Summer Special: The Book of Songs

Book of Songs – How the Ancient Chinese Sang

The Book of Songs (shi jing), an anthology of 300 songs-turned-poems from 1,100 to 600 B.C., compiled by the disciples of Confucius (551-479 B.C.) at their master’s instruction, is the sine-qua-non to all aficionados of literature and poetry of China. Timeless and poignant, the Book of Songs glows as the fountainhead of Chinese culture, from which later literary works and other cultural genres of the following centuries were derived.

Subjects of these poems range from human conditions and emotions to laud and glorification of ancestry and myths of the Chinese. The most outstanding descendants of these songs are the three poetic genres flourished from the 7th century through the 15th century: Tang poetry (shi), Song poetry (ci) and Yuan poetry (qu).

Though straightforward and natural in style, typical of ancient literature in terms of the immediacy of imagery and pervasive musical quality, the Book of Songs is by no means simple in its modes of expression. The poems are rich in metaphors and similes, both indirect and direct, as well as narrative display, all of which make up for the three major writing styles in the book.

One of the most acclaimed courses taught by Ben Wang, Senior Lecture of Language and Humanities of the China Institute and award-winning translator, the Book of Songs and its quintessential spirit will be introduced and explored in the original texts of selected poems. Mr. Wang will offer this course in English and Chinese.

Biào Yǒu Méi (Zhào Nán)
摽 有 梅 (召南)

Biào yǒu méi, qí shí qī xī! Qiú wǒ shù shì, dài qí jí xī!
摽 有 梅,其实七兮!求 我 庶 士,迨其吉兮!

Biào yǒu méi, qí shí sān xī! Qiú wǒ shù shì, dài qí jīn xī!
摽 有 梅,其实三兮!求 我 庶 士,迨其今兮!

Biào yǒu méi, qǐngkuāngjìzhī! Qiú wǒ shù shì, dài qí wèi zhī!
摽 有 梅,顷筐塈之!求 我 庶 士,迨其谓之!

Sweet Plums’ Song
Sweet plums are falling, 3 out of ten;
Hey: You gents who fancy us, a good time it is to come.

Sweet plums are falling, 7 of ten;
Hear: You gents who fancy us, now is the time to come.

Sweet plums are falling, basketfuls of them –
Hark! You gents who fancy us: Time it is for our togetherness!

– Translation by Ben Wang

Tuesdays, 6:30-8:30pm
5 sessions (10 hours)
July 11 – August 8
Tuition: $250 members / $290 non-members
(plus a $25 non-refundable registration fee)
*Prior knowledge of Chinese language is not required.

If you have any questions, please contact Tina Fang at [email protected], call 212-744-8181, ext. 150, or submit your information through our contact form online.


Ben Wang
is Senior Lecturer in Language and Humanities at China Institute, Co-Chair of the Renwen Society of China Institute, and Instructor of Chinese at the United Nations Language Program. An award-winning published translator, Ben Wang has taught and lectured on the Chinese language, calligraphy, and classical Chinese literature at Yale, Columbia, Barnard, Williams, U.C. Berkeley, the Smithsonian, the National Gallery of Art, Lincoln Center, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Seattle Art Museum, Museum of Fine Arts of Boston, ABC Nightline, the BBC, among other academic and cultural institutions. Ben Wang taught Chinese and translation at Columbia University and New York University between 1969 and 1991.