9780140443486

The Analects (Penguin Classics)

Confucius

ISBN 10: 0140443487 / 0-14-044348-7
ISBN 13: 9780140443486
Publisher: Penguin Classics
Publication Date: 1998
Binding: Softcover
About this title:
Synopsis:

‘The Master said, “If a man sets his heart on benevolence, he will be free from evil”’

The Analects are a collection of Confucius’s sayings brought together by his pupils shortly after his death in 497 BC. Together they express a philosophy, or a moral code, by which Confucius, one of the most humane thinkers of all time, believed everyone should live. Upholding the ideals of wisdom, self-knowledge, courage and love of one’s fellow man, he argued that the pursuit of virtue should be every individual’s supreme goal. And, while following the Way, or the truth, might not result in immediate or material gain, Confucius showed that it could nevertheless bring its own powerful and lasting spiritual rewards.

This edition contains a detailed introduction exploring the concepts of the original work, a bibliography and glossary and appendices on Confucius himself, The Analects and the disciples who compiled them.


About the Author:
D.C. Lau read Chinese at the University of Hong Kong, and, in 1946, he went to Glasgow, where he read philosophy. In 1950 he entered the School of Oriental and African Studies in London to teach Chinese philosophy. After lecturing in Chinese philosophy at the University of London he returned to Hong Kong, where he is a Professor at the Chinese University.
D.C. Lau read Chinese at the University of Hong Kong, and, in 1946, he went to Glasgow, where he read philosophy. In 1950 he entered the School of Oriental and African Studies in London to teach Chinese philosophy. After lecturing in Chinese philosophy at the University of London he returned to Hong Kong, where he is a Professor at the Chinese University.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Preface

The Analects is the single most important book in the history of China. Yet for the uninitiated, this fact is hard to grasp because the principal figure in the book, Confucius, is often seen to be responding to a question, offering a comment, or just thinking aloud. He refrained from “putting forth theories,” the Analects says, and “did not think that he must be right.” His approach is personal, so that even when a simple fellow asks him a question, Confucius has “to knock at both sides [of the question] until everything has been considered.”

In the introduction to his translation of Montaigne’s essays, Donald Frame tells us, “Montaigne resists definition. . . . Yet this very difficulty points to one answer: that the book is the man.” Perhaps the same is true of Confucius and the Analects, but the Analects is not a record of what Confucius wrote, only of what he said. It is, in hindsight, the way Confucius represented himself to the world, though he never intended for that to happen, since it was his disciples and generations of disciples following them who compiled the book. How then did such a work end up being the central point of reference for scholars, thinkers, rulers, political counselors, and just about anyone in the last twenty-five hundred years of Chinese history? And how did Confucius’ voice become a source of authority for the Chinese, even for the leaders of the present Communist government? Through a combination of hard work and chance, one might say.

In the years right after his death in 479 BC, competitive interpretations of what Confucius had taught helped to keep his name and his ideas alive. Then, in the next two hundred years, two followers, Mencius and Xunzi, took his teachings in different directions, and between them much ground was covered, from the self to society and nature. These men’s disquisitions on man’s inborn dispositions, on his private and public duties, on what is fair and what is misguided judgment, and on the many moral conundrums of life could seem like a long stretch from what Confucius had originally put forth, but the world had changed by their time. People demanded more from the wise and learned because there were more variables in human relationships and in one’s relation to the state. Also, more contenders had entered the field—but Mencius and Xunzi were not just eyeing the opposition. They had to be ready, of course, to spar with the quickest and most discerning minds of their day, but, more important, they were looking to satisfy their yearning for knowledge. In the course of their endeavor, Confucius would grow in name and stature.

Imperial patronage in the Han dynasty, after China became a unified country in the second century BC, helped Confucius secure a permanent place within China’s institutions. Bureaucracy, law, education, social organization, and ritual practice—all stood on principles that bore the influence of Confucius’ assumptions and beliefs. This, however, does not mean that Confucius’ teachings did not go through periods of decline. The longest of these lasted nearly seven hundred years, from the beginning of the Six Dynasties (220–589) to the end of the Tang dynasty (618–906), during which time Buddhism, a foreign religion, captivated the Chinese imagination and the Chinese, in turn, shaped the foreign religion to look like their own. It was in response to the imminent threat of losing their cultural distinction that the Chinese in the beginning of the Song dynasty (960–1279) saw a need to revive Confucian teachings. The movement unfolded gradually, and by the end of that dynasty nearly everything was being addressed by this new Confucianism, from the arcane to the practical, from metaphysics to spiritual cultivation, from scholarship to learning and education, from the selection of officials to principles of government.

