Before Confucius

Studies in the Creation of the Chinese Classics

By Edward L. Shaughnessy

Subjects: Chinese Religion And Philosophy
Series: SUNY series in Chinese Philosophy and Culture
Paperback : 9780791433782, 272 pages, November 1997
Hardcover : 9780791433775, 272 pages, December 1997

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Table of contents

List of Illustrations


1. Marriage, Divorce and Revolution: Reading between the Lines of the Book of Changes

2. "New" Evidence on the Zhou Conquest

3. On the Authenticity of the Bamboo Annals

4. The Duke of Zhou's Retirement in the East and the Beginnings of the Minister-Monarch Debate in Chinese Political Philosophy

5. The Role of Grand Protector Shi in the Consolidation of the Zhou Conquest

6. From Liturgy to Literature: The Ritual Contexts of the Earliest Poems in the Book of Poetry

7. The Composition of "Qian" and "Kun" Hexagrams of the Zhouyi

8. How the Poetess Came to Burn the Royal Chamber

Selected Bibliography of Secondary Works


Examines the original composition of China's oldest books, the Classic of Changes, the Venerated Documents, and the Classic of Poetry, and attempts to restore their original meanings.


Edward L. Shaughnessy examines the original composition of China's oldest books, the Classic of Changes, the Venerated Documents, and the Classic of Poetry. By describing the original contexts in which these books were written and what they meant to their original authors and readers, this work sheds light on both the degree to which Chinese culture already was literate by 1000 BC, and also on how the later classical tradition eventually diverged from these origins.

Edward L. Shaughnessy is Professor of East Asian Languages and Civilizations at the University of Chicago. He coauthored Ritual and Reverence: Chinese Art at the University of Chicago; coedited The Cambridge History of Ancient China; edited New Sources of Early Chinese History: An Introduction to Reading Inscriptions and Manuscripts; and authored Sources of Western Zhou History: Inscribed Bronze Vessels and The I Ching.


"What I like most is the wealth of detail and the meticulous attention to primary evidence, combined with an overall appreciation of the broader cultural and historical context of the problems that have defied solution for centuries.

"The book is filled with original lines of inquiry and conclusions; the articles are of uncommon interest and intellectual challenge. " — John Knoblock, University of Miami

"Shaughnessy has produced outstanding work and played a pioneering role in opening the field of Western Zhou studies. These essays represent the first broad exploration of pre-Classical China as a literary culture that created texts of generic diversity and of intellectual and aesthetic subtlety. His combination of precise scholarship and fresh imagination will stimulate students of history, literature, and religion alike. " — Robert Eno, Indiana University