Of all the schools of thought in China, after the Han Dynasty (206 BC-220 AD), the Confucian school was canonized as the state ethic. Writings recognized by the Confucian school were treated as classics for the whole China. Most of the classics, however, were pre-Confucian, and dated back to either early Zhou/Chou Dynasty or earlier. This lecture is to introduce what is called the Five Classics, a collective term for five pre-Confucian texts that include:
Classic of Changes (I-Ching): a new form of divination different from the oracle bones and shells, but perhaps developed from them, consulted through the casting of milfoil stalks in the Shang Dynasty. Some people even argue that Confucius compiled this book, although the content of this book was more ancient than Confucius, and was primarily concerned with signs of divination: made up of broken and unbroken lines, which then were combined into eight permutations of trigrams and 64 sets of hexagrams, each of which has its assigned names and meanings. These trigrams and hexagrams could have originated from the cracks on tortoise shells and ox bones which had been thrown into the fire in divination. And they are ways to "read" meanings into these cracks. To summarize briefly, it is an explanation of how the world was formed: the unlimited universe (wuji) gave rise to the dynamic, changing world formed on the basis of two forces, yin and yang (taiji), and within the yin and yang force there was a subdivision of two opposing forces, for yin, the lesser yin and more yin, and for yang, the lesser yang and more yang. Each force would be represented by a trigram (three unbroken or broken lines, each of which indicating the degrees of yin or yang). Yin and yang could also be subdivided into different degrees of yin and yang as represented by a trigram of different combinations of the yin and yang lines. If plotted on a circle, these would form eight equidistant points on the circle, from yin to gradually lesser yin and finally to yang, and from yang gradually to less yang and finally to yin. The combination of two trigrams, indicating two different forces, would form a hexagram indicating one force in the dynamic and changing material world. Altogether, the eight original trigrams could be combined into sixty-four hexagrams. They were used to indicate changes in the world, from seasonal, to personality (as a result of birth order, gender, etc.), and all other changes in the universe. (when you read the wikipedia link given above, ignore the bagua diagram, which is incorrect. Just read the verbal explanation.)
Documents/Classic of History: early Chinese prose. A history book by today's standards that records the words and deeds of lofty public figures such as the ancient sage kings Yao, Shun, and Yu, and the good Zhou Dynasty kings, among others. Schwartz comments that their words were kind of transcendental revelations. Like the Book of Poetry and all the rest of the classics, the purpose of this book is didactic--to teach the proper thoughts and action.
Classic of Odes (Songs): first major collection of Chinese poems. supposedly popular folk songs collected by Confucius, which we encountered in de Bary, they reflected what Confucius called a simple, natural, and unaffected lifestyle of the people, which was to set not only an example of life styles for posterity but more importantly, a style of literary writing. While they often celebrated human natural sentiments, such as love, there was often a moral overtone to the poems, as seen in the de Bary selections: e.g. a celebration of King Wen, virtuous founder of the Zhou Dynasty, and criticisms of corrupt rulers. (de Bary, 38-40)
The Rites: description of court rites and ceremonies. Consisting of Zhou Dynasty rites (li). The rites are not positive laws but rooted in the Confucian tao/dao.
The Spring and Autumn Annals according to Mr. Tso (Zuo): the first annalistic history in China, of the state of Lu before 481 B.C. Another history book, the official chronicle of the State of Lu (721-479 B.C.) , with several annotated editions, one of which was by a man called Tso (Zuo). (384) There was a careful selection of facts to illustrate what were considered rightful or not rightful conduct of the ministers, and the focus was the sinister consequences of the decay of legitimate authority, whether from below or by the authority holders themselves. This book basically established the tradition of history in ancient China: that it was to serve as a moral mirror to teach posterity what to do and not to do, instead of just telling a story. Historical details that do not accord with the moral lesson will not be included.
Although the first two books and the Book of Zhou Rites were sometimes attributed to Confucius as either the compiler or the editor, de Bary discredits that Confucius was the author of any of them. All five, however, shared the characteristic of establishing external moral standards for people to emulate and learn from, rather than focusing on introspective moral cultivation, as Confucius and Mencius emphasized. They use external examples (e.g. history) and external signs (e.g. trigrams and hexagrams) to indicate the correct moral path. As such, they spelled out an explicit moral standard that accorded with the general teachings or spirit of Confucius.
