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A note from the digitizer

This is a text file that can be read on any computer with any Chinese-capable word processor or text editor. If you have the Big 5 character set for Chinese installed, choosing that set from your font menu will display the Chinese characters properly. Even if Chinese is not installed on your computer, the English will be displayed properly, even though the Chinese will appear as garbage characters.

This digitized version preserves the original page breaks. The text of each page is followed by its footnotes. Note reference numbers in the text are enclosed in square brackets. In this text version, all diacriticals have been omitted.

In a few places I have substituted the character forms available in the Big 5 character set for rare or (what are now considered) nonstandard forms used by Legge. Characters not included in the Big 5 character set in any form are described by their constituent elements.

This file contains only the Prolegomena; the other parts of Legge's work are in separate files.


with a translation, critical and exegetical notes, prolegomena, and copious indexes


James Legge






1. The Books now recognised as of highest authority in China are comprehended under the denominations of 'The five Ching [1]' and 'The four Shu [2].' The term Ching is of textile origin, and signifies the warp threads of a web, and their adjustment. An easy application of it is to denote what is regular and insures regularity. As used with reference to books, it indicates their authority on the subjects of which they treat. 'The five Ching' are the five canonical Works, containing the truth upon the highest subjects from the sages of China, and which should be received as law by all generations. The term Shu simply means Writings or Books, = the Pencil Speaking; it may be used of a single character, or of books containing thousands of characters. 2. 'The five Ching' are: the Yi [3], or, as it has been styled, 'The Book of Changes;' the Shu [4], or 'The Book of History;' the Shih [5], or 'The Book of Poetry;' the Li Chi [6], or 'Record of Rites;' and the Ch'un Ch'iu [7], or 'Spring and Autumn,' a chronicle of events, extending from 722 to 481 B.C. The authorship, or compilation rather, of all these Works is loosely attributed to Confucius. But much of the Li Chi is from later hands. Of the Yi, the Shu, and the Shih, it is only in the first that we find additions attributed to the philosopher himself, in the shape of appendixes. The Ch'un Ch'iu is the only one of the five Ching which can, with an approximation to correctness, be described as of his own 'making.'

1 五經. 2 四書. 3 易經. 4 書經. 5 詩經. 6 禮記. 7 春秋.

'The Four Books' is an abbreviation for 'The Books of the Four Philosophers [1].' The first is the Lun Yu [2], or 'Digested Conversations,' being occupied chiefly with the sayings of Confucius. He is the philosopher to whom it belongs. It appears in this Work under the title of 'Confucian Analects.' The second is the Ta Hsio [3], or 'Great Learning,' now commonly attributed to Tsang Shan [4], a disciple of the sage. He is he philosopher of it. The third is the Chung Yung [5], or 'Doctrine of the Mean,' as the name has often been translated, though it would be better to render it, as in the present edition, by 'The State of Equilibrium and Harmony.' Its composition is ascribed to K'ung Chi [6], the grandson of Confucius. He is the philosopher of it. The fourth contains the works of Mencius. 3. This arrangement of the Classical Books, which is commonly supposed to have originated with the scholars of the Sung dynasty, is defective. The Great Learning and the Doctrine of the Mean are both found in the Record of Rites, being the thirty- ninth and twenty-eighth Books respectively of that compilation, according to the best arrangement of it. 4. The oldest enumerations of the Classical Books specify only the five Ching. The Yo Chi, or 'Record of Music [7],' the remains of which now form one of the Books in the Li Chi, was sometimes added to those, making with them the six Ching. A division was also made into nine Ching, consisting of the Yi, the Shih, the Shu, the Chau Li [8], or 'Ritual of Chau,' the I Li [9], or certain 'Ceremonial Usages,' the Li Chi, and the annotated editions of the Ch'un Ch'iu [10], by Tso Ch'iu-ming [11], Kung-yang Kao [12], and Ku-liang Ch'ih [13]. In the famous compilation of the Classical Books, undertaken by order of T'ai-tsung, the second emperor of the T'ang dynasty (A.D. 627-649), and which appeared in the reign of his successor, there are thirteen Ching, viz. the Yi, the Shih, the Shu, the three editions of the Ch'un Ch'iu, the Li Chi, the Chau Li, the I Li, the Confucian Analects, the R Ya [14], a sort of ancient dictionary, the Hsiao Ching [15], or 'Classic of Filial Piety,' and the works of Mencius. 5. A distinction, however, was made among the Works thus

1 四子之書. 2 論語. 3 大學. 4 曾參. 5 中庸. 6 孔伋. 7 樂記. 8 周禮. 9 儀禮. 10 春秋三傳 11 左丘明. 12 公羊高. 13 穀梁赤. 14 爾雅. 15 孝經.

comprehended under the same common name; and Mencius, the Lun Yu, the Ta Hsio, the Chung Yung, and the Hsiao Ching were spoken of as the Hsiao Ching, or 'Smaller Classics.' It thus appears, contrary to the ordinary opinion on the subject, that the Ta Hsio and Chung Yung had been published as separate treatises before the Sung dynasty, and that Four Books, as distinguished from the greater Ching, had also previously found a place in the literature of China [1].


1. This subject will be discussed in connexion with each separate Work, and it is only designed here to exhibit generally the evidence on which the Chinese Classics claim to be received as genuine productions of the time to which they are referred. 2. In the memoirs of the Former Han dynasty (B.C. 202-A.D. 24), we have one chapter which we may call the History of Literature [2]. It commences thus: 'After the death of Confucius [3], there was an end of his exquisite words; and when his seventy disciples had passed away, violence began to be done to their meaning. It came about that there were five different editions of the Ch'un Ch'iu, four of the Shih, and several of the Yi. Amid the disorder and collisions of the warring States (B.C. 481-220), truth and falsehood were still more in a state of warfare, and a sad confusion marked the words of the various scholars. Then came the calamity inflicted under the Ch'in dynasty (B.C. 220- 205), when the literary monuments were destroyed by fire, in order to keep the people in ignorance. But, by and by, there arose the Han dynasty, which set itself to remedy the evil wrought by the Ch'in. Great efforts were made to collect slips and tablets [4], and the way was thrown wide open for the bringing in of Books. In the time of the emperor Hsiao-wu [5] (B.C. 140-85), portions of Books being wanting and tablets lost, so that ceremonies and music were

1 For the statements in the two last paragraphs, see 西河合集, 大學 證文, 卷一. 2 前漢書, 本志, 第十卷, 藝文志. 3 仲尼. 4 篇籍, slips and tablets of bamboo, which supplied in those days the place of paper. 5 世界孝武皇帝.

suffering great damage, he was moved to sorrow and said, "I am very sad for this." He therefore formed the plan of Repositories, in which the Books might be stored, and appointed officers to transcribe Books on an extensive scale, embracing the works of the various scholars, that they might all be placed in the Repositories. The emperor Ch'ang (B.C. 32-5), finding that a portion of the Books still continued dispersed or missing, commissioned Ch'an Nang, the Superintendent of Guests [2], to


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