Shijing (詩經) with collected commentary and exegesis

also known as The Odes, The Classic of Poetry, The Book of Songs

This website's aim is to present some of the traditional interpretative frameworks by which the Odes anthology has been read since the ode tradition has been textually fixed in the Han dynasty by bringing together layers of commentary and exegesis within a visually accessible format.


Many e-texts fail to take advantage of formatting as a vehicle for delivering content. Effective presentation conveys with visual immediacy that which otherwise could only be apprehended by the reader with extended effort; formatting can truly bring out a poem's rhetorical features such as the its rhyme structure, its use of verbatim and incremental repetition, the syntax of its overall design as well as the trajectory of its narrative.

In addition to these formatting issues, many web versions—particularly those on Chinese text databases—require extra work to simply navigate the anthology, not to mention just locating a particular piece. In this respect, they sorely lack the friendly flippability that we take for granted when turning the pages of a book in our hands. Ideally, the anthology should be eminently browsable and accommodate the kind of carefree and capricious reader who doesn't knows what he is looking for until he comes across it. To this end, this website displays the anthology in its entirety on a single web page so that the reader can choose as he sees fit, so that he or she can, as it were, 左右采之, "pluck them from left and right."


Each ode is referenced by its unique Mao number, which is the standard Anglo-European convention for citing the 305 extant odes. This is useful for students who work with English-language secondary materials on the Odes. Knowing the Mao number greatly facilitates finding a particular ode, whether for reading or reference. What's more, it enables the student to easily locate English translations (such as Arthur Waley's complete translation The Book of Songs, and Stephen Owen's selected translations in An Anthology of Chinese Literature). To view all the ode titles, click the "Index"link in the navigation bar on the left.

Pressing 'back' on your browser will retrace the moves you made throughout this website, which is rendered in frames. Despite my personal distaste for frames and its attendant problems, I have yet to find an html coding solution with which to position a fixed navigation bar for an exceedingly long page of material. Learning Javascript, I suppose, is an option. As is learning classical Greek and Aramaic. That's for another life; for now, it's another day in the life.

stanza breaks

I have formatted the odes according to the Mao tradition (毛傳), canonized during the Western Han. (These stanzas usually break according to changes in rhyme, which also often suggest changes in theme or narrative progession). Furthermore, I have parsed the stanzas into smaller units, taking as default the couplet as the most basic semantic and rhetorical unit. However, there are cases when the Mao commentary indicates that it takes a group of three or four lines as a discrete set, in which case I follow this parsing.

I take as meaningful when the Mao commentary appears interlinearly in the received text; it does not annotate individual words or lines but actually a group of lines. There does seem to be a rationale to groupings of three or more lines. For example, when Mao identifies a xing , it is not referring to individual images or lines but a precise set of lines. Thus, I have retained for the most part its intra-stanza parsing, which are signalled by the appearance of the interlinear comments. However, it must be said that the Mao often leaves long sections or entire stanzas without comment. In these cases, I assume it is because of the passage's not meriting comment according to Mao and not because it takes the extended passage a discrete group; in these cases, I parse the passages into couplets.

In several cases, Zhu Xi's 朱熹 stanza divisions depart from the older parsings in the Mao tradition. For example, for #242 靈臺, Zhu Xi parses the opening twelve lines into two stanzas (left), while Mao has three (right). Characters that rhyme within a stanza are marked in green.

  經始靈臺,經之營之。 經始靈臺,經之之。
  庶民攻之,不日成之。 庶民攻之,不日之。A rhyme
  王在靈囿,麀鹿攸伏。 王在靈。麀鹿攸B rhyme
  王在靈沼,於牣魚躍。 麀鹿濯濯,白鳥翯翯
    王在靈沼,於牣魚C rhyme

The rationale for Zhu Xi's parsing here is probably guided by a semantic consideration: the twice mentioned "measuring out and planning (經)" in couplets one and three seems to refer to the construction of the terrace; meanwhile, the following three stanzas describe the park (囿). However, the older parsing by Mao retains the integrity of a rhyme scheme in which lines are grouped into a stanza because they belong to the same rhyme category. Here, the rhyme changes after every four lines, not after every six. Based on Wang Li's 王力 reconstruction of Old Chinese phonology and rhyme categories, Mao's first stanza rhymes 營 jiueng and 成 zjieng. Mao's second stanza rhymes: 亟 kiək, 來 lə, 囿 hiuək & 伏 biuək. (Even though and -ək are not identical sound finals, the vowels are close enough to be "通韻" or interchangeable rhymes.) The third stanza rhymes: 濯 deôk, 翯 heôk & 躍 jiôk. In cases such as these, I have kept the older stanza divisions, not only because they reflect the original rhyme scheme, but also because how lines are grouped actually contextualizes how particular lines are read. The third couplet about the arrival of the people (經始勿亟, 庶民子來), when grouped together with following couplet about the king in the park, recalls the ideal of "shared pleasure 同樂" in which the ruler distributes and shares his resources with his subjects. It is not simply that the people come to build projects; they too partake in the ruler's bounty. Cf., Mencius 1B2 about King Wen's sharing of the game and firewood in his park.

