The Warring States period was a time of inner turmoil and widespread chaos in China, in which independent rebel warlords would seize land and power in the absence of a centralized bureaucracy. There existed a desperate need for a solution to effectively stop the interregional conflicts and establish order in China, and in pursuit of that goal arose the Hundred Schools of Thought. The three primary schools that were conceived during this ideological flourishing were Confucianism, Taoism, and Legalism. The principal tenets of Confucianism were illustrated in the Four Books (Great Learning, Doctrine of the Mean, Analects, and Mencius), classic texts that were selected by the scholar Zhuxi in the Song dynasty to provide a summary of Confucianism. Completing the traditional Confucian canon were the Five Classics (Classic of Poetry or Book of Songs, Book of Documents, Book of Rites, I Ching or Book of Changes, and Spring and Autumn Annals), which during the Former Han Dynasty comprised the state-sponsored curriculum.
The Book of Songs is a collection of 305 poems, commonly said to have been selectively chosen and edited by Confucius out of an assortment of over 3,000. Through its unique diversity of content, its novel stylistic structure, and its extraordinarily simple yet surprisingly powerful themes, the Book of Songs captivated the interest of Chinese scholars and permanently changed the perception and expression of Chinese poetry, and later, through cultural interaction with the West, became one of the world’s golden standards of classic literature.
According to tradition, when selecting poems to include in the classic, Confucius only chose “songs that best exemplified his ideas about statecraft and harmonious human relations”. The Book of Songs can be subdivided into three sections: one hundred and sixty “Airs of the States” (Guó fēng), one hundred and five Court Hymns (seventy-five “Lesser Court Hymns”-Xiǎo yǎ and thirty-one “Major Court Hymns”-Dà yǎ), and forty eulogies (thirty-one “Eulogies of Zhou”-Zhōu sòng, four “Eulogies of Lu”-Lǔ sòng, and five “Eulogies of Shang”-Shāng song).
The “Airs of the States” are essentially folk songs, which “center on daily activities” such as “farming, hunting, gathering food plants, building, courting, feasting, performing sacrifices” and “going off to war”. But they are not simply chronicling the lives of Chinese commoners; they are viewing Chinese society through the lens of the quality of life and socioeconomic condition of peasants. Therefore, in ancient times they are believed to have been “read as social commentaries and protests at the state of Chinese society”. In addition, the royal musicians in the imperial court would use these poems to assess the both the welfare of the public and the behavior of regional officials, and then report their conclusions to their political superiors, who would then decide on courses of actions to deal with these various issues, whether it be to deal with an...