Eventually, however, this focus on external moral standards met a backlash in the 12th and 13th centuries in the Song Dynasty when Zhu Xi (Chu Hsi) established the "Four Books:" The Great Learning, the Golden Mean, the Analects, and the Mencius, as supplements to the five classics and that eventually overshadowed the classics. These four books focused more on the Confucian and Mencian emphasis on inner cultivation and were used to battle against the Buddhist influence in Chinese culture.
Illustrious virtuous men of the golden ages:
Chinese mythology (and traditional history) trace China's historical origins to The Three Emperors and Five Kings. Two especially extolled kings of the golden age were king Yao (c.2300 BC) and king Shun (c.2250 BC). The personal virtues of these rulers made them eternal sages by Confucius and their age of rule the golden age all later Chinese dynasties were to emulate, the Chinese equivalent to the "kingdom of heaven," except that the latter was to be reached in the future, and the former had already happened in the past, was later lost, and had to be recaptured.
A. Virtuous rule started from the family; and virtuous succession meant picking ability not one's kin.
In the discussion of King Yao in The Classic of Documents, (de Bary, 29) note that his rule extended from his family to his clan, and finally to the world's myriad states, a pattern Confucius was to adopt later. (the numbers cited here, nine, and hundred, like four and eight, in Chinese mostly meant "all" instead of the actual number) The emphasis on governance first by pacifying the families was mentioned in various other places in the same book, including in the example of King Yu (de Bary, 31). King Yao was a virtuous ruler not only because of his personal virtue, but also because of his succession: instead of picking his son, he passed the throne on to a virtuous man, Yu, of humble origin.
B. Loyalty to one's ruler versus absolute loyalty to virtue
Those early legends often embodied virtues that were sometimes self-contradictory, a trait that one would later find in Confucius as well. On the one hand, virtue was sometimes celebrated as the end in itself. Therefore, when another legendary king, Yu, whose father Gun, failed to build navigation properly, respect for seniority was not in the way when God (di) replaced him with his son Yu as the new ruler. On the other hand, when the Zhou/Chou Dynasty overthrew the Shang Dynasty, the Viscount of Ji's unconditional loyalty to his Shang rulers, even though he was imprisoned by them, was celebrated as virtuous behavior in The Classic of Documents, so much so that, the ruler of the Zhou Dynasty, King Wu, was going to award him with land in Korea (under Chinese governance then) to honor his loyalty to his ruler (note the year indicated in the document on de Bary, p.31, was the 13th year of King Wu's reign).
Another story that illustrates the conflict was the story of the duke of Zhou (de Bary, pp.32-35): through divination he knew heaven approved of his rule when his ruler King Wu was ill. But when succession came to King Wu's young son instead of him, he obeyed his new ruler and locked the divination documents in a metal bound coffer.
C. Virtue, nature, and the mandate of heaven
Virtue was connected to nature and the mandate of heaven. King Gun's lack of virtue came from his mismanagement of the navigation project, throwing "into disorder the arrangement of the Five Phases" (de Bary, 31)-- as the Chinese believed transition from yin to yang (or vice versa) formed the five basic elements of the world: water, fire, wood, metal, and earth. Any one who disobeyed the phases of nature would displease god (again, we are talking of an amorphous god, an abstract idea, who was often conflated with "heaven," or the unknown beyond). Authority to rule came from the mandate from heaven. Thus, harmonious coexistence with nature became continuous with personal virtue. The human world and natural world were not separate, a characteristic that would be further expounded on by the Confucians.
Heaven's intervention was also often in the form of natural phenomenon: such as a natural disaster, when King Wu's son came to the throne without having the duke of Zhou/Chou assisting him.
D. The importance of human initiatives in maintaining the mandate of heaven.
From very early on, as seen from the Classic of Documents, the Chinese emphasized a proactive attitude to natural forces, including the mandate of heaven. As seen from the duke of Zhou/Chou's announcement upon founding a new capital for the dynasty (de Bary, 35-37) maintaining the mandate of heaven first meant the king had to be virtuous and use his virtue to influence the people.