The New Chinese Classics
A Usable Past:
The Construction of Chinese Antiquity
A Taeko Brooks and E Bruce Brooks


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This Shu or Shang-shu ("Ancient Documents") are traditionally supposed to be transcripts of speeches by ancient kings, and thus models for the organization of the state, especially in its legal aspects. The Shu are actually of later date, and constitute an imaginative backward projection of a Confucian counterposition to the actual progress of state modernization in the 05th and 04th centuries. Shu were composed, for use in the arguments of the time, by both the Mician and Confucian groups; in short, by what may be called the moralizing schools of classical thought. With considerable variety, they mostly sought to ground in an imagined antiquity a more humane vision of the approaching Imperial state. This book surveys the pre-Imperial Shu and examines the processes which gave rise to their composition and revision.

The classical canon of the Shu comprises 00 titles, of which 00 (the "Old Script" Shu, so called because they were supposedly ancient manuscripts discovered during the Han dynasty) were shown in the 18th century to be 3rd century forgeries. This book deals only with the 29 Shu associated with the Chin scholar Fu Shvng, whose texts, written in the Chin Dynasty and thus in the Chin reformed "New Script," were the early Han standard.

The Shu, unlike the Shr poetic corpus of the classical period, were not a well-controlled repertoire, and were not systematically performed as it may be presumed was the case with the Shr. But the Shr and Shu became closely associated in the classical period, and from the early 03rd century onward, were used as an emblem for the learned book culture of the Confucians. They claimed to derive from periods not only earlier than the bulk of the Shr poems (including periods before the first known use of writing), and claimed a higher antiquity, and thus a greater political authority, than the Shr. They also provided a medium in which political matters could be more directly addressed. Some at least of the Shu came from the state of Ngwei, the strongest of the Jin successor states, and thus give information about the literary culture and political intentions of that otherwise scantily documented state.

This book is not a translation of the Shu, though several key passages are quoted. It seeks show what compositional agendas entered into the formation of the present repertoire. Notice is taken of the startlingly populistic features of some of the Shu, including a judicial function for the general population. Seen in this light, the Shu constitute something of a counter-repertoire to the much more repressive writings of the statecraft theorists of Chi and Chin.

Extracts from First Historian of China:

Chapter 1: Initial Survey
Chapter 2: Micians and Confucians
Chapter 3: The Ngwei Shu
Chapter 4: The Jou Mu-wang Group
Chapter 5: Populism in the Shu
Chapter 6: Revisions and Extensions
Chapter 7: Fu Shvng
Chapter 8: The "Old Script" Forgeries

This book will change the way the Shu are regarded, and make possible a more nuanced appreciation of their contribution to classical Chinese debates over issues of the state and the people. For a parallel treatment of the Shr corpus, see the volume Rhymes and Reasons, in this series. The Shr and Shu, with examples of interpolation in both collections, are put in historical context in the survey volume The Emergence of China, in the separate Ancient China in Context series.

A TAEKO BROOKS is Research Associate, and E BRUCE BROOKS is Research Professor of Chinese, at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

A Usable Past: The Construction of Chinese Antiquity

Approximately 320 pages
Tentative $49.95 cloth. ISBN 978-936166-24-4
Tentative $26.95 paper. ISBN 978-036166-64-0
Release Date: To Be Announced

When announced, this book may be ordered from a link which will be provided here.


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