During both the Shang and Zhou dynasties (1556-1046 BCE; 1046-256 BCE) families, both noble and common, worshipped and sacrificed to their ancestors. These sacrifices were of the utmost importance and any neglect would bring about misfortune and calamity, since ancestors had the power to aid or punish their descendants.
The selections that follow are from the Books of Songs (the Shih Jing) the oldest collection of Chinese poems, dating to the 11th century BCE. The Book of Songs was one of the five definitive Confucian classics that formed the backbone of Chinese culture and education for centuries.
From The Book of Songs: The Ancient Chinese Classic of Poetry, Arthur Waley, trans. (London: Allen/Unwin, 1937).
Shun was thought to be one of the three “Sage Kings” who ruled China between 2852 and 2205 BCE, after the reign of the “Yellow Emperor.” The achievements of these kings are recorded—though the exact dating of each strand of material is controversial—in the Shujing, or Book of History. The material in the compilation purportedly dates from 2357 to 631 BCE, but, regardless of its precise chronology, the “Canon” attributed to Shun reveals increased sophistication in determining the role and proper behavior of a leader.
James Legge, trans., The Sacred Books of China: The Texts of Confucianism, vol. 3 (Oxford: Clarendon, 1879), 38, 40–41, and 44–45.
Over 300 poems of various lengths were anthologized and transmitted by Confucius in the early fifth century BCE. Philosophers of the Confucian school cherished the Odes and cited them frequently, and they have continued to entrance readers with their naturalistic imagery and personal voices. Only two samples are given here, but this rich tradition of poetry should be sampled at length.
The Book of Songs, transl. Arthur Waley, edited with additional translations by Joseph R. Allen (New York: Grove, 1996), 27 and 65.
Iron Sword with Jade Handle, Earliest Cast-Iron Object (Western Zhoe), from Henan Museum, Guo State, Sanmenxia City
When this sword was discovered in 1990, it challenged conventional wisdom about when and under what circumstances Chinese people made the first cast-iron object. The dating of the object to the Western Zhou period pushed back the earliest date of this kind of manufacture by over 200 years. The sword consists of an iron blade, a bronze handle core, and a jade handle. Embedded turquoises were also found at the joint of the blade and the handle.
Tim Hulsen - OurTravelPics.com
“Laozi” is a title meaning “Old Child;” little is known about the historical reality that lay behind that accolade. It is perhaps fitting that Laozi is a mysterious figure, as the dao that he spoke of was equally enigmatic. If there was a Laozi, he probably lived in the early seventh century B.C.E., which would make him a near contemporary of Confucius. That is also appropriate, as both schools of thought deal with similar concepts, such as the dao, although they have vastly different understandings of what those terms mean. For Laozi and the Daoists, the dao was a universal force that transcends all. It is essentially unknowable. For Confucius, the dao was a recognizable and knowable force that governed the world and led humanity to strive for moral behavior. The following verses are taken from the Daode Jing, the classic of Daoist thought.
Lao Tzu. “The Unvarying Way.” Tao Te Ching, trans. by Arthur Waley, 1934