Classic of History

Classic of History

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The Classic of History is a compilation of documentary records related to events in ancient history of China. It is also commonly known as the Shàngshū , or simply Shū . The title is translated in western texts variously as "Classic of History", "Classic of Documents", "Book of History", "Book of Documents".


The book consists of 58 chapters (including eight subsections), of which 33, called the New Text, are generally considered authentic works from the Warring States or earlier. The first five chapters of the book suppose to preserve the deeds of emperors such as Yao
Yao (ruler)
Yao , was a legendary Chinese ruler, one of the Three Sovereigns and the Five Emperors. His ancestral name (姓)is Yi Qi (伊祁) or Qi(祁),clan name (氏)is Taotang , given name is Fangxun , as the second son to Emperor Ku and Qingdu...

 and Shun, who reigned during legendary age; the next 4 describes the Xia Dynasty
Xia Dynasty
The Xia Dynasty is the first dynasty in China to be described in ancient historical chronicles such as Bamboo Annals, Classic of History and Records of the Grand Historian. The Xia Dynasty was established by the legendary Yu the Great after Shun, the last of the Five Emperors gave his throne to him...

, the historicity of which has not been definitively established; the next 17 chapters deal with the Shang Dynasty
Shang Dynasty
The Shang Dynasty or Yin Dynasty was, according to traditional sources, the second Chinese dynasty, after the Xia. They ruled in the northeastern regions of the area known as "China proper" in the Yellow River valley...

 and its end. The blame for this is placed on the last Shang ruler, who is described as oppressive, murderous, extravagant, and lustful. The final 32 chapters cover the Zhou Dynasty
Zhou Dynasty
The Zhou Dynasty was a Chinese dynasty that followed the Shang Dynasty and preceded the Qin Dynasty. Although the Zhou Dynasty lasted longer than any other dynasty in Chinese history, the actual political and military control of China by the Ji family lasted only until 771 BC, a period known as...

 until the reign of Duke Mu of Qin
Duke Mu of Qin
Duke Mu of Qin , born Ying Renhao , was a ruler of the State of Qin from 659 or 660 to 621 BC in China. One of the Five Hegemons of the Spring and Autumn Period, he greatly expanded the territory of Qin during the reign of King Xiang of Zhou.He acquired many talented advisors, such as Baili Xi,...


The Classic of History contains some of the earliest examples of Chinese prose, and is considered one of the Five Classics. Many citations of the Shangshu can be found in the bamboo slips texts from the tombs of Guodian
Guodian Chu Slips
The Guodian Chu Slips were unearthed in 1993 in Tomb no. 1 of the Guodian tombs in Jingmen, Hubei. The archeological team suggested the tomb should be dated to the latter half of the Warring States period...

, in Hubei
' Hupeh) is a province in Central China. The name of the province means "north of the lake", referring to its position north of Lake Dongting...

, dated to the 300 BC.
The language is archaic and differs in grammar and vocabulary from that typical of prose from the classical age of Chinese literature (e.g., The Analects or The Mencius). This reflects an early date of composition in some chapters or deliberate use of archaism in others. The five announcements (誥 gào) in the Documents of Zhou closely resemble inscriptions found on Western Zhou bronzes and are generally regarded as authentic products of the early years of the Western Zhou Dynasty (late 11th century BCE). On the other hand, chapters that are purported to date from high antiquity (e.g., the Canons of Yao and Shun) likely date from the Spring and Autumn or Warring States periods.

In July 2008, an alumnus of Tsinghua University
Tsinghua University
Tsinghua University , colloquially known in Chinese as Qinghua, is a university in Beijing, China. The school is one of the nine universities of the C9 League. It was established in 1911 under the name "Tsinghua Xuetang" or "Tsinghua College" and was renamed the "Tsinghua School" one year later...

 donated a collection of 2100 bamboo slips to his alma mater after obtaining them through auction in Hong Kong
Hong Kong
Hong Kong is one of two Special Administrative Regions of the People's Republic of China , the other being Macau. A city-state situated on China's south coast and enclosed by the Pearl River Delta and South China Sea, it is renowned for its expansive skyline and deep natural harbour...

. The previous owner and whereabouts of the slips have not been revealed. The Classic of History is one of the historical books in the collection. According to Li Xueqin, leading the team studying the scripts, the collection dates from the Warring States Period and came from the state of Chu
Chu (state)
The State of Chu was a Zhou Dynasty vassal state in present-day central and southern China during the Spring and Autumn period and Warring States Period . Its ruling house had the surname Nai , and clan name Yan , later evolved to surname Mi , and clan name Xiong...


Transmission of texts

In the transmission of the book, there are three main variations:
  • The Old Text version, compiled between the 9th-6th century BC. One extant text was said to have been found by Prince Liu Yu
    Liu Yu
    Liu Yu was a warlord and politician during the late Han Dynasty period of Chinese history.During the campaign against Dong Zhuo, the Guandong coalition asked Liu Yu to declare himself emperor, since he was a member of the extended family of the Han Dynasty emperors, but Liu Yu refused...

     in the last half of the 2nd century BC and transmitted by Kong Anguo. This version added some 16 new chapters and was part of the Old Text Classics later championed by the scholar Liu Xin
    Liu Xin
    Liu Xin , later changed name to Liu Xiu , courtesy name Zijun , was a Chinese astronomer, historian, and editor during the Xin Dynasty . He was the son of Confucian scholar Liu Xiang and an associate of other prominent thinkers such as the philosopher Huan Tan...

     at the beginning of 1st century. Most of the Old Text version was lost during the Han Dynasty, though there were some reconstructed remains by scholars during the Han period.
  • The New Text version, considered by most modern-day scholars to be authentic works of 4th century BC or earlier, consists of 33 chapters (originally 29 or 28, but some chapters have been divided by Du Lin during the 1st century), which had lost more than 72 chapters of the original.
  • A version of the Old Text was allegedly rediscovered by the scholar Mei Ze during the 4th century, and presented to the imperial court of the Eastern Jin
    Jìn Dynasty (265-420)
    The Jìn Dynasty , was a dynasty in Chinese history, lasting between the years 265 and 420 AD. There are two main divisions in the history of the Dynasty, the first being Western Jin and the second Eastern Jin...

