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Title: Shujing  
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"Shang Shu" redirects here. For the ruler of the state of Jin, see Shang Shu (Jin).
Book of Documents
Author Compilation attributed to Confucius, various authors
Original title
Country Zhou China
Language Old Chinese
Subject Compilation of ancient speeches and records of events

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The Book of Documents, also known as the Classic of History, Book of History, Shujing (formerly often romanized as Shu-king), or Shangshu is one of the Five Classics of ancient Chinese literature.[1] It is a compilation of speeches of major figures and records of events in ancient China.

The 58 chapters of the received text are divided into New Text and Old Text chapters based on their history. The entire work was accepted by most scholars until the 17th century, when Yan Ruoqu showed that the Old Text chapters had been forged in the 3rd or 4th centuries AD. In contrast, some of the New Text chapters are among the earliest examples of Chinese prose, recording speeches from the early years of the Zhou dynasty in the late 11th century BC. Other New Text chapters are of later composition, with those relating to the earliest periods being as recent as the 4th century BC.

Textual history

Later tradition has ascribed the compilation of the Book of Documents to Confucius (551–479 BC), but its early history is obscure. Beginning with Confucius, writers increasingly drew on the work to illustrate general principles, though it seems that several different versions were in use.[2]

Six citations of unnamed Shū () appear in the Analects, and increasing numbers of citations, some with titles, appear in 4th century BC works such as the Mencius, Mozi and Commentary of Zuo. These authors favoured documents relating to the Xia dynasty and pre-dynastic emperors Yao and Shun, chapters now believed to have been written during the Spring and Autumn period. The chapters currently believed to be the oldest (mostly relating to the early Zhou) were little used by Warring States authors, perhaps due to the difficulty of the archaic language or a less familiar world-view.[3] Fewer than half the passages quoted by these authors are present in the received text.[4]

Many copies of the work were destroyed in the Burning of Books during the Qin dynasty. Fu Sheng reconstructed part of the work from hidden copies in the late 3rd to early 2nd century BC, at the start of the succeeding Han dynasty. His version was known as the "New Text" (今文 jīn wén lit. "modern script") because it was written in the clerical script.[5][6] It originally consisted of 29 chapters, but the "Great Speech" chapter was lost shortly afterwards and replaced by a new version.[7] The remaining 28 chapters were later expanded to 33 when Du Lin divided some chapters during the 1st century.

Another version was said to have been recovered from a wall of the home of Confucius in 186 BC by his descendent Kong Anguo. This version was written in the pre-Qin seal script, and known as the "Old Text" (古文 gǔ wén lit. "ancient script"). It contained some 16 additional chapters and was part of the Old Text Classics later championed by the scholar Liu Xin at the beginning of 1st century AD.[5] A list of 100 chapter titles was also in circulation; many are mentioned in the Records of the Grand Historian, but without quoting the text of the other chapters.[8]

The work was designated one of the Five Classics when Confucian works made official by Emperor Wu of Han, and Jing ("classic") was added to its name. The term Shangshu ("esteemed documents") was also used in the Eastern Han.[9] Most Han dynasty scholars ignored the Old Text, and it disappeared by the end of the dynasty.[5]

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. His version consisted of the 33 chapters of the New Text with an additional 25 chapters, with a preface and commentary purportedly written by Kong Anguo.[5] The oldest extant copy of the text, included in the Kaicheng Stone Classics (833–837), contains all of these chapters.[8]

Since the Song Dynasty, starting from Wú Yù (吳棫), many doubts had been expressed concerning the provenance of the allegedly rediscovered Old Text chapters of the book. In the 16th century, Méi Zhuó (梅鷟) published a detailed argument that these chapters, as well as the preface and commentary, were forged in the 3rd century AD. Mei identified the sources from which the forger had cut and pasted text, and even suggested Huangfu Mi as a probable culprit. In the 17th century, Yan Ruoju's unpublished but widely distributed manuscript entitled Evidential analysis of the Old Text Documents convinced most scholars that the rediscovered Old Text chapters were forged in the 3rd or 4th centuries.[5]

New light has been shed on the Documents by the recovery between 1993 and 2008 of caches of bamboo slips from tombs of the state of Chu in Jingmen, Hubei.[10] These texts are believed to date from the late Warring States period, around 300 BC,[10] and thus predate the burning of the books during the Qin dynasty.[10] The Guodian Chu Slips and the Shanghai Museum corpus include quotations of previously unknown passages of the work.[10][11] The Tsinghua Bamboo Slips includes the New Text chapter "Golden Coffer", with minor textual differences, as well as several documents in the same style that are not included in the received text. The collection also includes two documents that are versions of the Old Text chapters "Common Possession of Pure Virtue" and "Charge to Yue", confirming that the "rediscovered" versions are forgeries.[12]


The collection consists of 58 chapters, each with a brief preface traditionally attributed to Confucius. With the exception of a few chapters of late date, the chapters are represented as records of formal speeches by kings or other important figures.[13] The chapters are grouped into parts devoted to pre-dynastic emperors (Yao and Shun), and to the Xia, Shang and Zhou dynasties. The chapters are further categorized into the "New Text" and the "Old Text". Orthodox editions also include a preface and commentary, both traditionally attributed to Kong Anguo.[6] Although the "rediscovered" Old Text chapters (and the preface and commentary) are generally believed to be forgeries from the 3rd or 4th centuries AD,[5] the New Text chapters "are considered by most scholars to be authentic works of the 4th century BC or earlier."[14]

