Popular Science Monthly/Volume 68/January 1906/The Content of Chinese Education
By CHARLES KEYSER EDMUNDS, Ph.D.,
CANTON CHRISTIAN COLLEGE
THAT China is at present in a state of transition along all lines, but especially in educational matters, is patent to all observers. To-day we should distinguish between the old China and the new China. In order to understand the transition now under way we must, of course, consider the forces that have made and characterize the old China. Of these none has had greater influence than the system of literary examinations by means of which civil servants have long been selected. To place this examination system in proper perspective, it is necessary first to notice the characteristics and content of elementary and preparatory education.
It seems, though the records are sufficiently mythical, that as early as 2400 b.c. there were family, town and county schools throughout the empire, but then as now they bore no relation to either the national, provincial or district government. The only national schools have been those for Bannermen, originally on a liberal scale, but now neglected. In various places provincial officers have from time to time opened schools for military, naval or special purposes. Chinese 'colleges' so-called, are merely advanced schools of grammar, rhetoric and fine writing.
In the primitive period books were few and the youth depended on oral teaching, and the schools in eastern Asia as in western Asia and Greece were ambulatory. Though at a great disadvantage in the matter of libraries as compared with modern students, there were several compensating circumstances which made the ancient schools superior as formers of character, for practical morality was the great object, and intellectual discipline ranked subordinate. In such work the character of the teacher was the prime factor, and the question-and-answer method forced on them by the lack of books excited inquiry and fostered originality. Now only the forms and names of this period remain without the reality.
While there is not and practically never was a school system in China, a method of instruction has prevailed, not only very ancient, but proceeding from and at the same time in great part responsible for those characteristics which mark the Chinese under every variety of physical condition. The cast-iron nature of this method has in several hundred years wasted enough energy for ten millenniums of true education, and this has made China what she is to-day. But the walls are breaking down—such a state can not longer endure.
We purpose to sketch the essentials of this method, and later on to notice the renovation it is experiencing under the influence of western thought and life. Although the Chinese classics have often been reviewed, we shall nevertheless treat the subject matter of Chinese education in some detail, so that we may better appreciate the change that is taking place. Free use of the material afforded by Legge, Williams, Martin, Giles, Smith and Lewis will be made, and our only excuse for taking our own wherever we may find it will be that we shall try to borrow with good judgment.
China's youth are denied that domestic training which is the heritage and boon of western childhood, and so are tremendously handicapped at the very start. After seven or eight years of vegetation a Chinese child is put under the family or clan preceptor or, clad in festal robes, starts for the village school, which is maintained either on a semi-private basis by several families together, or under the patronage of philanthropic gentry, who are liberal enough, but do not always see that the schools are efficiently conducted. The central government bestows imperial honors on benefactors of schools; but having no root in the revenue of the state, Chinese education affords even the most elementary schooling to only a small fraction of the youth of the land.
Improper school-rooms, long hours of study, excessive restraint, frequent absences, but no inspiriting vacations, a severity in the teacher that sometimes reaches barbarism, and utter neglect of physical culture and hygiene, all combine in the predominant type of Chinese school to render the students much below par physically. Nor is the 'infanticide' less intellectual than physical. In all grades the mode of acquisition is the same: imitative and servile. The mental vitality which this ancient people have retained is not by reason of their education, but in spite of it. A real scholar in China is the survivor of hundreds who have failed.
There is no pedagogy in the old China, any one who has learned is deemed competent to teach, for there is only one way, viz., as Dr. A. H. Smith has described, to set each pupil a 'stent' by showing him what sounds to utter and then for each student to bawl out his characters at the top of his voice. When the lesson is 'learned,' that is when the scholar can howl it off exactly as the master has pronounced it, he stands with his back to the teacher and repeats (or 'backs') the lesson in a loud singsong until he reaches the end of his task or of his memory, when his voice suddenly drops from its high key like a June beetle striking a wall. The stimulus of companionship in study is denied, each pupil memorizes, recites and writes in a class by himself, even though many may be engaged on the same passages.
