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Faith & Belief
Chinese Sages Series: Four Books

 

The Four Books, or the Four Classics, are the Chinese classic texts selected by Zhu Xi in the Song dynasty to serve as an introduction to Chinese philosophy and Confucianism. They are:

the Great Learning
the Doctrine of the Mean
the Analects of Confucius
the Mencius


To help overseas readers understand and study Confucianism and traditional Chinese culture, Sinolingua published the Four Books with modern Chinese interpretations and English translations.

The Great Learning is the first of the Four books which were selected by Zhu Xi in the Song Dynasty as a foundational introduction to Confucianism. It was originally one chapter in Li Ji (the Classic of Rites). The book consists of a short main text, attributed to Confucius and nine commentaries chapters by Zeng Zi, one of Confucius" disciples. Its importance is illustrated by Zeng Zi"s foreword that this is the gateway of learning. The Great Learning is significant because it expresses many themes of Chinese philosophy and political thinking has therefore been extremely influential both in classical and modern Chinese thought.
The Doctrine of the Mean is one of the Four Books, part of the Confucian canonical scriptures. Like the Great Learning, it is now part of the Records of Rites. It is said to be a composition by Confucius" grandson Kong Ji, called Zisi.

The purpose of this small, 23-chapter book is to demonstrate the usefulness of a golden way to gain perfect virtue. It focuses on the "way" that is prescribed by a heavenly mandate not only to the ruler but to everyone. To follow these heavenly instructions by learning and teaching will automatically result in a Confucian virtue. Because Heaven has laid down what is the way to perfect virtue, it is not that difficult to follow the steps of the holy rulers of old if one only knows what is the right way.

Analects, or Analects of Confucius, written in twenty chapters, is thought to be a composition of the late Spring and Autumn Period. It is undoubtedly the most influential text in East Asian intellectual history, collecting maxims and short discussions between Confucius and his disciples. Many of them take sense in an historically well-defined context.
It is within this work that most of the basic framework regarding Confucian values such as humaneness, righteousness, filial piety, and propriety is uncovered.


Mencius (most accepted dates: 372 BC ? 289 BC; other possible dates: 385 BC ? 303 BC or 302 BC) was born in the State of Zou, now forming the territory of the county-level city of Zoucheng, Shandong province, only 30 km (18 miles) south of Qufu, the town of Confucius. He was an itinerant Chinese philosopher and sage, and one of the principal interpreters of Confucianism. Mencius argued for the infinite goodness of the individual, believing that it was society"s influence that lacked of a positive cultivating influence which caused bad character. He even argued that it was acceptable for people to overthrow or even kill a ruler who ignored the people"s needs and ruled harshly. Mencius argued that human beings are born with an innate moral sense which society has corrupted, and that the goal of moral cultivation is to return to one"s innate morality.

Mencius (also spelled Mengzi or Meng-tzu), a book of his conversations with kings of the time, is one of the Four books which form the core of orthodox Confucian thinking. In contrast to the sayings of Confucius which are short and self-contained, Mencius consists of long dialogues with extensive prose. Mencius spoke frequently and highly of the well-field system.
 
 
  

 
   
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