Shi Jing, or The
Book of Poetry
,is the first anthology of Chinese poems. It contains 305
poems written over a 500-year period spanning from the beginning of Western Zhou
Dynasty (11th century BC-771BC) to the mid-Spring
and Autumn Period (475-221BC). The book has three parts: Feng
(Songs), Ya (Odes and Epics), and Song (Hymns). Feng includes
160 songs sung by people in 15 city-states. Ya includes 105 poems in two parts:
of Odes " and "The Book of Epics." Song includes 40 poems in
three parts: "The Hymns of Zhou," "The Hymns of Lu," and
"The Hymns of Shang."
"The Book of Songs" (Feng) is the most significant segment
of The Book of Poetry. The folksongs of the Zhou Dynasty (11th
century-256BC)collected into "The Book of Songs" recount the real life
of common people, and express their indignation about oppression and their
yearning for a happy life. "The Book of Songs" is the wellspring of Chinese
"The Life of Peasants" faithfully captures the wretched lives of
enslaved people. The "Woodcutter's Song" rouses the slave class to
awareness. The angry slaves call the slave owners to account: "How can those who
neither reap nor sow have three millions sheaves on their plate? How can those
who neither hunt nor chase have in their courtyard the game of each race?" Some
poems even describe the direct resistance of slaves to the ruling class, Such as
"The Large Rat".
Some poems in "The Book of Songs," like "My Lord, My Man is
Away" and "Returned," capture the trauma caused by forced military
service and conscripted labor. Some love poems in "The Book of Songs"
reflect women's anguish at being forced into marriage and recall young people's
longing and search for happy marriage, as in "A Faithless Man" and
"A Rejected Wife." "Depression," another love poem, even discloses a deep
awareness of resistance. "A Shepherdess" and "Gifts" wish good
cheer and call for optimism. All of the poems in "The Book of Songs"
are honest expressions of laboring people's thoughts and feelings.
Many folksongs in "The Book of Songs" criticize and satirize the
ruling class's decadent and promiscuous lifestyles, such as for example,
"Incest", "The Duke's Mistress," and "Complaint of a Duchess."