The Great Learning(《大学》)was one of the “Four Books” in Confucianism. The Great Learning had come from a chapter in the Classic of Rites which formed one of the Five Classics. It consists of a short main text attributed to the teachings of Confucius and then ten commentary chapters accredited to one of Confucius’ disciples, Zengzi. The ideals of the book were supposedly Confucius’s; however the text was written after his death.
The “Four Books” were selected by the neo-Confucian Zhu Xi during the Song Dynasty as a foundational introduction to Confucianism and examinations for the state civil service in China came to follow his lead.
The Great Learning as we know it today is the result of multiple revisions and commentaries by a number of Confucian and Neo-Confucian scholars.
The Da Xue (Ta Hsueh) itself gets its name from “ta-jen chih hsueh,” referring to the education of adults.
The Great Learning is significant because it expresses many themes of Chinese philosophy and political thinking, and has therefore been extremely influential both in classical and modern Chinese thought. Government, self-cultivation and investigation of things are linked. It links together individual action in the form of self-cultivation with higher goals such as ultimate world peace as well as linking together the spiritual and the material.
Basing its authority on the presumed practices of ancient kings rather than nature or deities, the Great Learning both links the spiritual with the practical, and creates a vision of the Way that is presented by Taoism.
The Great Learning is significant because it expresses many themes of Chinese philosophy and political thinking, and has therefore been extremely influential both in classical and modern Chinese thought. The Great Learning represented a key aspect of the Chinese curriculum for nearly 1500 years and can be found in virtually all aspects of Chinese culture.
The Great Learning played a major role in Chinese politics as it comprised one of the texts incorporated into the Imperial service examination system. Students would be tested on their knowledge of the Five Classics and Four Books as a qualification for an occupation in political office. If a student possessed adequate knowledge of the texts, they would be awarded a prestigious place in government. These exams allow anyone of sufficient knowledge and skill to obtain a place in office, as exams were based solely on one’s ability. One’s social or financial status did not play a role in the exam system. The text of The Great Learning provides an educational basis for those aspiring to obtain a leadership role. In addition to self-cultivation and the expansion of one’s knowledge, the Great Learning goes into significant step-by-step detail with respect to the qualities of a proper ruler.