Commentaries of the Analects of Confucius

Commentaries of the Analects of Confucius

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The Analects of Confucius

Information about the Analects of Confucius.

The Analects are a collection of the teachings and thoughts of Confucius they also contain fragments of dialogues between the great Chinese philosopher and his disciples. The name in English derived from the word "analect" which means a fragment or extract of literature, or a collection of teachings. In Chinese, the book is literally called "discussion on the words [of Confucius]." The Analects are believed to have been collected by the disciples of Confucius and not by the sage himself.

Written during the Period of Spring and Autumn and Warring States Period (ca. 479 BC - 221 BC), the Analects are considered among the most representative works of Confucian thought, and still have a great influence on Chinese culture and East Asia.

The Analects were probably written over a period of 30-50 years. Started during the Spring and Autumn Period, the work of collection and organization of Confucian teachings was probably completed during the Warring States Period, although the precise date of publication of the complete work is unknown. In China, the work has been by many attributed to Confucius himself, but the philological investigations to date do not allow to go back to a reliable source, partly because of the devastating book burning of 213 BC by the First Emperor Qin Shi Huang.

The chapters are grouped by themes of the Analects, but do not develop a structured discussion. The sequence of chapters seems entirely random, dealing with topics that are in no way connected. Some central themes are repeated in various chapters, sometimes in the same wording and sometimes with slight variations. This has led some scholars to conclude that the book was not written by a single author, but is the collective work of several people. It is likely that the editors end of the Analects were probably the disciples of Confucius or of Zengzi, one of his most influential students.

At first there was no canonical version of the Analects. At the time of the Han Dynasty, there were three versions of the Analects: those of Lu, those of Qi, as well as the ancient texts of the Analects. The Qi and Lu versions were very similar, but the version included two additional chapters in addition to the twenty chapters three chapters common to the other versions. The ancient texts divided the one chapter into two parts, and the remainder of the chapters and text were ordered differently than the other two more recent versions.

Summary of the Analects

Towards the end of the Western Han Dynasty, Zhang Yu, a tutor of Emperor Cheng, the combined versions of Qi and Lu Analects while keeping the number of chapters of the Lu version. The version of Zhang became known as the Marquis Zhang Analects, and is the version known today.

A later version of the Analects written on bamboo strips before 55 BC, was discovered in 1973 in Dingzhou (Dingxian) in Hebei Province, and was published in 1997. This version, although fragmentary, may help to shed new light on the textual tradition of critical dialogues in future editions.

Drawing Depicting Students Awaiting the Results
of the Imperial Examinations - circa 1560.
Success depended on a thorough knowledge of the Analects.

From the time of Confucius, the Analects have strongly influenced the philosophy and ethical values of China and, later, other East Asian countries. A man who was unfamiliar with the Analects was considered uneducated and not morally upright. Together with other works that make up the Four Books, the Analects teach the main Confucian virtues: Decorum, Justice, Fairness, and Filial Piety.

For nearly two thousand years, the Analects were the foundation of Chinese education. The rigorous imperial examinations, which thousands of young men took each year in the hopes of gaining employment as functionaries in the imperial government, required a thorough knowledge of the Analects and the teachings of Confucius. The Analects did not cease to be the central part of Chinese education until the creation of the Chinese republic and the reforms of 1905-1908 which abolished the imperial examinations. After the Communist takeover, the Analects and Confucianism, fell into disfavour with the government, but its teachings are so ingrained in Chinese society that they continue to shape the morality and thought of millions of Chinese.

Confucius (551–479 BC)

Confucius is arguably the most influential philosopher in human history – ‘is’ because, taking Chinese philosophy on its own terms, he is still very much alive. Recognized as China’s first teacher both chronologically and in importance, his ideas have been the rich soil in which the Chinese cultural tradition has grown and flourished. In fact, whatever we might mean by ‘Chineseness’ today, some two and a half millennia after his death, is inseparable from the example of personal character that Confucius provided for posterity. Nor was his influence restricted to China all of the Sinitic cultures – especially Korea, Japan and Vietnam – have evolved around ways of living and thinking derived from the wisdom of the Sage.

A couple of centuries before Plato founded his Academy to train statesmen for the political life of Athens, Confucius had established a school with the explicit purpose of educating the next generation for political leadership. As his curriculum, Confucius is credited with having over his lifetime edited what were to become the Chinese Classics, a collection of poetry, music, historical documents and annals that chronicled the events at the Lu court, along with an extensive commentary on the Yijing (Book of Changes). These classics provided a shared cultural vocabulary for his students, and became the standard curriculum for the Chinese literati in subsequent centuries.

Confucius began the practice of independent philosophers travelling from state to state in an effort to persuade political leaders that their particular teachings were a practicable formula for social and political success. In the decades that followed the death of Confucius, intellectuals of every stripe – Confucians, Legalists, Mohists, Yin–yang theorists, Militarists – would take to the road, attracted by court academies which sprung up to host them. Within these seats of learning, the viability of their various strategies for political and social unity would be hotly debated.

Book 2

The Master says that there are 300 Odes, but they can be summarized in a single phrase: “Swerving not from the right path.” The Master also said that being a good child to one’s parents means never failing to comply with their wishes. That is, when your parents are alive you should complete their tasks for them and after they die you should bury them properly and make sacrifices so that you live as they would want. Moreover, being a good child doesn’t mean causing stress on your parents other than illness.

