The Development of the Confucian Canon

Han dynasty 136 B.C.E.:
Five Classics:

A sixth, the Classic of Music was presumably lost during the burning of books of 213 B.C.E.*

1. Zhou Yi or Yijing: Book of Changes

2. Shang shu or Shujing: Books of Documents (History)

3. Shijing: Book of Odes

Later Han dynasty: Seven Classics:

4. Liji: Book of Ritual

6. Lunyu (Analects) of Confucius

5. Chunqiu: Spring and Autumn Annals

7. Xiaojing: Classic of Filial Piety

Tang Dynasty: 625 C.E.:
Nine Classics:


5a: Zuo zhuan commentary of the Chun Qiu

6: Gongyang zhuan commentary of the Chunqiu

Tang dynasty: 839 C.E.: Twelve Classics:

7: Guliang Zhuan commentary of the Chun Qiu

10. Lunyu (Analects) of Confucius

8: Yili: Ceremonies and Rites

11. Xiaojing: Classic of Filial Piety

9. Zhouli: Rites of Zhou

12. Erya: Approaching Elegance (dictionary)

Song Dynasty: 1190 C.E.:
Thirteen Classics:


10. Lunyu (Analects) of Confucius

11. Xiaojing: Classic of Filial Piety

12. Erya: Approaching Elegance (dictionary)

13. Mencius

Zhu Xi's 'Four Masters': 1189 C.E.

"The 'Four Masters' (Sizi) was created as a classical catechism for the students in Zhu Xi's private academy, with instruction in these works intended as a propaedeutic to the proper study of the 5 Classics. Roughly a century after Zhu Xi's death, the 'Four Masters' had become the Four Books (Sishu) and was made the required syllabus for scholars training for the provincial and national examinations to enter the Chinese civil service. The Four Books remained a textual centerpiece of the examination system until 1905." (Jensen)

1. Analects of Confucius

2. Mencius

3. Zhongyong: Doctrine of the Mean

4. Daxue: Great Learning

  extracted from the Liji

(References: Lionel Jensen: Manufacturing Confucianism; Xinzhong Yao: An Introduction to Confucianism).

*The original 6 Classics mentioned in chapter 33 of the Zhuangzi:
As to that which is recorded in the Book of Odes and Book of Documents, the Ritual and the Music, there are many gentlemen of Tsou and Lu, scholars of sash and official rank, who have an understanding of it. The Book of Odes describes the will; the Book of Documents describes events; the Ritual speaks of conduct; the Music speaks of harmony; the Book of Changes describes the yin and yang; the Spring and Autumn Annals describes titles and functions." (Watson)