"Four Books", refers to the "The Analects of Confucius", "The Great Learning", "The Doctrine of Mean" and "Mencius". Four Books mainly recorded the words and deeds of Confucius, Zeng Zi, Zi Si and Mencius, therefore it is also known as the "the four’s book".
"The Great Learning" once was the 42nd article of "Book of Rites". In Song Dynasty, it was abstracted from "Book of Rites", by Cheng Hao and Cheng Yi. They reorganized it and made it a separate book. Zhu Xi, another Confucian, rearranged "The Great Learning", and make up the “to obtain knowledge by investigation of things” chapter which was missed in "Biography”, and he divided it into one “classic” and ten “commentaries on classics”. Zhu Xi said that the general idea of the classic chapter is Confucius's words, and Zeng Zi expounded it. The ten biography chapters are mainly about Zeng’s idea and recorded by his students. And Zhu Xi thought that The Great Learning is not "detailed exegesis and know how to punctuate" and “sweep, response, propriety, manners, music, shoot, riding, write and math” but the “adult learning” which stresses "participation in national politics, administer state affairs well and ensure national security". The Great Learning entrusts to the care of the ancients ideal–improve self-cultivation and implement country policies.
The Doctrine of Mean once was the 32nd chapter of "Book of Rites". It is said that the author of Doctrine of Mean was descendants of Confucius Zi Si. In Northern Song dynasty, Cheng Hao and Cheng Yi reorganized it and made it a separate book. In Southern Song Dynasty, Zhu Xi reorganized it and made it into Chapters, and combined it with "The Great Learning", "The Analects of Confucius" and "Mencius”, eventually became to the well known "Four Books", and was included in the ranks of the Confucian classics.In Northern Song Dynasty, Confucian scholars thought that The Doctrine of Mean is one of the most important method-teaching books of Confucian, and its theory and ratiocination were more recondite than other three.The Doctrine of Mean mainly carries forward Confucius’ "too much is as bad as too little" idea, requires people to pursue the “harmony but not sameness” state, try to make the social order immobile.Honesty is the core concept of The Doctrine of Mean. In the book, it thinks that honesty is the principle of nature, and honesty is the beginning and end of all things.In the doctrine of Confucius, honesty is a kind of human quality. But in The Doctrine of Mean, it thinks that honesty is the most real existence of the universe, thereby, honesty became to an important philosophical concept.
The Analects of Confucius is the compilation of Confucius and part of his students’ words and deeds, was compiled and reorganized by Confucius’ students.The book is divided into twenty sections , five hundreds and twelve chapters. It is the main material of Confucius and Confucianism’s study. The Analects of Confucius conveys profound philosophic theory, from daily life to country management. It shows us the correct and penetrating view of Confucius in many aspects of the society, such as politics, philosophy, ethic and education.Its brilliance of humanistic thoughts shines the history of China as if a bright candle. It is also the most important symbol of Chinese traditional culture.Since the Western Han Dynasty, The Analects of Confucius was regarded as classic and behavior guidelines, by those who advocate the ideal personality and treat “self-improvement, family-management, nation-governance, and world-pacifying” as the highest goal of life.The opinion of The Analects of Confucius has its positive significance in the implement of “Legal and moral govern the country, building a harmonious society” policy.
Mencius recorded the words and deeds of Meng Ke, another important Confucian representative. The book was divided into seven sections, more than 34,000 words.Mencius inherited the discussion of morality from The Analects of Confucius, and developed it into the benevolent government theory which contributes to the political domination.He believes that people are the first, country is second, and emperor is the last. He said that human nature is good. In his assertion, government should implement commiserative policy with commiserative mind.Before Song Dynasty, Meng Ke's influence and academic position is not very high.Since Han Yu valued Meng Ke as the only one in Pre-Qin dynasty who inherited Confucius’ orthodoxy character, the reputation and position of Meng Ke had been gradually improved.In Song Dynasty Mencius was regarded as a Classic. In Yuan Dynasty, Meng Ke was regarded as a "sub-sage", shared the Confucius Temple, and his position was only next to Confucius, their thoughts were collectively known as "Confucius and Mencius’ Tao”.In Ming Dynasty, the point of “people are more important than the ruler” in Mencius enraged emperor Zhu Yuanzhang, he ordered to expelled Meng Ke’s memorial tablet from Confucius Temple, and wantonly deleted the relevant sections of Mencius.But, on the contrary, what Zhu Yuanzhang did illustrates the value of Mencius.
The “Four Books” inherits the extraordinary wisdom of our deceased sages. It is not only rich in sublime words with deep meaning, but also is the primer for ancient scholars to study the traditional culture.In “Analects of Zhuzi”, Zhu Xi thought that Four Books is the base for people to read or study The Six Classics.In Yuan dynasty, 1313, the then government found these four books were so important for national governance and personnel selection that they set them as an examination subject. In other words, all the questions must be within the Four Books’ content, and scholars should develop their idea on the base of “Notes” (a book wrote by Zhu Xi).However, the history is fickle, for nearly a century, as the backbone of traditional culture, Four Books and Five Classics have been repeatedly snubbed and gradually moving away from the public's perspective.But, for thousands of years, the apothegms of self-cultivation and life philosophy have gone deep into the marrow and blood of the Chinese nation.