End-rhymes do not fall on particles and nonce words (i.e. 之, 兮, 矣, 也, 止, 思, 忌, 只, 焉, 哉, 與, 乎, 我, 汝) but on the word that precedes it.

exegetical texts

I have also included exegetical texts to the odes. Unfortunately, I have yet to write a general introduction to these texts, so their use will require that the reader have some familiarity with the history of interpretation surrounding the anthology. I have included the Siku zongmu 四庫總目 entries to the titles of the commentaries on this website. The two commentaries I have included so far are set in their own colors:

In blue are the prefaces from the Mao commentary;
In red is the commentary by Zhu Xi.

The Mao prefaces are from 毛公《毛詩故訓傳》. These are also called the "Minor Prefaces" (小序), whose pronouncements before each ode frame their moral and historical significance. The so-called "Great Preface" (大序), which frames the significance of the odes anthology as a whole, has two versions. For the Southern Song classicist Zhu Xi, the "Great Preface" refers to a portion of the minor preface to Ode #1, Guanju 關雎. This shorter version is perhaps better known than the longer, traditional version that equates that Great Preface with the entire Minor preface to Ode #1.

I have separated each Minor Preface into two parts, into the so-called 'upper preface' and 'lower preface.' In terms of formatting, the first line (usually very short) in blue is the upper preface; followed by the lower preface in the subsequent line.

The upper prefaces are considered an earlier stratum than the lower prefaces. They follow a predictable formula. Each declares the significance of the ode, usually summing up its meaning with one word. These single-word synopses frame the ode's significance either in ethical terms or by linking the ode to a historical figure, or both. The ethics-oriented prefaces typically cite the quality of character and perfected humanity exemplified by the ode, such as its moral charisma and virtue (de ); its transformative and civilizing effect on culture and customs (hua ); embodying of proper ritual (li ); its deep longing for and thinking back on (si ) the moral exemplars of the past; and so on. Prefaces that link odes to historical figures often explain the ode as a response to the government and comportment of a particular ruler, either praising him (mei ) or blaming him (ci ). The praise/blame formula comprises more than half of the upper prefaces. Though formulaically different, its underlying vision is consistent with the moral vision operative in the explicitly ethics-oriented pronouncements.

The lower prefaces are essentially responses to the pronouncements of the upper prefaces. They function as elaborations of the terse pronouncements of the upper prefaces, attempting to expand, clarify and stabilize their meaning, as well as using the upper preface as a prompt to insert new or related material.

I do not include Mao's explanation of stanza divisions (since this is already represented visually on the page) unless Mao notes that its division differs from earlier explanations. (See Mao #1, #240, & #246). Also excluded are Zhu Xi's (see below) comments on stanza division since this information is built into the webpage's presented format.

Zhu Xi's commentaries 朱熹《詩集傳》open with a general preface on the meaning of the anthology classic and its import for readers. Zhu Xi also furnishes prefaces for all the major sections ('airs' , 'elegantiae' , and 'hymns' ), as well as their subsections. I am using the edition in Complete Collection of the Four Treasuries《四庫全書》.

The bulk of Zhu Xi's commentary is made up of stanza-by-stanza commentaries that follow a consistent formula: it first identifies the rhetorical device at work in the stanza as either 'plain narration' (fu ), 'analogy' (bi ), or xing , which might be translated as 'evocative image' or 'stimulus.'

After identifying the rhetorical device operative in the stanza, the commentary then glosses words that appear in that stanza. Often, after the glossary section, Zhu Xi also gives a reading that interprets the stanza. Following the Siku Quanshu edition, the webpage marks the interpretive section from the glossary with a single-ring circle: "." In some cases, Zhu Xi also supplements the stanza-by-stanza commentaries with a discussion of the ode as a whole. I have marked such passages with a double-ring circle: "." Sometimes, these passages are meta-commentaries (that is, discussions of prior commentaries on that particular ode).

If time permits, I will add: the Mao commentary (毛傳); the annotations by Zheng Xuan (鄭玄) of the Eastern Han; and Zhu Xi's《詩序辨》. I have no intention of adding The Correct Significance of the Mao Odes 《毛詩正義》edited by Kong Yingda (孔潁達) of the Tang because of its considerable bulk.

Available on a separate page, are Ji Zha's (季札) comments. These comments are taken from Ji Zha's appraisal of the Zhou (周) musical traditions preserved by the state of Lu (魯) as told in the Zuo Transmission 《左轉・襄公二十九年》. These comments are interesting since they weave odes together to narrate a history of the Zhou dynasty. Also, its appraisals often follow the same formula as the comment attributed to Confucius about Guanju 關雎.


James Legge, Sacred Books of the East, Vol. III: The Shih King (1879)

Arthur Waley, The Book of Songs (1937)

Bernhard Karlgren, The Book of Odes (1944, 1945, 1950)

The website includes the English translations by Legge and Waley (and the additional translations by Joseph R. Allen in the 1996 edition that filled in pieces left untranslated by Waley). I have also included some translations by Karlgren and Owen, but these are ad hoc and piecemeal. To access the translation pages, click on the numeral besides the ode title on the commnentary pages.


I have compiled a complete dossier of Odes usage and quotations as seen in texts from the Warring States up through the Six Dynasties. Lines that are marked with an asterisk indicate that it has been quoted by another text in this time period. Click on the asterisk to see all the passages that quote that line. This area of the site is not open to the public; contact me if you would like to use this material.

email: Harrison Huang
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updated: 5/07/04