The preceptor is seldom over diligent. Without any personal interest save in the exceptional student, he simply keeps the mill going and is not expected to modify either the curriculum or the method of instruction. There is no variety, no adaptation to pupil, no room for pupil-judgment—only attention cultivated so highly that he can study without diversion amid the greatest din. The scholar must develop 'phonographic' abilities of memory; if not, there is no remedy except the rod. Recent native schools along more modern lines have swung to the other extreme and are entirely too lax, and there have been many instances in which the student body has presumed to run the school. The aversion to the old-style severity of the native teacher has been a primary cause of the frequent rebellions in foreign schools in China when a stand for faculty-power in proper discipline has had to be firmly though kindly taken.
Sons of shopkeepers and farmers and others who do not expect to enter the lists for literary honors, but merely to acquire a moderate proficiency in the native language, are put through a three- or four-year course in six elementary classics which the aspirant for a degree usually skips, beginning at once with the 'Four Books,' which may be studied also by the more clever of the lower class. Thus the literary graduate who turns pedagogue in an elementary school has himself probably never traversed as a student the texts he is to teach, though his knowledge of the superior classics renders this superfluous, except in the point of appreciating the scholars' difficulties.
Owing to the ideographic nature of the language, one aspect of Chinese education is practically beyond the ken of western peoples. Each character requires a distinct memory effort, and the recognition of its form and name is made to come at one stage of instruction, its meaning much later on.
Dr. Smith compares the aggregate bulk of the classics which must be accurately engraved on the child's memory with the Old Testament. No other writings have been ground into the memories of so many of earth's millions; and the precepts they contain have had such a determining effect in producing Chinese character that, under the risk of being tiresome, we shall pause to glance at their content.
1. The Trimetrical Classic, a mosaic with three characters in each clause, universally employed unchanged for eight and a half centuries. Its 1,068 words, or 534 different characters, deal with the nature of man and of numbers, necessity and modes of education, filial and fraternal duties, the names of the heavenly bodies, the three great powers, four seasons, four directions, five elements five cardinal virtues, six grains, six domestic animals, seven passions, eight kinds of music, nine degrees of kindred, and the ten moral and social duties, followed by a summary of future studies and a catalogue of dynasties up to 1644, when the present dynasty began, the latter not being thought a fit subject for instruction, as if a class in English history should halt at the accession of the House of Hanover!
2. A Century of Surnames, 454 clan names to be memorized.
3. Millennary Classic, 1,000 distinct characters, written a.d. 550 as a connected ode, possessing rhyme and rhythm, but no more poetry than the multiplication table; in fact, its characters are used as ordinals to designate the successive rows of stalls in the triennial examination halls. In subject matter it is similar to the 'Trimetrical Classic,' but more discursive.
4. The Odes for Children, 136 lines in rhymed pentameters, containing a brief description and praise of literary life and allusions to the changes of the seasons and the beauties of nature.
5. Canons of Filial Duty, a tract of 1,903 characters, representing a conversation between Confucius and a disciple concerning the chief virtue inculcated by his school.
6. The Juvenile Instructor, which is said to exhibit better than the works of later scholars the Chinese ideas in all ages on principles of education, rules of conduct, etc.
A host of commentaries (over fifty on 'The Juvenile Instructor' alone) more copious than the texts themselves are employed to illumine and amplify the string of ideas presented as 'primer-stimuli' to the youthful mind.
The task of memorizing the contents of these six elementary school books, which have had such a formative influence on the large proportion of students who go no further, is somewhat relieved by exercises in penmanship. After two or three years spent thus, explanations are in order, and the student is introduced to the various commentaries. Such a course of study surely stunts the genius and drills the faculties into a slavish adherence to venerated usage and dictation.
