The Shih Ching (The book of poetry) predates Confucius by some three centuries, although he is often credited with arranging it into its current form sometime around 520 B.C. This work is a compilation of some three hundred verses of poetry illustrating the proper conduct of a sovereign and general rules "for inculcation of propriety and righteousness." Although Confucius probably did not do much to alter the original text, his interest in it ensured the book's survival, for "The master said, 'It is by the Odes that the mind is aroused.'"1
The stanzas are replete with admonitions to rulers overzealous for power and glory. An excellent example is the following passage ascribed to the Earl of Fan against King Yu (ca. 780-770 B.C.), "The Royal Domain has over-run private holdings; if the feudal lords had retainers, you have usurped them; the people are as birds in a net, the innocent lie in the sprung trap of the stocks, and the criminals walk up and down boasting."2 The central lesson of these poems is that the prince should rule with compassion and moderation.
 Confucius, The Annalects, in The Four Books, trans. James Legge (New York: Paragon Books, 1966), p. 100.
 Shih-Ching, The Classic Anthology Defined by Confucius, trans. Ezra Pound (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1982), p. 194.
Karlgren, Bernhard, trans. The Book of Odes. Stockholm: The Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities, 1950.
Legge, James, trans. The Book of Poetry. China: The Commercial Press, Ltd., 1930-31
The biographical material about the author originally appeared on The Goodrich Room: Interactive Tour website.
Last modified April 10, 2014