Shi Jing (Book of Odes)


Chinese literature begins with ShiJing (Book of Odes), an anthology of songs, poems, and hymns. It consists of 311 poems (6 without text) dating from the Zhou Dynasty (1027-771 BC) to the Spring & Autumn Period (770-476 BC). Geographically, these poems were collected from the area which is now central China and the lower HuangHe (Yellow River) Valley of north China where Chinese civilization began and flourished. The area covers what are today’s ShanXi, Shan3Xi, ShanDong , HeNan, and HuBei provinces.

The collection is divided into four main sections:

  1. GuoFeng (Lessons from the States): poems or folk songs from ordinary people.
  2. XiaoYa (Minor Odes of the Kingdom): poems or songs concerning life of the nobility.
  3. DaYa (Greater Odes of the Kingdom): poems or songs of praise of the rulers and their life.
  4. Song (Odes of the Temple and the Altar): hymns written for religious ceremonies of the court.
In spite of the many interpretations and commentaries written generations later, ShiJing’s influence on Chinese literature is overwhelming and undeniable by any one at any time. ShiJing not only lays the foundation for the formation of style and rules for Chinese classical poems, it is also frequently quoted in other canonical Chinese texts and has always been referred to as moral truth and lessons. It is no coincidence that the number of poems selected by Sun Zhu in 1763 for his popular 300 Tang Poems was an exact match with that of the ShiJing. This is just an example of how influential ShiJing is on Chinese literature even in the most trivial way.

Poems collected in the anthology touch and reflect on all aspects of Chinese life at the time. Some describe emotion, feelings and situations of people from different classes of society, some report events and matters of state, some depict the harmonious rule of nature. There is record of about one hundred kinds of plants and trees and ninety kinds of animals and insects in ShiJing. Different kinds of musical instruments, metals, arms and munitions of war, buildings, clothing, food, etc. are frequently mentioned. Given the genuine and diverse nature of the poems collected in this anthology, in addition to its literary significance, ShiJing is a very valuable document for those who wish to seek insight into Chinese civilization and beyond.

ShiJing has been translated into English by a number of prominent scholars since 18th century. The translation we use here is by James Legge (1814-1897) and have substituted his transliteration of Chinese names with PinYin.

** This introduction is written by C. Ming Lung of Chiense Text Initiative. It is intended to providing some basic information on ShiJing to users, especially those who are new to this anthology.

A short bibliographies is provided here:

  1. Wilt Idema and Lloyd Haft. A Guide to Chinese Literature, Ann Arbor: UMichigan Center for Chinese Studies, 1997
  2. Victor H. Mair, editor. The Columbia Anthology of Traditional Chinese Literature, New York: Columbia University, 1994
  3. W. McNaughton. The Book of Songs, New York: Twain, 1971


  1. Arthur Waley. The Book of Songs: Translated by Arthur Waley, Edited with Additional Translations by Joseph R. Allen, New York: Grove Press, 1996
  2. ShiJing: Translated by YunZhong Xu, Edited by ShengZhang Jiang, Hunan, China: Hu Nan Chu Ban She, 1993
  3. William Jennings. The Shi King: The Old "Poetry Classic" of the Chinese, New York: Paragon Book, 1969
  4. Ezra Pound. The Classic Anthology Defined by Confucius, Cambridge: Harvard U Press, 1954
  5. Bernhard Karlgren. The Book of Odes, Stockholm: The Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities, 1950

Notes on Texts

Chinese text on this site is based on Shi Ji Zhuan by Zhu Xi. When a character is not found in the word processor we substituted with its synonym (TongYiZi or YiTiZi) after consulted CiHai and CiYuan. In very few cases when no character is available at all, the components of the character are displayed in a note at the end of the poem.

We did not place additional space between characters in the original text. Therefore, in order to make the line-wrap works for Chinese when viewing with Chinese software you still need to set fonts to Big5 on your Netscape or Microsoft Explorer browser.

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