Though followed chiefly by those destined to practical lives, this curriculum far from fits them for ordinary duties. Formal letter-writing and even elementary arithmetic are not taught in the Chinese school of the old type, and proficiency in either is obtained only by a sort of apprenticeship or by private instruction. No knowledge of business Chinese is imparted, so that the majority of those who fail to carry their studies high enough for degrees are not prepared for practical life.
The course of instruction for those who are likely to try for literary honors consists of three stages, each of which embraces two leading subjects. The 'Trimetrical Classic' may have been taken as preparatory, though not necessarily.
I. In the first stage the aim is to get words at the tongue's end and characters at the pen's point, by memorizing the canonical classics and writing an infinitude of characters as a mere manual exercise—a system sure to prevent precocity and preclude originality. The whole of the 'Four Books' and often a good part of the 'Five Classics,' all in a dead language, are encompassed by pure memory before any explanation of their meaning is given. 'The Four Books' require two years even for a clever scholar, while to include the 'Five Classics' extends the cheerless task to four or five years even for the cleverest, though a total of seven would perhaps strike the average. During this period of mental daze, the scholar is 'a pig in the woods'; his entrance on study is 'lifting the darkness,' and to teach a beginner is 'to instruct darkness.' Such phrases depict reality. The method of instruction and the characteristics of the teacher are the same as have already been noted.
The texts which are thus swallowed whole to await a deferred digestion are forever taken as models of correct composition and with their commentaries are regarded as embracing about all there is to know. 'The Four Books' contain digests of the moralizings of Confucius (551-478 b.c.) as gathered by his disciples, and consist of 'The Great Learning' The Doctrine of the Mean,' 'Confucian Analects' and the 'Words of Mencius' (371-288 b.c.).
Confucius, the Aristotle of Asia, produced as a self-confessed 'transmitter and not a maker' a 'system of ethics or of anthropology' in which man, his relations to family, society, the state and heaven are fully discussed and the attributes and conduct of the 'Princely Man' elaborated in detail. The leading features of the Confucian doctrine are 'subordination to superiors and kind upright dealing with our fellow men.' The foundations of political morality are found in private rectitude. Though containing some exceptionable dogmas, these writings as compared with those of Grecian and Roman sages are good in their general tendency, and in adaptation to the life of the time eminently practical. The defects and errors of Confucianism are, briefly stated, 'the production of a character which is essentially mundane in spirit, the development of the passive rather than of the active virtues, the suppression of individuality, and the evil effects of neglecting the study of nature.' The 'Great Learning,' Ta Hsüeh (or 'Learning for Adults,' 2,000 words), was, prior to Chü Hsi in the eleventh century, a section of the 'Book of Kites.' It discusses the duties and privileges of the princely or superior man, and has been styled a 'system of social perfectionating' or 'politico-ethical treatise.' Its authorship is unknown, but usually the first of its eleven chapters is attributed to Confucius, while the rest is due to the compilers, expanders and annotators through whose hands it has come. The portion supposed to have come directly from the master himself contains the following well-known climax:
The ancients, desiring to manifest great virtue throughout the empire, began with good government in their own states. For this, it was necessary first to order aright their own families, which in turn was preceded by cultivation of their own selves, and that again by rectification of the heart, following upon sincerity of purpose which comes from extension of knowledge, this last being derived from due investigation of objective existences.
The Chung Yung, or 'Doctrine of the Mean' (or as Julien renders it 'L'Invariable Milieu,' or Williams, 'The Just Medium'), was also formerly a part of the 'Book of Rites' and was compiled about 388 b.c. by K'ung Chi, the grandson of Confucius. Although in some respects the most elaborate treatise in the series (33 chapters), it is merely an enlargement upon certain general principles of the writer's grandfather concerning the motives and conduct of an ideal perfect man who 'without deflection or bias' pursues 'a course which never varies in direction.' Though in general rather monotonous there are some sprightly passages, for example, the following:
The princely man enters into no situation where he is not himself. If in a high position he holds no contempt for those below him; if in an inferior station, he uses no mean arts to curry favor with his superiors. He corrects himself and blames not others; never dissatisfied, he murmurs not at Heaven and feels no resentment toward man. Hence, the superior or princely man dwells at ease, entirely awaiting the will of Heaven.
