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Confucianism and Traditional Chinese beliefs

Yin and Yang in the Valley: Image © Copyright J.B. Hare 1999, All Rights Reserved


The Chinese Classics

These are key texts of Confucianism, the traditional state religion of feudal China. These are some of the few Chinese texts which survived a disasterous book-burning in 213 B.C.E. by the Emperor Ch’in Shih Huang.

Confucian Canon  Five Classics
Sacred Books of China  Traditional Chinese Beliefs

Confucian Canon.

Although three of four of these books are traditionally attributed to Confucius (K’ung-tzu, 551-479 B.C.E.) it has been established that he did not write a single word of them; they were written down by his students after his death. The Analects come closest to an actual exposition of his philosophy. These works were put into their present form by Chu Hsi in the late twelfth century C.E. These four books were required reading in order to pass the civil service exminations, (started in 1315), which were the gateway to employment in the Imperial bureaucracy. The translations are by James Legge, from his ‘Chinese Classics’ series. Works traditionally attributed to Confucius, but of uncertain authorship, have an asterisk following his name.


 The Confucian Canon in Chinese and English
Confucius, tr. James Legge [1893]
Legges’ translation of the works of Confucius in English and Chinese in one file.
To view this file properly your browser must be Unicode enabled.

 Confucian Analects (Lun Yü)
Confucius, tr. James Legge [1893]
The Analects were a collection of sayings written down by Confucius’ students in the period approximately seventy years after his death.

Mencius, tr. James Legge [1895]
The second book in the Confucian canon, the Meng-tzu, is named after its author, also known as Meng K’o or Mencius (371-289 B.C.E.).

 The Great Learning (Ta Hsüeh)
Confucius*, tr. James Legge [1893]
The third book in the Confucian canon. Literally, ‘Education for Adults’. Written between 500 BCE and 200 BCE.

 The Doctrine Of The Mean (Chung Yung)
Confucius*, tr. James Legge [1893]
More mystical than the other Confucian classics, the date of composition of this text is unknown.

The Sacred Books of China

The complete text of the six-part Sacred Books of the East ‘Sacred Books of China’ series:


 Sacred Books of the East, Volume 3; the Shû KingShih King and Hsiâo King.
by James Legge [1879]
The Book of Historical Records, Book of Odes, and Book of Filial Piety

 Sacred Books of the East, Volume 16; the I Ching
by James Legge [1899]
The famous Chinese oracle book, one of the oldest surviving sacred texts.

 Sacred Books of the East, Volume 27; The Lî Kî, Part I
by James Legge [1885]
Book of Rites, part one.

 Sacred Books of the East, Volume 28; The Lî Kî, Part II
by James Legge [1885]
Book of Rites, part two.

 Sacred Books of the East, Volume 39Taoist texts, vol. 1; Lao-tse; Chuang-tzu part I.
by James Legge [1891]

 Sacred Books of the East, Volume 40Taoist texts, vol. 2; Chuang-tzu part II.
by James Legge [1891]

Additional translations

 The Book of Poetry
by James Legge [1876]
The complete Legge translation of the Shih Ching, the Book of Odes

The Book of Odes
by L. Cranmer-Byng [1908]
A selection of ancient Chinese poetry from the Shih Ching.

More Translations from the Chinese
by Arthur Waley [1919]
A collection of translations of ancient Chinese poets by a leading scholar.


The Five Classics

Four of the ‘Five Classics’ of Chinese have survived to our day. These are links into the above entries:

 The Shu Ching
The Book of Historical Records. This text describes events dating back to the third millenium B.C.E., and was written down during the Han dynasty (23-220 C.E.).

 The Shih Ching
The Book of Odes. This contains poems dating back to 1000-500 B.C.E.

 The I Ching
The Book of Changes. Dating to approximately 3000 B.C.E., this famous oracular book is one of the oldest sacred texts in the world.


 The Li Ki Part I
 The Li Ki Part II
The Book of Rites. This text describes Chinese religious practice from the eighth to the fifth century B.C.E.

The fifth classic (which we don’t currently have translation of at this site) is the Spring and Autumn Annals, the Ch’un Ch’iu. There was also a sixth classic, the Classic of Music (the Yüeh Ching), which was lost.

 The Hsiao Ching
The Book of Filial Piety, from SBE 3.

The Book of Filial Duty
by Ivan Chen [1908]
A translation of the Hsiao Ching, a classic text which defines the web of Confucian social relationships.

Other Books

A Feast of Lanterns
by L. Cranmer-Byng [1916]
A collection of classic Chinese poetry.

 The Ethics of Confucius
By Miles Menander Dawson [1915]
A study of the profound ethical message of the Confucian texts.

 Confucianism and Its Rivals
By Herbert Allen Giles [1915]
The rise of Confucianism, and the changing role of religion over five millennia of Chinese history.

 The Shundai Zatsuwa (A Japanese Philosopher)
By Kyuso (Muro Naokiyo), translated by George William Knox [1892]
An account of Japanese Neo-Confucian thought.

 Excerpts from Ssuma Ch’ien,
translated by Herbert J. Allen [1894-5]

Traditional Chinese Beliefs

This section includes texts about traditional Chinese beliefs and other texts about Chinese culture.

 Sacred Places in China
by Carl F. Kupfer [1911]
A tour of Chinese sacred locations, including a visit with the Taoist Pope.

 Myths and Legends of China
by Edward T.C. Werner [1922]
Traditional Chinese mythology, legends, history and lore.


The Art of War
Sun Tzu, tr. by Lionel Giles [1910]
The Chinese classic of military strategy infused with Taoism.

 The Art of War
Sun Tzu, tr. by Lionel Giles [1910]
[text only]

 Feng Shui
by Ernest J. Eitel [1873]
A short monograph about Chinese geomancy.

Chinese Occultism
by Paul Carus [1907]
Elements of the ancient Chinese theory of the universe.

 Chinese Buddhism
by Joseph Edkins [1893
A comprehensive discussion of Chinese Buddhism. Includes material on Confucian, Taoist and traditional Chinese belief systems.