The Shijing is an ancient collection of 305 poems that makes up the basis for ancient Chinese poetry. The poems deal with four types of different situations, namely the eulogy, formal matters, rites, and dance. The more elegant poetry was used for courtly affairs, but there was also poetry for folk songs, that were meant to incite emotion in the common man as well.
These poems were originally set to a musical score. The songs and poetry were originally meant to praise the ancient Zhou kings' and they were performed at temples and in courts. Later they were used to express personal emotions of I love, lust, sadness and other emotions to appeal to the neglected voices of the people. Because the songs were so influential in the courts, Confucius said that if you didn't know the songs, then you didn't know how to speak.
The poems usually consisted of a Xing, which is a repeated phrase throughout the poem that helped to give the poem a theme or tone. The poems also consisted of stock phrases that made up the building blocks of the poem, much like homers epics. Scholars have found that there are many similarities between epic Greek and Chinese poetry.
Many critics believe these poems connected man and nature, and that they also held ethical and moral values within them. Others say they were associated with rituals, while yet others think they were put only with music. Since the musical accompaniment of the poems was lost overtime, many scholars studied the morals and allegories within the Shijing. Scholars have noticed stock phrases in the Shijing, which are repeated phrases over and over throught. These phrases were originally thought to be plagiarism, but later scholars such as Lord Parry understood that they are essential parts of poetry, which include formulas, formula systems, and themes. Because of this, we are led to believe that these poems were originally transmitted orally before they were transcribed, because these formulas allow for more easy memorization and delivery for the speaker. Also because of the poems were written in meter, we can assume that they were probably set to music. Overall, the Shijing is a impactful and insightful part of Chinese culture, that no doubt helped to shape and add flavor to ancient and modern China.
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