by Kong Qiu

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James Legge (essay date 1893)

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SOURCE: "Confucius and His Immediate Disciples," in The Chinese Classics, Vol. I, Oxford at the Clarendon Press, 1893, pp. 90-111.

[In the following excerpt, Legge remarks on the veneration of Confucius and discusses the philosopher's views on government.]

1. Confucius died … complaining that of all the princes of the kingdom there was not one who would adopt his principles and obey his lessons. He had hardly passed from the stage of life, when his merit began to be acknowledged. When the duke Âi heard of his death, he pronounced his eulogy in the words, 'Heaven has not left to me the aged man. There is none now to assist me on the throne. Woe is me! Alas! O venerable Nî!' Tsze-kung complained of the inconsistency of this lamentation from one who could not use the master when he was alive, but the prince was probably sincere in his grief. He caused a temple to be erected, and ordered that sacrifice should be offered to the sage, at the four seasons of the year.

The sovereigns of the tottering dynasty of Châu had not the intelligence, nor were they in a position, to do honour to the departed philosopher, but the facts detailed in the first chapter of these prolegomena, in connexion with the attempt of the founder of the Ch'in dynasty to destroy the literary monuments of antiquity, show how the authority of Confucius had come by that time to prevail through the nation. The founder of the Han dynasty, in passing through Lû, B.C. 195, visited his tomb and offered the three victims in sacrifice to him. Other sovereigns since then have often made pilgrimages to the spot. The most famous temple in the empire now rises near the place of the grave. The second and greatest of the rulers of the present dynasty, in the twenty-third year of his reign, the K'anghsî period, there set the example of kneeling thrice, and each time laying his forehead thrice in the dust, before the image of the sage.

In the year of our Lord 1, began the practice of conferring honorary designations on Confucius by imperial authority. The emperor P'ing then styled him— 'The duke Nî, all-complete and illustrious.' This was changed, in A.D. 492, to—'The venerable Nî, the accomplished Sage.' Other titles have supplanted this. Shun-chih, the first of the Man-châu dynasty, adopted, in his second year, A. D. 1645, the style,—'K'ung, the ancient Teacher, accomplished and illustrious, all-complete, the perfect Sage;' but twelve years later, a shorter title was introduced,—'K'ung, the ancient Teacher, the perfect Sage.' Since that year no further alteration has been made.

At first, the worship of Confucius was confined to the country of Lû, but in A.D. 57 it was enacted that sacrifices should be offered to him in the imperial college, and in all the colleges of the principal territorial divisions throughout the empire. In those sacrifices he was for some centuries associated with the duke of Châu, the legislator to whom Confucius made frequent reference, but in A.D. 609 separate temples were assigned to them, and in 628 our sage displaced the older worthy altogether. About the same time began the custom, which continues to the present day, of erecting temples to him,—separate structures, in connexion with all the colleges, or examination-halls, of the country.

The sage is not alone in those temples. In a hall behind the principal one occupied by himself are the tablets— in some cases, the images—of several of his ancestors, and other worthies; while associated with himself are his principal disciples, and many who...

(This entire section contains 9281 words.)

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in subsequent times have signalized themselves as expounders and exemplifiers of his doctrines. On the first day of every month, offerings of fruits and vegetables are set forth, and on the fifteenth there is a solemn burning of incense. But twice a year, in the middle months of spring and autumn, when the firstting day of the month comes round, the worship of Confucius is performed with peculiar solemnity. At the imperial college the emperor himself is required to attend in state, and is in fact the principal performer. After all the preliminary arrangements have been made, and the emperor has twice knelt and six times bowed his head to the earth, the presence of Confucius's spirit is invoked in the words, 'Great art thou, O perfect sage! Thy virtue is full; thy doctrine is complete. Among mortal men there has not been thine equal. All kings honour thee. Thy statutes and laws have come gloriously down. Thou art the pattern in this imperial school. Reverently have the sacrificial vessels been set out. Full of awe, we sound our drums and bells.'

The spirit is supposed now to be present, and the service proceeds through various offerings, when the first of which has been set forth, an officer reads the following, which is the prayer on the occasion:—'On this … month of this … year, I, A.B., the emperor, offer a sacrifice to the philosopher K'ung, the ancient Teacher, the perfect Sage, and say,—O Teacher, in virtue equal to Heaven and Earth, whose doctrines embrace the past time and the present, thou didst digest and transmit the six classics, and didst hand down lessons for all generations! Now in this second month of spring (or autumn), in reverent observance of the old statutes, with victims, silks, spirits, and fruits, I carefully offer sacrifice to thee. With thee are associated the philosopher Yen, Continuator of thee; the philosopher Tsăng, Exhibiter of thy fundamental principles; the philosopher Tsze-sze, Transmitter of thee; and the philosopher Măng, Second to thee. May'st thou enjoy the offerings!'

I need not go on to enlarge on the homage which the emperors of China render to Confucius. It could not be more complete. He was unreasonably neglected when alive. He is now unreasonably venerated when dead.

2. The rulers of China are not singular in this matter, but in entire sympathy with the mass of their people. It is the distinction of this empire that education has been highly prized in it from the earliest times. It was so before the era of Confucius, and we may be sure that the system met with his approbation. One of his remarkable sayings was,—'To lead an uninstructed people to war is to throw them away.' When he pronounced this judgment, he was not thinking of military training, but of education in the duties of life and citizenship. A people so taught, he thought, would be morally fitted to fight for their government. Mencius, when lecturing to the ruler of T'ăng on the proper way of governing a kingdom, told him that he must provide the means of education for all, the poor as well as the rich. 'Establish,' said he, 'hsiang, hsü, hsio, and hsiâo,—all those educational institutions,—for the instruction of the people.'

At the present day, education is widely diffused throughout China. In few other countries is the school-master more abroad, and in all schools it is Confucius who is taught. The plan of competitive examinations, and the selection for civil offices only from those who have been successful candidates,—good so far as the competition is concerned, but injurious from the restricted range of subjects with which an acquaintance is required,—have obtained for more than twelve centuries. The classical works are the text books. It is from them almost exclusively that the themes proposed to determine the knowledge and ability of the students are chosen. The whole of the magistracy of China is thus versed in all that is recorded of the sage, and in the ancient literature which he preserved. His thoughts are familiar to every man in authority, and his character is more or less reproduced in him.

The official civilians of China, numerous as they are, are but a fraction of its students, and the students, or those who make literature a profession, are again but a fraction of those who attend school for a shorter or longer period. Yet so far as the studies have gone, they have been occupied with the Confucian writings. In the schoolrooms there is a tablet or inscription on the wall, sacred to the sage, and every pupil is required, on coming to school on the morning of the first and fifteenth of every month, to bow before it, the first thing, as an act of reverence. Thus all in China who receive the slightest tincture of learning do so at the fountain of Confucius. They learn of him and do homage to him at once. I have repeatedly quoted the statement that during his life-time he had three thousand disciples. Hundreds of millions are his disciples now. It is hardly necessary to make any allowance in this Statement for the followers of Tâoism and Buddhism, for, as Sir John Davis [The Chinese] has observed, 'whatever the other opinions or faith of a Chinese may be, he takes good care to treat Confucius with respect.' For two thousand years he has reigned supreme, the undisputed teacher of this most populous land.

3. This position and influence of Confucius are to be ascribed, I conceive, chiefly to two causes:—his being the preserver, namely of the monuments of antiquity, and the exemplifier and expounder of the maxims of the golden age of China; and the devotion to him of his immediate disciples and their early followers. The national and the personal are thus blended in him, each in its highest degree of excellence. He was a Chinese of the Chinese; he is also represented as, and all now believe him to have been, the beau ideal of humanity in its best and noblest estate.

4. It may be well to bring forward here Confucius's own estimate of himself and of his doctrines. It will serve to illustrate the statements just made. The following are some of his sayings:—'The sage and the man of perfect virtue;—how dare I rank myself with them? It may simply be said of me, that I strive to become such without satiety, and teach others without weariness.' 'In letters I am perhaps equal to other men; but the character of the superior man, carrying out in his conduct what he professes, is what I have not yet attained to.' 'The leaving virtue without proper cultivation; the not thoroughly discussing what is learned; not being able to move towards righteousness of which a knowledge is gained; and not being able to change what is not good;—these are the things which occasion me solicitude.' 'I am not one who was born in the possession of knowledge; I am one who is fond of antiquity and earnest in seeking it there.' 'A transmitter and not a maker, believing in and loving the ancients, I venture to compare myself with our old P'ăng.'

Confucius cannot be thought to speak of himself in these declarations more highly than he ought to do.

Rather we may recognise in them the expressions of a genuine humility. He was conscious that personally he came short in many things, but he toiled after the character, which he saw, or fancied that he saw, in the ancient sages whom he acknowledged; and the lessons of government and morals which he laboured to diffuse were those which had already been inculcated and exhibited by them. Emphatically he was 'a transmitter and not a maker.' It is not to be understood that he was not fully satisfied of the truth of the principles which he had learned. He held them with the full approval and consent of his own understanding. He believed that if they were acted on, they would remedy the evils of his time. There was nothing to prevent rulers like Yâo and Shun and the great Yü from again arising, and a condition of happy tranquillity being realised throughout the kingdom under their sway.

If in anything he thought himself 'superior and alone,' having attributes which others could not claim, it was in his possessing a divine commission as the conservator of ancient truth and rules. He does not speak very definitely on this point. It is noted that 'the appointments of Heaven was one of the subjects on which he rarely touched.' His most remarkable utterance was that which I have already given in the sketch of his Life:—'When he was put in fear in K'wang, he said, "After the death of king Wăn, was not the cause of truth lodged here in me? If Heaven had wished to let this cause of truth perish, then I, a future mortal, should not have got such a relation to that cause. While Heaven does not let the cause of truth perish, what can the people of K'wang do to me?'" Confucius, then, did feel that he was in the world for a special purpose. But it was not to announce any new truths, or to initiate any new economy. It was to prevent what had previously been known from being lost. He followed in the wake of Yâo and Shun, of T'ang, and king Wăn. Distant from the last by a long interval of time, he would have said that he was distant from him also by a great inferiority of character, but still he had learned the principles on which they all happily governed the country, and in their name he would lift up a standard against the prevailing lawlessness of his age.

5. The language employed with reference to Confucius by his disciples and their early followers presents a striking contrast with his own. I have already, in writing of the scope and value of 'The Doctrine of the Mean,' called attention to the extravagant eulogies of his grandson Tsze-sze. He only followed the example which had been set by those among whom the philosopher went in and out. We have the language of Yen Yüan, his favourite, which is comparatively moderate, and simply expresses the genuine admiration of a devoted pupil. Tsze-kung on several occasions spoke in a different style. Having heard that one of the chiefs of Lû had said that he himself—Tsze-kung—was superior to Confucius, he observed, 'Let me use the comparison of a house and its encompassing wall. My wall only reaches to the shoulders. One may peep over it, and see whatever is valuable in the apartments. The wall of my master is several fathoms high. If one do not find the door and enter by it, he cannot see the rich ancestral temple with its beauties, nor all the officers in their rich array. But I may assume that they are few who find the door. The remark of the chief was only what might have been expected.'

Another time, the same individual having spoken revilingly of Confucius, Tsze-kung said, 'It is of no use doing so. Chung-nî cannot be reviled. The talents and virtue of other men are hillocks and mounds which may be stepped over. Chung-nî is the sun or moon, which it is not possible to step over. Although a man may wish to cut himself off from the sage, what harm can he do to the sun and moon? He only shows that he does not know his own capacity.'

In conversation with a fellow-disciple, Tsze-kung took a still higher flight. Being charged by Tsze-ch'in with being too modest, for that Confucius was not really superior to him, he replied, 'For one word a man is often deemed to be wise, and for one word he is often deemed to be foolish. We ought to be careful indeed in what we say. Our master cannot be attained to, just in the same way as the heavens cannot be gone up to by the steps of a stair. Were our master in the position of the prince of a State, or the chief of a Family, we should find verified the description which has been given of a sage's rule:—He would plant the people, and forthwith they would be established; he would lead them on, and forthwith they would follow him; he would make them happy, and forthwith multitudes would resort to his dominions; he would stimulate them, and forthwith they would be harmonious. While he lived, he would be glorious. When he died, he would be bitterly lamented. How is it possible for him to be attained to?'

From these representations of Tsze-kung, it was not a difficult step for Tsze-sze to take in exalting Confucius not only to the level of the ancient sages, but as 'the equal of Heaven.' And Mencius took up the theme. Being questioned by Kung-sun Ch'âu, one of his disciples, about two acknowledged sages, Poî and Î Yin, whether they were to be placed in the same rank with Confucius, he replied, 'No. Since there were living men until now, there never was another Confucius;' and then he proceeded to fortify his opinion by the concurring testimony of Tsâi Wo, Tsze-kung, and Yû Zo, who all had wisdom, he thought, sufficient to know their master. Tsâi Wo's opinion was, 'According to my view of our master, he is far superior to Yâo and Shun.' Tsze-kung said, 'By viewing the ceremonial ordinances of a prince, we know the character of his government. By hearing his music, we know the character of his virtue. From the distance of a hundred ages after, I can arrange, according to their merits, the kings of those hundred ages;—not one of them can escape me. From the birth of mankind till now, there has never been another like our master.' Yû Zo said, 'Is it only among men that it is so? There is the ch'î-lin among quadrupeds; the fung-hwang among birds; the T'âi mountain among mounds and ant-hills; and rivers and seas among rain-pools. Though different in degree, they are the same in kind. So the sages among mankind are also the same in kind. But they stand out from their fellows, and rise above the level; and from the birth of mankind till now, there never has been one so complete as Confucius.' I will not indulge in farther illustration. The judgment of the sage's disciples, of Tsze-sze, and of Mencius, has been unchallenged by the mass of the scholars of China. Doubtless it pleases them to bow down at the shrine of the Sage, for their profession of literature is thereby glorified. A reflection of the honour done to him falls upon themselves. And the powers that be, and the multitudes of the people, fall in with the judgment. Confucius is thus, in the empire of China, the one man by whom all possible personal excellence was exemplified, and by whom all possible lessons of social virtue and political wisdom are taught.

6. The reader will be prepared by the preceding account not to expect to find any light thrown by Confucius on the great problems of the human condition and destiny. He did not speculate on the creation of things or the end of them. He was not troubled to account for the origin of man, nor did he seek to know about his hereafter. He meddled neither with physics nor metaphysics. The testimony of the Analects about the subjects of his teaching is the following:—'His frequent themes of discourse were the Book of Poetry, the Book of History, and the maintenance of the rules of Propriety.' 'He taught letters, ethics, devotion of soul, and truthfulness.' 'Extraordinary things; feats of strength; states of disorder; and spiritual beings, he did not like to talk about.'

Confucius is not to be blamed for his silence on the subjects here indicated. His ignorance of them was to a great extent his misfortune. He had not learned them. No report of them had come to him by the ear; no vision of them by the eye. And to his practical mind the toiling of thought amid uncertainties seemed worse than useless.

The question has, indeed, been raised, whether he did not make changes in the ancient creed of China, but I cannot believe that he did so consciously and designedly. Had his idiosyncrasy been different, we might have had expositions of the ancient views on some points, the effect of which would have been more beneficial than the indefiniteness in which they are now left, and it may be doubted so far, whether Confucius was not unfaithful to his guides. But that he suppressed or added, in order to bring in articles of belief originating with himself, is a thing not to be charged against him.

I will mention two important subjects in regard to which there is a conviction in my mind that he came short of the faith of the older sages. The first is the doctrine of God. This name is common in the Shih-ching and Shû-ching. or Shang-Tî appears there as a personal being, ruling in heaven and on earth, the author of man's moral nature, the governor among the nations, by whom kings reign and princes decree justice, the rewarder of the good, and the punisher of the bad. Confucius preferred to speak of Heaven. Instances have already been given of this. Two others may be cited:— 'He who offends against Heaven has none to whom he can pray?' 'Alas!' said he, 'there is no one that knows me.' Tsze-kung said, 'What do you mean by thus saying that no one knows you?' He replied, 'I do not murmur against Heaven. I do not grumble against men. My studies lie low, and my penetration rises high. But there is Heaven;—THAT knows me!' Not once throughout the Analects does he use the personal name. I would say that he was unreligious rather than irreligious; yet by the coldness of his temperament and intellect in this matter, his influence is unfavourable to the development of ardent religious feeling among the Chinese people generally; and he prepared the way for the speculations of the literati of mediæval and modern times, which have exposed them to the charge of atheism.

Secondly, along with the worship of God there existed in China, from the earliest historical times, the worship of other spiritual beings,—especially, and to every individual, the worship of departed ancestors. Confucius recognised this as an institution to be devoutly observed. 'He sacrificed to the dead as if they were present; he sacrificed to the spirits as if the spirits were present. He said, "I consider my not being present at the sacrifice as if I did not sacrifice.'" The custom must have originated from a belief in the continued existence of the dead. We cannot suppose that they who instituted it thought that with the cessation of this life on earth there was a cessation also of all conscious being. But Confucius never spoke explicitly on this subject. He tried to evade it. 'Chî Lû asked about serving the spirits of the dead, and the master said, "While you are not able to serve men, how can you serve their spirits?" The disciple added, "I venture to ask about death," and he was answered, "While you do not know life, how can you know about death.'" Still more striking is a conversation with another disciple, recorded in the 'Narratives of the School' Tsze-kung asked him, saying, 'Do the dead have knowledge (of our services, that is), or are they without knowledge?' The master replied, 'If I were to say that the dead have such knowledge, I am afraid that filial sons and dutiful grandsons would injure their substance in paying the last offices to the departed; and if I were to say that the dead have not such knowledge, I am afraid lest unfilial sons should leave their parents unburied. You need not wish, Ts'ze, to know whether the dead have knowledge or not. There is no present urgency about the point. Hereafter you will know it for yourself.' Surely this was not the teaching proper to a sage. He said on one occasion that he had no concealments from his disciples. Why did he not candidly tell his real thoughts on so interesting a subject? I incline to think that he doubted more than he believed. If the case were not so, it would be difficult to account for the answer which he returned to a question as to what constituted wisdom:—'To give one's self earnestly,' said he, 'to the duties due to men, and, while respecting spiritual beings, to keep aloof from them, may be called wisdom.' At any rate, as by his frequent references to Heaven, instead of following the phraseology of the older sages, he gave occasion to many of his professed followers to identify God with a principle of reason and the course of nature; so, in the point now in hand, he has led them to deny, like the Sadducees of old, the existence of any spirit at all, and to tell us that their sacrifices to the dead are but an outward form, the mode of expression which the principle of filial piety requires them to adopt when its objects have departed this life.

It will not be supposed that I wish to advocate or to defend the practice of sacrificing to the dead. My object has been to point out how Confucius recognised it, without acknowledging the faith from which it must have originated, and how he enforced it as a matter of form or ceremony. It thus connects itself with the most serious charge that can be brought against him,—the charge of insincerity. Among the four things which it is said he taught, 'truthfulness' is specified, and many sayings might be quoted from him, in which 'sincerity' is celebrated as highly and demanded as stringently as ever it has been by any Christian moralist; yet he was not altogether the truthful and true man to whom we accord our highest approbation. There was the case of Măng Chih-fan, who boldly brought up the rear of the defeated troops of Lû, and attributed his occupying the place of honour to the backwardness of his horse. The action was gallant, but the apology for it was weak and unnecessary. And yet Confucius saw nothing in the whole but matter for praise. He could excuse himself from seeing an unwelcome visitor on the ground that he was sick, when there was nothing the matter with him. These were small matters, but what shall we say to … his deliberately breaking the oath which he had sworn, simply on the ground that it had been forced from him? I should be glad if I could find evidence on which to deny the truth of that occurrence. But it rests on the same authority as most other statements about him, and it is accepted as a fact by the people and scholars of China. It must have had, and it must still have, a very injurious influence upon them. Foreigners charge a habit of deceitfulness upon the nation and its government;—on the justice or injustice of this charge I say nothing. For every word of falsehood and every act of insincerity, the guilty party must bear his own burden, but we cannot but regret the example of Confucius in this particular. It is with the Chinese and their sage, as it was with the Jews of old and their teachers. He that leads them has caused them to err, and destroyed the way of their paths.

But was not insincerity a natural result of the un-religion of Confucius? There are certain virtues which demand a true piety in order to their flourishing in the heart of man. Natural affection, the feeling of loyalty, and enlightened policy, may do much to build up and preserve a family and a state, but it requires more to maintain the love of truth, and make a lie, spoken or acted, to be shrunk from with shame. It requires in fact the living recognition of a God of truth, and all the sanctions of revealed religion. Unfortunately the Chinese have not had these, and the example of him to whom they bow down as the best and wisest of men, does not set them against dissimulation.

7. I go on to a brief discussion of Confucius's views on government, or what we may call his principles of political science. It could not be in his long intercourse with his disciples but that he should enunciate many maxims bearing on character and morals generally, but he never rested in the improvement of the individual. 'The kingdom, the world, brought to a state of happy tranquillity,' was the grand object which he delighted to think of; that it might be brought about as easily as 'one can look upon the palm of his hand,' was the dream which it pleased him to indulge. He held that there was in men an adaptation and readiness to be governed, which only needed to be taken advantage of in the proper way. There must be the right administrators, but given those, and 'the growth of government would be rapid, just as vegetation is rapid in the earth; yea, their government would display itself like an easily-growing rush.' The same sentiment was common from the lips of Mencius. Enforcing it one day, when conversing with one of the petty rulers of his time, he said in his peculiar style, 'Does your Majesty understand the way of the growing grain? During the seventh and eighth months, when drought prevails, the plants become dry. Then the clouds collect densely in the heavens; they send down torrents of rain, and the grain erects itself as if by a shoot. When it does so, who can keep it back?' Such, he contended, would be the response of the mass of the people to any true 'shepherd of men.' It may be deemed unnecessary that I should specify this point, for it is a truth applicable to the people of all nations. Speaking generally, government is by no device or cunning craftiness; human nature demands it. But in no other family of mankind is the characteristic so largely developed as in the Chinese. The love of order and quiet, and a willingness to submit to 'the powers that be,' eminently distinguish them. Foreign writers have often taken notice of this, and have attributed it to the influence of Confucius's doctrines as inculcating subordination; but it existed previous to his time. The character of the people moulded his system, more than it was moulded by it.