Mankind is divided into three classes: (1) shing, or sages; (2) hien, or worthies; (3) yu, or worthless.
Men of the highest order, as sages, worthies, philanthropists, and heroes, are good without instruction; men of the middle class, such as farmers, physicians, astrologers, soldiers, etc., are good after instruction; while those of the lowest, as actors, pettifoggers, slaves, swindlers, etc., are bad in spite of instruction.
Sincerity is described as "the origin or consummation of all things; without it, there would be nothing. It is benevolence by which a man's self is perfected, and knowledge by which he perfects others." In another place we read 'one sincere wish would move heaven and earth.' The description which K'ung Chi has given of a true sage was probably intended to elevate the character of his grandfather to this height—a standard of excellence so high as to be unattainable by unaided human nature.
It is only the sage who possesses that clear discrimination and profound intelligence which fit him for a high station; who possesses that enlarged liberality and mild benignity which fit him to bear with others; who manifests that firmness and magnanimity that enable him to hold fast good principles; who is actuated by that benevolence, justice, propriety and knowledge which command reverence; and whose thorough acquaintance with polite learning and good principles qualifies him rightly to discriminate. Therefore his fame overflows the Middle Kingdom, and reaches the barbarians of north and south. Wherever ships and wagons can go, or the strength of man can penetrate; wherever there is heaven above and the earth beneath; wherever the sun and moon shine, or frosts and dews fall,—all who have blood and breath honor and love him. Wherefore it may be said that he is a perfect and holy man,—the peer of God.
The Lun Yu, or Analects of Confucius, is a record of the words and actions of the Sage compiled by the collective body of his first apostles and abounding in sententious dialogues and monologues. It is to Confucius what Boswell's work is to Johnson. From it comes all we really know about the great moralist, contemporary with Ezra, whose mission was to teach duty towards one's fellowmen. The Analects are the pattern of Chinese wisdom literature.
The last of the 'Four Books' bearing the name of Mencius (371-288 b.c.), is as large as the other three combined, and constitutes, according to some critics, the most vital reality in all Chinese literature. Its seven sections record the sayings and doings of a man to whose genius and devotion is due the triumph of Confucianism. Coming to maturity upward of a century after the death of Confucius, he studied under the latter's grandson, K'ung Chi, and though of course profiting greatly by the example and stimulus of the earlier sage, in most respects he displayed an originality, resoluteness and breadth superior to Confucius, and must be ranked as one of the greatest men Asia has produced. He served various native princes as minister in their several states and spent the last twenty years of his life in teaching and in completing the work which has been such a power in the land. Living at a time when feudal princes were squabbling over rival systems of federation and imperialism, he strove to inculcate the gentle virtues of the golden age. While his criterion was that of Confucius, his teachings were more practical and dealt rather with man's well-being from the view-point of political economy. His assertion of the respective duties and prerogatives of subject and ruler is said to be prior to that of any western writer, and in the Middle Kingdom has always been an incentive and guide in defending the rights of the people against the injustice of rulers, and an encourager to those who have governed justly. His dialogues with the great personages of his time abound with irony and ridicule against vice and oppression. Witness the following example, cited by Williams:
The king of Wei, one of the turbulent princes of the time, complained to Mencius how ill he succeeded in making his people happy and his kingdom nourishing. "Prince," said the philosopher, "you love war; permit me to draw a comparison from thence; two armies face each other; the charge is sounded, the battle begins, one of the parties is conquered; half of its soldiers have fled a hundred paces, the other half has stopped at fifty. Will the latter have any right to mock at those who have fled further than themselves?"
"No," said the king; "they have equally taken flight, and the same disgrace belongs to both."
