Confucius Analects Criticism - Essay

James Legge (essay date 1893)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Legge, James. “Of the Confucian Analects.” In The Chinese Classics: I: Confucian Analects, The Great Learning, The Doctrine of the Mean, pp. 12-20. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 1960.

[In the following excerpt, originally published in 1893, Legge discusses the formation of the text of the Analects, provides evidence that it was written by disciples of Confucius, and gives an overview of commentaries on the work.]


1. When the work of collecting and editing the remains of the Classical Books was undertaken by the scholars...

(The entire section is 3628 words.)

Lionel Giles (essay date 1907)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Giles, Lionel. Introduction to The Sayings of Confucius, pp. 7-36. London: John Murray, 1907.

[In the following essay, Giles provides a character sketch of Confucius and discusses his reputation in the West.]

Confucius is one of the few supremely great figures in the world's history. A man's greatness must always be measured, in the first place, by the consensus of opinion in his own country; the judgment of foreigners can only be allowed to have a secondary value. Especially is this true when the critics are not only foreigners, but belong to a totally different order of civilisation from the men whose greatness they would appraise. For even if they can keep...

(The entire section is 7062 words.)

Ezra Pound (essay date 1928)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Pound, Ezra. “Translator's Note.” In The Great Digest, The Unwobbling Pivot, The Analects, by Confucius, translated by Ezra Pound, p. 19. New York: New Directions Publishing Corp., 1951.

[In the following essay, first published in 1928, Pound notes that Confucius exhibits a concern, unparalleled by any other philosopher, for government.]

Starting at the bottom as market inspector, having risen to be Prime Minister, Confucius is more concerned with the necessities of government, and of governmental administration than any other philosopher. He had two thousand years of documented history behind him which he condensed so as to render it useful to men in high official position, not making a mere collection of anecdotes as did Herodotus.

His analysis of why the earlier great emperors had been able to govern greatly was so sound that every durable dynasty, since his time, has risen on a Confucian design and been initiated by a group of Confucians. China was tranquil when her rulers understood these few pages. When the principles here defined were neglected, dynasties waned and chaos ensued. The proponents of a world order will neglect at their peril the study of the only process that has repeatedly proved its efficiency as social coordinate.

Dorothea Hosie (essay date 1937)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Hosie, Dorothea. “Confucius.” In The Analects or The Conversations of Confucius with His Disciples and Certain Others, by Confucius, translated by William Edward Soothill, pp. v-xlvii. London: Oxford University Press, 1937.

[In the following essay, Hosie offers a biographical sketch of Confucius.]

In the year 551 b.c. Confucius was born in the city of Ch‘ü Fu, which lies in the hilly part of that province of north-east China which we know to-day as Shantung. The Empire was divided into many warring States, some little more than a township with its suburbs: tradition has it that these ‘states’ numbered 124 shortly before the Sage's birth and a...

(The entire section is 6870 words.)

H. G. Creel (essay date 1949)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Creel, H. G. “Confucianism and Western Democracy.” In Confucius: The Man and the Myth, pp. 254-78. New York: The John Day Company, 1949.

[In the following essay, Creel traces Thomas Jefferson's ideas and the ideals of the French Revolution to the writings of Confucius.]

In the Western world democratic institutions made their most rapid and dramatic gains in connection with the American and French Revolutions. It is no doubt true that these revolutions were not “caused” by the philosophic movement known as the Enlightenment; but it is true that this new pattern of thought determined, in very considerable measure, the direction in which men moved once the...

(The entire section is 10522 words.)

D. Howard Smith (essay date winter 1963)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Smith, D. Howard. “The Significance of Confucius for Religion.” History of Religions 2, no. 2 (winter 1963): 242-55.

[In the following essay, Smith discusses whether Confucianism should be treated as a religion or as a philosophy with religious ethics.]

What is known in the West as Confucianism has its roots in pre-Confucian times in the teaching of the Ju, a scholar class, the origin of which has been hotly debated by Chinese scholars in recent years.1 These Ju seem to have been experts in the performance and interpretation of religious rites, and were the holders and transmitters of traditional learning. Confucius acknowledged his indebtedness...

(The entire section is 6146 words.)

O. B. van der Sprenkel (essay date 1975)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Van der Sprenkel, O. B. “Confucius: Six Variations.” In Self and Biography: Essays on the Individual and Society in Asia, edited by Wang Gungwu, pp. 79-98. Sydney, Australia: Sydney University Press, 1975.

[In the following excerpt, Sprenkel describes six distinct interpretations of Confucianism and discusses how each has been used to bolster particular notions of social behavior.]