This readiness to be governed arose, according to Confucius, from 'the duties of universal obligation, or those between sovereign and minister, between father and son, between husband and wife, between elder brother and younger, and those belonging to the intercourse of friends.' Men as they are born into the world, and grow up in it, find themselves existing in those relations. They are the appointment of Heaven. And each relation has its reciprocal obligations, the recognition of which is proper to the Heaven-conferred nature. It only needs that the sacredness of the relations be maintained, and the duties belonging to them faithfully discharged, and the 'happy tranquillity' will prevail all under heaven. As to the institutions of government, the laws and arrangements by which, as through a thousand channels, it should go forth to carry plenty and prosperity through the length and breadth of the country, it did not belong to Confucius, 'the throneless king,' to set them forth minutely. And indeed they were existing in the records of 'the ancient sovereigns.' Nothing new was needed. It was only requisite to pursue the old paths, and raise up the old standards. 'The government of Wăn and Wû,' he said, 'is displayed in the records,—the tablets of wood and bamboo. Let there be the men, and the government will flourish; but without the men, the government decays and ceases.' To the same effect was the reply which he gave to Yen Hûi when asked by him how the government of a State should be administered. It seems very wide of the mark, until we read it in the light of the sage's veneration for ancient ordinances, and his opinion of their sufficiency. 'Follow,' he said, 'the seasons of Hsiâ. Ride in the state-carriages of Yin. Wear the ceremonial cap of Châu. Let the music be the Shâo with its pantomimes. Banish the songs of Chăng, and keep far from specious talkers.'

Confucius's idea then of a happy, well-governed State did not go beyond the flourishing of the five relations of society which have been mentioned; and we have not any condensed exhibition from him of their nature, or of the duties belonging to the several parties in them. Of the two first he spoke frequently, but all that he has said on the others would go into small compass. Mencius has said that 'between father and son there should be affection; between sovereign and minister righteousness; between husband and wife attention to their separate functions; between old and young, a proper order; and between friends, fidelity.' Confucius, I apprehend, would hardly have accepted this account. It does not bring out sufficiently the authority which he claimed for the father and the sovereign, and the obedience which he exacted from the child and the minister. With regard to the relation of husband and wife, he was in no respect superior to the preceding sages who had enunciated their views of 'propriety' on the subject. We have a somewhat detailed exposition of his opinions in the 'Narratives of the School.'— 'Man,' said he, 'is the representative of Heaven, and is supreme over all things. Woman yields obedience to the instructions of man, and helps to carry out his principles. On this account she can determine nothing of herself, and is subject to the rule of the three obediences. When young, she must obey her father and elder brother; when married, she must obey her husband; when her husband is dead, she must obey her son. She may not think of marrying a second time. No instructions or orders must issue from the harem. Woman's business is simply the preparation and supplying of drink and food. Beyond the threshold of her apartments she should not be known for evil or for good. She may not cross the boundaries of the State to attend a funeral. She may take no step on her own motion, and may come to no conclusion on her own deliberation. There are five women who are not to be taken in marriage:—the daughter of a rebellious house; the daughter of a disorderly house; the daughter of a house which has produced criminals for more than one generation; the daughter of a leprous house; and the daughter who has lost her father and elder brother. A wife may be divorced for seven reasons, which, however, may be overruled by three considerations. The grounds for divorce are disobedience to her husband's parents; not giving birth to a son; dissolute conduct; jealousy—(of her husband's attentions, that is, to the other inmates of his harem); talkativeness; and thieving. The three considerations which may overrule these grounds are—first, if, while she was taken from a home, she has now no home to return to; second, if she have passed with her husband through the three years' mourning for his parents; third, if the husband have become rich from being poor. All these regulations were adopted by the sages in harmony with the natures of man and woman, and to give importance to the ordinance of marriage.'

With these ideas of the relations of society, Confucius dwelt much on the necessity of personal correctness of character on the part of those in authority, in order to secure the right fulfilment of the duties implied in them. This is one grand peculiarity of his teaching. I have adverted to it in the review of 'The Great Learning,' but it deserves some further exhibition, and there are three conversations with the chief Chî K'ang in which it is very expressly set forth. 'Chî K'ang asked about government, and Confucius replied, "To govern means to rectify. If you lead on the people with correctness, who will dare not to be correct?'" 'Chî K'ang, distressed about the number of thieves in the State, inquired of Confucius about how to do away with them. Confucius said, "If you, sir, were not covetous, though you should reward them to do it, they would not steal.'" 'Chî K'ang asked about government, saying, "What do you say to killing the unprincipled for the good of the principled?" Confucius replied, "Sir, in carrying on your government, why should you use killing at all? Let your evinced desires be for what is good, and the people will be good. The relation between superiors and inferiors is like that between the wind and the grass. The grass must bend, when the wind blows across it.'"

Example is not so powerful as Confucius in these and many other passages represented it, but its influence is very great. Its virtue is recognised in the family, and it is demanded in the church of Christ. 'A bishop'— and I quote the term with the simple meaning of overseer—'must be blameless.' It seems to me, however, that in the progress of society in the West we have come to think less of the power of example in many departments of state than we ought to do. It is thought of too little in the army and the navy. We laugh at the 'self-denying ordinance,' and the 'new model' of 1644, but there lay beneath them the principle which Confucius so broadly propounded,—the importance of personal virtue in all who are in authority. Now that Great Britain is the governing power over the masses of India, and that we are coming more and more into contact with tens of thousands of the Chinese, this maxim of our sage is deserving of serious consideration from all who bear rule, and especially from those on whom devolves the conduct of affairs. His words on the susceptibility of the people to be acted on by those above them ought not to prove as water spilt on the ground.

But to return to Confucius.—As he thus lays it down that the mainspring of the well-being of society is the personal character of the ruler, we look anxiously for what directions he has given for the cultivation of that. But here he is very defective. 'Self-adjustment and purification,' he said, 'with careful regulation of his dress, and the not making a movement contrary to the rules of propriety;—this is the way for the ruler to cultivate his person.' This is laying too much stress on what is external; but even to attain to this is beyond unassisted human strength. Confucius, however, never recognised a disturbance of the moral elements in the constitution of man. The people would move, according to him, to the virtue of their ruler as the grass bends to the wind, and that virtue would come to the ruler at his call. Many were the lamentations which he uttered over the degeneracy of his times; frequent were the confessions which he made of his own shortcomings. It seems strange that it never came distinctly before him, that there is a power of evil in the prince and the peasant, which no efforts of their own and no instructions of sages are effectual to subdue.

The government which Confucius taught was a despotism, but of a modified character. He allowed no 'jus divinum,' independent of personal virtue and a benevolent rule. He has not explicitly stated, indeed, wherein lies the ground of the great relation of the governor and the governed, but his views on the subject were, we may assume, in accordance with the language of the Shû-ching:—'Heaven and Earth are the parents of all things, and of all things men are the most intelligent. The man among them most distinguished for intelligence becomes chief ruler, and ought to prove himself the parent of the people.' And again, 'Heaven, protecting the inferior people, has constituted for them rulers and teachers, who should be able to be assisting to God, extending favour and producing tranquillity throughout all parts of the kingdom.' The moment the ruler ceases to be a minister of God for good, and does not administer a government that is beneficial to the people, he forfeits the title by which he holds the throne, and perseverance in oppression will surely lead to his overthrow. Mencius inculcated this principle with a frequency and boldness which are remarkable. It was one of the things about which Confucius did not like to talk. Still he held it. It is conspicuous in the last chapter of 'The Great Learning.' Its tendency has been to check the violence of oppression, and maintain the self-respect of the people, all along the course of Chinese history.

I must bring these observations on Confucius's views of government to a close, and I do so with two remarks. First, they are adapted to a primitive, unsophisticated state of society. He is a good counsellor for the father of a family, the chief of a clan, and even the head of a small principality. But his views want the comprehension which would make them of much service in a great dominion. Within three centuries after his death, the government of China passed into a new phase. The founder of the Ch'in dynasty conceived the grand idea of abolishing all its feudal kingdoms, and centralizing their administration in himself. He effected the revolution, and succeeding dynasties adopted his system, and gradually moulded it into the forms and proportions which are now existing. There has been a tendency to advance, and Confucius has all along been trying to carry the nation back. Principles have been needed, and not 'proprieties.' The consequence is that China has increased beyond its ancient dimensions, while there has been no corresponding development of thought. Its body politic has the size of a giant, while it still retains the mind of a child. Its hoary age is in danger of becoming but senility.

Second, Confucius makes no provision for the intercourse of his country with other and independent nations. He knew indeed of none such. China was to him 'The Middle Kingdom,' 'The multitude of Great States,' 'All under heaven.' Beyond it were only rude and barbarous tribes. He does not speak of them bitterly, as many Chinese have done since his time. In one place he contrasts their condition favourably with the prevailing anarchy of the kingdom, saying 'The rude tribes of the east and north have their princes, and are not like the States of our great land which are without them.' Another time, disgusted with the want of appreciation which he experienced, he was expressing his intention to go and live among the nine wild tribes of the east. Some one said, 'They are rude. How can you do such a thing?' His reply was, 'If a superior man dwelt among them, what rudeness would there be?' But had he been a ruler-sage, he would not only have influenced them by his instructions, but brought them to acknowledge and submit to his sway, as the great Yü did. The only passage of Confucius's teachings from which any rule can be gathered for dealing with foreigners, is that in the 'Doctrine of the Mean,' where 'indulgent treatment of men from a distance' is laid down as one of the nine standard rules for the government of the country. But 'the men from a distance' are understood to be pin and simply,—'guests,' that is, or officers of one State seeking employment in another, or at the royal court; and 'visitors,' or travelling merchants. Of independent nations the ancient classics have not any knowledge, nor has Confucius. So long as merchants from Europe and other parts of the world could have been content to appear in China as suppliants, seeking the privilege of trade, so long the government would have ranked them with the barbarous hordes of antiquity, and given them the benefit of the maxim about 'indulgent treatment,' according to its own understanding of it. But when their governments interfered, and claimed to treat with that of China on terms of equality, and that their subjects should be spoken to and of as being of the same clay with the Chinese themselves, an outrage was committed on tradition and prejudice, which it was necessary to resent with vehemence.

I do not charge the contemptuous arrogance of the Chinese government and people upon Confucius; what I deplore, is that he left no principles on record to check the development of such a spirit. His simple views of society and government were in a measure sufficient for the people while they dwelt apart from the rest of mankind. His practical lessons were better than if they had been left, which but for him they probably would have been, to fall a prey to the influences of Tâoism and Buddhism, but they could only subsist while they were left alone. Of the earth earthy, China was sure to go to pieces when it came into collision with a Christianly-civilized power. Its sage had left it no preservative or restorative elements against such a case.

It is a rude awakening from its complacency of centuries which China has now received. Its ancient landmarks are swept away. Opinions will differ as to the justice or injustice of the grounds on which it has been assailed, and I do not feel called to judge or to pronounce here concerning them. In the progress of events, it could hardly be but that the collision should come; and when it did come it could not be but that China should be broken and scattered. Disorganization will go on to destroy it more and more, and yet there is hope for the people, with their veneration for the relations of society, with their devotion to learning, and with their habits of industry and sobriety;—there is hope for them, if they will look away from all their ancient sages, and turn to Him, who sends them, along with the dissolution of their ancient state, the knowledge of Himself, the only living and true God, and of Jesus Christ whom He hath sent.

8.I have little more to add on the opinions of Confucius. Many of his sayings are pithy, and display much knowledge of character; but as they are contained in the body of the Work, I will not occupy the space here with a selection of those which have struck myself as most worthy of notice. The fourth Book of the Analects, which is on the subject of zăn, or perfect virtue, has several utterances which are remarkable.

Thornton [History of China] observes:—'It may excite surprise, and probably incredulity, to state that the golden rule of our Saviour, 'Do unto others as you would that they should do unto you,' which Mr. Locke designates as 'the most unshaken rule of morality, and foundation of all social virtue,' had been inculcated by Confucius, almost in the same words, four centuries before.' I have taken notice of this fact in reviewing both 'The Great Learning' and 'The Doctrine of the Mean.' I would be far from grudging a tribute of admiration to Confucius for it. The maxim occurs also twice in the Analects. In Book XV. xxiii, Tsze-kung asks if there be one word which may serve as a rule of practice for all one's life, and is answered, 'Is not reciprocity such a word? What you do not want done to yourself do not do to others.' The same disciple appears in Book V. xi, telling Confucius that he was practising the lesson. He says, 'What I do not wish men to do to me, I also wish not to do to men;' but the master tells him, 'Ts'ze, you have not attained to that.' It would appear from this reply, that he was aware of the difficulty of obeying the precept; and it is not found, in its condensed expression at least, in the older classics. The merit of it is Confucius's own.

When a comparison, however, is drawn between it and the rule laid down by Christ, it is proper to call attention to the positive form of the latter,—'All things whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, do ye even so to them.' The lesson of the gospel commands men to do what they feel to be right and good. It requires them to commence a course of such conduct, without regard to the conduct of others to themselves. The lesson of Confucius only forbids men to do what they feel to be wrong and hurtful. So far as the point of priority is concerned, moreover, Christ adds, 'This is the law and the prophets.' The maxim was to be found substantially in the earlier revelations of God. Still it must be allowed that Confucius was well aware of the importance of taking the initiative in discharging all the relations of society.…

But the worth of the two maxims depends on the intention of the enunciators in regard to their application. Confucius, it seems to me, did not think of the reciprocity coming into action beyond the circle of his five relations of society. Possibly, he might have required its observance in dealings even with the rude tribes, which were the only specimens of mankind besides his own countrymen of which he knew anything, for on one occasion, when asked about perfect virtue, he replied, 'It is, in retirement, to be sedately grave; in the management of business, to be reverently attentive; in intercourse with others, to be strictly sincere. Though a man go among the rude uncultivated tribes, these qualities may not be neglected.' Still, Confucius delivered his rule to his countrymen only, and only for their guidance in their relations of which I have had so much occasion to speak. The rule of Christ is for man as man, having to do with other men, all with himself on the same platform, as the children and subjects of the one God and Father in heaven.

How far short Confucius came of the standard of Christian benevolence, may be seen from his remarks when asked what was to be thought of the principle that injury should be recompensed with kindness. He replied, 'With what then will you recompense kindness? Recompense injury with justice, and recompense kindness with kindness.' The same deliverance is given in one of the Books of the Lî Chî, where he adds that 'he who recompenses injury with kindness is a man who is careful of his person.' Chăng Hsüan, the commentator of the second century, says that such a course would be 'incorrect in point of propriety.' This 'propriety' was a great stumbling-block in the way of Confucius. His morality was the result of the balancings of his intellect, fettered by the decisions of men of old, and not the gushings of a loving heart, responsive to the promptings of Heaven, and in sympathy with erring and feeble humanity.

This subject leads me on to the last of the opinions of Confucius which I shall make the subject of remark in this place. A commentator observes, with reference to the inquiry about recompensing injury with kindness, that the questioner was asking only about trivial matters, which might be dealt with in the way he mentioned, while great offences, such as those against a sovereign or a father, could not be dealt with by such an inversion of the principles of justice. In the second Book of the Lî Chî there is the following passage:—'With the slayer of his father, a man may not live under the same heaven; against the slayer of his brother, a man must never have to go home to fetch a weapon; with the slayer of his friend, a man may not live in the same State.' The lex talionis is here laid down in its fullest extent. The Châu Lî tells us of a provision made against the evil consequences of the principle, by the appointment of a minister called 'The Reconciler.' The provision is very inferior to the cities of refuge which were set apart by Moses for the manslayer to flee to from the fury of the avenger. Such as it was, however, it existed, and it is remarkable that Confucius, when consulted on the subject, took no notice of it, but affirmed the duty of blood-revenge in the strongest and most unrestricted terms. His disciple Tsze-hsiâ asked him, 'What course is to be pursued in the case of the murder of a father or mother?' He replied, 'The son must sleep upon a matting of grass, with his shield for his pillow; he must decline to take office; he must not live under the same heaven with the slayer. When he meets him in the marketplace or the court, he must have his weapon ready to strike him.' 'And what is the course on the murder of a brother?' 'The surviving brother must not take office in the same State with the slayer; yet if he go on his prince's service to the State where the slayer is, though he meet him, he must not fight with him.' 'And what is the course on the murder of an uncle or a cousin?' 'In this case the nephew or cousin is not the principal. If the principal on whom the revenge devolves can take it, he has only to stand behind with his weapon in his hand, and support him.'

Sir John Davis has rightly called attention to this as one of the objectionable principles of Confucius. The bad effects of it are evident even in the present day. Revenge is sweet to the Chinese. I have spoken of their readiness to submit to government, and wish to live in peace, yet they do not like to resign even to government the 'inquisition for blood.' Where the ruling authority is feeble, as it is at present, individuals and clans take the law into their own hands, and whole districts are kept in a state of constant feud and warfare.

But I must now leave the sage. I hope I have not done him injustice; the more I have studied his character and opinions, the more highly have I come to regard him. He was a very great man, and his influence has been on the whole a great benefit to the Chinese, while his teachings suggest important lessons to ourselves who profess to belong to the school of Christ.

Ernst Faber (essay date 1896)

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SOURCE: "A Missionary View of Confucianism," in A Systematical Digest of the Doctrines of Confucius, The General Evangelical Protestant Missionary Society of Germany, 1902, pp. 89-99.

[In the excerpt below, Faber compares Confucianism and Christianity.]

This subject is still but little known. As I have an exhaustive work in preparation I will take the liberty of stating here its programme:—

  1. The Thirteen Sacred Books of Confucianism. The origin of every portion of them. A history of the text. Remnants of ancient texts; various readings, quotations, etc. History of the Confucian Canon.
  2. The other Ancient Literature of China, i.e., a description of all the original works still in existence and not included in the Confucian Sacred Books.
  3. Outline of a History of the Pre-Confucian Period, from these sources (under II), compared with such accidental notices as the Confucian Classics (under I) may contain.
  4. The Life and Work of Confucius, with a sketch of the history of his time.
  5. The Doctrinal Contents of the thirteen Classics.
  6. The Historical Development of Confucianism. Its divisions, causes of opposition, relation to Taoism and Buddhism, etc. Its influence on the interpretation of the Classics.
  7. The Relation of the Classics;
    1. to the Christian Religion,
    2. to the Needs of Modern Life.
  8. Characteristics of Modern Confucianism.

As for my present task I have only a few pages at my disposal I thought it best to confine myself strictly to


In order to avoid misunderstanding the reader is reminded that Confucianism is not identical with Chinese life. There have always been other agencies at work for good and for evil in China. Though we do not confine Confucianism to the person of Confucius, nor to the teachings of the Classics, fairness requires us to regard as genuine only such later developments as can be shown to have their roots in the Classics. The Classics again have to be explained in the spirit of the whole contents of the Canon, and care must be taken not to force a meaning into single passages which may be contrary to that spirit. To the question: How far is Confucianism responsible for the present corrupt state of Chinese life? the correct answer seems to be, so far as the principles which led to this corruption are sanctioned in the Classics. The missionary view of Confucianism can treat of nothing but the relation between Confucianism and Christianity. When we speak of such a relation we mean that both systems have points of similarity and agreement. A clear statement of these and the cheerful acknowledgment of their harmonious teaching makes mutual understanding between adherents of the two systems possible and easy. There are also points of difference and antagonism, and a clear perception of these will guard against confusion and perversion of truth. There are other points which may exist in a rudimentary state in one system and be highly developed in the other, or may only occur in one and be absent in the other. This points to deficiencies in one system which may be supplemented from the other. Our subject divides itself accordingly into three parts:—1. Points of similarity which form a basis of agreement between Confucianism and Christianity. 2. Points of antagonism which form obstacles and must be removed. 3. Points of deficiency in Confucianism which are perfect in Christianity.