The Master continues his discussion on what it means to be a good child and comments that in modern times, people think of a filial son as one who provides for his parents in their old age. However, the Master says even animals are provided with food. He adds that reverence is more important than providing material goods for one’s parents.

The Master says that a gentleman speaks after he’s done something. He also says that a gentleman doesn’t join cliques but instead joins associations, whereas the small man does the opposite.

The Master says that those who rely on others for their ideas are “bewildered.” On the other hand, those who come up with their own ideas but don’t learn from others will be in trouble.

The Master tells Yu what it is to know: It’s knowing when you know and knowing when you don’t. This, for the Master, is true knowledge.

A duke asks the Master how to get people to respect him. The Master tells the duke that he should reward those who are honest and punish those who aren’t.

When asked why he was not part of the government, Confucius quoted from the Book of History. He said that a man who is good to his friends and family can influence the government. For him, this is a way to be involved in politics.


A portrait of Confucius giving a lecture.

Creation of the text

According to Ban Gu, writing in the Book of Han, the Analects originated as individual records kept by Confucius’s disciples of conversations between the Master and them, which were then collected and jointly edited by the disciples after Confucius’s death in 479 BC. The work is therefore titled Lunyu meaning “edited conversations” or “selected speeches” (i.e. analects). This broadly forms the traditional account of the genesis of the work accepted by later generations of scholars, for example the Song dynasty neo-Confucian scholar Zhu Xi stated that Analects is the records of Confucius’s first- and second-generation pupils.

This traditional view has been challenged by Chinese, Japanese, and Western scholars. Han dynasty writer Wang Chong claimed that all copies of the Analects that existed during the Han dynasty were incomplete and formed only a part of a much larger work. This is supported by the fact that a larger collection of Confucius’s teachings did exist in the Warring States period than has been preserved directly in the Analects: 75% of Confucius’s sayings cited by his second-generation student, Mencius, do not exist in the received text of the Analects. The Qing dynasty philologist Cui Shu argued on linguistic ground that the last five books were produced much later than the rest of the work. Itō Jinsai claimed that, because of differences he saw in patterns of language and content in the Analects, a distinction in authorship should be made between the “upper Analects” (Books 1–10) and “lower Analects” (Books 11–20). Arthur Waley speculated that Books 3–9 represent the earliest parts of the book. E. Bruce Brooks and A. Taeko Brooks reviewed previous theories of the chapters’ creation and produced a “four stratum theory” of the text’s creation. Many modern scholars now believe that the work was compiled over a period of around two hundred years, some time during the Warring States period (476–221 BC), with some questioning the authenticity of some of the sayings.

Regardless of how early the text of the Analects existed, most Analects scholars believe that by the early Han dynasty (206 BC–220 AD) the book was widely known and transmitted throughout China in a mostly complete form, and that the book acquired its final, complete form during the Han dynasty. Because no texts dated earlier than about 50 BC have been discovered, and because the Analects was not referred to by name in any existing source before the early Han dynasty, some scholars have proposed dates as late as 140 BC for the text’s compilation.

According to the Han dynasty scholar Liu Xiang, there were two versions of the Analects that existed at the beginning of the Han dynasty: the “Lu version” and the “Qi version”. The Lu version contained twenty chapters, and the Qi version contained twenty-two chapters, including two chapters not found in the Lu version. Of the twenty chapters that both versions had in common, the Lu version had more passages. Each version had its own masters, schools, and transmitters.

In the reign of Emperor Jing of Han (r. 157–141 BC), a third version (the “Old Text” version) was discovered hidden in a wall of the home then believed to be Confucius’s when the home was in the process of being destroyed by King Gong of Lu (r. 153–128 BC) in order to expand the king’s palace. The new version did not contain the two extra chapters found in the Qi version, but it split one chapter found in the Lu and Qi versions in two, so it had twenty-one chapters, and the order of the chapters was different.

The old text version got its name because it was written in characters not used since the earlier Warring States period (i.e. before 221 BC), when it was assumed to have been hidden. According to the Han dynasty scholar Huan Tan, the old text version had four hundred characters different from the Lu version (from which the received text of the Analects is mostly based), and it seriously differed from the Lu version in twenty-seven places. Of these twenty-seven differences, the received text only agrees with the old text version in two places.

Over a century later, the tutor of the Analects to Emperor Cheng of Han, Zhang Yu (d. 5 BC), synthesized the Lu and Qi versions by taking the Lu version as authoritative and selectively adding sections from the Qi version, and produced a composite text of the Analects known as the “Zhang Hou Lun”. This text was recognized by Zhang Yu’s contemporaries and by subsequent Han scholars as superior to either individual version, and is the text that is recognized as the Analects today. The Qi version was lost for about 1800 years but re-found during the excavation of the tomb of Marquis of Haihun in 2011. No complete copies of either the Lu version or the old text version of the Analects exist today, though fragments of the old text version were discovered at Dunhuang.

Before the late twentieth century the oldest existing copy of the Analects known to scholars was found in the “Stone Classics of the Xinping Era”, a copy of the Confucian classics written in stone in the old Eastern Han dynasty capital of Luoyang around 175 AD. Archaeologists have since discovered two handwritten copies of the Analects that were written around 50 BC, during the Western Han dynasty. They are known as the “Dingzhou Analects“, and the “Pyongyang Analects“, after the location of the tombs in which they were found. The Dingzhou Analects was discovered in 1973, but no transcription of its contents was published until 1997. The Pyongyang Analects was discovered in 1992. Academic access to the Pyongyang Analects has been highly restricted, and no academic study on it was published until 2009.

