Shi Jing: the Book of Poetry

An introduction to the most ancient Chinese Poetry Book.

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Abstract

An introduction of the most ancient collection of poems. Shi Jing contains 305 pieces of poems, and could be divided into four parts, and classified into three categories: Feng, Ya and Song. In Shi Jing, the writers use three methods, which are Fu, Bi and Xing.

Book of Poetry, or Shi Jing in Chinese, comes next after the Shû Jing in point of antiquity. The character  Shi was made on a principle of phonetical formation, The significative portion of it is the character for ‘speech,’ but the other half is merely phonetical, enabling us to approximate to its pronunciation. Its most common significations are ‘poetry,’ ‘a poem, or poems,’ and ‘a collection of poems.’ This last is its meaning when we speak of the Shi or the Shi Jing.
The Shi Jing contains 305 pieces and the titles of six others. The most recent of them are assigned to the reign of king Wu Ting of the Zhou dynasty, B.C. 606 to 586, and the oldest, forming a group of only five, to the period of the Shang (or Yin) dynasty which preceded that of Zhou, B.C. 1766 to 1123. Of those five, the latest piece should be referred to the twelfth century B.C., and the most ancient may have been composed five centuries earlier.

Feng, Ya and Song

The whole collection is divided into four parts, called the Guo Feng, the Xiao Ya, the Da Ya, and the Song, and could be classified into three categories: Feng, Ya and Song, which, generally speakin, come from different source and used in different circumstances. 
The Gou Feng, in fifteen Books, contains 160 pieces, nearly all of them short, and descriptive of manners and events in several of the feudal states of Zhou. Most of them are ballads, and folk songs. 
The Ya contains both the Minor and Major Odes, that is Xiao Ya and Da Ya. The Xiao Ya, or Lesser Ya, in eight Books, contains seventy-four pieces and the titles of six others, sung at gatherings of the feudal princes, and their appearances at the royal court. 
The Da Ya or Greater Ya, in three Books, contains thirty-one pieces, sung on great occasions at the royal court and in the presence of the king.
The Song, also in three Books, contains forty pieces, thirty-one of which belong to the sacrificial services at the royal court or in the Ancestral Temple of Zhou; four, to those of the marquises of Lu; and five to the corresponding sacrifices in their Ancestral Temple of the kings of Shang. Those are hymns or odes that were set to music.

Fu, Bi and Xing

In the Book of Poetry, three methods are used for writing the pom, namely, Fu, the Bi, and Xing. The Fu may be described as narrative method, which the writers tell what they have to say in a simple, straightforward manner, without any hidden meaning reserved in the mind. 
The Bi is metaphorical method, in which the poet uses the metaphor and other figures of speech to convey a different meaning from what it expresses. 
The Hsing has been called allusive method, which often commence with a couple of lines in a stanza, then poet proceeds to his proper subject. Those lines are descriptive, for the most part, of some object or circumstance in the animal or vegetable world.  Generally, the allusive lines convey a meaning harmonizing with those which follow.
[1] James Legge, The Nature and History of the Shû

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