  1. Divine Providence over human affairs and visitation of human sin are acknowledged. Both Confucius and Mencius had a firm belief in their special mission. A plain and frequent teaching of the Classics, on the other hand, is that calamities visit a country and ruin overcomes a dynasty through the displeasure of heaven. The metaphysical speculations of Chu Fu-tsze and his school (Sung) only differ in their explanation of it, not in the fact.
  2. An Invisible World above and around this material life is firmly believed in. Man is considered to stand in connection with spirits, good and bad.
  3. Moral Law is positively set forth as binding equally on man and spirits. The spirits appear as the executors of the moral law. This is, however, little understood by the Chinese people who attempt to bribe and cheat the spirits as well as their mandarins. Still the Moral Law is proclaimed in the Classics.
  4. Prayer is offered in public calamities as well as for private needs, in the belief that it is heard and answered by the spiritual powers.
  5. Sacrifices are regarded as necessary to come into closer contact with the spiritual world. Even its deeper meanings of self-sacrifice and of a vicarious sacrifice are touched upon, which are two important steps toward an understanding of the sacrificial death of Christ.
  6. Miracles are believed in as the natural efficacy of Spirits. This is a fruitful source of superstition among the people. Western science, on the other hand, lays all stress on force inherent in matter and stimulates scepticism. We can point to the great power of the human intellect over the material forces. God's intellect is all comprehensive. God is working miracles, not by suspending the laws of nature, nor by acting contrary to them, but by using them, as their omnipotent Master, to serve His will and purpose. The Divine purpose distinguishes God's miracles from miraculous occurrences.
  7. Moral Duty is taught, and its obligations in the five human relations—sovereign and minister, father and son, husband and wife, elder brother and younger, friend and friend. There are errors connected with the Confucian teaching of these duties pointed out below II, 8-13 and defects, illustrated III, 13. It remains, nevertheless, an excellent feature of Confucianism that moral duty is inculcated, and that the social obligations are made so prominent. We may say that it is the quintessence of Confucian education.
  8. Cultivation of the Personal Moral Character is regarded as the basis for the successful carrying out of the social duties. That self-control should not be abandoned in private when no moral being is near to observe it, is repeatedly emphasized.
  9. Virtue is valued above riches and honor. The strong tendency of the great mass of Chinese is certainly to money and pleasure, but it is to be regretted that foreign improvements are too often recommended on account of their profit, or because they would improve the material conditions of comfortable living. The Christian view is first of all the kingdom of God, then all other things as natural results. The dominion of virtue, though not identical with the kingdom of God, is a close approximation to it. It is a solemn lesson which we may learn from ancient and modern history, that wealth has ruined more nations than poverty.
  10. In case of failure in political and social life the moral self-culture and the practice of humanity are to be attended to even more carefully than before, according to opportunities. This is the great moral victory which Confucius gained, and the same may be said of his distinguished followers, the greatest among whom are Mencius and Chu Fu-tsze. None of these pillars of Confucianism turned to money-making or sought vain glory in the service of the State by sacrificing their principles to gain access to official employment or by a promise to keep their conviction secret in their own bosoms. They gained greater ultimate success by their failure in life. The cross of Christ has a similar meaning, and we should not expect worldly triumph as long as our Lord is despised and even blasphemed among the higher classes of China.
  11. Sincerity and truth are shown to be the only basis for self-culture and the reform of the world. This gives to self-culture a high moral tone. It is not only external culture, such as fine manners and good works, nor is it intellectual improvement but a normal state of the intentions of the mind, combined with undefiled feelings and emotions of the heart. We should not question whether any Chinaman ever reached this ideal, but ask those we have to deal with, Have you attained it? If not, what is the cause of your failure? Will you not seek and find it in Christ?
  12. The Golden Rule is proclaimed as the principle of moral conduct among our fellow-men. This is egoism ennobled by altruism. The rule is given not only in a negative but also in the positive form. It can, however, be fully understood and carried out only by one born of God, whom the love of Christ constraineth. Still, that this rule entered a Chinese mind and found expression from the mouth of Confucius raises Confucianism to a high standard of morality. We may welcome it as a powerful assistance to bring about a conviction of sin among the Chinese; for who ever acted up to it?
  13. Every ruler should, carry out a Benevolent Government for the benefit of the people. He must not endure the suffering of the people. If the Chinese emperors and mandarins would really act up to what they pretend to be (viz., the fathers and mothers of the people) with the same care, affection and even self-sacrifice, as good parents do for their children, China would be in a different condition. Still, we can avail ourselves of this high ideal and show its fulfilment in Christ who gave His life for the world.


  1. God, though dimly known, is not the only object of religious worship. This cannot be regarded as only a deficiency, it is a fatal error. Polytheism is taught in the Classics. Idolatry is the natural consequence, and all the superstitions in connection with it among the people are its inevitable results.
  2. The Worship of Spiritual Beings is not done in spirit and in truth, but by punctilious observance of prescribed ceremonies to the minutest detail. The offerings and sacrifices consist in materials procurable with money. Though the Classics also point to a deeper meaning, this superficial ritualism, with absence of elevating devotional feeling and renovating influence in heart and life, has grown from the seed sown by the Classics.
  3. The Worship of Ancestral Spirits, tablets and graves, we have to regard as a sin, for it takes the place of the worship of God. It is an error so far as it rests on wrong notions in regard to the departed in the other world; their happiness being thought dependent on the sacrifices from their descendants and the fortune of the living as caused by the dead. It is an evil, because selfish considerations take the place of moral and religious motives. The superstitions of geomancy, spiritualism, exorcism and all kinds of deceit practised by Buddhist and Taoist priests, have their origin in it. Confucianism is responsible for all this religious corruption, for sacrificing to the dead is taught as the highest filial duty in the Classics, and Mencius sanctions polygamy on its account. The ritual duties for the dead in dressing the corpse, burial, mourning and periodical sacrifices, are so numerous, onerous and expensive that, if carried out conscientiously by everybody, very little of wealth and of energy could be left for anything else. Christianity acknowledges no other duty to the dead beyond a decent burial and tender memory, remembering and honoring all their good for our imitation. This is in accordance even with some Confucian teaching in the Classics.
  4. The Erection of Temples to great warriors and to other men of eminence in which sacrifices are offered and incense is burned to their shades. They are invoked to be present at the service; prayers are offered, and help is asked and believed to have been received more or less frequently. This goes far beyond the honor due to benefactors of mankind. There are certainly over a hundred thousand such temples in China. They absorb a great proportion of the revenue without giving any return but the increase of superstition. Noble ambition could be inspired more effectively in the Christian way. Though the practice of building temples to heroes arose shortly after the classical period its roots can be found in the Classics. The spirits of departed benefactors were appointed by Imperial authority to certain offices in the invisible world. This is one of the Imperial prerogatives in Confucianism. We consider it, of course, either as a sacrilege or as nonsense. The myriads of War-god Temples, dedicated to Kwan-ti, an ancient warrior, may suffice as a striking example of the extent of this error.
  5. The Memorial Arches erected to persons that committed suicide, especially to widows, are throwing a sad light on the morality of a community where such crimes are necessitated. Confucianism is responsible for it by the low place it allows to women, by the wrong feeling of honor it awakens in men and women and by the meagre religious consolation it can provide for the afflicted. Death is sought as the only escape from unbearable misery.
  6. Oracles, by stalks and the tortoise-shell, are declared necessary for the right conduct of human affairs. They certainly point to the need of a revelation of the Divine Will. It is, however, sought in a mechanical way, and chance is taken instead. Astrology and magic, in all its modern forms, are the evil results, and a confusion between what is right and wrong is the moral consequence. The interpretation of the oracles is in the hands of shrewd persons who take advantage of it for their own benefit. The whole system of divination is a caricature of biblical revelation and its corresponding human side of inspiration. God reveals Himself, but the human mind must be prepared to receive it as an inspiration, i.e., must come under the influence of God's spirit.
  7. Choosing Lucky Days is a sacred duty demanded by the Classics and enforced by law. This duty involves much loss of valuable time to all Chinese. The yearly publication of the Imperial Almanac, the standard for this absurdity, demonstrates the fossilized state of the Chinese mind. European astronomy has been taught to the Chinese Imperial court for over three hundred years; many books have been published too, the influence of which is so imperceptible because only the Confucian Classics fill and shape the Chinese mind. Many other superstitions prevail for the same reason.
  8. Polygamy is not only wrong; it has ever been a curse in Chinese history. Many intrigues, crimes and wars have been caused by it. Confucianism has not only no censure for it, not even for its detestable accumulation in the Imperial palace, that greatest slum of the world, but sanctions it in the Classics. Confucianism is, therefore, responsible for this great social and political evil. The misery of eunuchs, secondary wives, slave-girls, feet-binding, degradation of women in general, are accompaniments which magnify this vice. Instead of extolling the Confucian moral teaching on the five human relations all Confucianists, together with their foreign admirers, ought to hide their faces in shame that the most important of the human relations is treated so viciously.
  9. Rebellion. Confucius praising Yao and Shun as the highest pattern of moral accomplishment points principally to the fact that both rulers selected the worthiest of their subjects to become their co-regents and their successors. This high example has not found one follower among 244 emperors (according to Mayer's Reader's Manual) of China, from Confucius' death to the present day. This in spite of Confucianism as the state-religion of China. Confucius himself appears to have regarded with favor rebellious movements in the hope of bringing a sage to the throne. Mencius is certainly very outspoken in this respect. He justifies dethroning and even the murder of a bad ruler. No wonder then that rebellions have occurred, on a large scale, over fifty times in about 2,000 years, and local rebellions are almost yearly events. It is impossible to calculate how many hundred millions of human lives have been sacrificed during these rebellions. Confucianism is to blame for it. Neither Confucius himself, nor one of his followers, ever thought of establishing a constitutional barrier against tyranny and providing a magna charta for the security of life and property of the ministers and people of China. The hands of the executioner ended the noble lives of many of China's best men. It cannot be otherwise as long as the capricious will of a self-conceited ruler is supreme law. The remedy has been found in Western (Christian) countries in the separation of the executive from the legislative power. Law is no more the will of one man, but of the majority of the people, its formulation is done by an assembly of chosen men, etc. The people must also have a legal way to make their grievances known and find relief in a peaceful manner. Confucianism, however, regards the people as little children that must be fed, protected and taught their duties. They have only the right to obey under these circumstances and to rebel if the contrary should become intolerable.
  10. Confucianism attaches too high authority to the Emperor. He is called the son of Heaven, the only supreme authority on earth. Every law and custom must emanate from him. The emperor of China cannot acknowledge another sovereign as his equal. In this respect he can be compared with the pope of Rome. The treaties with foreign powers have already upset this fundamental doctrine of Confucianism.
  11. Patria Potestas. Corresponding to the extreme view of Imperial authority Confucianism has also fostered an extreme idea of paternal power. A father may kill his offspring, may sell even grown sons and daughters into slavery. Their property belongs to him under all circumstances, even their families are absolutely subject to him, as long as he, the father, lives.
  12. Blood Revenge. It is a strict demand of Confucius in the Classics, that a son should lose no time in revenging the death of his father, or of a near relative. A younger brother has the same duty in regard to the death of an older, and a friend to a friend. This means that they have to take the law into their own hands. They will be guided by their feelings, and in many cases more serious wrong is done by their revenge than by the original act which may present mitigating circumstances, or be not murder at all, perhaps even justifiable under enlightened examination. If the accompanying circumstances are not taken into consideration by impartial judges, where and when can the shedding of blood be stopped? Logically only with the total extermination of one of the respective families. Even several families may share this fate, as friends have to take up the same cause. The jus talionis belongs to a primitive period of human society. Moses mitigated it and brought it under the control of impartial legal authority. Confucius not only sanctioned an ancient usage, but raised it to a moral duty, poisoning by it three of his five social relations. As the remaining two relations have been shown as vicious in part (see above Nos. 4 and 5) Confucianists have really no reason for their extravagant boasting.
  13. The absolute Subordination of sons to their fathers and of younger brothers to their eldest brother during life-time, is also a source of many evils. It may work well enough in a primitive society and in wealthy families, but not in a dense population among poor people. In China the inevitable result has been much misery and contention in families; ruins everywhere testify to it. Progress is also made impossible, as there will always be some old people obstinately against any modern improvement. Nepotism also is made a moral obligation by the Classics.
  14. Official corruption is to a great extent due to the custom of making presents to the superior in office. This bad usage is sanctioned in the classics and by Confucius himself carrying such presents with him on his journeys. Its worst abuse is the sale of offices and bribery. Present-giving and receiving should be confined to friendly intercourse, but official relations should be kept free from it under penalty of dismissal from office. See the Old Testament on this point.
  15. The Sacredness of a promise, contract, oath, treaty, etc., is often violated when opportunity is favorable to a personal advantage. Though Christian nations commit also too many trespasses of this kind, the difference is, that the teaching and example of Christ and His apostles is against it, even against falsehood of any shape. But Confucius himself broke a solemn oath and excused it. The Chinese moral sentiment is, therefore, misguided, whereas the Christian feeling is up to the standard. Lying and deceitfulness are so highly developed in China, probably to a great extent, from this cause.
  16. Identity of physical, moral and political law is presumed by Confucianism and finds its canonical expression especially in the I-king or Book of Changes. But the same idea runs through all the Classics and later doctrinal developments of Confucianism. The truth of this doctrine can only be sought in the person of one almighty God, but it is a serious error when applied to man, especially to sinful man. This is the deeper root of Confucian pride and of much nonsense in regard to natural events. It is also the source of Taoist magic, charms, etc., shared by modern Chinese Buddhism.


  1. The God of Confucianism is the majestic Ruler on High inaccessible to the people. The emperor of China is the only person privileged to approach Him. God is not known in His nature of love as our Heavenly Father.
  2. The Confucian Divine Providence appears in conflict with the Confucian notion of Fate. Providence presupposes a personal God, omnipresent, omniscient and omnipotent, a God who can feel compassion with living creatures, as in Christianity.
  3. Confucianism acknowledges a Revelation of God in nature and in human history, but a revelation of God's nature, will and intentions (plan) for the salvation and education of the human race remains unknown. See II, 6.
  4. There is no conviction of an unconditioned Responsibility to God, the majestic Ruler of the universe who will judge in righteousness. Therefore a deep sense of sin and sinfulness is absent.
  5. The necessity of an Atonement is not conceived, because neither the holiness of God, nor the depth of human sin are taught in the Classics.
  6. As the deepest cause of death and of all the evils in the world is not sought and found in sin, therefore the need of a Saviour is not felt; salvation is sought in external performances, in self-correction too, but not in the grace of God who sent the only true Saviour from Heaven to Earth to reunite man with God.
  7. Confucianism has produced many theories on the Nature of Man, but none that man is the image of the personal God. Hence the perfect union of the divine and the human, as it has been realized in the person of Christ, has never been anticipated by a Chinese mind.
  8. As every man has to save himself there cannot be a Universality of salvation in Confucianism. Such can only be the case when salvation is God's work; God was in Christ and reconciled the world to Himself. The conditions of a participation cannot be in man's own judgment, but are laid down by God himself—faith in Christ. Through it every man can become a partaker of God's grace.
  9. Confucianists remain, in spite of their best efforts, estranged from God. They may improve themselves and come into communion with the spirits of the departed(?), but NOT with the Spirit of God, for enlightenment in eternal truths, for strength to a holy living, for comfort in the struggles of life, for peace and hope in death.
  10. Confucianism teaches the immortality of the soul, but in a disembodied state dependant for all its needs on the goodwill of living men. Resurrection in a spiritual body for eternal happiness in God's glory is unknown.
  11. The highest ideal of Confucianism, its summum bonum, is political, the government and state of China. This has ever remained an utopian idea, a fiction like the republic of Plato. Christ shows us another ideal, the Kingdom of God. It begins in the heart of the believer which becomes regenerated. It then extends to the Church, i.e., a brotherhood of men in Christian spirit, embraces all nations and finds its glorious perfection at the second coming of Christ in the resurrection of the dead, i.e., the reunion of all generations of mankind and the new heaven and new earth, when God will be all in all.
  12. Christianity can supplement striking deficiencies not only in religion proper but also in the morality of Confucianism. Self-examination, for example, one of the excellent fundamental principles of Confucianism, has a deeper meaning in Christianity. We attend to it before God, the most holy one, who is perfection in every sense, and who is our pattern, especially in His incarnate form of Christ. Every other merely human model has imperfections. Yao and Shun had theirs, and Confucius was conscious of his own. We certainly estimate Confucius higher for his expressions of humility than for the pompous eulogies from his haughty followers.
  13. Self-culture also has a deeper sense in Christianity. It implies purity in every way. Sexual impurity is tolerated by Confucianism to a shocking extent. Confucius himself was pure, and the Classics are remarkable for the spirit of purity that permeates the whole of them. There is, however, nowhere an intimation given of the importance of consistent purity of soul and body for the improvement of personal character as well as for society. Internal purity and external cleanliness are deficient qualities in Confucian morality. It has not even the same moral standard of purity for male and female persons. We have to confess that there is still much impurity exhibited in Christian lands, but it is of heathen origin, against the principles of Christianity, and true Christians feel ashamed of it.
  14. The Human Relations. The grave errors of Confucianism in regard to the social relations have already been exposed (II, 8-13). But there are besides deficiencies apparent, for the five do not exhaust all human relations. One important relation has become prominent in all civilized countries in our times, that of the employer to the employed, or as it is sometimes put impersonally of "capital to labour." Christian brotherhood contains the solution of this problem (see Paul's letter to Philemon, etc.). There is another relation of the Wealthy to the Poor and Needy. Christ's answer to the question, "Who is my neighbour," is the best possible. There is a relation to Foreigners. In this we know it is our duty to bring the Gospel and all its blessings to all creatures. When compared with this UNIVERSAL SPIRIT of the Christian human relations Confucianism appears primitive and clannish.
  15. Confucianism keeps certain days as festivals, but has no regular day of rest, no Sabbath-day. This deficiency leaves not only the working classes without a relief in their hardships, but allows the nobler aspirations of human nature to be submerged in the unbroken turmoil of daily life. The Christian Sabbath is no more the Jewish Sabbath of the law, but God's rest in the reborn heart of man as His temple, and man's rest from earthly toil and care, a foretaste of the eternal rest in God.
  16. The Fulness of Christian Life. Christians become, through faith in Christ, children of God, members of the body of the glorified Christ, co-inheritors of the heavenly kingdom. Christ is born in the hearts of His believers. Our bodies are then temples of the triune God and become gradually instruments of His glory. Although on earth our treasure is kept in earthen vessels, though we still live by faith, not by sight, though it has not yet appeared what we shall be—still we have the assurance of it in the ever present communion with God in His grace. Confucianism has nothing of the kind. Its cold abstract morality and cool ceremonial religion cannot produce the warmth of feeling on which human life depends. There is nothing approaching to the Lord's prayer in Confucianism, nor to that concise expression of the fullness of Christian life in the apostolic blessing, "the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you." Although theologians differ in their metaphysical explanations of this mystery, the trinity of divine life animates every true Christian's heart. Its absence separates the non-Christian from the Christian. What Confucianism really needs is this Divine Life. May God's Spirit move the field of dry bones!

Arthur Waley (essay date 1938)

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SOURCE: An introduction to and "Terms," in The Analects of Confucius, George Allen & Unwin Ltd, 1938, pp. 13-26, 27-50.

[In the following excerpt, Waley comments on Confucius's life, his disciples, and the origins of the Analects. The critic also defines several key terms used in the Analects.]


Thought grows out of environment. Ideally speaking the translator of such a book as the Analects ought to furnish a complete analysis of early Chinese society, of the processes which were at work within it and of the outside forces to which it reacted. Unfortunately our knowledge of the period is far too incomplete for any such synthesis to be possible. The literary documents are scanty and of uncertain date; scientific archaeology in China has suffered constant setbacks and is still in its infancy. All that I have attempted in the following pages is to arrange such information as is accessible under a series of disconnected headings, in a convenient order, but without pretence of unity or logical sequence.


The Confucius of whom I shall speak here is the Confucius of the Analects. One could construct half a dozen other Confuciuses by tapping the legend at different stages of its evolution. We should see the Master becoming no longer a moral teacher but a 'wise man' according to the popular conception of wisdom that existed in non-Confucian circles in China and in our own Middle Ages, an answerer of grotesque conundrums, a prophet, a magician even. We should see the disappointed itinerant tutor of the Analects turning into a successful statesman and diplomatist, employed not only in his own country but in neighbouring States as well.1

But I shall act here on the principle recently advocated by that great scholar Ku Chieh-kang, the principle of 'one Confucius at a time.' Not that we can regard the Confucius of the Analects as wholly historical; still less, that we must dismiss as fiction all data about the Master that do not happen to occur in this book. But in the first place the biographical facts deducible from the Analects are those which are most relevant to an understanding of the book itself; and secondly, the picture of Confucius given in the Analects, besides being the earliest that we possess, differs from that of all other books in that it contains no elements that bear patently and obviously the stamp of folk-lore or hagiography. What then was Confucius? It appears from the Analects that he was a private person who trained the sons of gentlemen in the virtues proper to a member of the ruling classes. It is clear, however, that he was not content with this position and longed for a more public one, either in his own State or in some other, which would give him the opportunity to put into practice the Way which he regarded as that of the Former Kings, the Way of Goodness, long ago discarded by the rulers of the world in favour of a Way of violence and aggression. There is not the slightest indication that he ever obtained such a position. Twice, however, he speaks of himself as 'following after' the Great Officers of Court. Those who ranked next to the Great Officers (Ta Fu) were the Knights (shih,) and if Confucius ranked immediately after the Great Officers (as he seems to suggest) he must at the time have been Shih-shih,2 Leader of the Knights, which was not politically speaking a position of any importance. Discontented with the slow progress of his doctrines in the land of Lu, Confucius travelled from State to State,3 seeking for a ruler who would give the Way its chance. The only disciples actually mentioned as accompanying him are Jan Ch'iu, Tzu-lu, and his favourite disciple Yen Hui. The States and towns which they visited (Ch'i, Wei, Ch'ên, Ts'ai and K'uang) all lay within the modern provinces of Shantung and Honan. The strangers evidently met with a hostile reception, and had occasionally to endure severe privation. Several of the disciples were in the service of Chi K'ang-tzu, the dictator of Lu; and it may have been owing to their good offices that Confucius was at last encouraged to return to his native State.

Concerning his private life, we learn from the Analects that he had been brought up in humble circumstances.4 Of his marriae nothing is said; but two children are mentioned a daughter5 an son whom the Master outlived.6 An older brother is mentioned, but Confucius seems to have acted as head of the family, and this is explained by later tradition as due to the fact that the elder brother was a cripple.

Confucius speaks of himself in one place (II, 4) as being over seventy. As to the exact dates of his birth and death the Analects tell us nothing. It can be inferred, however, from references to contemporary persons and events, that the time of his main activity was the end of the sixth and the first twenty years or so of the fifth century.7

After his apotheosis in the Han dynasty Confucius was credited with the omniscience and moral infallibility of the Divine Sage. This view of him appears, indeed, to have been current even during his lifetime; for we find him at pains to disclaim any such attributes.8 Nor would he allow himself to be regarded as Good,9 a disclaimer that is natural enough, seeing that he accords this title only to a few legendary heroes of the remote past. Even in the social virtues which formed the basis of his teaching he claimed no pre-eminence. There was not, he said, a hamlet of ten houses but could produce men as loyal and dependable as himself. He denied (though one disciple at least seems to have had the opposite impression) that he possessed any unusual stock of knowledge;10 still less would he admit that such knowledge as he possessed was innate or inspired.11 What he regarded as exceptional in himself was his love of 'learning,' that is to say, of self-improvement, and his unflagging patience in insisting upon the moral principles that had (in his view) guided the godlike rulers of the remote past. His task, then, like that of the English trainer of chün-tzu (gentlemen's sons) in the great Public Schools, was not so much to impart knowledge as to inculcate moral principles, form character, hand down unaltered and intact a great tradition of the past.12 He speaks of himself as a veritable P'êng Tsu (i.e. Nestor) in his devoted reliance upon 'antiquity'; and if we want further to define what he meant by this reliance on the past, we find it, I think, in Mencius's saying: Follow the rules of the Former Kings, and it is impossible that you should go wrong.13

What then was this antiquity, who were the great figures of the past whom Confucius regarded as the sole source of wisdom?


