The Book of Songs is the earliest collection of poetry in China and one of the “Thirteen Classics” of Confucianism. Originally called the “Poem”, it was also called the “Poem 300” because it contained 305 poems, and it was not until the Han Dynasty that it was honored as the “Poem Classic”. There were many versions of the early Shi Jing, including the anonymous Qi Shi, Lu Shi, Han Shi, and the extant Mao Shi. Compared with the first three poems, the Mao Shih contains six more “sheng poems” with only titles and no content.
The authors of most of the poems in the Book of Psalms are unidentified; their composition dates from the early Western Zhou Dynasty to the middle of the Spring and Autumn Period (11th to 6th centuries BCE). The compilation of the Poetic Edda is relatively late, and is said to have been compiled by Confucius.
The Book of Songs is divided into three parts: “Wind”, “Elegance” and “Ode”. The “Winds” are the songs of the Zhou dynasty, and there are fifteen national winds; the “Ya” is the elegant music of the Zhou people, and is divided into “Xiaoya” and “Daya”; the “Ode” is the musical song for the rituals of the Zhou royal court and noble temples, and is further divided into “Zhou Ode”, “Lu Ode” and “Shang Ode”. During the Spring and Autumn Period, the Book of Songs was also used as a tool for expressing one’s feelings in diplomatic situations or in response to conversations. Confucius summed it up by saying, “The Poem can be used to raise, to view, to group, and to complain.” He also repeatedly admonished his disciples and sons to learn the Poem.
In terms of historical value, the Shi Jing actually reflects the history of the Western Zhou and Spring and Autumn Dynasties in a comprehensive manner, recording all aspects of society at the time – political, economic, military, religious, folklore, literature, art, etc. More importantly, as refined and taught by Confucius, the Shi Jing has always played a role in shaping the spiritual values of the Chinese people as a Confucian classic.