Sacred Books of the East/Volume 3/The Shih/Introduction/Chapter 3

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Sacred Books of the East, Vol. III, The Shih King
Introduction, Chapter III: The Shih from the Time of Confucius till the General Acknowledgment of the Present Text by James Legge

Chapter III.

The Shih from the Time of Confucius till the General Acknowledgment of the Present Text.

From Confucius to the rise of the Khin dynasty.1. Of the attention paid to the study of the Shih from the death of Confucius to the rise of the Khin dynasty, we have abundant evidence in the writings of his grandson Zze-sze, of Mencius, and of Hsün Khing. One of the acknowledged distinctions of Mencius is his acquaintance with the odes, his quotations from which are very numerous; and Hsün Khing survived the extinction of the Kâu dynasty, and lived on into the times of Khin.
The Shih was all recovered after the fires of Khin.2. The Shih shared in the calamity which all the other classical works, excepting the , suffered, when the tyrant of Khin issued his edict for their destruction. But I have shown, in the Introduction to the Shû, p. 7, that that edict was in force for less than a quarter of a century. The odes were all, or very nearly all[1], recovered; and the reason assigned for this is, that their preservation depended on the memory of scholars more than on their inscription on tablets of bamboo and on silk.

Three different texts.3. Three different texts of the Shih made their appearance early in the Han dynasty, known as the Shih of , of Khî, and of Han; that is, the Book of Poetry was recovered from three different quarters. Liû Hin's Catalogue of the Books in the Imperial Library of Han (B.C. 6 to 1) commences, on the Shih King, with a collection of the three texts, in twenty-eight chapters.

The text of Lû.i. Immediately after the mention of the general collection in the Catalogue come the titles of two works of commentary on the text of Lû. The former of them was by a Shăn Phei of whom we have some account in the Literary Biographies of Han. He was a native of Lû, and had received his own knowledge of the odes from a scholar of Khî, called Fâu Khiû-po. He was resorted to by many disciples, whom he taught to repeat the odes. When the first emperor of the Han dynasty was passing through Lû, Shăn followed him to the capital of that state, and had an interview with him. Subsequently the emperor Wû (B.C. 140 to 87), in the beginning of his reign, sent for him to court when he was more than eighty years old; and he appears to have survived a considerable number of years beyond that advanced age. The names of ten of his disciples are given, all of them men of eminence, and among them Khung An-kwo. Rather later, the most noted adherent of the school of Lû was Wei Hsien, who arrived at the dignity of prime minister (from B.C. 71 to 67), and published the Shih of Lû in Stanzas and Lines. Up and down in the Books of Han and Wei are to be found quotations of the odes, that must have been taken from the professors of the Lû recension; but neither the text nor the writings on it long survived. They are said to have perished during the Kin dynasty (A.D. 265 to 419). When the Catalogue of the Sui Library was made, none of them were existing.

The text of Khî.ii. The Han Catalogue mentions five different works on the Shih of Khî. This text was from a Yüan Kû, a native of Khî, about whom we learn, from the same collection of Literary Biographies, that he was one of the great scholars of the court in the time of the emperor King (B.C. 156 to 141),—a favourite with him, and specially distinguished for his knowledge of the odes and his advocacy of orthodox Confucian doctrine. He died in the succeeding reign of Wû, more than ninety years old; and we are told that all the scholars of Khî who got a name in those days for their acquaintance with the Shih sprang from his school. Among his disciples was the well-known name of Hsiâ-hâu Shih-khang, who communicated his acquisitions to Hâu Zhang, a native of the present Shan-tung province, and author of two of the works in the Han Catalogue. Hâu had three disciples of note, and by them the Shih of Khî was transmitted to others, whose names, with quotations from their writings, are scattered through the Books of Han. Neither text nor commentaries, however, had a better fate than the Shih of Lû. There is no mention of them in the Catalogue of Sui. They are said to have perished even before the rise of the Kin dynasty.