Were we to take them in the order of their importance to him, I think we should have to begin with the founders and expanders of the Chou dynasty; for in his eyes the cultures of the two preceding dynasties found their climax and fulfilment in that of the early Chou sovereigns.14 Above all, we should have to deal first with Tan, Duke of Chou, who had not only a particular importance in the Lu State, but also a peculiar significance for Confucius himself.15 But it is more convenient to take them in their 'chronological' order, that is to say, in the order in which the mythology of Confucius's day arranged them. We must begin then with the Shêng, the Divine Sages.16 These were mythological figures, historicized as rulers of human 'dynasties'; but still endowed with divine characteristics and powers. The Analects mention three of them, Yao, Shun and Yü the Great; but they occupy a very restricted place in the book.17 Yao and Shun are twice18 mentioned in the stock phrase (if a man were to do this), then 'even Yao and Shun could not criticize him'; meaning that such a man would himself be to all intents and purposes a shêng. Yao appears otherwise only in the eulogy of VIII, 19, where he is exalted as the equal of God.19 The eulogy of Shun which follows tells us that with only five servants to help him he kept order 'everywhere under Heaven.' Elsewhere20 he is said to have ruled by wu-wei (non-activity), through the mere fact of sitting in a majestic attitude 'with his face turned to the South.' We have here the conception, familiar to us in Africa and elsewhere, of the divine king whose magic power regulates everything in the land. It is one which is common to all early Chinese thought, particularly in the various branches of Quietism that developed in the fourth century B.C. The shêng, however, only 'rules by non-activity' in the sense that his divine essence (ling) assures the fecundity of his people and the fertility of the soil. We find Shun assisted in his task by 'five servants,'21 who are clearly conceived of as performing the active functions of government.

Yao and Shun are not mentioned in the Book of Songs, and there is reason to suppose that their cult did not form part of the Chou tradition. The third Divine Sage, Yü the Great, generally22 associated in Chinese legend with a Deluge Myth akin to that of the Near East, figures in the Analects not as the subduer of the Flood but as patron of agriculture. He drains and ditches the land23 and tills the fields,24 his name being coupled with that of the harvest-god Hou Chi. Yü the Great is 'historicized' as founder of the Hsia dynasty, whose 'times' (i.e. calendar of agricultural operations) Confucius recommends, in answer to a question about the ideal State.25

T'ang, the founder of the Shang-Yin dynasty which preceded the Chou, is only once mentioned. It was supposed in Confucius's day that the remnants of the Shang-Yin people had settled in Sung and that the Sung State perpetuated the traditions of the fallen dynasty. But Confucius himself doubted whether Yin culture could really be reconstructed by evidence supplied from Sung.26


Later tradition credits Confucius with seventy-two27 disciples; but the compilers are hard put to it to bring the number up to anything like so imposing a total. In the Analects some twent people figure, who might possibly be regarded as disciples, in so far as they are represeted as addressing questions to Confucius. But far fewer appear as definite 'frequenters of his gate.' The most important of them, in the history of Confucianism, is Master Tsêng, who is credited in the Analects with twelve sayings of his own. The Master Tsêng of Book VIII is, however, a very different person from the Master Tsêng of Book I, the latter resembling far more closely the Tsêng of later tradition, and of the Tsêng Tzu fragments.28 Humanly the most distinctive of the disciples are Yen Hui and Tzu-lu, who are perfect examples of the contrasted types of character that psychologists call introvert and extravert. Both of them died before Confucius, and were thus unable to influence the subsequent development of the school. Tzu-lu played a considerable part in contemporary history and is mentioned in the chronicles from 498 down to the time of his death in 480. Two other disciples are well known to history, Jan Ch'iu appears as a lieutenant of the usurping Chi Family from 484 till 472; and Tzu-kung figures largely in inter-State diplomacy from 495 till 468.

The name of Master Yu, who figures so prominently in Book I, only to disappear almost completely in the remaining Books, happens by chance to occur in the Tso Chuan Chronicle under the year 487. But he was evidently not a person of high social status; for he served as a foot-soldier.

It is clear that after the Master's death, Tzu-hsia, like Master Tsêng, founded a school of his own; for his disciples are spoken of in Book XIX. To him, too, are attributed about a dozen sayings. Two other disciples, Tzu-chang and Tzu-yu, are also obviously regarded by the compilers of the Analects as being of special importance; for they, too, are credited with sayings of their own.


There is not much doubt that Lun Yü (Analects, to use the English equivalent that Legge's translation has made so familiar) means 'Selected Sayings.' Lun, as a term connected with the editing of documents, occurs indeed in Analects, XIV, 9. The contents of the book itself make it clear that the compilation took place long after the Master's death. Several of the disciples already have schools of their own, and the death of Master Tsêng, which certainly happened well into the second half of the fifth century, is recorded in Book VIII. It is clear, too, that the different Books are of very different date and proceed from very different sources. I should hazard the guess that Books III-IX represent the oldest stratum. Books X and XX (first part) certainly have no intrinsic connexion with the rest. The former is a compilation of maxims from works on ritual; the latter consists of stray sentences from works of the Shu Ching type. Book XIX consists entirely of sayings by disciples. The contents of XVIII and of parts of XIV and XVII are not Confucian in their origin, but have filtered into the book from the outside world, and from a world hostile to Confucius. Book XVI is generally and rightly regarded as late. It contains nothing characteristic of the milieu that produced Books III-IX, and it would not be difficult to compile a much longer book of just the same character by stringing together precepts from works such as the Tso Chuan and Kuo Yü. Only in one passage of the Analects do we find any reference to ideas the development of which we should be inclined to place later than the ordinarily accepted30 date of the book, namely the middle of the fourth century. I refer to the disquisition on 'correcting names' in XIII, 3. In Mencius (early third century B.C.) there is not a trace of the 'language crisis,'31 and we have no reason to suppose that the whole sequence of ideas embodied in this passage could possibly be earlier in date than the end of the fourth century. That the writer of the passage realized its incompatibility with the doctrines of Confucius—the insistence on punishments is wholly un-Confucian—is naïvely betrayed in the introductory paragraphs. Tzu-lu is made to express the greatest astonishment that Confucius should regard the reform of language as the first duty of a ruler and tells him impatiently that his remark is quite beside the point.

We may, of course, be wrong in thinking that the whole complex of ideas connected with 'reforming language in order to adjust penalties' dates from as late as the end of the fourth century. There may be special reasons why we find no echo of such ideas in Mencius. Or again, the compilation of the Analects may be much later than we suppose; but this alternative involves linguistic difficulties. It may, on the other hand, be a better solution to regard this passage as an interpolation on the part of Hsün Tzu or his school, for whom the absence of any reference in the sayings of Confucius to what they themselves taught as a fundamental doctrine must certainly have been inconvenient.

It is curious that only one pre-Han text shows definite evidence of familiarity with the Analects. The Fang Chi (part of the Li Chi; supposed to be an extract from the Tzu Ssu Tzu) quotes Analects, II, 11, and names the Lun Yü as its source. The Fang Chi also quotes books of the Shu Ching which were unknown in Han times, not being found either in the official collection or among the books rediscovered but uninterpreted. It is therefore certainly a pre-Han work. There are, apart from this, many cases in which pre-Han authors, such as Hsün Tzu, Lü Pu-wei, Han Fei Tzu, use maxims or anecdotes that are also used in the Analects. But there is nothing to show that the writer is quoting the book as we know it now. Mencius, it is clear, used a quite different collection of sayings, which contained, indeed, a certain number of those which occur in the Analects, often differently worded and allotted to quite different contexts; but he quotes at least three times as many sayings that do not occur in the Analects at all.

It would be rash, however, to conclude that the Analects were not known or did not exist in the days of Mencius and Hsün Tzu. We possess only a very small fragment of early Confucian literature. Could we read all the works that are listed in the Han Shu bibliography, we should very likely discover that some particular school of Confucianism based its teaching on the Analects, just as Mencius based his on another collection of sayings. The Doctrine of the Mean and the Great Learning, works of very uncertain date but certainly pre-Han, both use sayings from the Analects, which may well be actual quotations.

The history of the text from c. 150 B.C.32 till the time (second century A.D.) when at the hands of Chêng Hsüan the book received something like its present form I must leave to others to write. The task is one which involves great difficulties. The data are supplied not by scientific bibliographers but by careless repeaters of legend and anecdote. Some of the relevant texts (e.g. Lun Hêng, P'ien 81) are hopelessly corrupt; the real dates of supposedly early Han works which show knowledge of the Analects are impossible to ascertain. At every turn, in such studies, we are forced to rely, without any means of checking their statements, upon writers who clearly took no pains to control their facts.

This much, however, is certain: during the period 100 B.C. to A.D. 100 two versions were currently used, the Lu version (upon which our modern version is chiefly based) and the Ch'i version,33 which had two extra chapters. Much later (second century A.D.?)34 a third version came into general use. This was the Ku Wên (ancient script) text collated by Chêng Hsüan when he made his famous edition, of which fragments have been recovered from Tun-huang. We know35 some twenty-seven instances in which the Ku version differed from the Lu, and in all but two of these instances the version we use to-day follows Ku not Lu. I state these facts merely that the reader may know roughly what is meant when in the course of this book I mention Ku and Lu readings. The real origin of the Ku version36 remains very uncertain and a discussion of the question bound up as it is with the history of the other Ku Wên texts, would lead us too far afield.

A last question remains to be answered. How far can we regard any of the sayings in the Analects as actual words of Confucius? In searching for such authentic sayings we must use certain precautions. Obviously, we shall not find them Book X,37 nor in Book XX.38 Book XVI-XVII clearly do not emanate from a source at all near to the earlies Confucianism. Book XVIII is, indeed, full of anti-Confucian stories, of just the same sort that we find in Taoist works, naïvely accepted by the compilers; Book XIV has a considerable element of the same description (34, 41, 42). The story of the meeting with Yang Huo (XVII, 1) is of just the same kind. We shall have to remember that in ancient Chinese literature sayings are often attributed to a variety of people; (indifferently, for example, to Master Tsêng and Confucius, or to Confucius and Yen Tzu) and bear in mind that such sayings were probably more or less proverbial. We certainly must not forget that Confucius describes himself as a transmitter, not an originator, and that the presence of rhyme or archaic formulae, or of proverbial shape in the sayings often definitely stamps them as inherited from the past. Bearing all these facts in mind I think we are justified in supposing that the book does not contain many authentic sayings, and may possibly contain none at all. As I have already pointed out, I use the term 'Confucius' throughout this book in a conventional sense, simply meaning the particular early Confucians whose ideas are embodied in the sayings.

Supposing, however, someone should succeed in proving that some particular saying was really uttered by the Master, it would still remain to be proved that the context in which the remark occurred in the Analects was really the original one; and the context of a remark profoundly affects its meaning. In later literature, particularly the Li Chi (Book of Rites) and Shih Chi (Historical Records), we find a good many of Confucius's more cryptic remarks given contexts, put into settings of an explanatory description, and it has been suggested that in such cases we have the original form and intention of the sayings, which in the Analects have for some reason become divorced from their proper surroundings. That this should be so is against all the canons of textual history. Always, in similar cases, we find that the contexts have been invented as glosses upon the original logia. In the oldest strata of the Synoptic Gospels isolated sayings occur which in the more recent strata are furnished, often very arbitrarily, with an explanatory setting. It is a process that we can see at work over and over again in Buddhist hagiography. I have therefore seldom called attention to these manipulations of the text by the later Confucian schools, and have been content to leave the isolated logia as I found them.



This word in the earliest Chinese means freemen, men of the tribe, as opposed to min, 'subjects,' 'the common people.' The same word, written with a slight modification, means 'good' in the most general sense of the word, that is to say, 'possessing the qualities of one's tribe.' For no more sweeping form of praise can be given by the men of a tribe than to say that someone is a 'true member' of that tribe. The same is true of modern nations; an Englishman can give no higher praise than to say that another is a true Englishman. In the Book of Songs the phrase 'handsome and good' (jên) occurs more than once as a description of a perfectly satisfactory lover. Jên, 'members of the tribe' show a forbearance towards one another that they do not show to aliens, and just as the Latin gens, 'clan,' gave rise to our own word 'gentle,' so jên in Chinese came to mean 'kind,' 'gentle,' 'humane.' Finally, when the old distinction between jên and min, freemen and subjects, was forgotten and jên became a general word for 'human being,' the adjective n came to be understood in the sense 'human' as opposed to 'animal,' and to be applied to conduct worthy of a man, as distinct from the behaviour of mere beasts.

Of this last sense (human, not brutal) there is not a trace in the Analects. Of the sense 'kind,' 'tender-hearted' there are only two examples,39 out of some sixty instances in which the word occurs. Confucius's use of the term, a use peculiar to this one book, stands in close relation to the primitive meaning. Jên, in the Analects, means 'good' in an extremely wide and general sense. 'In its direction'40 lie unselfishness and an ability to measure other people's feelings by one's own. The good man is 'in private life, courteous; in public life, diligent; in relationships, loyal.'41 Goodness (on the part of a ruler) is complete submission to ritual.42 The Good do not grieve43 and will necessarily be brave.44 At the same time, it cannot be said that jên in the Analects simply means 'good' in a wide and general sense. It is, on the contrary, the name of a quality so rare and peculiar that one 'cannot but be chary in speaking of it.'45 It is a sublime moral attitude, a transcendental perfection attained to by legendary heroes such as Po I, but not by any living or historic person. This, however, is far from being understood by the disciples, who suggest as examples of goodness not only Tzu-wên (seventh century B.C.), Ch'ên Wêntzu (sixth century), Kuan Tzu (seventh century), but even contemporaries and associates such as Tzu-lu, Jan Ch'iu, Kung-hsi Hua, Jan Yung. All such claims the Master abruptly dismisses. Indeed so unwilling is he to accord the title jên that he will not even allow it to a hypothetical person who 'compassed the salvation of the whole State.'46 Such a one would be a Divine Sage (shêng), a demi-god; whereas jên is the display of human qualities at their highest. It appears indeed that jên is a mystic entity not merely analogous to but in certain sayings practically identical with the Tao of the Quietists. Like Tao, it is contrasted with 'knowledge.' Knowledge is active and frets itself away; Goodness is passive and therefore eternal as the hills.47 Confucius can point the way to Goodness, can tell 'the workman how to sharpen his tools,'48 can speak even of things 'that are near to Goodness.' But it is only once, in a chapter bearing every sign of lateness,49 that anything approaching a definition of Goodness is given.

In view of this repeated refusal to accept any but remote50 mythological figures as examples of jên, to accept51 or give a definition of Goodness, there is surely nothing surprising in the statement of Book IX (opening sentence) that 'the Master rarely discoursed upon Goodness.'52

It seems to me that 'good' is the only possible translation of the term jên as it occurs in the Analects. No other word is sufficiently general to cover the whole range of meaning; indeed terms such as 'humane,' 'altruistic,' 'benevolent' are in almost every instance inappropriate, often ludicrously so. But there is another word, shan, which though it wholly lacks the mystical and transcendental implications of jên, cannot conveniently be translated by any other word but 'good.' For that reason I shall henceforward translate jên, by Good (Goodness, etc.) with a capital; and shan by good, with a small g.


Unlike, jên, tao has not in the Analects a technical or peculiar meaning, but is used there in just the same sense as in early Chinese works in general. Tao means literally a road, a path, a way. Hence, the way in which anything is done, the way in which, for example, a kingdom is ruled; a method, a principle, a doctrine. It usually has a good meaning. Thus 'when tao (the Way) prevails under Heaven' means when a good method of government prevails in the world; or rather 'when the good method prevails,' for Confucius 'believed in the ancients,' that is to say, he believed that the one infallible method of rule had been practised by certain rulers of old, and that statecraft consisted in rediscovering this method. But there seem to have been other 'Ways'; for Confucius53 speaks of 'this Way' and 'my Way.' Moreover, in one passage54 he is asked about shan-jên chih Tao, 'the Way of the good people,' and replies (according to my interpretation) disapprovingly that 'those who do not tread in the tracks (of the ancients)' cannot hope to 'enter into the sanctum.' 'Good people' is a term often applied in Chinese to those who share one's views. Thus Quietists called other Quietists 'good people.' The 'good people' here intended evidently sought guidance from some source other than the example of the ancients, and they may well have been Quietists.

But we are also told that Confucius did not discourse about the Will of Heaven55 or about 'prodigies' and 'disorders' (of Nature).56 We have only to read other early books to see that the world at large attached extreme importance to the Will of Heaven as manifested by portents such as rainbows, comets, eclipses; and to monstrosities such as two-headed calves and the like. It may be that the doctrine of those who sought guidance from such signs rather than from the records of the Former Kings came to be known as the 'Way of the good people.' In general, however, the word Tao in the Analects means one thing only, the Way of the ancients as it could be reconstructed from the stories told about the founders of the Chou dynasty and the demi-gods who had preceded them.

The aspect of Confucius's Way upon which Western writers have chiefly insisted is his attitude towards the supernatural. It has been rightly emphasized that he was concerned above all with the duties of man to man and that he 'did not talk about spirits.'57 From a false interpretation of two passages (VI, 20 and XI, 11) the quite wrong inference has, however, been drawn that his attitude towards the spirit-world was, if not sceptical, at least agnostic. In the first passage a disciple asks about wisdom. The wisdom here meant is, of course, that of the ruler or member of the ruling classes, and the point at issue is one frequently debated in early Chinese literature: which should come first, the claims of the people or those of the spirit-world? In concrete terms, should the security of the whole State, which depends ultimately on the goodwill of the Spirits of grain, soil, rivers and hills, be first assured by lavish offerings and sacrifices, even if such a course involves such heavy taxation as to impose great hard-ship on the common people? Or should the claims of the people to what it is 'right and proper' (i) for them to have be satisfied before public expenditure is lavished upon the protecting spirits? The reply of Confucius is that the claims of the people should come first; but that the spirits must be accorded an attention sufficient to 'keep them at a distance,' that is to say, prevent them from manifesting their ill-will by attacking human beings; for just as we regard sickness as due to the onslaught of microbes, the Chinese regarded it as due to demoniacal 'possession.'

The same question concerning the priority in budget-making of human and ghostly claims is discussed in the second passage. Tzu-lu asks about 'the service of spirits,' meaning, as has generally been recognized, the outlay of public expenditure on sacrifice and other ceremonies of placation. The Master's reply is, 'How can there be any proper service of spirits until living men have been properly served?' Tzu-lu then 'asked about the dead.' A much debated question was whether the dead are conscious; and it was suggested that if they are not, it must clearly be useless to sacrifice at any rate to that portion of the spirit-world which consists of the spirits of the dead, as opposed to those of hills, streams, the soil, etc. Confucius does not wish to commit himself to any statement about, for example, the consciousness or unconsciousness of the dead, and adroitly turns the question by replying, 'Until a man knows about the living,58 how can he know the dead?' All that is meant by the reply (which is a rhetorical one and must not be analysed too logically) is that for the chün-tzu questions about the existence led by the dead are of secondary importance as compared to those connected with the handling of living men.

There is not, as Western writers have often supposed, any allusion to an abstract metaphysical problem concerning the ultimate nature of Life. Nor are the two passages discussed above in any way isolated or exceptional. They are, on the contrary, characteristic of the general diversion of interest from the dead to the living, from the spirit-world to that of everyday life, which marks the break-up of the old Chou culture, founded upon divination and sacrifice.59


This word corresponds closely to the Latin virtus. It means, just as virtus often does, the specific quality or 'virtue' latent in anything. It never (except by some accident of context) has in early Chinese the meaning of virtue as opposed to vice, but rather the meaning of 'virtue' in such expressions as 'in virtue of or 'the virtue of this drug.' In individuals it is a force or power closely akin to what we call character and frequently contrasted with li, 'physical force.' To translate it by 'virtue,' as has often been done, can only end by misleading the reader, who even if forewarned will be certain to interpret the word in its ordinary sense (virtue as opposed to vice) and not in the much rarer sense corresponding to the Latin virtus. For this reason I have generally rendered by the term 'moral force,' particularly where it is contrasted with li, 'physical force.' We cannot, however, speak of a horse's as its 'moral force.' Here 'character' is the only possible equivalent; and in the case of human beings the term 'prestige' often comes close to what is meant by tê.