The Dingzhou Analects was damaged in a fire shortly after it was entombed in the Han dynasty. It was further damaged in an earthquake shortly after it was recovered, and the surviving text is just under half the size of the received text of the Analects. Of the sections that survive, the Dingzhou Analects is shorter than the received Analects, implying that the text of the Analects was still in the process of expansion when the Dingzhou Analects was entombed. There was evidence that “additions” may have been made to the manuscript after it had been completed, indicating that the writer may have become aware of at least one other version of the Analects and included “extra” material for the sake of completeness.

The content of the Pyongyang Analects is similar to the Dingzhou Analects. Because of the secrecy and isolationism of the North Korean government, only a very cursory study of it has been made available to international scholars, and its contents are not completely known outside of North Korea. Scholars do not agree about whether either the Dingzhou Analects or the Pyongyang Analects represent the Lu version, the Qi version, the old text version, or a different version that was independent of these three traditions.

Importance within Confucianism

During most of the Han period the Analects was not considered one of the principal texts of Confucianism. During the reign of Han Wudi (141–87 BC), when the Chinese government began promoting Confucian studies, only the Five Classics were considered by the government to be canonical (jing). They were considered Confucian because Confucius was assumed to have partially written, edited, and/or transmitted them. The Analects was considered secondary as it was thought to be merely a collection of Confucius’s oral “commentary” (zhuan) on the Five Classics.

The political importance and popularity of Confucius and Confucianism grew throughout the Han dynasty, and by the Eastern Han the Analects was widely read by schoolchildren and anyone aspiring to literacy, and often read before the Five Classics themselves. During the Eastern Han, the heir apparent was provided a tutor specifically to teach him the Analects. The growing importance of the Analects was recognized when the Five Classics was expanded to the “Seven Classics”: the Five Classics plus the Analects and the Classic of Filial Piety, and its status as one of the central texts of Confucianism continued to grow until the late Song dynasty (960–1279), when it was identified and promoted as one of the Four Books by Zhu Xi and generally accepted as being more insightful than the older Five Classics.


A copy of He Yan’s commentary on the Analects, with a sub-commentary by Xing Bing, printed during the Ming dynasty

Since the Han dynasty, Chinese readers have interpreted the Analects by reading scholars’ commentaries on the book. There have been many commentaries on the Analects since the Han dynasty, but the two which have been most influential have been the Collected Explanations of the Analects (Lunyu Jijie) by He Yan (c. 195–249) and several colleagues, and the Collected Commentaries of the Analects (Lunyu Jizhu) by Zhu Xi (1130–1200). In his work, He Yan collected, selected, summarized, and rationalized what he believed to be the most insightful of all preceding commentaries on the Analects which had been produced by earlier Han and Wei dynasty (220–265 AD) scholars.

He’s personal interpretation of the Lunyu was guided by his belief that Daoism and Confucianism complemented each other, so that by studying both in a correct manner a scholar could arrive at a single, unified truth. Arguing for the ultimate compatibility of Daoist and Confucian teachings, he argued that “Laozi [in fact] was in agreement with the Sage” (sic). The Explanations was written in 248 AD, was quickly recognized as authoritative, and remained the standard guide to interpreting the Analects for nearly 1,000 years, until the early Yuan dynasty (1271–1368). It is the oldest complete commentary on the Analects that still exists.

He Yan’s commentary was eventually displaced as the definitive, standard commentary by Zhu Xi’s commentary. Zhu Xi’s work also brought together the commentaries of earlier scholars (mostly from the Song dynasty), along with his own interpretations. Zhu’s work took part in the context of a period of renewed interest in Confucian studies, in which Chinese scholars were interested in producing a single “correct” intellectual orthodoxy that would “save” Chinese traditions and protect them from foreign influences, and in which scholars were increasingly interested in metaphysical speculation.

In his commentary Zhu made a great effort to interpret the Analects by using theories elaborated in the other Four Books, something that He Yan had not done. Zhu attempted to give an added coherence and unity to the message of the Analects, demonstrating that the individual books of the Confucian canon gave meaning to the whole, just as the whole of the canon gave meaning to its parts. In his preface, Zhu Xi stated, “[T]he Analects and the Mencius are the most important works for students pursuing the Way […] The words of the Analects are all inclusive what they teach is nothing but the essentials of preserving the mind and cultivating [one’s] nature.”

From the first publication of the Commentaries, Zhu continued to refine his interpretation for the last thirty years of his life. In the fourteenth century, the Chinese government endorsed Zhu’s commentary. Until 1905 it was read and memorized along with the Analects by all Chinese aspiring to literacy and employment as government officials.

Ariès, Philippe. 1960. Centuries of Childhood: A Social History of Family Life, trans. by Robert Baldick. New York: Random House.

Barmé, Geremie R. 2002. An Artistic Exile: A Life of F eng Zikai (1898–1975). Berkeley: University of California Press.

Chan, Wing-tsit, trans. 1963. Instructions for Practical Living and Other Neo-Confucian Writings by W ang Yang-ming. New York: Columbia University Press.

Cheng, Shude 程樹德. 1990. Collected Annotations of the Analects 論語集釋. Beijing 北京: Zhonghua Shuju 中華書局.

