William Dolby

Classical Chinese Translations and Research

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14. Songs Classic: China's Earliest Poetry Anthology


Book Details

 Titled "Songs Classic: China’s earliest poetry anthology" as translated by William Dolby and pulled together in this final edition in 2005, although the actual work was translated by Bill decades earlier. This work represents the 14th of 33 of the Chinese Culture Series. 

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China’s earliest extant anthology of poems, Songs Classic (Shih ching), dates from about 2500 years ago, with some of its songs from centuries earlier than that. It’s one of the two or three earliest known Chinese books. Confucius may have edited it, and certainly held it in high esteem for its value to fine thinking and general knowledge. For most of China’s history, it’s been a major classic right at the heart of Chinese civilisation and of the Confucian education system, a must for those who held that highest of ambitions of career as a mandarin in government through the examinations system.

This anthology is also the most vivid, exciting and informative means of contact with the most ancient historical China, painting, often with breath-taking immediacy, a rounded picture of life and society in a sometimes familiar, sometime very different China, one more gusty and lusty and more intimately involved with green nature. The songs were selected with free and bold eclecticism, and include both the lightly humorous and the majestically solemn. There are concise, sassy love-songs, lengthy depictions of farming life and seasonal activities, dynasty and national hymns, and songs about feasting, sacrificial services, music, food, battles, flora and fauna, even one, a most harrowing piece, about human sacrifice, and others that tell of a warm and loving human ancestor-worship. Overall, there’s a strong feeling of a confident going-somewhere society.