This word is often translated 'scholar'; but this is only a derived, metaphorical sense and the whole force of many passages in the Analects is lost if we do not understand that the term is a military one and means 'knight.' A shih was a person entitled to go to battle in a war-chariot, in contrast with the common soldiers who followed on foot. Confucius, by a metaphor similar to those embodied in the phraseology of the Salvation Army, calls the stout-hearted defenders of his Way 'Knights'; and hence in later Chinese the term came to be applied to upholders of Confucianism and finally to scholars and literary people in general. The burden of most of the references to shih in the Analects is that the Knight of the Way needs just the same qualities of endurance and resolution as the Soldier Knight. A saying such as 'A knight whose thoughts are set on home is not worthy of the name of knight'61 refers in the first instance to real knights, and is only applied by metaphor to the spiritual warriors of Confucius's 'army.' If like Legge we translate 'the scholar who cherishes his love of comfort … ,' we lose the whole point. As we shall see later, Confucius was himself a knight in the literal sense, and it is probable, as we have seen, that in his later years he was senior knight, 'leader of the knights,' responsible for their discipline.…


  1. The legend of Confucius's worldly success, transferred to the West, has continued its growth on European soil. Meyer's Konversationslexicon (1896) goes so far as to say that he was 'received with the highest honours at every Court' in China.
  2. The original function of the shih-shih was to 'keep the Knights in order'; Cf. Mencius I, 2, VI, 2. In practice he acted under the orders of the Minister of Justice and functioned as a sort of police-magistrate. In the second stage of its development the Confucian legend represents the Master as achieving the position of Minister of Justice, an idea which may well have grown out of his having in fact been Leader of the Knights.
  3. This mobility was typical of Chinese society. Not only moralists, but warriors, craftsmen and even peasants moved from State to State, if they thought that by doing so they could improve their chances of success.
  4. IX, 6. But the saying from which we learn this was a disputed one, and an alternative version of it is given immediately afterwards, 'But Lao says the Master said …' etc. This alternative version refers to lack of official employment, but not to poverty.
  5. V, 1.
  6. XI, 7.
  7. I will not here enter into the difficult question of how the dates (551-479 B.C.) later accepted as official were first arrived at. Cf. Maspero, La Chine Antique, p. 455, and below, p. 78.
  8. VII, 33.
  9. Ibid.
  10. XV, 2.
  11. VII, 19.
  12. VII, 1.
  13. Mencius, IV, 1. I.
  14. III, 14.
  15. VII, 5.
  16. See The Way and Its Power, p. 91. Mencius and later writers use the term shêng in a much wider sense, applying it even to a comparatively recent person such as Liu-hsia Hui.
  17. I except Book XX, which has not necessarily anything to do with the beliefs of Confucius. Yü is legendary; but the Hsia dynasty is probably not wholly mythological.
  18. VI, 28; XIV, 45.
  19. T'ien; literally, 'Heaven'.
  20. XV, 4.
  21. VIII, 20. One of them was presumably Kao Yao, mentioned in XII, 22.
  22. But not in the Songs, where he generally appears as a Creator connected indeed with irrigation, only once as a flood-subduer.
  23. VIII, 21.
  24. XIV, 6.
  25. XV, 10.
  26. III, 9. Systematic excavation at An-yang, the site of one of the Yin capitals, has put us in possession of far more information about Yin culture than Confucius was able to obtain.
  27. Seventy-two is a sacred number, connected with the quintuple division of the year of 360 days. Cf. XI, 25.
  28. Collected by Yüan Yüan, Huang Ch 'ing Ching Chieh, 803-806.
  29. This section might well be omitted by readers without special knowledge of Chinese literature.
  30. I mean accepted by scholars as the date of the material contained in the book. The date of its compilation may well be later.
  31. See The Way and Its Power, p. 59. Mencius, VI, 2. VI, is unintelligible, and has in any case never been interpreted as relevant.
  32. It is quoted by name in the Han Shih Wai Chuan, which presumably dates from the middle of the second century.
  33. Now lost, save for a few fragments.
  34. Legge's suggestion that Chang Yü (died 5 B.C.) used the Ku version is not borne out by the texts.
  35. Through the Shih Wên and the fragments from Tun-huang. The Hsin-lun of Huan T'an (c. A.D. 1) says that Ku had four hundred characters different from Lu.
  36. Alleged to have been found, (1) during the Emperor Ching's reign (156-141 B.C.); (2) at the beginning of the Han Emperor Wu's reign (140 B.C.); (3) at the end of his reign (87 B.C.); by (1) Prince Kung of Lu (in Lu from 154-127 B.C.; (2) the Emperor Wu himself; (1) during the demolition of Confucius's house; (2) before the demolition, which was at once suspended; (1) according to some accounts without supernatural mani-festations; (2) according to others, to the accompaniment of supernatural music.

    The accounts also differ considerably as to what books were found and as to who hid them there.

  37. Which is simply a collection of traditional ritual maxims.
  38. Which, apart from the few sayings appended at the end, is a collection of sentences from texts of the Shu Ching type.
  39. XII, 22 and XVII, 21.
  40. VI, 28.
  41. XIII, 19.
  42. XII, 1.
  43. IX, 28.
  44. XIV, 5.
  45. XII, 3.
  46. VI, 28.
  47. VI, 21.
  48. XV, 9.
  49. XVII.
  50. Po I, Shu Ch'i, Pi Kan, Wei Tzu and Chi Tzu is the complete list. All of them belonged, according to legend, to the end of the Yin dynasty. The last three occur in Book XVIII, which emanated from non-Confucian circles.
  51. Cf. XIV, 2.
  52. A vast mass of discussion has centred round this passage. Cf. Journal of the American Oriental Society, December 1933 and March 1934.
  53. It would be pedantic always to say 'the early Confucians' or the compilers of the Analects; though that is, strictly speaking, what I mean when I say 'Confucius.'
  54. XI, 19.
  55. V , 12.
  56. VII, 20.
  57. VII, 20.
  58. Or 'knows about life.' …
  59. Cf. The Way and Its Power, pp. 24 seq.
  60. Cf. The Book of Songs, p. 346. …
  61. VIII, 4.

Lin Yutang (essay date 1942)

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SOURCE: An introduction to The Wisdom of China and India, Random House, 1942, pp. 3-52.

[In the following excerpt, Yutang outlines the basic tenets of Confucianism, which he describes as a system of ideas that sought a rationalized social and political order "by laying the basis for it in a moral order. "]


Can one be enthusiastic about Confucianism nowadays? I wonder. The answer seems to depend on whether one can be enthusiastic about sheer good sense, a thing which people usually cannot work up very much enthusiasm for. The more important question seems to be whether one can believe in Confucianism nowadays. This is especially important to the modern Chinese of today, a question that directly challenges their minds and cannot be brushed aside. For there is a centrality or, shall I say, universality, about the Confucian attitude and point of view, reflected in a joy in Confucian belief that I see even among maturing modern Chinese who have received a Western education. The centrality and basic appeal of its humanism have a strange strength of their own. During the political chaos and battle of ideas in the centuries immediately following Confucius, Confucianism won the victory over Taoism, Motianism, Naturalism, Legalism, Communism and a host of other philosophies. It maintained this supremacy over the Chinese people for the length of two thousand five hundred years, with the exception of a few periods, and it always came back to its own stronger than ever. Apart from Taoism which was in fashion in the third to sixth centuries A.D., its strongest rival was Buddhism, which attained a great vogue with the Sung scholars. But with all its fine metaphysics, Buddhism succeeded only in modifying the interpretation of the method of arriving at knowledge and the aim of this humanist culture. It shifted the emphasis to certain ideas originally in the Confucian classics and directed a fuller attention to them, but did not replace Confucianism itself. Perhaps it was merely the old prestige of Confucius, but there was a great pride among the Confucian scholars, a belief in their own correctness, which made these scholars renounce Buddhism and look askance at it with toleration or contempt, as the case may have been. The same common sense that crushed the mysticism of Chungtse also made them renounce the mysticism of Buddhism. Today Confucianism meets a still greater rival, not Christianity, but the entire system of Western thought and life and the coming of a new social order, brought about by the industrial age. As a political system aiming at the restoration of a feudal order, Confucianism will probably be put out of date by the developments of modern political science and economics. But as a system of humanist culture, as a fundamental viewpoint concerning the conduct of life and of society, I believe it will still hold its own. We have not yet progressed so far that, for instance, the doctrines of Karl Marx and Confucius no longer meet, or have no longer a common meeting point. Confucianism, as a live force in the Chinese people, is still going to shape our national conduct of affairs and modify Communism in China, if it is ever introduced. We will merely repeat the fight with Western Communism that Mencius fought with the early Chinese Communists and won. It is in this sense that a study of Confucianism and its fundamental beliefs will be of interest to people of the Western world, in helping them fundamentally to understand the Chinese ethos and Chinese mores.

To Western readers, Confucius is chiefly known as a wise man speaking in aphorisms or moral maxims, which hardly suffices to explain the depth of the influence of Confucianism. Without a deeper unity of belief or system of thought, no mere collection of aphorisms could dominate a nation's history as Confucianism has dominated China. The answer to the puzzle of Confucius' great prestige and influence has to be sought elsewhere. Without a fundamental system of beliefs which is accepted to be true, maxims and proverbs might easily grow stale and outworn. The Analects, the Confucian Bible, is such a collection of moral maxims, and it is chiefly through the Analects that Confucianism has been made known to the West. But the Analects after all is only a collection of the cream of Confucius' sayings, often torn apart from their contexts, which are found with a fuller elucidation in The Book of Mencius,Liki and other books. After all, Confucius did not talk the whole day in staccato sentences. It would be impossible, therefore, to arrive at a full appreciation of the influence and prestige of Confucius without an understanding of the system of Confucian ideas as a system.

To put it briefly, Confucianism stood for a rationalized social order through the ethical approach, based on personal cultivation. It aimed at political order by laying the basis for it in a moral order, and it sought political harmony by trying to achieve the moral harmony in man himself. Thus its most curious characteristic was the abolition of the distinction between politics and ethics. Its approach was definitely an ethical approach, differing from the Legalists who tried to bring about a strong nation by a rigid enforcement of the law. It was also a positive point of view, with a keen sense of responsibility toward one's fellow men and the general social order, as distinguished from the negative cynicism of Taoism. Fundamentally, it was a humanist attitude, brushing aside all futile metaphysics and mysticism, interested chiefly in the essential human relationships, and not in the world of spirits or in immortality. The strongest doctrine of this particular type of humanism, which accounts for its great enduring influence, is the doctrine that "the measure of man is man," a doctrine which makes it possible for the common man to begin somewhere as a follower of Confucianism by merely following the highest instincts of his own human nature, and not by looking for perfection in a divine ideal.

To be more specific, Confucianism was definitely aiming at the restoration of a rationalized feudal order, with clear gradations of rank, at a time when the feudal system of the Chou Dynasty was breaking down. In order to understand this, one has to go back to a conception of the collapse of the feudal system in Confucius' days and the centuries immediately following. There were hundreds of duchies, baronies, and townships, which had emerged as independent states, with the stronger states growing in power and territory and constantly warring with one another. The power of the Emperor, still holding a theoretic sovereignty over the Chinese Empire, had dwindled to nothing; in fact to such an extent that neither Confucius in his time nor Mencius later, who went about to persuade different kings to put their doctrines into practice, did not even bother to go and see the Emperor. This was a contradiction of his own theory of a rationalized social order, upholding loyalty to the highest authority. The situation was so bad that there was no point in either one of them trying to see the weak Emperor at all. There was, therefore, an international anarchy, resembling conditions in modern Europe. Treaties were scrapped, and there were alliances and big and little ententes, which never lasted very long. Taxation was frightful, in order to keep up the growing armies, and the smaller states were constantly worried about invasions by the powerful neighboring states. Conferences were constantly held, now with the ruler of one leading state and now with that of another sitting as the chairman. Philosophers began to develop the distinction between "offensive" and "defensive" warfare and between "aggressors" and "victims." Curiously, there developed a kind of intellectual internationalism; scholars moved about and switched their allegiance from one state to another. The ancient rites and insignias of rank had fallen into a terrible confusion; there was great inequality of wealth; and this moral and political chaos set every keen mind thinking about the best way of bringing about peace and order. In this atmosphere, the greatest intellectual activity, coupled with the greatest freedom of thought, brought about the greatest richness and variety in Chinese philosophy. Some repudiated civilization entirely, as Laotse and Chuangtse did; some became budding Communists, believing that every man should work for his living with his hands; some taught the oneness of God, the love of God, and a humanitarian, unselfish and even ascetic personal life, to the extent of repudiating music itself, as Motse did; and there were Sophists, Stoics, Hedonists, Epicureans and downright Naturalists. Many people, like modern Europeans, began to suspect civilization itself, and harked back to the primitive life, as some modern thinkers are harking back to the African jungle or the Island of Bali. Some others, like Confucius, were like the modern Christians, who believe in the force of moral ideals, in education, in the arts, in continuity with the past, and in maintaining some sort of international decencies and a high moral standard in human relationships, which were all part of the Confucian faith.

The chapter "On the Conduct of the Confucianists" in Liki(Juhsing, Ch. XLI) distinguishes this school of scholars from the rest. The term Ju (Confucianism is known in China as "the religion of the Ju" since Confucius' time) was already current in Confucius' day, and the scholars styled as Ju were probably a special set of people, conservative in point of view, backed by historical scholarship, and wearing a special Ju cap and Ju gown as symbols of their belief in the past. The following are a few extracts showing the high moral idealism of this group of followers of Confucius:

The Duke Ai of Lu asked Confucius, "Is the Master's dress that of the Ju?" Confucius replied, "I grew up in Lu and wore a gown with broad sleeves, and stayed later in Sung and therefore wore a cap of black cloth. I have heard it said that a gentleman is broad in his scholarship, but wears the gown of his own country. I do not know if this gown that I wear may be called a Ju gown." "What about the conduct of the Ju?" asked the Duke, and Confucius replied, "I shall not be able to finish it if I were to describe all the details, and if I did, I would have to stop over here and yet not be able to cover it all, even after you have changed the attendants several times." The Duke then asked Confucius to sit down on the mat, and Confucius sat in his company and said,

"A Ju is like one who has jewels in his keeping waiting for sale; he cultivates his knowledge morning and night to prepare himself for requests for advice; he cherishes integrity and honesty of character against the time when he is appointed; he endeavors to order his personal conduct against the time when he shall be in office. Such is his independence!

"A Ju is orderly in his dress and careful in his actions; his great refusals seem like lack of respect and his little refusals seem like false manners; when he appears on public occasions, he looks awe-inspiring, and on small occasions he appears self-retiring; his services are difficult to get and difficult to keep while he appears gentle and weak. Such is his appearance!

"A Ju may be approached by gentle manners but may not be cowed by force; he is affable but he cannot be made to do what he doesn't want; and he may be killed, but may not be humiliated. He is simple and frugal in his living, and his faults or mistakes may be gently explained but not abruptly pointed out to his face. Such is his strength of character!

"A Ju lives with the moderns but studies the ancients. What he does today will become an example for those in the generations to follow. When he lives in times of political chaos, he neither courts favors from those in authority, nor is boosted by those below. And when the petty politicians join hands to defame or injure him, his life may be threatened, but the course of his conduct may not be changed. Although he lives in danger, his soul remains his own, and even then he does not forget the sufferings of the people. Such is his sense of responsibility!

"A Ju is broad in his knowledge and not narrow-minded; he cultivates his conduct without cease; and in his private life he does not abandon himself. When he is successful, he does not depart from the truth. In his personal manners he values living in peace and harmony with others. He maintains the beauty of his inner character and is leisurely in his ways. He admires those cleverer than himself and is generous toward the masses, and is flexible in principle. Such is his ease of mind and generosity of character!"

Against this background of international anarchy and a collapsing ancient feudal order, the different essential tenets of Confucian teachings will be more readily understood and appreciated, particularly Confucius' efforts to restore an ancient feudal order through ritual and music. The characteristic ideas of this body of teachings are, to my mind, five in number, and since these are also the ideas constantly to be met with in the following translations, an examination of their exact import is essential to a true understanding of Confucianism.

1. The identification of politics and ethics:

The whole emphasis of Confucianism upon ritual and music and its apparent preoccupation with moral platitudes usually strikes the Western readers as queer and almost unintelligible. And yet, nothing is clearer than the fact that the so-called "ritual and music" embody better than any other phrase, the entire aim of the Confucian social order. It sounds almost childishly naive to hear Confucius say, in reply to a question about government by his disciple: "Ah Shih, didn't I tell you before? All that one needs to do is simply for the gentleman to fully understand ritual and music and then apply them to the government! (Liki, Ch. XXVIII)." This is easily understood, however, from the Confucian point of view, if we remember the Confucian definition of government as merely an effort to "put things right" or "put things in order." In other words, Confucius was aiming at the moral basis for peace in society, out of which political peace should naturally ensue. The Analects reports a conversation as follows: Someone asked Confucius, "Why don't you go into the government?" And Confucius replied, "Is it not said in the Book of History concerning filial piety that the King of Chen was a good son and a good brother and then he applied the principles to the government of things? This is also being in the government. Why, therefore, should I go into the government?" In other words, Confucius was almost an anarchist, believing as his highest political ideal in a society of people living in moral harmony which should make government itself unnecessary. This is implied in his saying that "In acting as a judge at lawsuits, I am as good as anyone. But the thing is, to aim so that there should not be any lawsuits at all (Analects, XII)." How this is to be achieved will be made clear in the following paragraphs. But it is unmistakable that Confucius held the final aim of government and the criminal law and ritual and music to be identical: "The final goals of ritual and music and the criminal law and government are the same, namely, to bring about a community of the people's aspirations and to result in social and political order" (see Chapter X "On Music"). Confucius was never quite satisfied with the kind of political order achieved by a rigorous administration or enforcement of the criminal law. "Guide the people by governmental measures," he said, "and regulate them by the threat of punishment, and the people will try to keep out of jail, but will have no sense of honor or shame. Guide the people by virtue and regulate them by li (sense of propriety) and the people will have a sense of honor and respect." There are then two kinds of political order, and it is in this sense that Confucius once said, "When the kingdom Ch'i moves a step forward, it will have reached the culture of the kingdom of Lu (his own country), i.e., the first stage of peace that he spoke of; and when the kingdom of Lu moves a step forward, it will have reached the stage of true civilization, i.e., the second stage."

2. Li, or the rationalized social order:

Confucianism, besides being known in China as "the religion of Confucius" and "the religion of the Ju," is further known as "the religion of li, or ritual." It will at once be sensed by Western readers, that there is much more to this conception of li than merely ritualism itself, or the entire Confucian system is a sham and a fake. We have to meet this fact squarely, for the phrase "ritual and music" occurs again and again in the Confucian texts and seems to embody the entire Confucian system of outward social order, as the conception of "true manhood" seems to embody the essence of Confucian teachings regarding personal conduct. The importance and exact meaning of the phrase "ritual and music" will be made amply clear in the Three Confucian Discourses (Chs. VI, VII, VIII). Here it is only necessary to point out that Confucius' own definitions of government and of li exactly coincide. Government is defined as putting things or people in order, but li is also defined as "the order of things" (Liki, XXVIII). The Chinese word li therefore cannot be rendered by an English word. On one extreme, it means "ritual," "propriety"; in a generalized sense, it simply means "good manners"; in its highest philosophic sense, it means an ideal social order with everything in its place, and particularly a rationalized feudal order, which was breaking down in Confucius' days, as I have already pointed out.

To adhere to the philosophic meaning, Confucius was trying to restore a social order, based on love for one's kind and respect for authority, of which the social rites of public worship and festivities in ritual and music should be the outward symbols. Of course, the rituals of worship lead straight back to primitive religious rites and ceremonies, and it is clear that this so-called "religion of li" was truly semi-religious in character, being related to God at one end in the sacrifice to heaven by the Emperor, and related to the common people at the other end by the teachings of affection and discipline and respect for authority in the home life. There have existed different religious sacrifices to heaven or God, to the ancestors of the rulers, to the spirits of the earth and the mountains and rivers. Confucius, as reported several times in the Analects and the Liki, said that he did not know of the meaning of these particular sacrifices to God and the Imperial Ancestors, known as chiao and t'i, and that if he did, it would be as easy to rule the world as to turn over one's hand. In this aspect, the body of Confucian thought resembles most the laws of Moses, and it is easier to compare Confucius in the scope of his teachings to Moses than to any other philosopher. The li of Confucius, like the laws of Moses, covers both religious laws and laws of civil life and considers the two as integrated parts of a whole. After all, Confucius was a product of his times, living in what Comte calls the "religious" era.

Furthermore, Confucius would undoubtedly have been a High Churchman in temperament, an Episcopalian or a Roman Catholic, if he were a Christian. He loved the rituals of worship, certainly not as merely ceremonial acts without meaning, but with his clear knowledge of human psychology, he saw that the proper rituals brought about in the worshipper a respectful or God-fearing state of mind. Furthermore, he was a conservative, like all Episcopalians or Roman Catholics, and believed in authority and in continuity with the past. Personally, his artistic sense was too keen for him not to be moved by the appeal of ceremonies and music, of which we have ample evidence in the Analects (see Ch. V, Sec. 2, "The Emotional and Artistic Life of Confucius"). And as the worship of God and the ancestors of the rulers was to bring about a state of true piety, so the ceremonies of drinking festivals and archery contests in the villages, accompanied with song and dance and kowtowing, teaching the villagers to observe form and order in their festivities, were also to bring about a sense of general order and courtesy among the masses.

Psychologically, therefore, the functions of ritual and music are the same. Confucianism gave a sort of philosophic and even poetic meaning to ritual and music and dance. This is nothing surprising, considering that Confucius himself was a great lover of music, learned to play on musical instruments from a master of music at the age of twenty-nine, and constantly sang and played on the ch'in (a string instrument) even amidst his troubles. It is definitely stated that the six branches of study in Confucius' time were: ritual, music, archery, carriage driving, writing and mathematics. Confucius himself edited the Book of Songs at the age of sixty-four, and it is said that after this job of editing, the different songs were first shifted and properly classified with respect to their accompanying music. In fact, Confucius' own school, according to reports, seemed continually to echo with the sounds of song and music, and Tsekung, when placed in charge of a town, began to teach the people to sing, which induced a smile and a joke from Confucius (Ch. V, Sec. 3). The philosophic meaning of ritual and music is fully developed in Chapter X. The gist of it is: "when you see a nation's dance, you know the character of the people"; "music comes from the heart, while ritual comes from the outside"; "music is a sense of joy— what cannot be restrained or replaced from the human heart"; "the different kinds of music in different countries are an indication of the different mores of the different peoples"; "music harmonizes the community, while ritual draws its social distinction"; "music represents heaven or the abstract, while ritual represents the earth or the concrete"; finally "therefore the ancient kings instituted ritual and music not only to satisfy our desires of the ear and the eye and the mouth and the stomach, but in order to teach the people to have the right taste or the right likes and dislikes and restore the human order to its normalcy."

