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Distinguish from The Four Books, which are Shi`a Muslim collections of hadiths.


The Four Books of Confucianism ( ) (not to be confused with the Four Great Classical Novels of Chinese literature), are Chinese classic texts that Zhu Xi selected, in the Song dynasty, as an introduction to Confucianism: the Great Learning, the Doctrine of the Mean, the Analects of Confucius, and the Mencius. The Four Books were, in the Mingmarker and Qingmarker Dynasties made the core of the official curriculum for the civil service examinations.

Great Learning

The Great Learning ( ) was originally one chapter in Li Ji (the Records of Rites). It consists of a short main text attributed to Confucius and nine commentary chapters by Zeng Zi, one of Confucius's disciples. Its importance is illustrated by Zeng Zi's foreword that this is the gateway of learning.

It is significant because it expresses many themes of Chinese philosophy and political thinking, and has therefore been extremely influential both in classical and modern Chinese thought. Government, self cultivation and investigation of things are linked. It links together individual action in the form of self-cultivation with higher goals such as ultimate world peace as well as linking together the spiritual and the material. In addition, by defining the path of learning (dao) in governmental and social terms, the Great Learning both links the spiritual with the practical, and creates a vision of dao that is radically different from that presented by Daoism. In particular, the Great Learning sets Confucianism as being this-worldly rather than other-worldly. Finally, the Great Learning also creates a conservative political discourse. Instead of basing its authority on an external deity, the Great Learning bases its authority on the practices of ancient kings.

Doctrine of the Mean

The Doctrine of the Mean ( ) was also one chapter in Li Ji. By tradition, the Doctrine of the Mean is attributed to Confucius' grandson Zisi.

The purpose of this small, 33-chapter book is to demonstrate the usefulness of a golden way to gain perfect virtue. It focuses on the "way" ( ) that is prescribed by a heavenly mandate not only to the ruler but to everyone. To follow these heavenly instructions by learning and teaching will automatically result in a Confucian virtue. Because Heaven has laid down what is the way to perfect virtue, it is not that difficult to follow the steps of the holy rulers of old if one only knows what is the right way.

Analects of Confucius

The Analects of Confucius ( ) is a record of speeches by Confucius and his disciples, as well as the discussions they held.

Since Confucius's time, the Analects has heavily influenced the philosophy and moral values of Chinamarker and later other East Asian countries as well. The imperial examination, started in the Jin Dynasty and eventually abolished with the founding of the Republic of Chinamarker, emphasized Confucian studies and expected candidates to quote and apply the words of Confucius in their essays.

A particular point of interest lies in Chapter X of the book, which contains detailed descriptions of Confucius's behaviors in various daily activities. This has been pointed at by Voltaire and Ezra Pound to show how much Confucius was a mere human. Simon Leys, who recently translated Analects into French and English, said that the book may well have been the first in human history to describe the life of a man.

Mencius

The Mencius ( ) is a collections of conversations of the scholar Mencius with kings of his time. In contrast to the sayings of Confucius, which are short and self-contained, the Mencius consists of long dialogues with extensive prose.

Mencius argued that human beings are born with an innate moral sense, but that society corrupted it through lack of a positive cultivating influence. Therefore, the goal of moral cultivation is to return to the people's innate morality. Consistent with his belief in the individual, Mencius contended that it was permissible for people to overthrow or kill a ruler who ignored the public's needs or ruled harshly.

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