Ebrey, Patricia Buckley. 1991. Confucianism and Family Rituals in Imperial China: A Social History of Writing about Rites. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Erikson, Erik H. 1950. Childhood and Society. New York: W. W. Norton and Co.

____. 1958. Young Man Luther: A Study in Psychoanalysis and History. New York: W. W. Norton and Co.

____. 1959. Identity and the Life Cycle: Selected Papers. New York: International Universities Press.

____. 1963. Youth: Change and Challenge. New York: Basic Books.

____. 1968. Identity: Youth and Crisis. New York: W. W. Norton and Co.

____. 1975. Life History and the Historical Moment. New York: Norton.

____. 1977. Play, Vision, and Deception. New York: Norton.

____. 1997. The Life Cycle Completed. New York: W. W. Norton.

Furth, Charlotte. 1995. “From Birth to Birth: The Growing Body in Chinese Medicine.” In Chinese Views of Childhood, edited by Anne Behnke Kinney. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press.

Gardner, Daniel K. 1990. C hu Hsi: Learning to Be a Sage. Berkeley: University Of California Press.

He, Yan 何晏. 1936. Collected Commentaries on the Analects by Mr. He and Others 論語何氏等集解. Sibu Beiyao 四部備要 edition. Shanghai 上海: Zhonghua Shuju 中華書局.

Hsiung, Ping-chen. 2005. A Tender Voyage: Children and Childhood in Late Imperial China. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Ivanhoe, Philip J. 2000. Confucian Moral Self Cultivation. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company.

____, trans. 2002. The Daodejing of Laozi. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company.

Jiao, Xun 焦循. 1936. The True Meaning of the Mengzi 孟子正義. Sibu Beiyao 四部備要 edition. Shanghai 上海: Zhonghua Shuju 中華書局.

Kelleher, M. Theresa. 1989. “Back to Basics: C hu Hsi’s Elementary Learning (Hsiao-hsüeh).” In Neo- Confucian Education: The Formative Stage, edited by Wm. Theodore de Bary and John W. Chaffee. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Kinney, Anne Behnke. 2004. Representations of Childhood and Youth in Early China. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Lau, D. C., trans. 1970. Mencius. London: Penguin Books.

Lee, Pauline C. 2012. L i Zhi, Confucianism, and the Virtue of Desire. Albany: SUNY Press.

Legge, James, trans. 1967. Li Chi: Book of Rites. New Hyde Park, NY: University Books.

____, trans. 2001. The Chinese Classics, vols. 1 and 2. Taipei: SMC Publishing Inc.

Li, Zhi 李贄. 2000. The Collected Works of L i Zhi 李贄文集. Edited by Z hang Jianye 張建業. 7 vols. Beijing 北京: Shehui Kexue Wenxian Chubanshe 社會科學文獻出版社.

Loewe, Michael, ed. 1993. Early Chinese Texts: A Bibliographical Guide. Berkeley: Society for the Study of Early China and the Institute of East Asian Studies.

Saari, John L. 1990. Legacies of Childhood: Growing Up Chinese in a Time of Crisis, 1890–1920. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Tu, Wei-ming. 1976. Neo-Confucian Thought in Action: W ang Yang-ming’s Youth (1472–1509). Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Van Norden, Bryan W., trans. 2008. Mengzi. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company.

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Zheng, Chenghai 鄭成海. 1971. Sorting Out the Laozi as Annotated by Heshang Gong 老子河上公注斠理. Taipei 台北: Taiwan Zhonghua Shuju 台灣中華書局.

Zhu, Xi 朱熹. 1968. Commentaries on the Four Books 四書章句集注四種. Taipei 台北: Taiwan Shangwu Yinshuguan 台灣商務印書館.

Week in China

A statue of Confucius

The ancient Chinese book is a collection of sayings and ideas attributed to Confucius. With occasional references to people Confucius met, the Analects also offers rare insights into the life of the greatest Chinese philosopher.

Believed to have been born in 551 BC during the Warring States period, Confucius is commonly referred to as “the king without a crown”. Confucius was credited with teaching 3,000 students, although only 72 of them are said to have mastered his thoughts. These followers compiled the Analects after the philosopher’s death around 479 BC and the book achieved its final form more than a quarter of a century later. During the Han Dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD) Confucianism became the ruling ideological doctrine of the Middle Kingdom and the book became required reading for scholars.

Why is the book important?

The Analects shaped traditional values over the last two millennia.

Given the Han Dynasty is viewed as a golden era for Chinese civilisation (which is why China’s biggest ethnic group call themselves Han), its advocacy of the Analects was key to the book’s growing influence over time – it was often the first textbook children studied in school. The basic moral values it advocated, including benevolence, filial piety and loyalty, were the bedrock of Chinese civilisation.

Scholars who excelled in studying Confucian classics were allowed to join the state bureaucracy. This subsequently evolved into a civil service examination, and a process that favoured meritocracy over aristocratic connections – meaning that powerful local governors could start out from humble origins. For nearly 2,000 years, the study of Confucianism and its core values was the sole route for upward social mobility.

What did Confucius really say?

The Analects often begins with the phrase “Confucius says” but the exact origins of Confucian values have been the subject of heated academic debate for thousands of years.