Naturally, the whole system of li embodies also a concrete plan of a social hierarchy, concluding with a prodigious amount of scholarship regarding rules and ceremonies for the religious sacrifices, the festivities of drinking and archery and the conduct of men and women and children and the taking care of old people. This branch of Confucian historical scholarship was best developed by Hsuntse, a great philosopher whose books still exist and who was a contemporary and rival of Mencius, while its philosophic meaning is also fully developed in the Liki (see the Three Confucian Discourses, Chapters VI, VII, VIII), which largely reflect Hsuntse's interpretations.

This understanding of the importance of li helps us also to understand another corollary of Confucius' doctrines, the importance of terminology, that is, everything should be called by its right name. Therefore, when Confucius wrote the political annals of his time and the two preceding centuries, called the ch'uch 'iu or Spring and Autumn, his intention was largely to restore the social order by sharp distinctions in terminology. A ruler killing a rebellious general would be called sha, while a prince or a minister killing his ruler would be called shih. When the Baron of Wu assumed the title of "king," Confucius merely wrote down "Baron Wu," thinking that he had degraded him by that single word in his Chronicles.

3. Humanism:

The finest philosophie perception of Confucius, it seems to me, is his recognition that "the measure of man is man." If it were not so, the whole system of Confucian ethics would fall to pieces, and would immediately become impracticable. The whole philosophy of ritual and music is but to "set the human heart right," and the kingdom of God is truly within the man himself. The problem for any man intending to cultivate his personal life is merely to start out on a hunt for the best in his human nature and steadfastly to keep to it. That is practically the essence of Confucian ethics. This results in the doctrine of the Golden Rule, and is best explained in Chapter III, "Central Harmony." Of course as a part of this humanism, there is a high and fine conception of jen or "true manhood," about which Confucius constantly talked, but which, as a qualification, he consistently refused to allow to all except two of his disciples and three great men in history. Confucius was constantly reluctant to fix this concept of a "true man," and when he was asked whether such and such a good man was a "true man," in nine cases out of ten he refused to apply that epithet to a living man. But, as is made clear in the chapter on "Central Harmony," Confucius also pointed out that in order to climb high, one had to begin from the low ground, and in order to reach a distant place, one had to begin by making a first step, and once he said, "Being a good son and a good younger brother provides already the basis for being a true man."

The conception jen (true manhood) is as difficult to translate as the conception of li. In Chinese writing, this character is composed of "two" and "man," signifying the relationship between men; in its present pronunciation, it is identical with the sound for "man," but in the ancient language it had a pronunciation which was identical to that of "man" in a particular phrase, quoted by a Han commentator, but unrecognizable today. In certain instances in Confucian books, the word for "true manhood" is actually used interchangeably with the common word for "man," the clearest instance of which occurs in the Analects, where a disciple speaks about "a man falling into a well," the word for "man" being written with the word for "true manhood," usually translated as "kindness" or "benevolence." Anyway the association of ideas is clear. In the English language in different words, such as human, humane, humanitarian, and humanity, the last word has a double meaning of "mankind" and "kindness." Both Confucius and Mencius also once defined "true manhood" as the "love of man." But the matter is not so simple. In the first place, as I have pointed out, Confucius refused to give a concrete example of a true man, whereas certainly he would not have refused to give a concrete example of merely "a kind man." In the second place, this "true manhood" is often described as a state of mind, a state that one "searches for," "attains," "feels at peace in," "departs from," "is based upon," and (Mencius) "dwells in," as in a house.

The essential idea of jen is therefore a conception of the state when man is truly himself, and from this point on, Mencius starts out on his whole philosophy about the essence of human nature, and finds that "human nature is good," while Hsuntse, believing that human nature is bad and taking up the other end of Confucian teachings regarding education and music and the system of social order and outward forms of moral conduct, develops the idea of li, with emphasis on restraint. In common English phraseology, we speak of certain people among our acquaintances as "a real man" or "a real person," and this seems to come closest to the Confucian conception of jen. On the one hand, we begin to understand why Confucius refused to give so many good men of his day that label, as we can see today how many men or women we would be willing to call "a real person," in its most ideal sense. (Abraham Lincoln certainly was one.) On the other hand, we do find that the approach to being a real man is after all not so difficult, and that anyone can be a real person if he keeps his heart right and has some contempt for the artificialities of civilization—in other words, every common person can be a real man if he wants to. This fully fits in with the Confucian and Mencian statement that to be a real man, one merely needs to start out by being a good son or daughter or brother or sister, or a good citizen. I consider, therefore, my translation of jen as "true manhood" fully accurate and adequate. In certain places, it will have to be rendered merely as "kindness," just as the word li in certain places will have to be rendered merely as "ritual" or "ceremony" or "manners."

Actually, Mencius arrived at the position that men are all created equal in goodness of heart, and that "all men can be like the Emperors Yao and Shun" (the Confucian models of perfect virtue). It is this humanistic approach of climbing high from the low and reaching the distance from the nearby, and of making an easy start in virtue or the development of character that accounts for the great fascination of Confucianism over the Chinese people, as distinguished from the much more idealistic doctrine of Motse, teaching actually the "fatherhood of God" and "universal love," so akin to Christianity. The humanistic idea of measuring man by man not only forces one to discover the true self, but naturally also results in the Golden Rule, known in Chinese as shu, namely, as Confucius repeatedly said, "Do not do unto others what you would not have others do unto you." Confucius not only gave this as a definition of the "true man," but also said that it was the central thread of all his teachings. The word for shu (meaning "reciprocity") is written in Chinese with the two elements "a heart" and "alike." In modern Chinese, it usually means "forgiveness," but the transition is easy to understand, for if you assume that all men's reactions are the same in a particular circumstance, and if you place yourself in the other man's position, you would naturally forgive. Confucianism, therefore, constantly reverted to the personal test of how would you feel yourself or "finding it in yourself." The best analogy, as given in Chapter III, is that of a carpenter trying to make an axe-handle—all he needs to do is to look at the handle of the axe in his own hand for a model. He will not have to go far. The measure of man is man.

4. Personal cultivation as the basis of a world order:

The ethical approach of Confucianism to the problems of politics has already been made clear. Put in the plainest terms, Confucius believed that a nation of good sons and good brothers could not help making an orderly, peaceful nation. Confucianism traced back the ordering of a national life to the regulation of the family life and the regulation of the family life to the cultivation of the personal life. That means very much about the same thing as when modern educators tell us that the reform of the present chaotic world after all must ultimately depend on education. The logical connections between a world order as the final aim and the cultivation of the personal life by individuals as a necessary start are made perfectly plain in the chapter, "Ethics and Politics" (Chapter IV) and also in Chapter III, Sec. 6, and throughout the Chapters VI, VII, VIII. The Chinese preoccupation with moral maxims and platitudes becomes then intelligible, for they are not detached aphorisms, but are part of a well-rounded political philosophy.

Interpreted in the light of modern psychology, this doctrine can be reduced easily to two theories, the theory of habit and the theory of imitation. The whole emphasis on "filial piety," more clearly translated by myself as "being a good son," is psychologically based on the theory of habit. Confucius and Mencius literally said that, having acquired the habits of love and respect in the home, one could not but extend this mental attitude of love and respect to other people's parents and elder brothers and to the authorities of the state. As stated in Chapter IV, "when the individual families have learned kindness, then the whole nation has learned kindness, and when the individual families have learned courtesy, then the whole nation has learned courtesy." The teaching of young children to love their parents and brothers and to be respectful to their superiors lays the foundation of right mental and moral attitudes for growing up to be good citizens.

5. The intellectual upper class:

The theory of imitation, or the power of example, results in the doctrine of the intellectual upper class and of "government by example." The intellectual upper class is at the same time a moral upper class, or it fails in its qualifications to be considered the upper class at all. This is the well-known conception of the Confucian "gentleman" or "superior man" or "princely man." This princely man is not at all a super man of the Nietzschean type. He is merely a kind and gentle man of moral principles, at the same time a man who loves learning, who is calm himself and perfectly at ease and is constantly careful of his own conduct, believing that by example he has a great influence over society in general. He is perfectly at ease in his own station of life and has a certain contempt for the mere luxuries of living. All the moral teachings of Confucius are practically grouped around this cultivated gentleman. The Chinese word for this, chuntse, was a current term given a new meaning by the usage of Confucius. In many places, it definitely meant "the sovereign" and could not be translated as "gentleman" and still make sense; in other places, it obviously meant only a cultivated "gentleman." With the existence of an intellectual upper class of rulers, the two meanings merged into one another, and formed a concept very similar to Plato's "philosopher king." The theory of the power of example is fully developed in Chapter XII of the Analects.… Confucius had an overweening confidence in the power of moral example. When a rapacious rich official, Chik'angtse, told Confucius that he was worried about the prevalence of robbers and thieves in his country, Confucius bluntly replied, "If you yourself don't love money, you can give the money to the thieves and they won't take it."


The great prestige of Confucius and Confucian teachings during the centuries immediately after his death, as well as in subsequent Chinese history, must be ascribed to three factors: first, the intrinsic appeal of Confucian ideas to the Chinese way of thinking; second, the enormous historical learning and scholarship accumulated and practically monopolized by the Confucianists, in contrast to the other schools which did not bother with historical learning (and this body of scholarship carried enough weight and prestige of its own); and thirdly, the evident charm of personality and prestige of the Master himself. There are in this world certain great teachers, whose personality seems to account for their influence more than their scholarship. We think of Socrates, or of St. Francis of Assisi, who themselves did not write any books of account, but who left such a tremendous impress on their generation that their influence persisted throughout the ages. The charm of Confucius was very much like the charm of Socrates; the very fact that the latter commanded the affection and respect of Plato is sufficient evidence of the power of his personality and his ideas. It is true Confucius edited the Book of Songs, and it is also true that he wrote the bare skeleton of events, chronicled in the Spring and Autumn, but after all the great tradition of his teachings was put down by his disciples and future followers.

There are, of course, many characterizations of Confucius' personality in the various Confucian books. We get a foretaste of it at the end of Chapter III, on "Central Harmony." His disciple Yen Huei also lauded him to the skies, comparing him to a great mysterious something: "You turn up your head and look at it and it seems so high; you try to drill through it and it seems so hard; it appears to be in front of you and all of a sudden it appears behind you." Some of the best characterizations, however, are the following: It was said that he was "gentle but dignified, austere, yet not harsh, polite and completely at ease." Confucius' self-characterizations were still better. Once a king asked one of his disciples about Confucius and the disciple could not make an answer. The disciple then returned to tell Confucius of the incident, and Confucius replied, "Why didn't you tell him that I am a man who forgets to eat when he is enthusiastic about something, who forgets all his worries when he is happy, and who is not aware that old age is coming on?" In this statement, we see something of the joy of lie, the enthusiasm and the positive, persistent urge for doing something. He also said of himself several times that he was not a "saint," but that he admitted he was tireless in learning and in teaching other people. As an illustration of this positive urge in Confucius, there is also the following record. One of his disciples was putting up for the night at a place, and the gatekeeper asked him where he was from. Tselu replied that he was from Confucius and the gatekeeper remarked, "Oh, is he the fellow who knows that a thing can 't be done and stillwants to do it? " There was a high moral idealism in Confucius, a consciousness of a mission, that made him completely believe in himself.

The charm of Confucius' private character really lies in his gentility, as is so clearly shown in his conversational tone with his disciples. Many of the sayings of Confucius contained in the Analects can only be interpreted in the light of a leisurely discourse of a humorous teacher with his disciples, with an occasional shot of witticism. Read in this light, some of his most casual remarks become the best. I like, for instance, such perfectly casual sayings as the following: He remarked one day to two or three intimate disciples talking with him, "Do you think that I have hidden anything from the two or three of you? Really, I have hidden nothing from you. There is nothing that I do that I don't share with the two or three of you. That's I." Another instance: Tsekung loved to criticize people and Confucius said, calling him by his intimate name, "Ah Sze, you are very clever, aren't you? I have no time for such things." Another instance: Confucius said, "I really admire a fellow who goes about the whole day with a well-fed stomach and a vacuous mind. How can one ever do it? I would rather that he play chess, which would seem to me to be better." In one instance, Confucius said something derisively about what one of his disciples was doing. The disciple was puzzled, and Confucius explained that he was merely pulling his leg, implying that really he approved. For Confucius was a gay old soul. His gentility and hospitality toward all desiring to learn are recorded in the following incident, resembling a story in the Bible when Jesus said, "Suffer the little children to come unto me." The people of a certain village were given to mischief, and one day some young people from that village came to see Confucius, and the disciples were surprised that Confucius saw them. Confucius remarked, "Why be so harsh on them? What concerns me is how they come and not what they do when they go away. When a man approaches me with pure intentions, I respect his pure intentions, although I cannot guarantee what he does afterwards."

But Confucius was not all gentility. For he was a "real man." He could sing and be extremely polite, but he also could hate and sneer with the hatred and contempt of a "real man," which was shared by Jesus in his hatred of the Jewish scribes. There was never a great man in this world who did not have some genuine good hatreds. Confucius could be extremely rude and there are recorded in the Analects four or five caustic remarks made about people in their presence. He could be rude in a way that no Confucianist dares to be rude today. There was no class of persons that Confucius hated more than the goody-goody hypocrites whom Confucius described as "the thieves of virtue." Once such a person, Ju Pei, wanted to see Confucius, and Confucius sent word to say he was not at home. When Ju Pei was just outside the door, Confucius took up a string instrument and sang "in order to let him hear it" and know that he was really at home. This passage in the Analects has confused all Confucian critics, who proceeded upon the asumption that Confucius was a saint and not a human being, and was always polite. Such orthodox criticism naturally completely dehumanized Confucius. Another passage in the Analects, recorded in Mencius, also puzzled the critics. A corrupt official, by the name of Yang Ho, presented Confucius with a leg of pork. As the two persons heartily disliked each other, Yang Ho found out when Confucius would not be at home and then presented the leg of pork at his home as a matter of courtesy. Confucius also took the trouble to find out when Yang Ho was not at home and then went to say thanks to him and leave his card. In reply to a question from his disciples concerning the rulers of his day, Confucius remarked, "Oh, those are rice bags!" (i.e., good only for filling themselves with rice). At another time he made this remark about a man who was reputed to have indulged in singing at his mother's death. "As a young boy, you were unruly; when grown up, you have accomplished nothing, and now in your old age you refuse to die. You are a thief!" And Confucius struck his shin with a walking stick.

There was, in fact, a lot of fun in Confucius. He led a full, joyous life, the full human life of feelings and artistic taste. For he was a man of deep emotionality and great sensitive taste. At the death of his favorite disciple, Confucius wept bitterly. When he was asked why he wept so and was so shaken, he replied, "If I don't weep bitterly at the death of such a person, for whom else shall I weep bitterly?" His curious sensitiveness and capacity for shedding tears was shown in an instance when he passed by casually a funeral of one of his old acquaintances. He went in, and moved by the weeping of others, he also wept. When he came out, he asked his disciple to take a part of the accoutrements on his horse as a funeral gift, and said, "Take it in as my formal present. I hated this weeping without reason."

This man, who sang and played musical instruments (ch'in, seh, and hsuan) and edited a book of songs with accompanying music, was an artist. As I have already pointed out, he was a lover of ritual and music. As an illustration of his Episcopalian temper, there was the following incident which contrasted him sharply with Jesus who had much less respect for the laws and the prophets and all the ritualism that went with them. Jesus allowed a person to save a cow out of a pit on the Sabbath. Confucius might have approved, or he might not. His disciple Tsekung once proposed to abolish the winter sacrifices of lambs, and Confucius replied, "Ah Sze, you love the lamb, but I love the ritual!" Anyway, he wasn't interested in animals. For on hearing that a stable was burnt down by fire, it was recorded that he asked whether any persons were hurt but "did not ask about the horses." The artist in him made him say that a man's education should begin with poetry, be strengthened by proper conduct, and "consummated in music." It was also recorded that when he heard another man sing and liked it, he would ask for an encore and then join in the refrain. The artist in him also made him very fastidious about his food and his dress. I have already pointed out elsewhere that his fastidiousness about food was most probably the cause of his wife's running away. He refused to eat when anything was not in season, or not properly cooked, or not served with its proper sauce. And he had good taste in matching colors in his dress. A modern modiste could easily understand why he would match a black lamb coat with a black covering, a white faun coat with a white covering, and a fox coat with a yellow covering. (This "covering" corresponds to the "lining" in Western fur coats, for Chinese fur coats are worn with the fur on the inside and the silk on the outside.) He was also something of an inventor in the matter of dress. His bedclothes were longer than his body by half, to avoid cold feet, and he struck upon the beautiful idea of making his right sleeve shorter than his left sleeve for convenience at work, which must have also exasperated his wife and caused this woman to run away from the crazy man. (For all these facts see Chapter X of the Analects, or Chapter V, Section 2, in this book. The aristocracy of his taste extended even to divorce. For three successive generations, the Master, his son, and his grandson were divorced or separated from their wives. On the intellectual lineage (the Master, his great disciple Tsengtse, and Tsengtse's disciple Tsesze), the record of divorce was also unbroken for three and a half generations, it being reported that the intellectual fourth generation, Mencius (who studied under Tsesze), almost divorced his wife. So, although none of them was particularly rich, they were undoubtedly aristocrats.

One of the most important characteristics of Confucius which really accounted for his great prestige was simply his scholarship and love of learning. Confucius said this repeatedly of himself. He admitted that he was not one of those "born to know the truth," but that he was an indefatigable reader and teacher, tireless in his search after knowledge and learning. He admitted that in every hamlet of ten families, there were some righteous and honest men as good as himself, but none who loved learning the way he did. He counted as one of the things that would trouble him "the neglect of his studies." In one of his sayings, I note a sigh of regret which is the regret of a modern research scholar. In his efforts to reconstruct the religious practices, ceremonies and customs of the ancient dynasties, he went to the city of Chi to search for survivals of the customs of Hsia Dynasty, and to the city of Sung to learn of the surviving religious practices of the ancient Dynasty of Shang. He said, "I should be able to talk about the religious customs of the Hsia Dynasty, but there are not enough evidences in the city of Chi. I should be able to talk about the religious customs of the Shang Dynasty, but there are not enough evidences in the city of Sung. There are not enough historical documents and evidences left. If there were, I should be able to reconstruct them with evidences." In other words, he was essentially a research scholar in history, trying to salvage from existing customs as well as historical documents the ancient social and religious practices which had decayed and the theocracy which had broken down. Nevertheless, he did his best, and the result of his labors was the collection of the Confucian Five Classics which were strictly history (dictum of a Ch'ing scholar, Chang Hsueh-ch'eng), as distinguished from the Four Books. I have no doubt that people were attracted to Confucius, less because he was the wisest man of his time, than because he was the most learned scholar, the only one of his day who could teach them about the ancient books and ancient scholarship. There was a great body of historical learning concerning the governmental systems of ancient times, and there was still a greater body of historical learning concerning the religious rites and ceremonies of a decaying or decayed theocracy, particularly that of the Shang Dynasty, as we can see from Confucius' Five Classics. He was reported to have had three thousand pupils in all, of which number seventy-two were accomplished in the Book of Songs, the Book of History and the theory and practice of rituals and music. He believed in history and the appeal of history, because he believed in continuity. It will be seen in the chapter on "Central Harmony" (Chapter III), that he regarded as the three essential requisites for governing the world: Character, position of authority, and the appeal to history, and that lacking any one of these things, no one could succeed with a governmental system and "command credence," however excellent it might be. The actual result was that there grew up within the Confucian school a great body of historical learning which the other schools entirely lacked, and personally I believe the victory of the Confucian school over the other schools of Laotse and Motse was as much due to its prestige in scholarship as to its intrinsic philosophic value. The Confucian teachers had something definite to teach and the Confucian pupils had something definite to learn, namely, historical learning, while the other schools were forced to air merely their own opinions, either on "universal love" or on "love of oneself."

A word must be said about the genial humor of Confucius, both because it supports and illustrates what I have said about his living a full, joyous life, so different from the conventional picture of Confucius presented to us by the killjoy Sung doctrinaires, and because it helps us to see his simplicity and greatness. Confucius was not a cheap wit, but occasionally he could not resist turning a clever line, such as the following: "A man who does not say to himself 'What to do? What to do?'—indeed I don't know what to do with such a person"; or this, "Know what you know and know that you don't know what you don't know— that is the characteristic of one who knows" (or in Chinese fashion, "Know, know; don't know, don't know—that is know"); or this, "A man who knows he has committed a mistake and doesn't correct it is committing another mistake." Sometimes he was also capable of a little bit of poetic humor or occasional license. There was a passage in the Book of Songs, in which the lover complained that it wasn't that she did not think of her sweetheart, but that "his house was so far away." Commenting upon this passage, Confucius remarked, "She really did not think of him at all; if she did, how could the house seem far away?"

But the most characteristic humor that we find in Confucius was also the best kind of humor generally, the humor of laughing at his own expense. He had plenty of chance to laugh at his own outward failures or of admitting that other people's criticisms of him were quite correct. Some of this humor was merely casual light raillery between the Master and his disciples. Once a man from a certain village remarked, "Great indeed is Confucius! He knows about everything and is expert at nothing." Hearing this comment, Confucius told his disciples, "What shall I specialize in? Shall I specialize in archery or in driving a carriage?" (In this connection he once admitted jokingly that if wealth could be achieved entirely by human effort, he would achieve it even if he had to be a cab driver.) During the failure of his political career, Tsekung once remarked, "Here is a piece of precious jade, preserved in a casket and waiting for a good price for sale." And Confucius replied, "For sale! For sale! I am the one waiting for a good price to be sold!" Refusal to see humor in Confucius would land the critics and commentators in ridiculous difficulties over such a passage. But as a matter of fact, the Master and his disciples constantly joked back and forth. Confucius was once in difficulties while travelling. Being mistaken for a certain other man who had maltreated the people, he was surrounded by troops. He finally escaped, but his favorite disciple Yen Huei failed to turn up till later, and Confucius said to him, "I thought you were killed." Yen replied, "As long as you live, how dare I be killed!" In another story, once the Master and his disciples had lost track of each other. The disciples finally heard from the crowd that there was a tall man standing at the East Gate with a high forehead resembling some of the ancient emperors, but that he looked crestfallen like a homeless wandering dog. The disciples finally found him and told him about this remark and Confucius replied, "I don't know about my resembling those ancient emperors, but as for resembling a homeless, wandering dog, he is quite right! He is quite right! " This is the best type of humor, and what appeals to me most is that passage in The Life of Confucius (Chapter II, Section 5), where Confucius was actually singing in the rain. There is a deep pathos about that group of wandering scholars, roaming for three years in the wilds between Ch'en and Ts'ai, having just escaped trouble, all dressed up in their tremendous scholarship and having nowhere to go. These last years of wandering became the turning point of Confucius' career, after which he admitted his full failure in seeking a political career and returned to his native country to devote himself to editing and authorship. He compared himself and his disciples to a non-descript band of animals, "neither buffalos, nor tigers" wandering in the wilds, and began to ask his disciples what was wrong with him. After the third answer, Confucius approved and said to the disciple who made that clever answer, smilingly, "Is that so? Oh, son of Yen, if you were a rich man, I would be your butler!" That is a passage that completely won me over to Confucius. Taken as a whole, that passage has a beauty and pathos comparable to Gethsemane, except that it ends on a cheerful note.