The Confucian counselors in the next dynasty, the Yuan (1279–1368), managed to persuade their Mongol rulers to tighten the focus of the civil service examinations, limiting them to four books from the Confucian canon and a set of commentaries sanctioned by the imperial court. The Analects was one of these Four Books. In a society where, for most men, succeeding in the examinations—and thus securing a government post—was the only avenue to raising one’s social standing, what this meant was that the Analects, along with the three related texts, became a fixture in the studies of all those who were able to get an education. These hopeful aspirants would memorize the text when they were very young and then return to it repeatedly almost as a daily exercise. In time, the book would have helped them to shape their views and might even have helped them to find a moral anchor. But the story of the Analects does not end there. If competition against a foreign religion fueled the Confucian revival in the Song, disagreements within the tradition about how to read the Analects kept the book alive, and the man who started it all vigorous and relevant, until today.

Most of the translations in English, however, do not reflect this rich tradition in reading the Analects. Instead, they tend to favor one commentary, Zhu Xi’s from the twelfth century, that had become standard through five hundred years of imperial support and the only interpretation the state would accept in the civil service examinations. My work follows a different approach. I relied on the scholars from the last three hundred years—scholars who put research before ideology—to show me the competing interpretations and the possibilities of understanding a word, a sentence, or a passage, and my translation is what I arrived at after I had considered the range of choices before me. My hope, of course, is to recover some of the ambiguities and nuances in what Confucius says, which are often lost if one comes to trust a single voice or a single vision.

 • • • 

In the introduction to this translation, I offer a brief account of Confucius’ life and some guidance about how to read the Analects. I also explain why one would need traditional commentaries to make sense of this book and how I have tried to handle the bulk of this knowledge and scholarship from the last two thousand years. A chronology of China’s dynastic history follows the introduction.

Very few chapters, called “Books” in the translation, have a prefatory synopsis, because often there is no thread to bind the ideas together in any given section; therefore, unless there is a good reason to suggest one, I have refrained from providing a synopsis lest it become an obstacle, a limitation or misdirection, to reading. Glossaries of names and terms carry the same risk, I feel, and so my approach is to provide in the commentary a thorough description of a name or a term when it first appears in the text, and then to gloss it each time it shows up again. This is my attempt to think aloud about the character of, say, a disciple like Zigong or Zilu and about what Confucius means by ren (humaneness) or ming (destiny). My hope is that by the end of the book the reader will have come to his or her own conclusion about a given person or idea. I have, however, drawn together, in Appendix 1, an index of the disciples of Confucius and of historical individuals that appear in the Analects; in Appendix 2, an index of terms and of topics; and, in Appendix 3, an index of Chinese scholars and thinkers cited in the commentaries. I have also included, following my English translation, the Chinese text of the Analects, because more and more readers in the West have shown an interest in having it, and it is also the right thing to do in a work in which exegesis—as a discipline and by way of translation—is the principal mode of operation.

 • • • 

For a book as old as the Analects, many questions remain—about its origin and development, and about the work that went into producing its early redactions before it took its present shape. We have, through archaeological discovery, a version of one early redaction, dated to the first half of the first century BC. Written on bamboo strips, the text was found in 1973 in Ding prefecture, Hebei province, in the tomb of a Han dynasty nobleman, but it was in bad shape. A fire from long ago in the tomb—which bore the vestiges of a botched robbery—had destroyed more than half of the bamboo strips and left the remaining ones gravely damaged. It took scholars two decades to have the transcription of the Dingzhou Analects published. Comparing this and the received version, we notice variants in the usage of particles and characters and in the partition of the passages but no fundamental differences that would alter our thinking about the standard text.

Since the discovery in Ding prefecture, many more excavated texts have come to light. Some of these have been dated to the first hundred years of the Han dynasty. Others are from 300 BC or earlier, in a period of Chinese history known as “the Warring States.” Confucius appears in eight of the forty-five Warring States texts from the Shanghai Museum collection, most of which are records of his conversations with disciples or political figures. They add to our knowledge of Confucius and his world and have contributed to my own consideration of the Analects, but answers to questions regarding the formation of the Analects still await the emergence of more evidence. A correction in approach, however, has already taken place. It had been widely accepted that a work with a long history, like the Analects or the Laozi, even before it became stabilized, must have evolved linearly from a single mother source. But more and more scholars are giving up this theory, because the excavated materials, especially those of the Laozi, suggest that at inception there were many threads and mutual influences. What this means for the Analects is that the search for its beginnings will be more difficult than we thought, but the odds of finding more early examples may be on our side. In the meantime, we still have a lot to absorb from the book that we have right here.

