Sunday, October 31, 2010

"The Nature and History of the Shu"

"The Nature and History of the Shu"
from The Shu King
translated by James Legge

The Shu consists of 58 chapters (including eight subsections), of which 33 are generally considered authentic works from the Warring States or earlier. The first five chapters of the book purport to preserve the sayings and recall the deeds of such illustrious emperors as Yao and Shun, who reigned during legendary age; the next 4 are devoted to the Xia Dynasty, the historicity of which has not been definitively established; the next 17 chapters deal with the Shang Dynasty and its collapse. 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 until the reign of Duke Mu of Qin.

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, in Hubei, 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 (шке) in the Documents of Zhou closely resemble inscriptions found on Western Zhou bronzes and are generally regarded as authentic products of that period (11th c. - 770 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, Zhao Weiguo, an alumnus of Tsinghua University donated a collection of 2100 bamboo slips to his alma mater after obtaining them through auction in Hong Kong. The previous owner and the slips' whereabouts have not been revealed. In the collection, the Shangshu is one of the historical books. According to expert Li Xueqin, the collection dates to the Warring States Period from Hubei, the homeland of Chu.

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