Sacred Books of the East/Volume 3/The Shih/Introduction/Chapter 4

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Sacred Books of the East, Vol. III, The Shih King
Introduction, Chapter IV: The Formation of the Collection of the Shih; how it came to be so Small and Incomplete; the Interpretation and Authors of the Pieces; one Point of Time certainly indicated in it; and the Confucian Preface by James Legge

Chapter IV.

The Formation of the Collection of the Shih; how it came to be so Small and Incomplete; the Interpretation and Authors of the Pieces; one Point of Time certainly indicated in it; and the Confucian Preface.

1. It has been shown above, in the second chapter, that the Shih existed as a collection of poetical pieces before the time of Confucius[1]. In order to complete this Introduction to it, it is desirable to give some account of the various subjects indicated in the heading of the present chapter.

How were the odes collected in the first place? In his Account of a Conversation concerning 'a Right Regulation of Governments for the Common Good of Mankind' (Edinburgh, 1704), p. 10, Sir Andrew Fletcher, of Saltoun, tells us the opinion of 'a very wise man,' that 'if a man were permitted to make all the ballads of a nation, he need not care who should make its laws.' A writer in the Spectator, no. 502, refers to a similar opinion as having been entertained in England earlier than the time of Fletcher. 'I have heard,' he says, 'that a minister of state in the reign of Elizabeth had all manner of books and ballads brought to him, of what kind soever, and took great notice how they took with the people; upon which he would, and certainly might, very well judge of their present dispositions, and of the most proper way of applying them according to his own purposes[2].'

The theory of the Chinese scholars about a collection of poems for governmental purposes.In harmony with the views thus expressed is the theory of the Chinese scholars, that it was the duty of the ancient kings to make themselves acquainted with all the poems current in the different states, and to judge from them of the rule exercised by the several princes, so that they might minister praise or blame, reward or punishment accordingly.

The rudiments of this theory may be found in the Shû, in the Canon of Shun; but the one classical passage which is appealed to in support of it is in the Record of Rites, III, ii, parr. 13, 14:—'Every fifth year, the Son of Heaven made a progress through the kingdom, when the Grand Music-Master was commanded to lay before him the poems of the different states, as an exhibition of the manners and government of the people.' Unfortunately, this Book of the Lî Kî, the Royal Ordinances, was compiled only in the reign of the emperor Wăn of the Han dynasty (B.C. 179 to 155). The scholars entrusted with the work did their best, we may suppose, with the materials at their command. They made much use, it is evident, of Mencius, and of the Î Lî. The Kâu Lî, or the Official Book of Kâu, had not then been recovered. But neither in Mencius nor in the Î Lî do we meet with any authority for the statement before us. The Shû mentions that Shun every fifth year made a tour of inspection; but there were then no odes for him to examine, for to him and his minister Kâo-yâo is attributed the first rudimentary attempt at the poetic art. Of the progresses of the Hsiâ and Yin sovereigns we have no information; and those of the kings of Kâu were made, we know, only once in twelve years. The statement in the Royal Ordinances, therefore, was probably based only on tradition.

Notwithstanding the difficulties that beset this passage of the Lî Ki, I am not disposed to reject it altogether. It derives a certain amount of confirmation from the passage quoted from the Official Book of Kâu on p. 278, showing that in the Kâu dynasty there was a collection of poems, under the divisions of the Făng, the , and the Sung, which it was the business of the Grand Music-Master to teach the musicians of the court. It may be accepted then, that the duke of Kâu, in legislating for his dynasty, enacted that the poems produced in the different feudal states should be collected on occasion of the royal progresses, and lodged thereafter among the archives of the bureau of music at the royal court. The same thing, we may presume à fortiori, would be done, at certain other stated times, with those produced within the royal domain itself.

The music-master of the king would get the odes of each state from its music-master.But the feudal states were modelled after the pattern of the royal state. They also had their music-masters, their musicians, and their historiographers. The kings in their progresses did not visit each particular state, so that the Grand Music-Master could have the opportunity to collect the odes in it for himself. They met, at well-known points, the marquises, earls, barons, &c., of the different quarters of the kingdom; there gave audience to them; adjudicated on their merits, and issued to them their orders. We are obliged to suppose that the princes were attended to the places of rendezvous by their music-masters, carrying with them the poetical compositions gathered in their several regions, to present them to their superior of the royal court. How the collected poems were disseminated through the states.We can understand how, by means of the above arrangement, the poems of the whole kingdom were accumulated and arranged among the archives of the capital. Was there any provision for disseminating thence the poems of one state among all the others? There is sufficient evidence that such dissemination was effected out in some way. Throughout the Narratives of the States, and the details of Zo Khiû-ming on the history of the Spring and Autumn, the officers of the states generally are presented to us as familiar not only with the odes of their particular states, but with those of other states as well. They appear equally well acquainted with all the Parts and Books of our present Shih; and we saw how the whole of it was sung over to Kî Kâ of Wû, when he visited the court of Lû in the boyhood of Confucius. There was, probably, a regular communication from the royal court to the courts of the various states of the poetical pieces that for one reason or another were thought worthy of preservation. This is nowhere expressly stated, but it may be contended for by analogy from the accounts which I have given, in the Introduction to the Shû, pp. 4, 5, of the duties of the royal historiographers or recorders.