Acknowledgments

I am indebted to my grandfather, Jin Yufu, and to scholars like him whose passion for research is big and constant and infectious.

I am grateful to my editor, John Siciliano, who always had time for me to talk through a point, an idea, or a change of mind about form or content. Many thanks to Janet Fletcher for being the most rigorous of copy editors. It is my good fortune to have been able to put a manuscript in her hands again. My thanks also to Yulia Bereshpolova and Shao Xiaofang for allowing me to intrude into their lives any hour of the day to get me out of my trouble with computer technology.

My family has been a part of this journey from the beginning. Mei and Yar helped to keep me on the road. And Jonathan was my constant companion—my “friend and dear friend”—through every stage and turn. He has read every draft and pored over every word, and to him this translation is dedicated.

Introduction

I have been exploring the Analects of Confucius for most of my adult life—more obsessively in the last ten years—and though the journey has not gotten easier, the pleasure never diminishes. This is because the more I burrow into it the more generous the text becomes, the more knowledge it is willing to give away. Confucius, too, allows himself to be that much more palpable when I search for him with extra effort. But this is what I always wanted, to find him not as an elevated idea but as someone who thinks and speaks and responds to the world with human instincts and an awareness of his own limitations. And in my long relationship with the Analects, something else—something even more important—has happened. It seems that somewhere along the way the book has shed its earlier identity as an object of my studies. In fact, as I read it now, I plunge deeper into my own life. I feel more acutely those things that make up this life: family, friends, students, my country, her politics, memories of childhood, and memories of my parents.

The eighteenth-century scholar Cheng Yaotian says this about literature: “Its influence can be more inspiring than being in the presence of a great man because it calls upon us to articulate our ideas and it beckons us to draw analogies. And so what literature offers is more than just something to rely on: it takes us by the hand and bolsters us up; it holds us by the arm to get us on our way.” The Analects is that kind of literature, yet it is also a book with few points of access. To find a way in can be discouraging even for the most earnest beginners, and it is not because the language is abstruse. The Analects is not a store of esoteric knowledge. It is a work about Confucius’ life and teachings, but the records stand piecemeal—as a bit of a conversation Confucius had with a disciple or someone he knew or as part of a remark he made about a contemporary or a figure from the past. And the fragments are often isolated from one another even though they may be bundled together as a single chapter. This is one reason why the book is difficult to approach. Names of people pose another problem. Of these, there are many, and rarely does the text explain who these people were, and only in a few instances are we told why a person was mentioned or why a conversation took place at all. The heaps of commentaries written over the last two thousand years to help us get through the opaque passages and work out the enigmas can paralyze the reader with their sheer weight and volume. And this is where I would like to come in: to bring clarity to this work with a new translation and commentaries that reflect centuries of scholarship but without the heft. And my hope is to be able to take readers through each chapter and entry, without ever losing them. One example from Book Fourteen may help to illustrate this point:

A young boy from Que took on the task of being a messenger [for the people] of this district. Someone asked Confucius, “Do you see him as someone who is eager to make progress in his learning?”

The Master replied, “I have seen this boy sitting down [in a gathering of adults] and walking abreast of his elders. He is not someone who seeks to make progress [yi]. He simply wants to grow up fast [cheng].”

The two words yi and cheng are critical to our understanding of Confucius’ assessment of the young boy. But before he pronounces the boy to be cheng and not yi, Confucius says that he has seen this child “sitting down with” his elders and “walking abreast of” them, which, according to the mores at the time, was a violation of ritual propriety. Thus the boy, in Confucius’ view, could not have been someone who was “eager to make progress in learning [yi]”: “He simply wants to grow up fast [cheng].” Evidence is crucial to judgment. Confucius applied this principle to the judgment of character, and scholars later on extended it to the reading of a text. But the idea is the same, and this is how we get the moral thinker and the exegete. There is one other thing the record shows, and that is just how closely Confucius observes a person’s—even a mere boy’s—conduct. And the fact that the boy was from Que, which was Confucius’ home district, suggests that the knowledge was firsthand.

A more difficult kind of exegetical work involves searching for a thread among the records in the Analects to tell a bigger story about Confucius’ thinking on a broader subject. ...


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