"Prince," says Mencius quickly, "cease then to boast of your efforts as greater than your neighbors'. You have all deserved the same reproach, and not one has a right to take credit more than another." Pursuing then his bitter interrogations, he asked, "Is there a difference, O king! between killing a man with a club or with a sword?" "No," said the prince. "Between him who kills with the sword, or destroys by an inhuman tyranny?" "No," again replied the prince.
"Well," said Mencius, "your kitchens are burdened with food, your sheds are full of horses, while your subjects, with emaciated faces, are worn with misery, or die of hunger in the middle of the fields or in the deserts. What is this but breeding animals to prey on them? And what is the difference between destroying them by the sword or by unfeeling conduct? If we detest those savage animals which mutually tear and devour each other, how much more should we abhor a prince who, instead of being a father to his people, does not hesitate to rear animals to destroy them. What kind of a father to his people is he who treats his children so unfeelingly, and has less care of them than of the wild beasts he provides for?"
The will of the people is always referred to as the supreme power of the state, and Mencius warns princes that they must both please and benefit their people, observing that "if the country is not subdued in heart there will be no such thing as governing it. . . . He who gains the hearts of the people secures the throne, and he who loses the people's hearts loses the throne. Good laws," he further remarks, "are not as effective as winning the people by good instruction."
II. After accurately memorizing the 'Four Books,' having relieved the drudgery with exercises in writing, the student generally enters on the second stage of his education, which, however, is unfortunately in many cases postponed until the 'Five Classics' have also been engraved on memory's tablet. In this second stage, the scholar is initiated into an understanding and translation into the vernacular of the sacred books previously committed. But the light is rather sparingly admitted even then. A simple character here and there is explained and perhaps after a year or two the teacher explains entire sentences. Judiciously employed, this does for the Chinese what translation into and out of the dead languages of the west does for us. Yet, as Dr. Martin claims, this second stage is made as much too easy as the first course is too difficult. Instead of requiring a lad, dictionary in hand, to quarry out the meaning of his author, the teacher reads the lesson, and demands simply a faithful reproduction; a feat of sheer memory again. Simultaneously with this training in exposition or translation the student begins to practise composition. But here again the lack of inflection and the predominence of collocation, the 'polarity' in which is determined by previous usage, make composition in the Chinese language difficult and throw the burden on the imitative faculty—a strong trait as evidenced at present among all classes of the people.
Although the whole course is designed with the civil service examinations in view, it is pursued without variation by those who are not looking toward office-holding. Yet at the close of this second stage, the boy who expects to enter civil service begins to prepare rather more specifically for the examinations. He is perhaps fourteen, and for two years or more he widens his reading, 'opens his pen,' and makes essays for his master's criticism, and may then be ready to enter the lists for the first degree.
III. In the third stage of the Chinese scholar's career, composition becomes the main object, reading being wholly subordinate. According to Dr. Martin, the primary step in Chinese composition is yoking double characters followed by practise in reduplicating such binary compounds to form parallels, an idea which runs through the whole of Chinese literature. Detailed symmetry is a chief characteristic of Chinese composition as practised by old methods. Chiefly artificial forms of verse and an even more artificial form of prose are acquired and mark the climax of the whole course. The reading includes rhetorical models and sundry anthologies. History is studied, but only in compends, not to gain wisdom, but merely to embellish classic essays with a profusion of historical allusions. Knowledge and mental discipline are discounted and style is at a premium. In such a system progressive knowledge is alien and education with such a goal is necessarily superficial.
The 'Five Classics' follow the 'Four Books,' and we shall briefly note their content.