That began with Qin Shi Huang, China’s first emperor, who unified the Middle Kingdom in 221 BC. According to Sima Qian’s Records of the Grand Historian – aka Shiji, China’s first book of general history, covering the 2,500-year period leading to the Han empire’s founding – the emperor ordered a mass burning of books, supposedly to unify his new kingdom’s languages (and thus most of its political opinions). The result of this extreme censorship was that many of the Confucian scriptures (carved on bamboo slips) were lost.

That led to the debate between the “New Text School” and “Old Text School”. The “New Text” referred to scriptures written by contemporary scholars from memory. The “Old Text” came from the few older books that had survived Qin Shi Huang’s ban – including some said to be hidden in the walls of Confucius’ former homes. Both camps accused each other of forging the Confucian doctrines.

The debate rumbles on even now…

And the relevance today?

Confucianism has made something of a comeback in recent years. In the 1960s and 1970s – a nadir for Confucian scholars – his ideas were banned by China’s ruling Communist Party as a source of feudal ‘backwardness’. But over the past decade or so the scribe has enjoyed a reputational makeover through the tacit backing of the state. For instance, a network of government-backed institutions that teach Chinese language and culture abroad have been named Confucius Institutes.

China’s renewed embrace of Confucianism coincides with President Xi Jinping’s campaign for a “great rejuvenation” of the nation – an effort that plays on the Middle Kingdom’s strengths during the most iconic Chinese dynasties (such as the Han). If Xi’s message is that of reviving past greatness, who better to yoke to the campaign than Confucius, a figure who embodies the longevity of China’s civilisation.

Xi’s embrace of the sage became plain shortly after he became leader, when he said that Confucianism was the key “to understanding the national characteristics of the Chinese” and was “the cultural soil that nourishes the Chinese people”. At a practical level Confucianism today – as viewed from government circles – is associated with themes like stability and prosperity respect for elders and the promotion of officials by meritocratic methods.

4. Virtues and Character Formation

Many of the short passages from the Analects, and the &ldquoThicket of Sayings&rdquo passages excavated at Guodian, describe the development of set of ideal behaviors associated with the moral ideal of the &ldquoway&rdquo (dao 道) of the &ldquogentleman&rdquo (junzi 君子). Based on the analogy between the way of Confucius and character ethics systems deriving from Aristotle, these patterns of behavior are today often described using the Latinate term &ldquovirtue&rdquo. In the second passage in the Analects, the disciple You Ruo 有若 says a person who behaves with filial piety to parents and siblings (xiao and di 弟), and who avoids going against superiors, will rarely disorder society. It relates this correlation to a more general picture of how patterns of good behavior effectively open up the possibility of following the way of the gentleman: &ldquoThe gentleman works at the roots. Once the roots are established, the way comes to life&rdquo (1.2). The way of the gentleman is a distillation of the exemplary behaviors of the selfless culture heroes of the past, and is available to all who are willing to &ldquowork at the roots&rdquo. In this way, the virtues that Confucius taught were not original to him, but represented his adaptations of existing cultural ideals, to which he continually returned in order to clarify their proper expressions in different situations. Five behaviors of the gentleman most central to the Analects are benevolence (ren 仁), righteousness (yi 義), ritual propriety (li 禮), wisdom (zhi 智), and trustworthiness (xin 信).

The virtue of benevolence entails interacting with others guided by a sense of what is good from their perspectives. Sometimes the Analects defines benevolence generally as &ldquocaring for others&rdquo (12.22), but in certain contexts it is associated with more specific behaviors. Examples of contextual definitions of benevolence include treating people on the street as important guests and common people as if they were attendants at a sacrifice (12.2), being reticent in speaking (12.3) and rejecting the use of clever speech (1.3), and being respectful where one dwells, reverent where one works, and loyal where one deals with others (13.19). It is the broadest of the virtues, yet a gentleman would rather die than compromise it (15.9). Benevolence entails a kind of unselfishness, or, as David Hall and Roger Ames suggest, it involves forming moral judgments from a combined perspective of self and others.

Later writers developed accounts of the sources of benevolent behavior, most famously in the context of the discussion of human nature (xing 性) in the centuries after Confucius. Mencius (fourth century BCE) argued that benevolence grows out of the cultivation of an affective disposition to compassion (ceyin 惻隱) in the face of another&rsquos distress. The anonymous author of the late Warring States period excavated text &ldquoFive Kinds of Action&rdquo (Wu xing 五行) describes it as building from the affection one feels for close family members, through successive stages to finally develop into a more universal, fully-fledged virtue. In the Analects, however, one comment on human nature emphasizes the importance of nurture: &ldquoBy nature people are close, by habituation they are miles apart&rdquo (17.2), a sentiment that suggests the importance of training one&rsquos dispositions through ritual and the classics in a manner closer to the program of Xunzi (third century BCE). The Analects, however, discusses the incubation of benevolent behavior in family and ritual contexts. You Ruo winds up his discussion of the roots of the way of the gentleman with the rhetorical question: &ldquoIs not behaving with filial piety to one&rsquos parents and siblings the root of benevolence?&rdquo (1.2). Confucius tells his disciple Yan Yuan 顏淵 that benevolence is a matter of &ldquoovercoming oneself and returning to ritual propriety&rdquo (12.1). These connections between benevolence and other virtues underscore the way in which benevolent behavior does not entail creating novel social forms or relationships, but is grounded in traditional familial and ritual networks.

