The fiction writer Yasushi Inoue, who died in 1991, was bothcritically acclaimed worldwide and wildly popular in his native Japan. In addition, he was an expert sinologist who published various works of historical fiction (for example, TUN-HUANG) based on his knowledge of Chinese history. In CONFUCIUS, Inoue creates a disciple, Yen-chiang, through whose eyes he views the great social theorist and humanitarian.
The book begins slowly, as the protagonist prefaces the story of his first meeting with Confucius with a description of the gradual dissolution of his native state of Ts’ai, one of the many states that existed in Central China in the fifth century B.C., after the disintegration of the Chou dynasty. Yen-chiang’s narration makes clear the unstable and dangerous state of the China of Confucius’ era. Yen-chiang meets Confucius when he is asked to serve as factotum for the philosopher’s traveling party, which is in themidst of a fourteen-year journey throughout the Chinese centralplain. Confucius attempts to influence the leaders of variousstates in order to bring about moral order in the land andalleviate the suffering of the Chinese people. In the end, there islittle that Confucius can do, but the example of his high moralstandards and his insight into human nature makes an indelibleimpression not only on his disciples and those with whom he comesinto contact but also on the history of human thought.
Inoue’s low-key style, which is so typical of Japanese fiction,is perfect for his task here. The book builds gradually, as thereader comes to understand the powerful effect that Confucius hashad upon the simple factotum Yen-chiang, who in his old agedemonstrates a tremendous depth of understanding. Chapters 2, 3,and 4, the second half of the book, consist of Yen-chiang’sreminiscences about his master and his fellow disciples. This isthe essence of Inoue’s novel.
It is regrettable that translator Roger K. Thomas chose toabridge this volume, deleting one of the book’s five originalchapters in its entirety and excising various “lengthyphilosophical discourses” because they might prove dull for theWestern reader. The kind of reader who would be bored by suchwriting would be unlikely to pick up this book in the first place.In spite of this abridgment, however, the book is well worthreading.