Ta-Hsüeh: "The Great Learning" (3rd Century BCE)

Originally the Ta Hsüeh was a chapter of the Li-chi, the "Book of Rites," one of the five Chinese classics. Literary analysis suggests that it was written in the 3rd century BCE. During the Song Dynasty (960-1280), the Ta Hsüeh was considered sufficiently important to be singled out as one of the canonical "Four Books." Since both the Five Classics and the Four Books had to be memorized by Chinese students aspiring for a position in the Chinese civil service, the Ta-Hsüeh had to be studied twice.

How does the Ta Hsüeh emphasize the traditional Confucian value of the importance of knowledge?


The Ancients, wishing to illuminate with shining virtue all under heaven, would first establish order in their own states. (1)
Wishing to establish order in their own states, they would first harmonize their families.
Wishing to harmonize their families, they would first cultivate their own persons.
Wishing to cultivate their own persons, they would first rectify their minds. (2)
Wishing to rectify their minds, they would first seek to verify their opinions.
Wishing to verify their opinions, they would first expand their knowledge.

The expansion of knowledge lies in the investigation of things. (3)

Once things are investigated, knowledge will be completed.
Once knowledge is complete, opinions will be verified.
Once opinions are verified, minds will be rectified.
Once minds are rectified, persons will be cultivated.
Once persons are cultivated, families will be harmonized.
Once families are harmonized, states will be put in order.
Once states are in order, there will be peace all under heaven.

From the emperor to the common people, all must see the cultivation of their own person as the root of all else.
If roots are in disarray, there will never be healthy branches.

Translated by Lydia Gerber


(1) "All under heaven" (t'ien-hsia) was a term used for the Chinese empire rather than for the world at large. Before 221 BCE, the Chinese empire consisted of a number of very strong, independent states.

(2) "Mind" (hsin) can also be translated as "heart." Classical Chinese does not differentiate between the rational and emotional aspects of a person the way western languages do.

(3) The Chinese term wu--translated as "things"--basically means "all that is outside oneself." It is usually translated either as "things" or "affairs".


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This is an excerpt from Reading About the World, Volume 1, edited by Paul Brians, Mary Gallwey, Douglas Hughes, Azfar Hussain, Richard Law, Michael Myers, Michael Neville, Roger Schlesinger, Alice Spitzer, and Susan Swan and published by Harcourt Brace Custom Books.

The reader was created for use in the World Civilization course at Washington State University, but material on this page may be used for educational purposes by permission of the editor-in-chief:

Paul Brians
Department of English
Washington State University
Pullman 99164-5020

This is just a sample of Reading About the World, Volume 1. This is just a sample of Reading About the World, Volume 1. If, after examining the table of contents of the complete volume, you are interested in considering it for use at your own campus, please contact Paul Brians.

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