If not the oldest, certainly the most venerated member of this Pentateuch is the I Ching, or 'Book of Changes,' whose diagrams date back 2800 b.c., the text to 1150 b.c., and the Confucian commentary thereon to 500 b.c. It ranks chief in the canon of Taoism and was spared from the flames of the Tyrant of Ch'in to which all the other writings of Confucius and his disciples were consigned in 213 b.c., only to be rehabilitated from the living memories of devout literati. The accredited author of the text, Weng Wang, was the virtual founder of the great Chou dynasty (b.c. 1122-249) and the contemporary of Pythagoras. It is a fanciful system of philosophy based on a set of trigrams, each of which represents some power in nature whose combinations are developed in sixty-four short essays, enigmatically and symbolically expressed, on moral, social and political themes, as well as on the more lofty and subtile subject of the origin and destiny of cosmos. The whole universe, in broad and in detail, is ascribed to the interactions of two great male and female elements, the Yin and the Yang, which in turn proceed from T'ai Chi, or the first great cause. The text is followed by commentaries called the 'Ten Wings,' generally ascribed to Confucius, whose extravagant admiration of the I led him to declare that were a hundred years added to his life, he would give fifty of them to the study of the I so that he might come to be without faults. But the work appears to be little more than a lot of enigmatical gibberish intended for the prognostication of good and bad fortune. From it charlatans of all sorts have drawn their supplies. The following is a specimen of the text and the accompanying wing (Legge's translation):
1. The first line, undivided, shows its subject treading his accustomed path. If he goes forward, there will be no error.
2. The second line, undivided, shows its subject treading the path that is level and easy;—a quiet and solitary man, to whom, if he be firm and correct, there will be good fortune.
3. The third line, divided, shows a one-eyed man who thinks he can see; a lame man who thinks he can walk; one who treads on the tail of a tiger and is bitten. All this indicates ill-fortune. We have a mere bravo acting the part of a great ruler.
4. The fourth line, undivided, shows its subject treading on the tail of a tiger. He becomes full of apprehensive caution, and in the end there will be good fortune.
5. The fifth line, undivided, shows the resolute tread of its subject. Though he be firm and correct, there will be peril.
6. The sixth line, undivided, tells us to look at the whole course that is trodden, and examine the presage which that gives. If it be complete and without failure, there will be great good fortune.
The lower trigram indicates pleasure and satisfaction, and responds to the upper indicating strength. Hence it is said, 'He treads on the tail of a tiger which does not bite him; there will be progress and success.'
The fifth line is strong, in the center, and in its correct place. Its subject occupies the God-given position, and falls into no distress or failure;—his action will be brilliant.
The apparent meaninglessness thus exhibited is admitted by Chinese scholars, who, however, tenaciously believe that valuable lessons await those with the wit to understand them. Some fourteen hundred and fifty treatises on the I, embracing memoirs, digests, expositions, etc., are enumerated in the Imperial Catalogue, and the continued influence of such a work well illustrates the Chinese propensity for rules and methods along with their utter neglect of empirical research and the observational study of nature.
The Shu Ching, or 'Book of History,' goes further back in its records (2357-627 b.c.) than any of the other classics, though as a collected whole it seems to be due to the editorial effort of Confucius (551-478 b.c.). Only fifty-nine of the original hundred books are extant. They embody imperial ordinances and decrees, plans proposed by statesmen as guides for the sovereign, proclamations to the people, vows taken by the monarchs when engaging in battle, and mandates, announcements, speeches, etc., issued to the ministers of state. Much of the matter is presented in the form of dialogues between and about the kings and ministers of the various dynasties. These contain many of the best maxims of good government, both for rulers and ruled, which antiquity has bequeathed in any country. Many of the personages are legendary and some of their exploits fabulous. In the eyes of the Chinese who have not yet been affected by modern ideas, the Shu Ching contains the seeds of all things valuable. Williams says it has at once been 'the foundation of their political system, their history, and their religious rites, the basis of their tactics, music and astronomy.'
The Shih Ching, or 'Book of Odes,' is another work which Confucius preserved for posterity. It is a collection of rhymed ballads whose ages run from probably 1719 b.c. to 585 b.c. They are 305 in number though they appear to have been reduced by mishaps and editorial selection from as many as 3,000. Giles thus exhibits their arrangement:
(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 the 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.