    . His version comprised 59 chapters, consisting of the 33 chapters of the New Text version with an additional 26 chapters (including a preface).

Since the Song Dynasty
Song Dynasty
The Song Dynasty was a ruling dynasty in China between 960 and 1279; it succeeded the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms Period, and was followed by the Yuan Dynasty. It was the first government in world history to issue banknotes or paper money, and the first Chinese government to establish a...

, starting from Zhu Xi
Zhu Xi
Zhū​ Xī​ or Chu Hsi was a Song Dynasty Confucian scholar who became the leading figure of the School of Principle and the most influential rationalist Neo-Confucian in China...

, many doubts had been expressed concerning the provenance of the additional rediscovered Old Text chapters of the book, but it was not until Yan Ruoju
Yan Ruoju
Yan Ruoqu was an influential Chinese scholar from the early Qing Dynasty. He was born to a scholarly family in Taiyuan, Shanxi. Yan Ruoqu is most famous for proving that 25 chapters of the Classic of History were forgeries. He also made observations and theories about the motions of the moon and...

's research in the 17th century and the definitive conclusions he drew in his unpublished but widely distributed manuscript entitled Evidential analysis of the Old Text Documents that they were forged during the Han era.


Part Chapter:
Document of Yu [Shun]
01 (01) 堯典 The Canon of Yao
02 (02) 舜典 The Canon of Shun (originally a section under Yao)
03 (01)  大禹謨 The Counsels of Great Yu
04 (03) 皋陶謨 The Counsels of Gao Yao
05 (04) 益稷 Yi and Ji (originally a section under Gao Yao)
Document of Xia [Dynasty]
06 (05) 禹貢 The Tribute of [Great] Yu
07 (06) 甘誓 The Speech at [the Battle of] Gan
08 (02) 五子之歌 The Songs of the [King Taikang's] Five Brothers
09 (03) 胤征 The Punitive Expedition
Punitive expedition
A punitive expedition is a military journey undertaken to punish a state or any group of persons outside the borders of the punishing state. It is usually undertaken in response to perceived disobedient or morally wrong behavior, but may be also be a covered revenge...

[on King Zhongkang] of Yin
Document of Shang [Dynasty]
10 (07) 湯誓 The Speech of [King] Tang
11 (04) 仲虺之誥 The Announcement of Zhonghui
12 (05) 湯誥 The Announcement of [King] Tang
13 (06) 伊訓 The Instructions of Yi [Yin]
14 (07–09) 太甲上中下 King Taijia Part 1, 2 & 3
15 (10) 咸有一德 The Common Possession of Pure Virtue
16 (08–10) 盤庚上中下 King Pangeng Part 1, 2 & 3
17 (11–13) 說命上中下 The Charge to Yue [of Fuxian]  Part 1, 2 & 3
18 (11) 高宗肜日 The Day of the Supplementary Sacrifice of King Gaozong [Wuding]
19 (12) 西戡黎 The Chief of the West [King Wen]'s Conquest of [the State of] Li
20 (13) 微子 Prince Weizi
Document of Zhou [Dynasty]
21 (14–16) 泰誓上中下  The Great Speech Part 1, 2 & 3
22 (14) 牧誓 The Speech at [the Battle of] Muye
23 (17) 武成 The Successful Completion of the War [on Shang]
24 (15) 洪範 The Great Plan [of Jizi]
25 (18) 旅獒 The Hounds of [the Western Tribesmen] Lu
26 (16) 金滕 The Golden Coffer [of Zhou Gong]
27 (17) 大誥 The Great Announcement
28 (19) 微子之命 The Charge to Prince Weizi
29 (18) 康誥 The Announcement to Prince Kang
30 (19) 酒誥 The Announcement about Drunkenness
31 (20) 梓材 The Timber of Rottlera
32 (21) 召誥 The Announcement of Duke Shao
33 (22) 洛誥 The Announcement Concerning Luoyang
34 (23) 多士 The Numerous Officers
35 (24) 無逸 Against Luxurious Ease
36 (25) 君奭 Lord Shi [Duke Shao]
37 (20) 蔡仲之命 The Charge to Cai Zhong
38 (26) 多方 The Numerous Regions
39 (27) 立政 The Establishment of Government
40 (21) 周官 The Offices of Zhou
41 (22) 君陳 Lord Chen
42 (28) 顧命 The Testamentary Charge
43 (29) 康王之誥 The Announcement of King Kang
(originally a section under Testamentary
44 (23) 畢命 The Charge to the Duke of Bi
45 (24) 君牙 Lord Ya
46 (25) 冏命 The Charge to Jiong
47 (30) 呂刑 Marquis Lü on Punishments
48 (31) 文侯之命 The Charge to Marquis Wen [of Jin]
49 (32) 費誓 The Speech at [the Battle of] Fei
50 (33) 秦誓 The Speech of [the Duke Mu of] Qin

External links