How the Shih is so small and incomplete.2. But if the poems produced in the different states were thus collected in the capital, and thence again disseminated throughout the kingdom, we might conclude that the collection would have been far more extensive and complete than we have it now. The smallness of it is to be accounted for by the disorder into which the kingdom fell after the lapse of a few reigns from king Wû. Royal progresses ceased when royal government fell into decay, and then the odes were no more collected[3]. We have no account of any progress of the kings during the Khun Khiû period. But before that period there is a long gap of nearly 150 years between kings Khǎng and Î, covering the reigns of Khang, Kâo, , and Kung, if we except two doubtful pieces among the Sacrificial Odes of Kâu. The reign of Hsiâo, who succeeded to Î, is similarly uncommemorated; and the latest odes are of the time of Ting, when 100 years of the Khun Khiû period had still to run their course. Many odes must have been made and collected during the 140 and more years after king Khǎng. The probability is that they perished during the feeble reigns of Î and the three monarchs who followed him. Then came the long and vigorous reign of Hsüan (B.C. 827 to 782), when we may suppose that the ancient custom of collecting the poems was revived. After him all was in the main decadence and confusion. It was probably in the latter part of his reign that Kǎng-khâo, an ancestor of Confucius, obtained from the Grand Music-Master at the court of Kâu twelve of the sacrificial odes of the previous dynasty, as will be related under the Sacrificial Odes of Shang, with which he returned to Sung, which was held by representatives of the line of Shang. They were used there in sacrificing to the old Shang kings; yet seven of the twelve were lost before the time of the sage.

The general conclusion to which we come is, that the existing Shih is the fragment of various collections made during the early reigns of the kings of Kâu, and added to at intervals, especially on the occurrence of a prosperous rule, in accordance with the regulation that has been preserved in the Kî. How it is that we have in Part I odes of comparatively few of the states into which the kingdom was divided, and that the odes of those states extend only over a short period of their history:—for these things we cannot account further than by saying that such were the ravages of time and the results of disorder. We can only accept the collection as it is, and be thankful for it. How long before Confucius the collection was closed we cannot tell.

Bearing of these views on the interpretation of particular pieces.3. The conclusions which I have thus sought to establish concerning the formation of the Shih as a collection have an important bearing on the interpretation of many of the pieces. The remark of Sze-mâ Khien that 'Confucius selected those pieces which would be serviceable for the inculcation of propriety and righteousness' is as erroneous as the other, that he selected 305 pieces out of more than 3000. The sage merely studied and taught the pieces which he found existing, and the collection necessarily contained odes illustrative of bad government as well as of good, of licentiousness as well as of a pure morality. Nothing has been such a stumbling-block in the way of the reception of Kû Hsî's interpretation of the pieces as the readiness with which he attributes a licentious meaning to many of those in the seventh Book of Part I. But the reason why the kings had the odes of the different states collected and presented to them was, 'that they might judge from them of the manners of the people,' and so come to a decision regarding the government and morals of their rulers. A student and translator of the odes has simply to allow them to speak for themselves, and has no more reason to be surprised by references to vice in some of them than by the language of virtue in many others. Confucius said, indeed, in his own enigmatical way, that the single sentence, 'Thought without depravity,' covered the whole 300 pieces[4]; and it may very well be allowed that they were collected and preserved for the promotion of good government and virtuous manners. The merit attaching to them is that they give us faithful pictures of what was good and what was bad in the political state of the country, and in the social, moral, and religious habits of the people.

The writers of the odes.The pieces were of course made by individuals who possessed the gift, or thought that they possessed the gift, of poetical composition. Who they were we could tell only on the authority of the pieces themselves, or of credible historical accounts, contemporaneous with them or nearly so. It is not worth our while to question the opinion of the Chinese critics who attribute very many of them to the duke of Kâu, to whom we owe so much of the fifth Part of the Shû. There is, however, independent testimony only to his composition of a single ode,—the second of the fifteenth Book in Part I[5]. Some of the other pieces in that Part, of which the historical interpretation may be considered as sufficiently fixed, are written in the first person; but the author may be personating his subject.

In Part II, the seventh ode of decade 2 was made by a Kiâ-fû, a noble of the royal court, but we know nothing more about him; the sixth of decade 6, by a eunuch styled Măng-zze; and the sixth of decade 7, from a concurrence of external testimonies, should be ascribed to duke Wû of Wei, B.C. 812 to 758.

