Four Books and Five Classics

books of Confucianism

The Four Books and Five Classics (Chinese: 四書五經; pinyin: Sìshū Wǔjīng) are books about Confucianism written in China before 300 BCE. The Four Books and Five Classics are the most important books written about Chinese Confucianism.

Four Books change

The Four Books (四書; Sìshū) are Chinese classic texts that explain the important parts of Confucianism. During the Song dynasty, Zhu Xi chose them because he thought they would help people learn more about Confucianism. In the Ming and Qing dynasties, people who wanted to take the civil service examination had to read them. The Four Books are:

Great Learning

This book was originally one chapter in the Book of Rites. The main part of the book is a short section which people believe Confucius wrote. There are also nine chapters of commentary written by Zengzi, who was one of Confucius's students. Zengzi wrote that this book is the "gateway to learning."

Doctrine of the Mean

This book was originally another chapter in the Book of Rites. The purpose of this small, 33-chapter book is to explain the way that people should live by following certain Confucian rules. It focuses on the Way (道) that everyone should follow, not just leaders. If people follow these instructions by learning and teaching, it will automatically result in a Confucian virtue. Because the way to perfect virtue has been explained, it is not difficult to follow.


This book is a collection of speeches that Confucius and his students gave. This book also contains discussions they had with each other. Analetics had a big impact on philosophy and morals in China, as well as other countries in East Asia.


This book is a collection of conversations that the scholar Mencius had with different kings.

Five Classics change

The Five Classics (五經; Wǔjīng) are five Chinese books that were written before the Qin dynasty. They are part of the traditional Confucian canon. Several of the books were already well-known by the Warring States period. Mencius, the main Confucian scholar at that time, thought that the Spring and Autumn Annals were just as important as the very well-known books written in earlier periods. During the Western Han dynasty, which used Confucianism as its official ideology, these books became part of the state-sponsored curriculum. During this time period, people started to think of these books as belonging together in a set, and to call them the "Five Classics". The Five Classics are:

Classic of Poetry

This book is a collection of 305 poems. It has 160 folk songs, 105 festal songs which were sung during court ceremonies, and 40 hymns and eulogies which were sung during sacrifices to heroes and the spirits of people's ancestors.

Book of Documents

This book is a collection of documents and speeches. People believe they were written by rulers and officials during and before the early Zhou period. It might be the oldest Chinese narrative, and could be as old as the 6th century BC. It has early examples of Chinese prose.

Book of Rites

This book explains how ancient rites and ceremonies were performed. The version of this book that people are currently studying was edited by scholars in the 3rd century BC, and is not the original. The original book may have been edited by Confucius himself.

I Ching (Book of Changes)

This book explains a divination system to predict the future. It is similar to Western geomancy and African Ifá. In Western cultures and East Asia, people still use it to predict the future.

Spring and Autumn Annals

This book is a historical record of the State of Lu from 722–481 BC. The State of Lu is where Confucius was from.

The Classic of Music is sometimes considered the sixth classic but was lost.