjīng; Wade–Giles: Shu-ching) is a compilation of documentary records related to events in ancient history of China. It is also commonly known as the Shàngshū (simplified Chinese: ; traditional Chinese: , literally: Esteemed Documents), or simply Shū (simplified Chinese: ; traditional Chinese: , colloquially: Documents). The title is translated in western texts variously as "Classic of History", "Classic of Documents", "Book of History", "Book of Documents".



The book consists of 58 chapters (including eight subsections), of which 33, called the New Text, are generally considered authentic works from the Warring States or earlier.[1] The first five chapters of the book suppose to preserve the deeds of emperors such as Yao and Shun, who reigned during legendary age; the next 4 describes the Xia Dynasty, the historicity of which has not been definitively established; the next 17 chapters deal with the Shang Dynasty and its end. The blame for this is placed on the last Shang ruler, who is described as oppressive, murderous, extravagant, and lustful. The final 32 chapters cover the Zhou Dynasty until the reign of Duke Mu of Qin.[1]

The Classic of History contains some of the earliest examples of Chinese prose, and is considered one of the Five Classics. Many citations of the Shangshu can be found in the bamboo slips texts from the tombs of Guodian, in Hubei, dated to the 300 BC.[2] The language is archaic and differs in grammar and vocabulary from that typical of prose from the classical age of Chinese literature (e.g., The Analects or The Mencius). This reflects an early date of composition in some chapters or deliberate use of archaism in others. The five announcements (誥 gào) in the Documents of Zhou closely resemble inscriptions found on Western Zhou bronzes and are generally regarded as authentic products of the early years of the Western Zhou Dynasty (late 11th century BCE).[3] On the other hand, chapters that are purported to date from high antiquity (e.g., the Canons of Yao and Shun) likely date from the Spring and Autumn or Warring States periods.

In July 2008, an alumnus of Tsinghua University donated a collection of 2100 bamboo slips to his alma mater after obtaining them through auction in Hong Kong. The previous owner and whereabouts of the slips have not been revealed. The Classic of History is one of the historical books in the collection. According to Li Xueqin, leading the team studying the scripts, the collection dates from the Warring States Period and came from the state of Chu.[4]

Transmission of texts

In the transmission of the book, there are three main variations:

  • The Old Text version, compiled between the 9th-6th century BC.[5] One extant text was said to have been found by Prince Liu Yu in the last half of the 2nd century BC and transmitted by Kong Anguo. This version added some 16 new chapters and was part of the Old Text Classics later championed by the scholar Liu Xin at the beginning of 1st century. Most of the Old Text version was lost during the Han Dynasty, though there were some reconstructed remains by scholars during the Han period.[6]
  • The New Text version, considered by most modern-day scholars to be authentic works of 4th century BC or earlier,[1] consists of 33 chapters (originally 29 or 28, but some chapters have been divided by Du Lin during the 1st century), which had lost more than 72 chapters of the original.
  • A version of the Old Text was allegedly rediscovered by the scholar Mei Ze during the 4th century, and presented to the imperial court of the Eastern Jin. His version comprised 59 chapters, consisting of the 33 chapters of the New Text version with an additional 26 chapters (including a preface).

Since the Song Dynasty, starting from Zhu Xi, many doubts had been expressed concerning the provenance of the additional rediscovered Old Text chapters of the book, but it was not until Yan Ruoju's research in the 17th century and the definitive conclusions he drew in his unpublished but widely distributed manuscript entitled Evidential analysis of the Old Text Documents that they were forged during the Han era.[7]


