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Shijing (The Book of Songs)

Shijing (The Book of Songs) is the earliest collection ofChinese poems including 305 poems of the Zhou Dynasty (1122-256 B.C.). It was originally called Shi (Poems) and Shi Sanbai (Three Hundred Poems). It was the Confucians of the Han Dynasty who gave it the name Shijing. It is also called Maoshi (Mao Poems) because it was by the hand of Mao Heng of the Han Dynasty that Shijing was passed down to the present time.

It was said that the poems in Shijing could all be sung as songs. According to the tunes they were sung by, the poems were divided into three categories, namely, Feng (Ballads), Ya (Festal Odes), and Song (Sacrificial Songs). Feng consists of 160 poems , including those of 15 countries and areas. They are: Zhounan (Zhou and the south) , Shaonan, Bei, Yong, Wei (卫), Wang, Zheng, Qi, Wei (魏), Tang, Qin, Chen, Gui, Cao and Bin. Most of the poems in Feng are folk songs from along the Yellow River. Only a few of them are works of the nobles. Ya consists of 105 poems which are divided into Xiaoya (The Minor Festal Odes) and Daya (The Major Festal Odes). The poems in Ya are basically written by the nobles. Song consists of 40 poems including the sacrificial hymns and songs in the courts of Zhou, Lu and Shang.

In general, the poems from the common people are rich in content, fresh in style and varied in form, while those written by the nobles lack the flavour of poetry and seem inferior.

Shijing is the source of Chinese verse and the starting point of the Chinese epic. It includes history poems, satirical poems, narrative poems, love songs, odes, seasonal
songs and work songs. It covers all aspects of the society of the Zhou Dynasty, such as work and love, war and corvee, oppression and resistance, customs and marriage, sacrifices and feasts, astronomical phenomena and landforms, animals and plants. Therefore, Shijing is not only a mirror reflecting the Zhou Dynasty, but also the most valuable and important material in the study of the Chinese language from the 11th century to the 6th century B.C.

Shijing has spread widely in China and abroad. Shijing has been translated into many foreign languages such as English, French, Japanese, Russian. Jacob Lee’s The Chinese Classics is the earliest translation in English, which was published during 1861-1871 in Hong Kong. Arthur Waley’ s The Book of Songs, though published later (in 1954), is a better version.

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