“The Book of Songs” Emerges-《诗经》面世

Introduction: “The Book of Songs,” also known as “Shijing,” is China’s first comprehensive collection of poetry with a realistic style, boasting a history of over 2500 years. Originally composed as lyrics to be accompanied by music and dance, the musical and dance elements have been lost over time due to conflicts and changes in dynasties. Today, only the lyrics remain.

Historical Background: During the Spring and Autumn period, approximately 3000 poems were said to have been passed down. These poems encompassed various themes, including praises for ancestral achievements, ceremonial music, interactions among nobles, expressions of discontent due to unequal labor and leisure, and reflections on folk activities such as labor, love, and social customs. Confucius later edited and compiled these poems during the pre-Qin period, reducing the collection to 311 poems. This revised compilation was named “Shi,” and later, during the Western Han period, it was officially referred to as the “Shijing” and revered as a Confucian classic.

Collection Process: Legend has it that during the Spring and Autumn period, there were designated officials responsible for collecting poems. These poetry collectors, equipped with bronze bells, would disperse into various regions during spring, gathering folk songs that reflected the joys and sorrows of the people. After organizing these songs, they presented them to the court musicians. The court musicians then composed melodies for these songs, which were sung to the ruler, providing insights into political and societal conditions. Thus, the collected folk songs served as a valuable source for governance and were compiled into the “Book of Songs.”

Contributions of Yin Jifu: Some accounts attribute the primary role in collecting these poems to Yin Jifu, a prominent minister during the reign of King Xuan of Zhou. Yin Jifu, recognized for his contributions, was later honored as the progenitor of Chinese poetry. Several poems in the “Book of Songs” praise Yin Jifu’s achievements, such as “Wenwu Jifu, the world follows the law.” His significant role in the collection process led to his posthumous title as the “Ancestor of Chinese Poetry.”

Classification of “Book of Songs”: The “Book of Songs” is divided into three sections: “Feng” (Airs), “Ya” (Elegances), and “Song” (Odes).

  1. Feng (Airs): Consists of folk songs from various regions, known as the “Fifteen Kingdom Airs,” with a total of 160 poems. These poems cover a wide range of topics, praising love, labor, and reflecting the core content of the “Book of Songs.”
  2. Ya (Elegances): Represents courtly music, focusing on rituals, ancestral virtues, and feasts. It comprises 105 poems, further divided into “Da Ya” (Major Elegances) and “Xiao Ya” (Minor Elegances).
  3. Song (Odes): Features the music performed during the Zhou dynasty’s rituals and ceremonies, including the “Zhou Song,” “Lu Song,” and “Shang Song,” totaling 40 poems.

Literary Techniques: The primary literary techniques employed in the “Book of Songs” include “Fu” (expression of feelings), “Bi” (metaphor), and “Xing” (association). “Fu” directly expresses emotions, “Bi” involves metaphors, both explicit and implicit, and “Xing” utilizes associations with other elements to create an atmosphere or mood. These three techniques, combined with the divisions of “Feng,” “Ya,” and “Song,” are collectively referred to as the “Six Arts.”

Themes and Content: The poems in the “Book of Songs” cover a wide range of themes, portraying the origins and development of the Zhou dynasty, reflecting historical events, societal changes, and the sentiments of the people. Some poems celebrate achievements, while others criticize the greed of slaveholders. Many express the people’s resistance against oppression, their yearning for an ideal life, and their reflections on war.

Philosophical Essence: Confucius praised the “Book of Songs” for having a story in each poem, conveying a moral lesson. With a total of 305 poems, the main philosophical content can be summarized as “thinking without evil.” This concept, as expressed in the poem “Lu Song – Jiao,” suggests that thoughts should align with one’s innate nature without deliberate distortion. The poems aim to evoke positive sentiments, eliminate negative thoughts, and cultivate gentle and pure character traits. Whether praising or satirizing, the ultimate goal is to suppress evil and promote goodness.