I have remarked that the Confucian school practically monopolized the historic scholarship of those days, including the ability to read what was then already an archaic script, and this body of historic learning was handed down as the Confucian Five Classics. In the year 213 B.C., the "burning of books" (with the exception of books on medicine, astrology and horticulture) took place, and in the following year, 212 B.C., 460 Confucian scholars were buried alive for criticizing Ch'in Shihhuang, the builder of the Great Wall. It happened, however, that this Emperor's Dynasty, founded for "ten thousand generations," collapsed five years after the massacre and many old Confucian scholars who had committed the classics to memory had survived it. These old scholars thus had salvaged the Confucian classics by an oral tradition and by sheer memory, assisted, I suspect, nevertheless by some inscribed pieces of bamboo that they had hidden away. These people then taught their disciples and had these classics written down in what was then called the "modern script," for Chinese writing went through a great process of simplification during the reign of that great Emperor. In the century following and afterwards, however, there came to light ancient bamboo inscriptions, written in the "ancient script," which had been hidden away and had escaped destruction. The most notable instance was the discovery of ancient texts by a "King of Lu," who had opened up the walls of Confucius' own house and temple and found these preserved. As they were in archaic script, scholars set about to decipher them, a difficult but not impossible job in those times. There grew up, therefore, a separate tradition, known as the "ancient script" tradition, which in part differed from the tradition of the "modern script," notably in regard to the records of the ancient forms of society and systems of government and concerning the mythological rulers. These two different traditions were noted already in the Han Dynasty, but the greatest commentator, Cheng Hsuan, for instance, tried to harmonize the two. A compromise was effected. Thus throughout the succeeding dynasties, the orthodox version and interpretation of the Book of Songs and the Spring and Autumn were based upon the "ancient script," while the Liki, admitted as one of the Five Classics, decidedly belonged to the tradition of the "modern script." The distinction between the two traditions was not sharply drawn until the Ch'ing scholars of the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries set about with their scientific comparative method to restore the tradition of the "modern script." Every available scrap of evidence and every method of historical criticism and philological research was brought to bear upon this question, the most notable achievement being the conclusive proof of forgery of twenty-five out of the fifty-eight existing chapters in the Book of History, thus restoring this classic to a collection of thirty-three chapters, representing the tradition of the "modern script." The general position is, not that the archaic script itself was a forgery, but that our present version of the so-called archaic script was a forgery.

The term "Confucian classics" today usually refers to the Five Classics and the Four Books. The Five Classics as I have pointed out formed the body of historical learning edited, taught and handed down by Confucius himself, while the Four Books on the whole represented the works of his followers, their records of Confucius' sayings and their interpretations or developments of Confucius' thoughts. Then at other times, we also speak of the Thirteen Classics. … It should be remembered, however, that in Confucius' own day, there were Six Classics instead of Five, the additional one being The Book of Music, the remaining portions of which survive today as one of the chapters of Liki.…

The usual approach to the study of Confucian wisdom by directly attacking the Analects is a mistake, because it leads nowhere. The Analects is a promiscuous and unedited collection of Confucius' sayings, often taken out of their contexts in longer discourses recorded elsewhere, which would make the meaning clearer. There are also duplicate quotations existing in different chapters, of which there are twenty, showing that the work grew by itself in separate hands and was not edited by any one man. Some of the chapters, evidently compiled by the disciples of Tsengtse, would contain more sayings of Tsengtse. The different sayings in any one chapter are not arranged at all in sequence of ideas; sometimes one can detect a main theme, but more often one cannot. There are evident later additions at the end of some chapters, and some lines in the text, for instance those at the end of Chapter X, are clearly incomplete.

But the greatest difficulty for a Western reader in approaching the system of Confucian thought through the Analects lies in the Western reader's habit of reading. He demands a connected discourse, and is content to listen while he expects the writer to talk on and on. There is no such thing as reading a line out of a book and taking a day or two to think about it, to chew and digest it mentally and have it verified by one's own reflections and experience. Actually, the Analects must be read, if it is to be read at all, by having the different aphorisms spread out on the separate days of a calendar block, and letting the reader ponder over one saying each day and no more. This is the orthodox method of studying the Analects, the method of taking a line or two and thoroughly mastering the thought and its implications. This evidently cannot be done with respect to modern readers. Besides, no one can get a well-rounded and consecutive view of the development of Confucius' thoughts by merely reading the Analects.

There is the general question as to the validity and accuracy of records of Confucius' sayings in Liki and even in the Analects. This is the general question of what exactly Confucius or Buddha or Socrates said and to what extent we can believe, for instance, that Plato's accounts of the Socratic dialogue were literally accurate. A synoptic study of the Four Gospels of the Christian Bible reveals discrepancies enough. And we find the same variations of the sayings of Confucius, given in slightly different words in the Analects, the Book of Mencius and the Liki. It was inevitable that Plato colored the sayings of Socrates through his own pen, and the same was true of many of the chapters of the Liki. Modern politicians who have the occasion to be interviewed by reporters realize the practical impossibility of obtaining a literally accurate report of what they have said. Nothing short of a dictaphone can convince the politicians of what they actually said themselves.

The Liki itself, as I have already said, is only a collection of various records in the possession of the Confucian school, and is definitely of extremely diverse origin. Some of these, including the essay on "Central Harmony" are ascribed to Tsesze, the grandson of Confucius, and some others, particularly a few in the "Great Tai" collection, are undoubtedly handed down by Tsengtse or his disciples. The chapters on education and music doubtless reflect the ideas of the Confucian philosopher Hsuntse, a contemporary of Mencius who spoke of the latter with contempt ("a gutter philosopher" was the phrase used). For the rest, a shocking proportion of the Liki is devoted to discourses on funeral ceremonies, while the "Great Tai" collection is devoid of these discussions. A good number of chapters are devoted to the philosophic meaning and actual ceremonial robes and vessels of public worship. There are also chapters on the rules and customs pertaining to all kinds of festivities—marriage, archery contests, dance, village festivals, drinking and games (Chapter XL for instance, describes a game in detail, similar to those we see in shooting galleries). An important chapter, Chapter V, is the basis of the "modern script" school on the ancient system of administration, as the Chouli is the basis for the "ancient script" school. There are other chapters dealing with the conduct of women and children and ordinary points of etiquette. The very first chapter, for instance, besides giving the philosophic justification for ritualism, also covers advice such as the following:

"Do not roll rice into a ball, do not leave rice on the table, do not let your soup run out of your mouth. Do not smack your lips, do not leave a bone dry, do not turn over the fish, do not throw bones to the dog, and do not persist in trying to get a particular piece of meat. Do not turn rice about to let it cool off, and do not take porridge with chop sticks. Do not gulp the soup up, do not stir the soup about, do not pick your teeth, and do not add sauce to your soup.… bite off boiled meat with your teeth, but do not bite off cured meat with your teeth."

This reads like Deuteronomy, and it is important that it be understood that the "religion of Li," like Judaism, embraces both religious worship and daily life, down to the matter of eating and drinking.


A little more must be said about the present method of translation. I consider a translation in this case as indistinguishable from paraphrase, and believe that is the best and most satisfying method.

The situation is as follows: The ancient texts were extremely sparing in the use of words, owing of course to the method of inscribing on bamboo sticks. Most of the important ideas and characterizations that covered a whole class of qualities were expressed by monosyllabic words, and in accordance with the general nature of Chinese grammar, the meaning was indicated by syntax or word order rather than by the usual English connectives. Here are two extreme instances in the Chinese form: "Confucius completely-cut-off four— no idea—no must—no ku—no I"; "Language expressive only." It is clear that unless connectives are supplied by the translator, the translation would be practically unreadable. The extent to which connectives and amplifying phrases are allowable has by necessity to be left to the discretion of the translator, and for this the translator has no other guide than his own insight into the wisdom of Confucius, assisted, of course, by the commentators.

The first job is of course to determine the scope and connotation of a term in the general classical usage and secondly its particular meaning and shade of meaning in a given sentence. In the above instance of the word ku, this word meant several things: "strong," "stubborn," "persistence," "narrow-mindedness," "vulgarity," "limited in knowledge," and "sometimes also." From these different possible meanings, the translator has to make his choice. That is the terrible responsibility and the latitude given to the translator of ancient Chinese texts, and it is clear that a choice of a different word would alter the sense of the line completely. In this particular instance, I have translated the passage as follows: "Confucius denounced (or tried completely to avoid) four things: arbitrariness of opinion, dogmatism, narrow-mindedness and egotism." It is, of course, open to question whether the phrase "no must" should be translated as "don't insist upon a particular course," "don't be persistent," "don't be insistent," or "don't assume that you must be right (or don't be dogmatic)." Any of these translations involves as much paraphrasing as the others. In translating the phrase "no idea," I have paraphrased it as meaning "don't start out with preconceived notions," or "don't be arbitrary." That is a sense or shade of meaning won from a knowledge of the general meaning of the word "idea" in the Chinese language, and from an insight into the whole character of Confucius' conduct. But the mere use of the phrase "preconceived notion" or "arbitrariness of opinion" necessarily expresses what at best was only implied in the Chinese word "idea."

In the more fundamental concepts, like li, jen, hsin, chung, etc., I have adopted a method of provisionally translating these words in my mind by a certain English concept and going over the body of the texts containing these words to see which one would cover the field of meaning most adequately in the majority of cases, allowing, of course, several meanings for one word. Thus I have come to the conclusion that li usually translated as "ritual" or "ceremony" must be translated as "the principle of social order" in the general social philosophy of Confucius, and as "moral discipline" in certain passages dealing with personal conduct. I have also come to the conclusion that the translation of the word jen as "kindness," "charity," or "benevolence" is completely inadequate, but represents Confucius' ideal of the "true man," or the "great man" or the "most complete man." Likewise, hsin cannot be translated as "honesty" or "keeping one's promise," which latter quality Confucius rather despised and actually didn't care about in his own conduct. Sometimes hsin means a condition of "mutual confidence in the state," and sometimes it means "faithfulness."

In the actual act of translation, the translator is faced with two jobs after he has grasped the meaning of the sentence. First he is faced with the choice of one of a number of synonyms, and failure to get at the exact word would completely fail to render the meaning of the remark clear to the reader. I found it impossible, for instance, always to translate the word teh as "virtue" or "character," or the meaning would be hopelessly lost for the reader. Thus, Confucius said, "Thoroughbred, don't praise its strength praise its character." The meaning becomes clear only when we translate it as follows: "In discussing a throughbred, you don't admire his strength, but admire his temper." Now comes this same word for "character" in another passage: "Confucius said, 'One having virtue must have words; one having words not always has virtue.'" The meaning becomes clear only when we translate the word for "character" or "virtue" here by the word "soul" in the English language, as follows: "Confucius said, 'A man who has a beautiful soul always has some beautiful things to say, but a man who says beautiful things does not necessarily have a beautiful soul.'" Then again occurs the same word elsewhere in the phrase teh yin; to translate this as "virtuous sounds" may give the impression of scholarly fidelity, but merely hides the lack of understanding on the part of the scholarly translator that it means "sacred music." Again Confucius said, "Extravagant than not humble; frugal than ku (vulgar or stubborn, etc.). Rather than not humble, be ku" The connection between extravagance and lack of humility must be quite vague, and becomes clear only when we realize that people who live extravagantly are liable to be conceited. A fully clear and adequate translation must therefore involve a sure choice of words. I believe it should be translated as follows: "Confucius said, 'The people who live extravagantly are apt to be snobbish (or conceited), and the people who live simply are apt to be vulgar. I prefer vulgarity to snobbery (or I prefer the vulgar people to the snobs).'"

In the second place, the translator cannot avoid putting the thought in the more precise concepts of a modern language. The translator does not only have to supply the connectives, but has also to supply a finer definition of ideas, or the English will be extremely bald. Thus in the example given above, "Language expressive only," the modern translator is forced to translate it as follows: "Expressiveness is the only principle of language," or "expressiveness is the sole concern, or aim, or principle, of rhetoric." It is clear that there are at least a dozen ways of translating this line in any case. But it is inevitable that the translator would have to slip in a word like "principle" or "aim" or "concern" or "standard." It simply cannot be helped, if the translation is not to become unreadable.…

Fung Yu-lan (essay date 1948)

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SOURCE: "Confucius, the First Teacher," in A Short History of Chinese Philosophy, The Macmillan Company, 1948, pp. 38-48.

[In the excerpt below, Fung remarks on Confucius 's life, discusses the concept of righteousness in Confucian thought, and assesses Confucius's ever-changing stature in Chinese history.]

Confucius is the latinized name of the person who has been known in China as K'ung Tzu or Master K'ung. [The word "Tzu" or "Master" is a polite suffix added to names of most philosophers of the Chou Dynasty, such as Chuang Tzu, Hsün Tzu, etc., and meaning "Master Chuang," "Master Hsün," etc.] His family name was K'ung and his personal name Ch'iu. He was born in 551 B.C. in the state of Lu, in the southern part of the present Shantung province in eastern China. His ancestors had been members of the ducal house of the state of Sung, which was descended from the royal house of Shang, the dynasty that had preceded the Chou. Because of political troubles, the family, before the birth of Confucius, had lost its noble position and migrated to Lu.

The most detailed account of Confucius' life is the biography which comprises the forty-seventh chapter of the Shih Chi or Historical Records (China's first dynastic history, completed ca. 86 B.C.). From this we learn that Confucius was poor in his youth, but entered the government of Lu and by the time he was fifty had reached high official rank. As a result of political intrigue, however, he was soon forced to resign his post and go into exile. For the next thirteen years he traveled from one state to another, always hoping to find an opportunity to realize his ideal of political and social reform. Nowhere, however, did he succeed, and finally as an old man he returned to Lu, where he died three years later in 479 B.C.

Confucius and the Six Classics

…[The] rise of the philosophic schools began with the practice of private teaching. So far as modern scholarship can determine, Confucius was the first person in Chinese history thus to teach large numbers of students in a private capacity, by whom he was accompanied during his travels in different states. According to tradition, he had several thousand students, of whom several tens became famous thinkers and scholars. The former number is undoubtedly a gross exaggeration, but there is no question that he was a very influential teacher, and what is more important and unique, China's first private teacher. His ideas are best known through the Lun Yü or Confucian Analects, a collection of his scattered sayings which was compiled by some of his disciples.

Confucius was a ju and the founder of the Ju school, which has been known in the West as the Confucian school.… Liu Hsin wrote regarding this school that it "delighted in the study of the Liu Yi and emphasized matters concerning human-heartedness and righteousness." The term Liu Yi means the "six arts," i.e., the six liberal arts, but it is more commonly translated as the "Six Classics." These are the Yi or Book of Changes, the Shih or Book of Odes (or Poetry), the Shu or Book of History, the Li or Rituals or Rites, the Yüeh or Music (no longer preserved as a separate work), and the Ch'un Ch'iu or Spring and Autumn Annals, a chronicle history of Confucius' state of Lu extending from 722 to 479 B.C., the year of Confucius' death. The nature of these classics is clear from their titles, with the exception of the Book of Changes. This work was in later times interpreted by the Confucianists as a treatise on metaphysics, but originally it was a book of divination.

Concerning the relation of Confucius with the Six Classics, there are two schools of traditional scholarship. One maintains that Confucius was the author of all these works, while the other maintains that Confucius was the author of the Spring and Autumn Annals, the commentator of the Book of Changes, the reformer of the Rituals and Music, and the editor of the Book of History and Book of Odes.

As a matter of fact, however, Confucius was neither the author, commentator, nor even editor of any of the classics. In some respects, to be sure, he was a conservative who upheld tradition. Thus in the rites and music he did try to rectify any deviations from the traditional practices or standards, and instances of so doing are reported in the Lun Yü or Analects. Judging from what is said of him in the Analects, however, Confucius never had any intention of writing anything himself for future generations. The writing of books in a private rather than official capacity was an as yet unheard of practice which developed only after the time of Confucius. He was China's first private teacher, but not its first private writer.

The Six Classics had existed before the time of Confucius, and they constituted the cultural legacy of the past. They had been the basis of education for the aristocrats during the early centuries of feudalism of the Chou dynasty. As feudalism began to disintegrate, however, roughly from the seventh century B.C. onward, the tutors of the aristocrats, or even some of the aristocrats themselves—men who had lost their positions and titles but were well versed in the Classics— began to scatter among the people. They made their living, as we have seen in the last chapter, by teaching the Classics or by acting as skilled "assistants," well versed in the rituals, on the occasion of funeral, sacrifice, wedding, and other ceremonies. This class of men was known as the ju or literati.

Confucius as an Educator

Confucius, however, was more than a ju in the common sense of the word. It is true that in the Analects we find him, from one point of view, being portrayed merely as an educator. He wanted his disciples to be "rounded men" who would be useful to state and society, and therefore he taught them various branches of knowledge based upon the different classics. His primary function as a teacher, he felt, was to interpret to his disciples the ancient cultural heritage. That is why, in his own words as recorded in the Analects, he was "a transmitter and not an originator." (Analects, VII, 1.) But this is only one aspect of Confucius, and there is another one as well. This is that, while transmitting the traditional institutions and ideas, Confucius gave them interpretations derived from his own moral concepts. This is exemplified in his interpretation of the old custom that on the death of a parent, a son should mourn three years. Confucius commented on this: "The child cannot leave the arms of its parents until it is three years old. This is why the three years' mourning is universally observed throughout the world." (Analects, XVII, 21.) In other words, the son was utterly dependent upon his parents for at least the first three years of his life; hence upon their death he should mourn them for an equal length of time in order to express his gratitude. Likewise when teaching the Classics, Confucius gave them new interpretations. Thus in speaking of the Book of Poetry, he stressed its moral value by saying: "In the Book of Poetry there are three hundred poems. But the essence of them can be covered in one sentence: 'Have no depraved thoughts.'" (Analects, II, 2.) In this way Confucius was more than a mere transmitter, for in transmitting, he originated something new.

This spirit of originating through transmitting was perpetuated by the followers of Confucius, by whom, as the classical texts were handed down from generation to generation, countless commentaries and interpretations were written. A great portion of what in later times came to be known as the Thirteen Classics developed as commentaries in this way on the original texts.

This is what set Confucius apart from the ordinary literati of his time, and made him the founder of a new school. Because the followers of this school were at the same time scholars and specialists on the Six Classics, the school became known as the School of the Literati.

The Rectification of Names

Besides the new interpretations which Confucius gave to the classics, he had his own ideas about the individual and society, heaven and man.

In regard to society, he held that in order to have a well-ordered one, the most important thing is to carry out what he called the rectification of names. That is, things in actual fact should be made to accord with the implication attached to them by names. Once a disciple asked him what he would do first if he were to rule a state, whereupon Confucius replied: "The one thing needed first is the rectification of names." (Analects, XIII, 3.) On another occasion one of the dukes of the time asked Confucius the right principle of government, to which he answered: "Let the ruler be ruler, the minister minister, the father father, and the son son." (Analects, XII, 11.) In other words, every name contains certain implications which constitute the essence of that class of things to which this name applies. Such things, therefore, should agree with this ideal essence. The essence of a ruler is what the ruler ideally ought to be, or what, in Chinese, is called "the way of the ruler." If a ruler acts according to this way of the ruler, he is then truly a ruler, in fact as well as in name. There is an agreement between name and actuality. But if he does not, he is no ruler, even though he may popularly be regarded as such. Every name in the social relationships implies certain responsibilities and duties. Ruler, minister, father, and son are all the names of such social relationships, and the individuals bearing these names must fulfill their responsibilities and duties accordingly. Such is the implication of Confucius' theory of the rectification of names.

Human-heartedness and Righteousness

With regard to the virtues of the individual, Confucius emphasized human-heartedness and righteousness, especially the former. Righteousness (yi) means the "oughtness" of a situation. It is a categorical imperative. Every one in society has certain things which he ought to do, and which must be done for their own sake, because they are the morally right things to do. If, however, he does them only because of other non-moral considerations, then even though he does what he ought to do, his action is no longer a righteous one. To use a word often disparaged by Confucius and later Confucianists, he is then acting for "profit." Yi (righteousness) and li (profit) are in Confucianism diametrically opposed terms. Confucius himself says: "The superior man comprehends yi; the small man comprehends li." (Analects, IV, 16.) Herein lies what the later Confucianists called the "distinction between yi and li," a distinction which they considered to be of the utmost importance in moral teaching.

The idea of yi is rather formal, but that of jen (human-heartedness) is much more concrete. The formal essence of the duties of man in society is their "oughtness," because all these duties are what he ought to do. But the material essence of these duties is "loving others," i.e., jen or human-heartedness. The father acts according to the way a father should act who loves his son; the son acts according to the way a son should act who loves his father. Confucius says: "Human-heartedness consists in loving others." (Analects, XII, 22.) The man who really loves others is one able to perform his duties in society. Hence in the Analects we see that Confucius sometimes uses the word jen not only to denote a special kind of virtue, but also to denote all the virtues combined, so that the term "man of jen" becomes synonymous with the man of all-round virtue. In such contexts, jen can be translated as "perfect virtue."