The second virtue, righteousness, is often described in the Analects relative to situations involving public responsibility. In contexts where standards of fairness and integrity are valuable, such as acting as the steward of an estate as some of the disciples of Confucius did, righteousness is what keeps a person uncorrupted. Confucius wrote that a gentleman &ldquothinks of righteousness when faced with gain&rdquo (16.10, 19.10), or &ldquowhen faced with profit&rdquo (14.12). Confucius says that one should ignore the wealth and rank one might attain by acting against righteousness, even if it means eating coarse rice, drinking water, and sleeping using one&rsquos bent arm as a pillow (7.16). Later writers like Xunzi celebrated Confucius for his righteousness in office, which he stressed was all the more impressive because Confucius was extremely poor (&ldquoWangba&rdquo 王霸). This behavior is particularly relevant in official interactions with ordinary people, such as when &ldquoemploying common people&rdquo (5.16), and if a social superior has mastered it, &ldquothe common people will all comply&rdquo (13.4). Like benevolence, righteousness also entails unselfishness, but instead of coming out of consideration for the needs of others, it is rooted in steadfastness in the face of temptation.

The perspective needed to act in a righteous way is sometimes related to an attitude to personal profit that recalls the previous section&rsquos discussion of how Confucius taught his disciples to recalibrate their sense of value based on their immersion in the sacrificial system. More specifically, evaluating things based on their ritual significance can put one at odds with conventional hierarchies of value. This is defined as the root of righteous behavior in a story from the late Warring States period text Master Fei of Han (Han Feizi 韓非子). The tale relates how at court, Confucius was given a plate with a peach and a pile of millet grains with which to scrub the fruit clean. After the attendants laughed at Confucius for proceeding to eat the millet first, Confucius explained to them that in sacrifices to the Former Kings, millet itself is the most valued offering. Therefore, cleaning a ritually base peach with millet:

would be obstructing righteousness, and so I dared not put [the peach] above what fills the vessels in the ancestral shrine. (&ldquoWaichu shuo, zuo shang&rdquo 外儲說左上)

While such stories may have been told to mock his fastidiousness, for Confucius the essence of righteousness was internalizing a system of value that he would breach for neither convenience nor profit.

At times, the phrase &ldquobenevolence and righteousness&rdquo is used metonymically for all the virtues, but in some later texts, a benevolent impulse to compassion and a righteous steadfastness are seen as potentially contradictory. In the Analects, portrayals of Confucius do not recognize a tension between benevolence and righteousness, perhaps because each is usually described as salient in a different set of contexts. In ritual contexts like courts or shrines, one ideally acts like one might act out of familial affection in a personal context, the paradigm that is key to benevolence. In the performance of official duties, one ideally acts out of the responsibilities felt to inferiors and superiors, with a resistance to temptation by corrupt gain that is key to righteousness. The Records of Ritual distinguishes between the domains of these two virtues:

In regulating one&rsquos household, kindness overrules righteousness. Outside of one&rsquos house, righteousness cuts off kindness. What one undertakes in serving one&rsquos father, one also does in serving one&rsquos lord, because one&rsquos reverence for both is the same. Treating nobility in a noble way and the honorable in an honorable way, is the height of righteousness. (&ldquoSangfu sizhi&rdquo 喪服四制)

While it is not the case that righteousness is benevolence by other means, this passage underlines how in different contexts, different virtues may push people toward participation in particular shared cultural practices constitutive of the good life.

While the virtues of benevolence and righteousness might impel a gentleman to adhere to ritual norms in particular situations or areas of life, a third virtue of &ldquoritual propriety&rdquo expresses a sensitivity to one&rsquos social place, and willingness to play all of one&rsquos multiple ritual roles. The term li translated here as &ldquoritual propriety&rdquo has a particularly wide range of connotations, and additionally connotes both the conventions of ritual and etiquette. In the Analects, Confucius is depicted both teaching and conducting the rites in the manner that he believed they were conducted in antiquity. Detailed restrictions such as &ldquothe gentleman avoids wearing garments with red-black trim&rdquo (10.6), which the poet Ezra Pound disparaged as &ldquoverses re: length of the night-gown and the predilection for ginger&rdquo (Pound 1951: 191), were by no means trivial to Confucius. His imperative, &ldquoDo not look or listen, speak or move, unless it is in accordance with the rites&rdquo (12.1), in answer to a question about benevolence, illustrates how the symbolic conventions of the ritual system played a role in the cultivation of the virtues. We have seen how ritual shapes values by restricting desires, thereby allowing reflection and the cultivation of moral dispositions. Yet without the proper affective state, a person is not properly performing ritual. In the Analects, Confucius says he cannot tolerate &ldquoritual without reverence, or mourning without grief,&rdquo (3.26). When asked about the root of ritual propriety, he says that in funerals, the mourners&rsquo distress is more important than the formalities (3.4). Knowing the details of ritual protocols is important, but is not a substitute for sincere affect in performing them. Together, they are necessary conditions for the gentleman&rsquos training, and are also essential to understanding the social context in which Confucius taught his disciples.

