Page:A history of Chinese literature - Giles.djvu/19

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CHAPTER II

CONFUCIUS—THE FIVE CLASSICS


In B.C. 551 Confucius was born. He may be regarded as the founder of Chinese literature. During his years of office as a Government servant and his years of teaching and wandering as an exile, he found time to rescue for posterity certain valuable literary fragments of great antiquity, and to produce at least one original work of his own. It is impossible to assert that before his time there was anything in the sense of what we understand by the term general literature. The written language appears to have been used chiefly for purposes of administration. Many utterances, however, of early, not to say legendary, rulers had been committed to writing at one time or another, and such of these as were still extant were diligently collected and edited by Confucius, forming what is now known as the Shu Ching or Book of History. The documents of which this work is composed are said to have been originally one hundred in all, and they cover a period extending from the twenty-fourth to the eighth century B.C. They give us glimpses of an age earlier than that of Confucius, if not actually so early as is claimed. The first two, for instance, refer to the Emperors Yao and Shun, whose reigns, extending from B.C. 2357 to 2205, are regarded as the Golden Age of China. We read how the former

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