Part Chapter:   New Text   Rediscovered Old Text 
Document of Yu [Shun]
01 (01) 堯典 The Canon of Yao
02 (02) 舜典 The Canon of Shun (originally a section under Yao)
03 (01)  大禹謨 The Counsels of Great Yu
04 (03) 皋陶謨 The Counsels of Gao Yao
05 (04) 益稷 Yi and Ji (originally a section under Gao Yao)
Document of Xia [Dynasty]
06 (05) 禹貢 The Tribute of [Great] Yu
07 (06) 甘誓 The Speech at [the Battle of] Gan
08 (02) 五子之歌 The Songs of the [King Taikang's] Five Brothers
09 (03) 胤征 The Punitive Expedition [on King Zhongkang] of Yin
Document of Shang [Dynasty]
10 (07) 湯誓 The Speech of [King] Tang
11 (04) 仲虺之誥 The Announcement of Zhonghui
12 (05) 湯誥 The Announcement of [King] Tang
13 (06) 伊訓 The Instructions of Yi [Yin]
14 (07–09) 太甲上中下 King Taijia Part 1, 2 & 3
15 (10) 咸有一德 The Common Possession of Pure Virtue
16 (08–10) 盤庚上中下 King Pangeng Part 1, 2 & 3
17 (11–13) 說命上中下 The Charge to Yue [of Fuxian]  Part 1, 2 & 3
18 (11) 高宗肜日 The Day of the Supplementary Sacrifice of King Gaozong [Wuding]
19 (12) 西戡黎 The Chief of the West [King Wen]'s Conquest of [the State of] Li
20 (13) 微子 Prince Weizi
Document of Zhou [Dynasty]
21 (14–16) 泰誓上中下  The Great Speech Part 1, 2 & 3
22 (14) 牧誓 The Speech at [the Battle of] Muye
23 (17) 武成 The Successful Completion of the War [on Shang]
24 (15) 洪範 The Great Plan [of Jizi]
25 (18) 旅獒 The Hounds of [the Western Tribesmen] Lu
26 (16) 金滕 The Golden Coffer [of Zhou Gong]
27 (17) 大誥 The Great Announcement
28 (19) 微子之命 The Charge to Prince Weizi
29 (18) 康誥 The Announcement to Prince Kang
30 (19) 酒誥 The Announcement about Drunkenness
31 (20) 梓材 The Timber of Rottlera
32 (21) 召誥 The Announcement of Duke Shao
33 (22) 洛誥 The Announcement Concerning Luoyang
34 (23) 多士 The Numerous Officers
35 (24) 無逸 Against Luxurious Ease
36 (25) 君奭 Lord Shi [Duke Shao]
37 (20) 蔡仲之命 The Charge to Cai Zhong
38 (26) 多方 The Numerous Regions
39 (27) 立政 The Establishment of Government
40 (21) 周官 The Offices of Zhou
41 (22) 君陳 Lord Chen
42 (28) 顧命 The Testamentary Charge
43 (29) 康王之誥 The Announcement of King Kang
(originally a section under Testamentary
44 (23) 畢命 The Charge to the Duke of Bi
45 (24) 君牙 Lord Ya
46 (25) 冏命 The Charge to Jiong
47 (30) 呂刑 Marquis Lü on Punishments
48 (31) 文侯之命 The Charge to Marquis Wen [of Jin]
49 (32) 費誓 The Speech at [the Battle of] Fei
50 (33) 秦誓 The Speech of [the Duke Mu of] Qin


  1. ^ a b c Merriam-Webster's encyclopedia of literature. Merriam-Webster. 1995. p. 1028. ISBN 0877790426. 
  2. ^ Liao Mingchun (2001). A Preliminary Study on the Newly-unearthed Bamboo Inscriptions of the Chu Kingdom: An Investigation of the Materials from and about the Shangshu in the Guodian Chu Slips. Taipei: Taiwan Guji Publishing Co.. ISBN 957-0414-59-6. 
  3. ^ Michael Loewe, Edward L. Shaughnessy (1999). The Cambridge History of Ancient China. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 294. ISBN 0-521-47030-7. 
  4. ^ "First Research Results on Warring States Bamboo Strips Collected by Tsinghua University Released". Tsinghua University News. Tsinghua University. May 26, 2011. 
  5. ^ Ramat, Anna Giacalone and Paul J. Hopper. The limits of grammaticalization. John Benjamins Publishing Company. p. 32. ISBN 902722935X. 
  6. ^ Andrea, Alfred J. and James H. Overfield (1998). The Human Record: To 1700. Houghton Mifflin. p. 26. ISBN 0395870879. 
  7. ^ Benjamin A. Elman (1983). "Philosophy (i-li) versus philology (k'ao-cheng)—the jen-hsin Tao-hsin debate". T'oung Pao 49 (4–5): 175–222.'AO-CHENG)--THE_JEN-HSIN_TAO-HSIN_DEBATE.pdf. 

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