The mastery that &ldquoritual propriety&rdquo signaled was part of a curriculum associated with the training of rulers and officials, and proper ritual performance at court could also serve as a kind of political legitimation. Confucius summarized the different prongs of the education in ritual and music involved in the training of his followers:

Raise yourself up with the Classic of Odes. Establish yourself with ritual. Complete yourself with music. (8.8)

On one occasion, Boyu 伯魚, the son of Confucius, explained that when he asked his father to teach him, his father told him to study the Classic of Odes in order to have a means to speak with others, and to study ritual to establish himself (16.13). That Confucius insists that his son master classical literature and practices underscores the values of these cultural products as a means of transmitting the way from one generation to the next. He tells his disciples that the study of the Classic of Odes prepares them for different aspects of life, providing them with a capacity to:

at home serve one&rsquos father, away from it serve one&rsquos lord, as well as increase one's knowledge of the names of birds, animals, plants and trees. (17.9)

This valuation of knowledge of both the cultural and natural worlds is one reason why the figure of Confucius has traditionally been identified with schooling, and why today his birthday is celebrated as &ldquoTeacher&rsquos Day&rdquo in some parts of Asia. In the ancient world, this kind of education also qualified Confucius and his disciples for employment on estates and at courts.

The fourth virtue, wisdom, is related to appraising people and situations. In the Analects, wisdom allows a gentleman to discern crooked and straight behavior in others (12.22), and discriminate between those who may be reformed and those who may not (15.8). In the former dialogue, Confucius explains the virtue of wisdom as &ldquoknowing others&rdquo. The &ldquoThicket of Sayings&rdquo excavated at Guodian indicates that this knowledge is the basis for properly &ldquoselecting&rdquo others, defining wisdom as the virtue that is the basis for selection. But it is also about appraising situations correctly, as suggested by the master&rsquos rhetorical question: &ldquoHow can a person be considered wise if that person does not dwell in benevolence?&rdquo (4.1). One well-known passage often cited to imply Confucius is agnostic about the world of the spirits is more literally about how wisdom allows an outsider to present himself in a way appropriate to the people on whose behalf he is working:

When working for what is right for the common people, to show reverence for the ghosts and spirits while maintaining one&rsquos distance may be deemed wisdom. (6.22)

The context for this sort of appraisal is usually official service, and wisdom is often attributed to valued ministers or advisors to sage rulers.

In certain dialogues, wisdom also connotes a moral discernment that allows the gentleman to be confident of the appropriateness of good actions. In the Analects, Confucius tells his disciple Zi Lu 子路 that wisdom recognizes knowing a thing as knowing it, and ignorance of a thing as ignorance of it (2.17). In soliloquies about several virtues, Confucius describes a wise person as never confused (9.28, 14.28). While comparative philosophers have noted that Chinese thought has nothing clearly analogous to the role of the will in pre-modern European philosophy, the moral discernment that is part of wisdom does provide actors with confidence that the moral actions they have taken are correct.

The virtue of trustworthiness qualifies a gentleman to give advice to a ruler, and a ruler or official to manage others. In the Analects, Confucius explains it succinctly: &ldquoif one is trustworthy, others will give one responsibilities&rdquo (17.6, cf. 20.1). While trustworthiness may be rooted in the proper expression of friendship between those of the same status (1.4, 5.26), it is also valuable in interactions with those of different status. The disciple Zi Xia 子夏 explains its effect on superiors and subordinates: when advising a ruler, without trustworthiness, the ruler will think a gentleman is engaged in slander, and when administering a state, without trustworthiness, people will think a gentleman is exploiting them (19.10). The implication is that a sincerely public-minded official would be ineffective without the trust that this quality inspires. In a dialogue with a ruler from chapter four of Han&rsquos Intertextual Commentary the Odes, Confucius explains that in employing someone, trustworthiness is superior to strength, ability to flatter, or eloquence. Being able to rely on someone is so important to Confucius that, when asked about good government, he explained that trustworthiness was superior to either food or weapons, concluding: &ldquoIf the people do not find the ruler trustworthy, the state will not stand&rdquo (12.7).

By the Han period, benevolence, righteousness, ritual propriety, wisdom and trustworthiness began to be considered as a complete set of human virtues, corresponding with other quintets of phenomena used to describe the natural world. Some texts described a level of moral perfection, as with the sages of antiquity, as unifying all these virtues. Prior to this, it is unclear whether the possession of a particular virtue entailed having all the others, although benevolence was sometimes used as a more general term for a combination of one or more of the other virtues (e.g., Analects 17.6). At other times, Confucius presented individual virtues as expressions of goodness in particular domains of life. Early Confucius dialogues are embedded in concrete situations, and so resist attempts to distill them into more abstract principles of morality. As a result, descriptions of the virtues are embedded in anecdotes about the exemplary individuals whose character traits the dialogues encourage their audience to develop. Confucius taught that the measure of a good action was whether it was an expression of the actor&rsquos virtue, something his lessons share with those of philosophies like Aristotle&rsquos that are generally described as &ldquovirtue ethics&rdquo. A modern evaluation of the teachings of Confucius as a &ldquovirtue ethics&rdquo is articulated in Bryan W. Van Norden&rsquos Virtue Ethics and Consequentialism in Early Chinese Philosophy, which pays particular attention to analogies between the way of Confucius and Aristotle&rsquos &ldquogood life&rdquo. The nature of the available source materials about Confucius, however, means that the diverse texts from early China lack the systematization of a work like Aristotle&rsquos Nicomachean Ethics.