Very little is known about Confucius the man. There has never been, in China, a ‘quest for the historical Confucius’. It is generally agreed that he lived from 551 to 479 bc. He is believed to have travelled about China in middle life, and then to have returned to his native...

(The entire section is 9250 words.)

Donald Holzman (essay date 1978)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Holzman, Donald. “Confucius and Ancient Chinese Literary Criticism.” In Chinese Approaches to Literature from Confucius to Liang Ch'i-ch'ao, edited by Adele Austin Rickett, pp. 21-41. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1978.

[In the following essay, Holzman presents an analysis of Confucius as a literary critic.]


Surely there is no more bookish civilization than China's, no civilization more prone to revere its ancient writings and to seek for guidance in its daily affairs within the pages of its traditional and even modern literature. And yet when we look into ancient Chinese writings to seek for general remarks about...

(The entire section is 7351 words.)

Lionel M. Jensen (essay date 1997)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Jensen, Lionel M. “Introduction: Confucius, Kongzi, and the Modern Imagination.” In Manufacturing Confucianism: Chinese Traditions & Universal Civilization, pp. 3-28. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1997.

[In the following essay, Jensen traces the evolution of scholars's understanding of Confucian concepts over the centuries.]

A little more than four centuries ago, a detachment of seamen in service to Philip II of Spain (r. 1556-1598) and a few missionaries of a new order of the Catholic Church, the Society of Jesus, sailed by Portuguese carrack to the south coast of China. We have lived the consequences of this passage ever since. Portuguese...

(The entire section is 13149 words.)

Tu Weiming (essay date November 1999)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Weiming, Tu. “Confucius: The Embodiment of Faith in Humanity.” The World and I 14, no. 11 (November 1999): 292-305.

[In the following essay, Weiming identifies what he considers the fundamentals of Confucianism and examines Confucius as a spiritual leader and teacher.]

Writing in the 1950s, Karl Jaspers, the German philosopher noted for his idea of the “axial age” civilizations, chose Socrates, Buddha, Confucius, and Jesus as the most significant shapers of the human form of life.1 In supporting his claim, he offered the following justification:

These four paradigmatic individuals have exerted a historical...

(The entire section is 5256 words.)

Sandra A. Wawrytko (essay date June 2000)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Wawrytko, Sandra A. “Kongzi as Feminist: Confucian Self-Cultivation in a Contemporary Context.” Journal of Chinese Philosophy 27, no. 2 (June 2000): 171-86.

[In the following essay, Wawrytko contends that Confucian philosophy epitomizes the feminist agenda.]

If Chinese philosophy is to be revitalized and reconstructed, it is essential that we consider the fate of a dominant force in traditional Chinese thought—Kongzi. Some scholars have argued that Confucianism constitutes “an ideological obstacle” to modernization throughout East Asia, albeit in varying degrees.1 Even those who grudgingly admit the manifest wisdom of Kongzi have charged...

(The entire section is 6277 words.)

Qianfan Zhang (essay date September 2000)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Zhang, Qianfan. “The Idea of Human Dignity in Classical Chinese Philosophy: A Reconstruction of Confucianism.” Journal of Chinese Philosophy 27, no. 3 (September 2000): 299-330.

[In the following essay, Zhang explores the place of rights and duties in the Confucian view of human dignity.]

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

—Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948)

About fifty years ago, the United Nations appealed to the “recognition of...

(The entire section is 14539 words.)

Philip J. Ivanhoe (essay date 2002)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Ivanhoe, Philip J. “Whose Confucius? Which Analects?” In Confucius and the Analects: New Essays, edited by Bryan W. Van Norden, pp. 119-33. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.

[In the following excerpt, Ivanhoe uses Analects 5.13 to illustrate some profound philosophical differences in the tradition of Confucian interpretation.]

For over two thousand years, Confucian scholars have sought to explicate the meaning of their sacred texts, producing an extensive, rich, and sophisticated commentarial tradition that is an indispensable aid to the modern interpreter.1 In addition to writing formal commentaries, Confucian...

(The entire section is 7477 words.)

Lee H. Yearley (essay date 2002)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Yearley, Lee H. “An Existentialist Reading of Book 4 of the Analects.” In Confucius and the Analects: New Essays, edited by Bryan W. Van Norden, pp. 237-74. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.

[In the following essay, Yearley advocates applying to the Analects the same modern scholarship methods that are used in studying the New Testament.]


Among the more haunting of the many haunting passages in the Analects is the one that begins “The more I strain my gaze towards it, the higher it soars. The deeper I bore down into it, the harder it becomes. I see it in front; but suddenly it is...

(The entire section is 20080 words.)