Stimulation, Contemplation, Communication, and Criticism
According to Confucius, The Book of Songs served these four purposes, which summarize the basic functions and values of literature. “Stimulation” means that the appreciation of literary works arouses imagination, stimulates reflection on society and life, and inspires aspirations and interests. “Contemplation” means that reading leads to understanding nature, society, life, and politics. “Communication” means that reading encourages discussion with others, and exchange of thoughts and feelings. “Criticism” means learning how to critically express oneself about state affairs and voice inner feelings. These four functions are closely associated and involve the aesthetic, cognitive, and educational functions of literature. Later scholars have continued to make original contributions to the study of these themes.
The Book of Songs stimulates the mind, inspires contemplation, enables one to understand society, exchange feelings and thoughts with others, and express resentment. The book guides one on how to support and wait on one’s parents at home and how to serve one’s sovereign in public life. One can also learn about birds, beasts, and plants from the book. (The Analects)
If works created on the basis of the author’s understanding have the value of cognition, his understanding must have been profound. If his feelings are based on recognition, his observation must have been sharp. If certain resentment arises from discussions among a group of people, it must be unforgettable. If a group of people have come together because they share certain resentment, they must be closely knit. (Wang Fuzhi: Desultory Remarks on Poetry from Ginger Studio)