The text of Han Ying.iii. The text of Han was somewhat more fortunate. Hin's Catalogue contains the names of four works, all by Han Ying, whose surname is thus perpetuated in the text of the Shih that emanated from him. He was a native, we are told, of Yen, and a great scholar in the time of the emperor Wăn (B.C. 179 to 155), and on into the reigns of King and Wû. 'He laboured,' it is said, 'to unfold the meaning of the odes, and published an Explanation of the Text, and Illustrations of the Poems, containing several myriads of characters. His text was somewhat different from the texts of Lû and Khî, but substantially of the same meaning.' Of course, Han founded a school; but while almost all the writings of his followers soon perished, both the works just mentioned continued on through the various dynasties to the time of Sung. The Sui Catalogue contains the titles of his Text and two works on it; the Thang, those of his Text and his Illustrations; but when we come to the Catalogue of Sung, published under the Yüan dynasty, we find only the Illustrations, in ten books or chapters; and Âu-yang Hsiû (A.D. 1017 to 1072) tells us that in his time this was all of Han that remained. It continues entire, or nearly so, to the present day.

A fourth text; that of Mâo.4. But while those three different recensions of the Shih all disappeared, with the exception of a single treatise of Han Ying, their unhappy fate was owing not more to the convulsions by which the empire was often rent, and the consequent destruction of literary monuments such as we have witnessed in China in our own day, than to the appearance of a fourth text, which displaced them by its superior correctness, and the ability with which it was advocated and commented on. This was what is called the Text of Mâo. It came into the field rather later than the others; but the Han Catalogue contains the Shih of Mâo, in twenty-nine chapters, and a Commentary on it in thirty-nine. According to Kăng Hsüan, the author of this was a native of Lû, known as Mâo Hăng or 'the Greater Mâo,' who had been a disciple, we are told by Lü Teh-ming, of Hsün Khing. The work is lost. He had communicated his knowledge of the Shih, however, to another Mâo,—Mâo Kang, 'the Lesser Mao,' who was a great scholar, at the court of king Hsien of Ho-kien, a son of the emperor King. King Hsien was one of the most diligent labourers in the recovery of the ancient books, and presented the text and work of Hăng at the court of his father,—probably in B.C. 129. Mâo Kang published Explanations of the Shih, in twenty-nine chapters,—a work which we still possess; but it was not till the reign of Phing (A.D. 1 to 5) that Mâo's recension was received into the Imperial College, and took its place along with those of Lû, Khî, and Han Ying.

The Chinese critics have carefully traced the line of scholars who had charge of Mâo's Text and Explanations down to the reign of Phing. The names of the men and their works are all given. By the end of the first quarter of our first century we find the most famous scholars addicting themselves to Mâo's text. The well-known Kiâ Khwei (A.D. 30 to 101) published a work on the Meaning and Difficulties of Mâo's Shih, having previously compiled a digest of the differences between its text and those of the other three recensions, at the command of the emperor Ming (A.D. 58 to 75). The equally celebrated Mâ Yung (A.D. 79 to 166) followed with another commentary;—and we arrive at Kăng Hsüan or Kăng Khang-khăng (A.D. 127 to 200), who wrote a Supplementary Commentary to the Shih of Mâo, and a Chronological Introduction to the Shih. The former of these two works complete, and portions of the latter, are still extant. After the time of Kăng the other three texts were little heard of, while the name of the commentators on Mâo's text speedily becomes legion. It was inscribed, moreover, on the stone tablets of the emperor Ling (A.D. 168 to 189). The grave of Mâo Kăng is still shown near the village of Zun-fû, in the departmental district of Ho-kien, Kih-lî.

The different texts guarantee the genuineness of the recovered Shih.5. Returning now to what I said in the second paragraph, it will be granted that the appearance of three different and independent texts, soon after the rise of the Han dynasty, affords the most satisfactory a evidence of the recovery of the Book of Poetry as it had continued from the time of Confucius. Unfortunately, only fragments of those texts remain now; but they were, while they were current, diligently compared with one another, and with the fourth text of Mâo, which subsequently got the field to itself. When a collection is made of their peculiar readings, so far as it can now be done, it is clear that their variations from one another and from Mâo's text arose from the alleged fact that the preservation of the odes was owing to their being transmitted by recitation. The rhyme helped the memory to retain them, and while wood, bamboo, and silk had all been consumed by the flames of Khin, when the time of repression ceased, scholars would be eager to rehearse their stores. It was inevitable, and more so in China than in a country possessing an alphabet, that the same sounds when taken down by different writers should be represented by different characters.

On the whole, the evidence given above is as full as could be desired in such a case, and leaves no reason for us to hesitate in accepting the present received text of the Shih as a very close approximation to that which was current in the time of Confucius.

  1. All, in fact, unless we except the six pieces of Part II, of which we have only the titles. It is contended by Kû Hsî and others that the text of these had been lost before the time of Confucius. It may have been lost, however, after the sage's death; see note on p. 283.