The five virtues described above are not the only ones of which Confucius spoke. He discussed loyalty (zhong 忠), which at one point is described as the minister&rsquos behavior toward a ritually proper ruler (3.19). He said that courage (yong 勇) is what compels one to act once one has seen where righteousness lies (2.24). Another term sometimes translated as &ldquovirtue&rdquo (de 德), is usually used to describe the authority of a ruler that grows out of goodness or favor to others, and is a key term in many of the social and political works discussed in the following section. Yet going through a list of all the virtues in the early sources is not sufficient to describe the entirety of the moral universe associated with Confucius.

The presence of themes in the Analects like the ruler&rsquos exceptional influence as a moral exemplar, the importance of judging people by their deeds rather than their words (1.3, 2.10, 5.10), or even the protection of the culture of Zhou by higher powers (9.5), all highlight the unsystematic nature of the text and underscore that teaching others how to cultivate the virtues is a key aspect, but only a part, of the ethical ideal of Confucius. Yet there is also a conundrum inherent in any attempt to derive abstract moral rules from the mostly dialogical form of the Analects, that is, the problem of whether the situational context and conversation partner is integral to evaluating the statements of Confucius. A historically notable example of an attempt to find a generalized moral rule in the Analects is the reading of a pair of passages that use a formulation similar to that of the &ldquoGolden Rule&rdquo of the Christian Bible (Matthew 7:12 and Luke 6:31) to describe benevolence: &ldquoDo not impose upon others those things that you yourself do not desire&rdquo (12.2, cf. 5.12, 15.24). Read as axiomatic moral imperatives, these passages differ from the kind of exemplar-based and situational conversations about morality usually found in the Analects. For this reason, some scholars, including E. Bruce Brooks, believe these passages to be interpolations. While they are not wholly inconsistent with the way that benevolence is described in early texts, their interpretation as abstract principles has been influenced by their perceived similarity to the Biblical examples. In the Records of Ritual, a slightly different formulation of a rule about self and others is presented as not universal in its scope, but rather as descriptive of how the exemplary ruler influences the people. In common with other early texts, the Analects describes how the moral transformation of society relies on the positive example of the ruler, comparing the influence of the gentleman on the people to the way the wind blows on the grass, forcing it to bend (12.19). In a similar vein, after discussing how the personal qualities of rulers of the past determined whether or not their subjects could morally transform, the Records of Ritual expresses its principle of reflexivity:

That is why the gentleman only seeks things in others that he or she personally possesses. [The gentleman] only condemns things in others that he or she personally lacks. (&ldquoDaxue&rdquo 大學)

This is a point about the efficacy of moral suasion, saying that a ruler cannot expect to reform society solely by command since it is only the ruler&rsquos personal example that can transform others. For this reason, the ruler should not compel behaviors from his subjects to which he or she would not personally assent, something rather different from the &ldquoGolden Rule&rdquo. Historically, however, views that Confucius was inspired by the same Natural Theology as Christians, or that philosophers are naturally concerned with the generalization of moral imperatives, have argued in favor of a closer identification with the &ldquoGolden Rule,&rdquo a fact that illustrates the interpretative conundrum arising from the formal aspects of the Analects.

Transmitters and Creators : Chinese Commentators and Commentaries on the Analects

The Analects (Lunyu) is one of the most influential texts in human history. As a putative record of Confucius's (551-479 B.C.E.) teachings and a foundational text in scriptural Confucianism, this classic was instrumental in shaping intellectual traditions in China and East Asia until the early twentieth century.

But no premodern reader read only the text of the Analects itself. Rather, the Analects was embedded in a web of interpretation that mediated its meaning. Modern interpreters of the Analects only rarely acknowledge this legacy of two thousand years of commentaries. How well do we understand prominent or key commentaries from this tradition? How often do we read such commentaries as we might read the text on which they comment? Many commentaries do more than simply comment on a text. Not only do they shape the reading of the text, but passages of text serve as pretexts for the commentator to develop and expound his own body of thought.

This book attempts to redress our neglect of commentaries by analyzing four key works dating from the late second century to the mid-nineteenth century (a period substantially contemporaneous with the rise and decline of scriptural Confucianism): the commentaries of He Yan (ca. 190-249) Huang Kan (488-545) Zhu Xi (1130-1200) and Liu Baonan (1791-1855) and Liu Gongmian (1821-1880).

The Analects of Confucius / Chapter 4, 17-26

4-17. The Master said, “When we see men of worth, we should think of equaling them when we see men of a contrary character, we should turn inwards and examine ourselves.”

4-18. The Master said, “In serving his parents, a son may remonstrate with them, but gently when he sees that they do not incline to follow his advice, he shows an increased degree of reverence, but does not abandon his purpose and should they punish him, he does not allow himself to murmur.”

4-19. The Master said, “While his parents are alive, the son may not go abroad to a distance. If he does go abroad, he must have a fixed place to which he goes.”

4-20. The Master said, “If the son for three years does not alter from the way of his father, he may be called filial.”

4-21. The Master said, “The years of parents may by no means not be kept in the memory, as an occasion at once for joy and for fear.”

4-22. The Master said, “The reason why the ancients did not readily give utterance to their words, was that they feared lest their actions should not come up to them.”

4-23. The Master said, “The cautious seldom err.”

4-24. The Master said, “The superior man wishes to be slow in his speech and earnest in his conduct.”

4-25. The Master said, “Virtue is not left to stand alone. He who practices it will have neighbors.”

4-26. Tsze-yu said, “In serving a prince, frequent remonstrances lead to disgrace. Between friends, frequent reproofs make the friendship distant.”

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