6 Confucian Classics

Book of Changes * Book of Documents * Book of Poetry * Record of the Rites * Spring and Autumn Annals * Records of Music (missing)

As the son of an officer in the service of his ducal state, Confucius’s life was informed by the middle-class respect for textual learning. Even in his youth (he was born in 551 BC), he yearned for a golden past of decency, harmony and respect, and dressed in eccentric outmoded fashion.

He worked tirelessly to collect the records of the past—indeed, all of these six classics existed in some form before his edition. Four works would later be added to the five Confucian classics that survived (the Records of Music was lost) to create a larger canon of Nine Confucian Classics.

Confucius’s conservative philosophy championed the family unit as the basis for society, reinforced by respect for elders by their children, just as the elders venerated their ancestors and gave the same loving obedience to the Emperor that they expected from their own wives, and which his followers gave to the man they called ‘The Great Sage’ and ‘The First Teacher.’ His golden rule was ‘Do not do to others what you do not want done to yourself.’

It is pleasing to note that, though the families of all the imperial dynasties of China have faded away, the Kongs (the descendants of Confucius) maintain the oldest, largest, and most continuous genealogy in the world, currently mapping out eight-three male generations since the death of the ‘model teacher for ten thousand ages’ in 479 BC.

Excerpted from: Rogerson, Barnaby. Rogerson’s Book of Numbers: The Culture of Numbers–from 1,001 Nights to the Seven Wonders of the World. New York: Picador, 2013.

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