Page:Sacred Books of the East - Volume 3.djvu/17

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xv
PREFACE.

the same position as he was for learning the ancient religion of his country. Our text-books would be the same as his. Unfortunately most of the ancient books suffered loss and injury after Confucius had passed from the stage of life. We have reason, however, to be thankful that we possess so many and so much of them. No other literature, comparable to them for antiquity, has come down to us in such a state of preservation.

But the reader must bear in mind that the ancient books of China do not profess to have been inspired, or to contain what we should call a Revelation. Historians, poets, and others wrote them as they were moved in their own minds. An old poem may occasionally contain what it says was spoken by God, but we can only understand that language as calling attention emphatically to the statements to which it is prefixed. We also read of Heaven's raising up the great ancient sovereigns and teachers, and variously assisting them to accomplish their undertakings; but all this need not be more than what a religious man of any country might affirm at the present day of direction, help, and guidance given to himself and others from above. But while the old Chinese books do not profess to contain any divine revelation, the references in them to religious views and practices are numerous; and it is from these that the student has to fashion for himself an outline of the early religion of the people. I will now state what the books are.

First, and of greatest importance, there is the Book of Historical Documents, called the Shû and, since the period of the Han dynasty (began B.C. 202), the Shû King. Its documents commence with the reign of Yâo in the twenty-fourth century B.C., and come down to that of king Hsiang of the Kâu dynasty, B.C. 651–619. The earliest chapters were not contemporaneous with the events which they describe, but the others begin to be so in the twenty-second century B.C. The reader will find a translation of the whole of this work without abridgment.

Second, and nearly as important as the Shû, there is the Shih, or the Book of Poetry. It contains in all 305