Confucius regarded a man unacquainted with the 'Book of Odes' as unfit for intercourse with intellectual men. According to him the design of all may be expressed in the one sentence, 'Have no depraved thoughts.'
Early commentators ignoring the natural beauties of these poems have saddled these ditties with weighty moral and political allegories. This may have served to preserve a work which would otherwise have been deemed too trivial. The native literature, illustrative, critical, and philological dealing with the 'Book of Odes' is not as large as that on the 'Book of Changes,' but Chinese scholars know it by heart, and each separate verse has been so searchingly examined that exegesis can go no further. The fifty-five commentaries mentioned by Legge in his translation increase our opinion of Chinese scholarship when we remember its isolation from the literature of other lands.
A nation's ballads have often been regarded as a more important factor in the life of the people than its laws, and the insight which the 'Book of Odes' gives into the customs and feelings of ancient China is its chief merit. While these poems lack the grandeur of the Greek and Latin productions, they are fortunately free from the looseness that too often detracts from the latter. As the 305 odes are usually committed to memory before coming to the examination hall, all poetical efforts of Chinese scholars have been practically molded by them.
Though in some of the odes women are roughly handled and perhaps the position of women to-day is in part due to their influence, the fairer side also appears, and contrasts in female character like those portrayed by King Solomon in the same age are presented. Witness the following specimens, the first as translated by Giles and the second by Williams.
(1) A clever man builds a city,
(2) Maiden fair, so sweet, retiring,
Ah! the maid so coy, so handsome,
In the meadows sought we flowers,
The eighth ode in Book III., called Hiung Chi, or 'Cock Pheasant,' contains a wife's lament on her husband's absence. Legge's version is:
Away the startled pheasant flies,
The pheasant, though no more in view,
At sun and moon I sit and gaze,
Ye princely men, who with him mate,
The Li Chi, or 'Book of Bites,' is a collection (cir b.c. 135) of rules of personal conduct in private and public life, every movement in official or social life being controlled by it. There are two other similar works of considerably greater antiquity, but this one alone is included in the classic canon of examination texts. The Board of Rites, an imperial department, concerns itself largely in expounding and enforcing the Li Chi. Its other principal duty is to manage the workings of the examination system.
The fifth classic, Chun Chiu, or 'Spring and Autumn Annals' is generally ascribed to Confucius himself, though not surely. It is a very brief record of the chief events between 722 and 484 b.c. in Lu, the native state of the sage. It seems to have been intended as a continuation of the 'Book of History,' but critics have shown that it is not only biased and unjust to the facts, but misleads. With it as it now exists there is associated the amplifying and vivifying commentary of Tso, a follower of Confucius, and without this, these annals, in spite of the fame of their reputed author, would not have merited and might not have received the attention that Chinese scholars have accorded them.
With these nine books the Chinese student saturates his mind in preparation for the examinations, and from them derives his training in sociology, ethics, political and other maxims, cosmogony, history, and historical romancing, poetry, and, by no means least, in manners. As Mr. R. E. Lewis has expressed it: "Though the curriculum is largely religious in its control, yet it provides practically no teaching of Theism. Though it is the permanent support of absolutism, yet it guarantees large liberties to the populace."
The classics which have been noted are by no means the whole of Chinese literature with which the aspirant for literary honors must be familiar. In order that his interpretation may be accurate as well as orthodox, he must consult some 1,120 commentaries on the 'Five Classics' and 170 on the 'Four Books.' For the scholar who has secured his first and second degrees there is the vast literature, over 3,000 volumes, of poetry, drama, romance and encyclopedic works covering with fluctuations in volume the stretch from 200 b.c. to the present time, though of course the later works are at a discount as compared with the more ancient. Professor Giles, of Cambridge University, has given an excellent review in his recent 'Chinese Literature' as has also Dr. Martin in his 'Lore of Cathay.'