"The Five

The Five "Confucian" Classics Michael Nylan

Publication date:
15 Jul 2014
Yale University Press
416 pages: 235 x 156mm
2 maps, 5 graphs, 1 diagram + 21 halftones
Sales territories:


The Five Classics associated with Confucius formed the core curriculum in the education of Chinese literati throughout most of the imperial period. In this book Michael Nylan offers a sweeping assessment of these ancient texts and shows how their influence spread across East Asia.

Nylan begins by tracing the formation of the Five Classics canon in the pre-Han and Han periods, 206 B.C.–A.D. 220, revising standard views on the topic. She assesses the impact on this canon of the invention of a rival corpus, the Four Books, in the twelfth century. She then analyzes each of the Five Classics, discussing when they were written, how they were transmitted and edited in later periods, and what political, historical, and ethical themes were associated with them through the ages. Finally she deliberates on the intertwined fates of Confucius and the Five Classics over the course of the twentieth century and shows how the contents of the Five Classics are relevant to much newer concerns.

Michael Nylan is Caroline H. Robbins Chair of History at Bryn Mawr College.

“A precise and scholarly account of five texts that are of fundamental importance to China’s intellectual development, this book cuts through age-old misapprehensions with a brilliant clarification of their context, content and significance.”—Michael Loewe

“Interpreted and re-interpreted over the centuries the texts of traditional China’s ‘Bible’ have exercised a profound effect on the intellectual background of men of letters and have been exploited in the interests of dynastic and political motives. In her inestimable guide through the murky waters of the misapprehensions and confusions of 2,000 years, Professor Nylan calls on scholarly opinion past and present to give precisely argued accounts of the context and content of these five fundamentally important texts. The book is essential reading for all those who are concerned with China’s intellectual and literary growth.”—Michael Loewe