Page:A history of Chinese literature - Giles.djvu/24

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12
CHINESE LITERATURE

Two of the documents which form the Book of History are directed against luxury and drunkenness, to both of which the people seemed likely to give way even within measurable distance of the death of Wên Wang. The latter had enacted that wine (that is to say, ardent spirits distilled from rice) should only be used on sacrificial occasions, and then under strict supervision; and it is laid down, almost as a general principle, that all national misfortunes, culminating in the downfall of a dynasty, may be safely ascribed to the abuse of wine.

The Shih Ching, or Book of Odes, is another work for the preservation of which we are indebted to Confucius. It consists of a collection of rhymed ballads in various metres, usually four words to the line, composed between the reign of the Great Yü and the beginning of the sixth century b.c. These, which now number 305, are popularly known as the "Three Hundred," and are said by some to have been selected by Confucius from no less than 3000 pieces. They are arranged under four heads, as follows:—(a) Ballads commonly sung by the people in the various feudal States and forwarded periodically by the nobles to their suzerain, the Son of Heaven. The ballads were then submitted to the Imperial Musicians, who were able to judge from the nature of such compositions what would be the manners and customs prevailing in each State, and to advise the suzerain accordingly as to the good or evil administration of each of his vassal rulers. (b) Odes sung at ordinary entertainments given by the suzerain. (c) Odes sung on grand occasions when the feudal nobles were gathered together. (d) Panegyrics and sacrificial odes.