In the third decade of Part III, the second piece was composed by the same duke Wû; the third by an earl of Zui in the royal domain; the fourth must have been made by one of king Hsüan's ministers, to express the king's feelings under the drought that was exhausting the kingdom; and the fifth and sixth claim to be the work of Yin Kî-fû, one of Hsüan's principal officers.

4. The ninth ode of the fourth Book, Part II, gives us a note of time that enables us to fix the year of its composition in a manner entirely satisfactory, and proves also the correctness, back to that date, of the ordinary Chinese chronology. The piece is one of a group which their contents lead us to refer to the reign of king Yû, the son of Hsüan, B.C. 781 to 771. When we examine the chronology of his period, it is said that in his sixth year, B.C. 776, there was an eclipse of the sun. Now the ode commences:—

'At the conjunction (of the sun and moon) in the tenth month, on the first day of the moon, which was Hsin-mâo, the sun was eclipsed.'

This eclipse is verified by calculation as having taken place in B.C. 776, on August 29th, the very day and month assigned to it in the poem.

The Preface to the Shih.5. In the Preface which appeared along with Mâo's text of the Shih, the occasion and authorship of many of the odes are given; but I do not allow much weight to its testimony. It is now divided into the Great Preface and the Little Preface; but Mâo himself made no such distinction between its parts. It will be sufficient for me to give a condensed account of the views of Kû Hsî on the subject:—

'Opinions of scholars are much divided as to the authorship of the Preface. Some ascribe it to Confucius; some to (his disciple) Zze-hsiâ, and some to the historiographers of the states. In the absence of clear testimony it is impossible to decide the point, but the notice about Wei Hung (first century) in the Literary Biographies of Han[6] would seem to make it clear that the Preface was his work. We must take into account, however, on the other hand, the statement of Kăng Khang-khăng, that the Preface existed as a separate document when Mâo appeared with his text, and that he broke it up, prefixing to each ode the portion belonging to it. The natural conclusion is, that the Preface had come down from a remote period, and that Hung merely added to it, and rounded it off. In accordance with this, scholars generally bold that the first sentences in the introductory notices formed the original Preface, which Mâo distributed, and that the following portions were subsequently added.

'This view may appear reasonable; but when we examine those first sentences themselves, we find that some of them do not agree with the obvious meaning of the odes to which they are prefixed, and give only rash and baseless expositions. Evidently, from the first, the Preface was made up of private speculations and conjectures on the subject-matter of the odes, and constituted a document by itself, separately appended to the text. Then on its first appearance there were current the explanations of the odes that were given in connexion with the texts of Lû, Khî, and Han Ying, so that readers could know that it was the work of later hands, and not give entire credit to it. But when Mâo no longer published the Preface as a separate document, but each ode appeared with the introductory notice as a portion of the text, this seemed to give it the authority of the text itself. Then after the other texts disappeared and Mâo's had the field to itself, this means of testing the accuracy of its prefatory notices no longer existed. They appeared as if they were the production of the poets themselves, and the odes seemed to be made from them as so many themes. Scholars handed down a faith in them from one to another, and no one ventured to express a doubt of their authority. The text was twisted and chiseled to bring it into accordance with them, and no one would undertake to say plainly that they were the work of the scholars of the Han dynasty.'

There is no western sinologist, I apprehend, who will not cordially concur with me in the principle of Hsî that we must find the meaning of the poems in the poems themselves, instead of accepting the interpretation of them given by we know not whom, and to follow which would reduce many of them to absurd enigmas.

  1. As in the case of the Shû, Confucius generally speaks of 'the Shih,' never using the name of 'the Shih King.' In the Analects, IX, xiv, however, he mentions also the and the Sung; and in XVII, x, he specifies the Kâu Nan and the Shâo Nan, the first two books of the Kwo Făng. Mencius similarly speaks of 'the Shih;' and in III, i, ch. 4, he specifies 'the Sung of Lû,' Book ii of Part IV. In VI, ii, ch. 3, he gives his views of the Hsiâo Phan, the third ode of decade 5, Part II, and of the Khâi Fung, the seventh ode of Book iii of Part I.
  2. This passage from the Spectator is adduced by Sir John Davis in his treatise on the Poetry of the Chinese, p. 35.
  3. See Mencius, IV, ii, ch. 21.
  4. Analects, II, ii.
  5. See the Shû, V, vi, par. 2.
  6. The account is this: 'Hung became the disciple of Hsieh Man-khing, who was famous for his knowledge of Mâo's Shih; and he afterwards made the Preface to it, remarkable for the accuracy with which it gives the meaning of the pieces in the Făng and the , and which is now current in the world.'