Part   New 
Yu [Shun]
1 1 堯典 Canon of Yao
2 舜典 Canon of Shun
3 大禹謨 Counsels of Great Yu
2 4 皋陶謨 Counsels of Gao Yao
5 益稷 Yi and Ji
3 6 禹貢 Tribute of [Great] Yu
4 7 甘誓 Speech at [the Battle of] Gan
8 五子之歌 Songs of the Five Sons
9 胤征 Punitive Expedition on [King Zhongkang of] Yin
5 10 湯誓 Speech of [King] Tang
11 仲虺之誥 Announcement of Zhonghui
12 湯誥 Announcement of [King] Tang
13 伊訓 Instructions of Yi [Yin]
14–16 太甲 Tai Jia parts 1, 2 & 3
17 咸有一德 Common Possession of Pure Virtue
6 18–20 盤庚 Pan Geng parts 1, 2 & 3
21–23 說命 Charge to Yue [of Fuxian] parts 1, 2 & 3
7 24 高宗肜日 Day of the Supplementary Sacrifice of King Gaozong [Wu Ding]
8 25 西伯戡黎 Chief of the West [King Wen]'s Conquest of [the State of] Li
9 26 微子 [Prince] Weizi
27–29 泰誓 Great Speech parts 1, 2 & 3
10 30 牧誓 Speech at [the Battle of] Muye
31 武成 Successful Completion of the War [on Shang]
11 32 洪範 Great Plan [of Jizi]
33 旅獒 Hounds of [the Western Tribesmen] Lü
12 34 金滕 Golden Coffer [of Zhou Gong]
13 35 大誥 Great Announcement
36 微子之命 Charge to Prince Weizi
14 37 康誥 Announcement to [Prince] Kang
15 38 酒誥 Announcement about Drunkenness
16 39 梓材 Timber of Rottlera
17 40 召誥 Announcement of Duke Shao
18 41 洛誥 Announcement concerning Luoyang
19 42 多士 Numerous Officers
20 43 無逸 Against Luxurious Ease
21 44 君奭 Lord Shi [Duke Shao]
45 蔡仲之命 Charge to Cai Zhong
22 46 多方 Numerous Regions
23 47 立政 Establishment of Government
48 周官 Officers of Zhou
49 君陳 Lord Chen
24 50 顧命 Testamentary Charge
51 康王之誥 Announcement of King Kang
52 畢命 Charge to the [Duke of] Bi
53 君牙 Lord Ya
54 冏命 Charge to Jiong
25 55 呂刑 [Marquis] Lü on Punishments
26 56 文侯之命 Charge to Marquis Wen [of Jin]
27 57 費誓 Speech at [the Battle of] Fei
28 58 秦誓 Speech of [the Duke Mu of] Qin

Dating of the New Text chapters

Although the New Text chapters are generally accepted as pre-Qin documents, not all of them are believed to be contemporaneous with the events they describe, which range from the legendary emperors Yao and Shun to early in the Spring and Autumn period. Six of these chapters concern figures prior to the first evidence of writing, the oracle bones dating from the reign of the late Shang king Wu Ding. Moreover, the chapters dealing with the earliest periods, e.g., the Canons of Yao and Shun, are very similar in language to the classical works of the Warring States period such as The Mencius.[2]

The five announcements (誥 gào) in the Documents of Zhou feature the most archaic language, closely resembling inscriptions found on Western Zhou bronzes in both grammar and vocabulary. Together with associated chapters such as Lord Shi and the Testamentary Charge, the announcements are considered by most scholars to record speeches of King Cheng of Zhou, as well as the Duke of Zhou and Duke of Shao, uncles of King Cheng who were key figures during his reign (late 11th century BC). They provide insight into the politics and ideology of the period, including the doctrine of the Mandate of Heaven, explaining how the once-virtuous Xia had become corrupt and were replaced by the virtuous Shang, who went through a similar cycle ending in their replacement by the Zhou.[15] A minority of scholars, pointing to differences in language between these documents and Zhou bronzes, argue that they are products of a commemorative tradition in the late Western Zhou or early Spring and Autumn periods.[16]

Other Zhou chapters, and the chapters dealing with the late Shang, use less archaic language. They are believed to have been modelled on the earlier speeches by writers in the Spring and Autumn period, a time of renewed interest in politics and dynastic decline. Chapters relating to earlier periods are thought to be the products of philosophical schools of the late Warring States period. They are written in familiar classical language and present idealized rulers, with the earlier political concerns subordinate to moral and cosmological theory. The Pan Geng chapter (later divided into three parts) seems to be intermediate in style between the latter two groups.[2][3]


  • (Full Chinese text with English translation using Legge's own romanization system, with extensive background and annotations.)
    • part 1: Prolegomena and chapters 1–26 (up to books of Shang)
    • part 2: chapters 27–58 (books of Zhou), indexes
  • Includes a minor revision of Legge's translation.
  • (New Text chapters only) Reprinted as a separate volume by Elanders in 1950.


External links

  • Chinese Text Project, including both the Chinese text and Legge's English translation (emended to employ pinyin)
  • (also emended)
  • Annotated Edition of “The Book of Documents”

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