Chung and Shu

In the Analects we find the passage: "When Chung Kung asked the meaning of jen, the master said: … 'Do not do to others what you do not wish yourself …'" (XII, 2.) Again, Confucius is reported in the Analects as saying: "The man of jen is one who, desiring to sustain himself, sustains others, and desiring to develop himself, develops others. To be able from one's own self to draw a parallel for the treatment of others; that may be called the way to practise jen." (VI, 28.)

Thus the practice of jen consists in consideration for others. "Desiring to sustain oneself, one sustains others; desiring to develop oneself, one develops others." In other words: "Do to others what you wish yourself." This is the positive aspect of the practice, which was called by Confucius chung or "conscientiousness to others." And the negative aspect, which was called by Confucius shu or "altruism," is: "Do not do to others what you do not wish yourself." The practice as a whole is called the principle of chung and shu, which is "the way to practice jen."

This principle was known by some of the later Confucianists as the "principle of applying a measuring square." That is to say, it is a principle by which one uses oneself as a standard to regulate one's conduct. In the Ta Hsüeh or Great Learning, which is a chapter of the Li Chi (Book of Rites), a collection of treatises written by the Confucianists in the third and second centuries B.C., it is said: "Do not use what you dislike in your superiors in the employment of your inferiors. Do not use what you dislike in your inferiors in the service of your superiors. Do not use what you dislike in those who are before, to precede those who are behind. Do not use what you dislike in those who are behind, to follow those who are before. Do not use what you dislike on the right, to display toward the left. Do not use what you dislike on the left, to display toward the right. This is called the principle of applying a measuring square."

In the Chung Yung or Doctrine of the Mean, which is another chapter of the Li Chi, attributed to Tzu-ssu, the grandson of Confucius, it is said: "Chung and shu are not far from the Way. What you do not like done to yourself, do not do to others.… Serve your father as you would require your son to serve you.… Serve your ruler as you would require your subordinate to serve you.… Serve your elder brother as you would require your younger brother to serve you.… Set the example in behaving to your friends as you would require them to behave to you. … "

The illustration given in the Great Learning emphasizes the negative aspect of the principle of chung and shu; that in the Doctrine of the Mean emphasizes its positive aspect. In each case the "measuring square" for determining conduct is in one's self and not in other things.

The principle of chung and shu is at the same time the principle of jen, so that the practice of chung and shu means the practice of jen. And this practice leads to the carrying out of one's responsibilities and duties in society, in which is comprised the quality of yi or righteousness. Hence the principle of chung and shu becomes the alpha and omega of one's moral life. In the Analects we find the passage: "The master said: 'Shen [the personal name of Tseng Tzu, one of his disciples], all my teachings are linked together by one principle.' 'Quite so,' replied Tseng Tzu. When the master had left the room, the disciples asked: 'What did he mean?' Tseng Tzu replied: 'Our master's teaching consists of the principle of chung and shu, and that is all.'" (IV, 15.)

Everyone has within himself the "measuring square" for conduct, and can use it at any time. So simple as this is the method of practising jen, so that Confucius said: "Is jen indeed far off? I crave for jen, and lo! jen is at hand!" (Analects, VII, 29.)

Knowing Ming

From the idea of righteousness, the Confucianists derived the idea of "doing for nothing." One does what one ought to do, simply because it is morally right to do it, and not for any consideration external to this moral compulsion. In the Analects, we are told that Confucius was ridiculed by a certain recluse as "one who knows that he cannot succeed, yet keeps on trying to do it." (XIV, 41.) We also read that another recluse was told by a disciple of Confucius: "The reason why the superior man tries to go into politics, is because he holds this to be right, even though he is well aware that his principle cannot prevail." (XVIII, 7.)

As we shall see, the Taoists taught the theory of "doing nothing," whereas the Confucianists taught that of "doing for nothing." A man cannot do nothing, according to Confucianism, because for every man there is something which he ought to do. Nevertheless, what he does is "for nothing," because the value of doing what he ought to do lies in the doing itself, and not in the external result.

Confucius' own life is certainly a good example of this teaching. Living in an age of great social and political disorder, he tried his best to reform the world. He traveled everywhere and, like Socrates, talked to everybody. Although his efforts were in vain, he was never disappointed. He knew that he could not succeed, but kept on trying.

About himself Confucius said: "If my principles are to prevail in the world, it is Ming. If they are to fall to the ground, it is also Ming." (Analects, XIV, 38). He tried his best, but the issue he left to Ming. Ming is often translated as Fate, Destiny or Decree. To Confucius, it meant the Decree of Heaven or Will of Heaven; in other words, it was conceived of as a purposeful force. In later Confucianism, however, Ming simply means the total existent conditions and forces of the whole universe. For the external success of our activity, the cooperation of these conditions is always needed. But this cooperation is wholly beyond our control. Hence the best thing for us to do is simply to try to carry out what we know we ought to carry out, without caring whether in the process we succeed or fail. To act in this way is "to know Ming." To know Ming is an important requirement for being a superior man in the Confucian sense of the term, so that Confucius said: "He who does not know Ming cannot be a superior man." (Analects, XX, 2.)

Thus to know Ming means to acknowledge the inevitability of the world as it exists, and so to disregard one's external success or failure. If we can act in this way, we can, in a sense, never fail. For if we do our duty, that duty through our very act is morally done, regardless of the external success or failure of our action.

As a result, we always shall be free from anxiety as to success or fear as to failure, and so shall be happy. This is why Confucius said: "The wise are free from doubts; the virtuous from anxiety; the brave from fear." (Analects, IX, 28.) Or again: "The superior man is always happy; the small man sad." (VII, 36.)

Confucius' Spiritual Development

In the Taoist work, the Chuang-tzu, we see that the Taoists often ridiculed Confucius as one who confined himself to the morality of human-heartedness and righteousness, thus being conscious only of moral values, and not super-moral value. Superficially they were right, but actually they were wrong. Thus speaking about his own spiritual development, Confucius said: "At fifteen I set my heart on learning. At thirty I could stand. At forty I had no doubts. At fifty I knew the Decree of Heaven. At sixty I was already obedient [to this Decree]. At seventy I could follow the desires of my mind without overstepping the boundaries [of what is right]." (Analects, II, 4.)

The "learning" which Confucius here refers to is not what we now would call learning. In the Analects, Confucius said: "Set your heart on the Tao." (VII, 6.) And again: "To hear the Tao in the morning and then die at night, that would be all right." (IV, 9.) Here Tao means the Way or Truth. It was this Tao which Confucius at fifteen set his heart upon learning. What we now call learning means the increase of our knowledge, but the Tao is that whereby we can elevate our mind.

Confucius also said: "Take your stand in the li [rituals, ceremonies, proper conduct]." (Analects, VIII, 8.) Again he said: "Not to know the li is to have no means of standing." (XX, 3.) Thus when Confucius says that at thirty he could "stand," he means that he then understood the li and so could practice proper conduct.

His statement that at forty he had no doubts means that he had then become a wise man. For, as quoted before, "The wise are free from doubts."

Up to this time of his life Confucius was perhaps conscious only of moral values. But at the age of fifty and sixty, he knew the Decree of Heaven and was obedient to it. In other words, he was then also conscious of super-moral values. Confucius in this respect was like Socrates. Socrates thought that he had been appointed by a divine order to awaken the Greeks, and Confucius had a similar consciousness of a divine mission. For example, when he was threatened with physical violence at a place called K'uang, he said: "If Heaven had wished to let civilization perish, later generations (like myself) would not have been permitted to participate in it. But since Heaven has not wished to let civilization perish, what can the people of K'uang do to me?" (Analects, IX, 5.) One of his contemporaries also said: "The world for long has been without order. But now Heaven is going to use the Master as an arousing tocsin." (Analects, III, 24.) Thus Confucius in doing what he did, was convinced that he was following the Decree of Heaven and was supported by Heaven; he was conscious of values higher than moral ones.

The super-moral value experienced by Confucius, however, was, as we shall see, not quite the same as that experienced by the Taoists. For the latter abandoned entirely the idea of an intelligent and purposeful Heaven, and sought instead for mystical union with an undifferentiated whole. The super-moral value which they knew and experienced, therefore, was freer from the ordinary concepts of the human relationships.

At seventy, as has been told above, Confucius allowed his mind to follow whatever it desired, yet everything he did was naturally right of itself. His actions no longer needed a conscious guide. He was acting without effort. This represents the last stage in the development of the sage.

Confucius' Position in Chinese History

Confucius is probably better known in the West than any other single Chinese. Yet in China itself, though always famous, his place in history has changed considerably from one period to another. Historically speaking he was primarily a teacher, that is, only one teacher among many. But after his death, he gradually came to be considered as the teacher, superior to all others. And in the second century B.C. he was elevated to an even higher plane. According to many Confucianists of that time, Confucius had actually been appointed by Heaven to begin a new dynasty that would follow that of Chou. Though in actual fact without a crown or a government, he had ideally speaking become a king who ruled the whole empire. How this apparent contradiction had happened, these Confucianists said, could be found out by studying the esoteric meaning supposedly contained in the Spring and Autumn Annals. This was supposed by them not to be a chronicle of Confucius' native state (as it actually was), but an important political work written by Confucius to express his ethical and political ideas. Then in the first century B.C., Confucius came to be regarded as even more than a king. According to many people of that time, he was a living god among men—a divine being who knew that after his time there would someday come the Han dynasty (206 B.C.-A.D. 220), and who therefore, in the Spring and Autumn Annals, set forth a political ideal which would be complete enough for the men of Han to realize. This apotheosis was the climax of Confucius' glory, and in the middle of the Han dynasty Confucianism could properly be called a religion.

The time of glorification, however, did not last very long. Already beginning in the first century A.D., Confucianists of a more rationalistic type began to get the upper hand. Hence in later times Confucius was no longer regarded as a divine being, though his position as that of the Teacher remained high. At the very end of the nineteenth century, to be sure, there was a brief revival of the theory that Confucius had been divinely appointed to be a king. Soon afterward, however, with the coming of the Chinese Republic, his reputation fell until he came to be regarded as something less than the Teacher, and at present most Chinese would say that he was primarily a teacher, and certainly a great one, but far from being the only teacher.

Confucius, however, was already recognized in his own day as a man of very extensive learning. For example, one of his contemporaries said; "Great indeed is the Master K'ung! His learning is so extensive that he cannot be called by a single name." (Analects, IX, 2.) From the quotations given earlier, we may see that he considered himself the inheritor and perpetuator of ancient civilization, and was considered by some of his contemporaries as such. By his work of originating through transmitting, he caused his school to reinterpret the civilization of the age before him. He upheld what he considered to be best in the old, and created a powerful tradition that was followed until very recent years, when, as in Confucius' own time, China again came face to face with tremendous economic and social change. In addition, he was China's first teacher. Hence, though historically speaking he was only a teacher, it is perhaps not unreasonable that in later ages he was regarded as the teacher.

Liu Wu-chi (essay date 1955)

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SOURCE: "K'ung Ch'iu, Founder of the Ju School," in A Short History of Confucian Philolosophy, 1955. Reprint by Hyperion Press, Inc., 1979, pp. 13-25.

[In the following excerpt, Wu-chi focuses on the life and thought of Confucius and contends that Confucius's "greatness lies in his transforming the feudal code of rites and etiquette into a universal system of ethics."]

Chapter One: K'ung Ch'iu, Founder of the Ju School

1. On the Greatness of Ju Philosophy—A Prelude

The Ju philosophy that has dominated Chinese thought for the last twenty-five centuries had its beginning in the teachings of K'ung Ch'iu (551-479 B.C.), commonly known as Confucius, founder of the Ju school. Because of its long, eminent tradition, Ju philosophy also exerted the greatest influence on Chinese life. It moulded the national character; it touched every corner of human activity; it permeated life in all its aspects, whether moral, political, or social. It also gave continuity to a remarkable old civilization which, far from becoming extinct or stunted in its growth, showed rather a wonderful vitality in its struggle for survival and supremacy.

For one thing, the greatness of Ju philosophy is due to its power of adaptation. Phoenix-like, it has been constantly reborn and reorientated. Like the Chinese race, which conquered not by force, but by assimilation, the Ju philosophy also eliminated its rivals by virtue of absorption until all that was good and useful in the other doctrines became incorporated in its grand melting-pot, which was Chinese culture itself. Originally, these were separate systems of thought like Mohism, Legalism, Taoism, and Buddhism, but they were all pressed upon to contribute generously to the Ju stock, thus saving it from exhaustion.

As a result of this process of development, Ju philosophy to-day is just as different from the original teachings of K'ung Ch'iu as the latter is, for instance, from the teachings of Christ. To be sure, the words of K'ung Ch'iu still form the kernel of the Ju concept, but in the course of its evolution it has acquired so many novel ideas and interpretations that the main bulk of Ju philosophy to-day would be hardly recognizable to its great progenitor himself. This transformation, of course, was obviously healthy. Though there have been many complaints by the orthodox against this admixture of foreign elements, yet considered as a whole, these additions are really what gave impetus and animation to an ancient system of thought, which, but for these injections of new blood, would certainly have become anaemic long ago.

Important because of its tremendous impact upon Chinese life, the evolution of Ju philosophy is as complicated as it is interesting. To trace the various stages of this development and the main ideological trends with which it has come into contact is in fact to write a history of Chinese thought itself. But before we start on this long and arduous historical journey, let us pause first to have a look at the origin of the word Ju as well as at the Ju profession that flourished in the feudal society of the Chou period.

2. Scholars or 'Weaklings'?

In current usage, the word Ju means a scholar of the K'ung school. As such he is to be distinguished from the Buddhist or Taoist teacher, who holds an altogether different view of life. The close association between Ju and K'ung has also led Western writers, after they smugly transformed K'ung-fu-tz , or Master K'ung, to Confucius, to call the Ju teaching Confucianism and the Ju followers Confucianists. Though this is un-Chinese, yet in the sense that K'ung Ch'iu was the protagonist of the school, the translation is by no means entirely unacceptable.

But originally, there was also another meaning to the word Ju. Etymology tells us that Ju is a combination of two radicals, 'man' and 'weakness'. Hence the question naturally arises as to who these 'weaklings' were, if there was ever such a class of people. This is indeed a most intriguing question, to which, unfortunately, no clue has been given by the early Chinese writers. It is only in recent years that critics have begun to delve into the subject with apparently rich findings.

So far, two theories have been advanced.1 According to the first, these 'weaklings' were actually descendants of the Shang people, whose dynasty had been overthrown by the Chou people in the twelfth century B.C. Being the survivors of a subjugated race, they extolled the virtue of weakness, or rather, the strength of weakness, as the best means of self-preservation. Degraded and dispossessed, but nevertheless rich in ceremonial knowledge, they made a living among their conquerors by assisting in funerals, marriages, and other occasions in the households of the Chou overlords. Because of their humble manners and occupation, so it is asserted, these Shang descendants earned for themselves the contemptible name of 'weaklings'.

Another theory, which we hold, is that these 'weaklings' were not the remnants of the once great but now degenerated Shang race, but disinherited members of the Chou aristocracy, who, in spite of their blue blood, had drifted into commonalty during the long centuries of the Chou dynasty. They were either offspring of the cadet branches of some noble family far removed from its great founder, or aristocrats who had been degraded into commoners. In either case, they had lost their rank and revenue as well as their special privileges. Though not as helpless as the ignorant peasants, who toiled all their lives on the soil, they were nevertheless so reduced in their circumstances that they had to employ whatever talents they might have acquired in the good old days to make a living. They thus became a new middle class between the patricians and the plebeians.

The number of such dispossessed nobles increased rapidly in the decades shortly before the advent of K'ung Ch'iu in the sixth century B.C. The feudal structure of Chou society built up by the great Duke of Chou2 had been steadily crumbling since the removal of the Chou capital eastward to Lo in 770 B.C., but the process of deterioration did not assume alarming proportions until a century later. There emerged from this social transformation a new group of people, intelligent, resourceful, and eager to carve out a worthy career for themselves. But their inborn nobility and ambition notwithstanding, they were poor and powerless, and the best they could do was to become potential office-seekers.

What kind of talents did these people possess with which to earn a living? As former aristocrats, they must have been familiar with some or all of the six arts that were the hallmark of a noble education, namely, ceremonials and music, history (or writing) and numbers, archery and charioteering. As we can easily see, these were also good practical subjects, a knowledge of which would render a man useful to his feudal superiors. A knowledge of archery and charioteering, for instance, would qualify one to be a military commander or governor of a walled town, while a knowledge of writing and numbers would make one a good steward in the ministerial families. Likewise, as an expert in music and rituals, one could either become a tutor to the fledgling aristocrats or serve as a functionary on solemn ceremonial occasions. The rôles indeed were many in which these impoverished, disinherited nobles could employ their parts to advantage.

At the same time, their rank and file was further swelled by a large number of diviners, historiographers, and ceremonial and music masters, who were originally attached to the court, but who had lost their positions because of the dissolution of the feudal system and the decline and fall of the small principalities. Since their offices were formerly hereditary, they had been for many centuries custodians of Chinese culture, which, like the Promethean fire, had been jealously kept from the common people. But now, commoners themselves as a result of the great social upheaval, these forlorn intellectuals began to dole out their Olympian knowledge to all and sundry who had the means and the desire to learn. Thus was ushered in a new era noted for its wide diffusion of learning.

In the very beginning, we suspect, no name was given to this intellectual professional group. Apparently, their interests were greatly varied, and their jobs, now no longer hereditary, of a miscellaneous nature. No one word, indeed, could cover the multitudinous activities in which they were severally engaged. But for one of these professions a term had been coined, though it was by no means frequently used in K'ung Ch'iu's time. This was the word Ju, denoting a soft-spoken, genteel intellectual, whose job it was to assist at the ceremonies in the noble households. As the aristocratic society of the Chou period was extremely ritualistic, and its code of etiquette, known as li, highly elaborate, no ordinary man could conduct with propriety and proficiency such family ceremonies as capping and coiffure, marriage and funerals; or such stately entertainments as banqueting and archery contests; or the elaborate religious observances in the ancestral temples. Experts were needed for such occasions, and there soon appeared a group of people who specialized in all these branches of ritual and who were at the beck and call of any noble patron. To distinguish themselves, they were dressed in special costumes that bespoke their profession. Thus, wearing broad-sleeved robes girdled with silk sashes and trimmed with jade tablets, high round feather hats and square shoes, these men of li must have walked demurely, bowed deeply, and acted decorously—all of which earned for them the nickname of 'weaklings'.

3. A Great Ju Rises in the East

Just about this time there rose in Lu, one of the eastern states in the Chou kingdom, a remarkable young man by the name of K'ung Ch'iu. He was one of those disinherited nobles who claimed their ancestry from the ducal house of Sung, and thence from the fallen house of Shang. But by this time the royal blood had been so diluted that little of it was left in him except that which showed in the superior intelligence of the young man. This was in fact the only patrimony he had received from his great ancestors, or from his own father, a minor military official, who had died a few years after the boy's birth, leaving him and his mother to take care of themselves as best they could. Faced with the problem of making a living, young K'ung Ch'iu first took office as overseer of the granary and later of the herds.

This was in line with the tradition of his people, who, as dispossessed aristocrats, had to seek miscellaneous jobs for a living. Since he had had no formal instruction in the useful arts, what else could K'ung Ch'iu do but take up this mean employment? Just as his father before him had become an army officer, so K'ung Ch'iu became a state employee. As such, he was known to have been a hard, conscientious worker, who always kept a correct account of the grain and fed his oxen and sheep so well that they grew fat and strong and multiplied. It was no doubt in recognition of these services that, when a male child was born to K'ung Ch'iu, the Duke of Lu sent him the ceremonial present of a carp. One can well imagine the excitement which the gift created in the humble K'ung family. Indeed, in token of this great honour, the boy was named Li, or carp!

But, if circumstances had forced him to accept these petty positions, the ambitious and idealistic K'ung Ch'iu was by no means satisfied. He was looking forward to employment more congenial to his nature and worthier of his talents. The break came when his mother died and he was forced to go into seclusion for three years in accordance with the previaling custom. Great thoughts, it seems, were then agitating his breast, and he began to make preparations for launching out into a brave new world hitherto unexplored.

4. The Brave New World of Education

When at the age of thirty-four K'ung Ch'iu next emerged into public notice, he was already a distinguished teacher of ceremony. We know practically nothing about his life in the intervening years except that during this period he had been exploring all the avenues of learning in order to improve himself. There is no doubt, however, that he became, through sheer diligent study, an expert in the code of li. The period of mourning over, this self-made scholar soon started as a public teacher, gathering to his door young men interested in acquiring training for a profession. Even though his father had been an army officer and he himself was familiar with archery and charioteering, K'ung Ch'iu, it seems, did not include military science in his curriculum. What he taught was li, his main subject, as well as writing, numbers, and oratory. All these qualified his students for government jobs and stewardships in aristocratic households.

There was nothing startling in this educational programme. But what was original was the way in which K'ung Ch'iu enlisted his students. In former days there had been official teachers, whose duty it was to educate the scions of the overlords in the six arts. These hereditary pedagogues were part of the aristocratic appanage, and their learning was available only to the rulers and their sons. Besides, there might have been in K'ung Ch'iu's time private tutors who could be hired by anyone. But, to set up a sort of school for young men of all classes was something unheard of in history; at least, there is no record of such a practice before the sixth century B.C. It was a daring experiment first made by K'ung Ch'iu, and his success led to the rapid development of the system in the decades after him.

The new schoolmaster, moreover, was a man of great vision. Tuition, of course, he had to charge in order to carry on his work, but it was so nominal—just a bundle of dried meat—that it was within the means of the humblest. Scions of noble families, who were able to pay liberally, were welcome, but no intelligent young man who had the desire to learn ever found the door of the K'ung school closed to him. This democratic basis of admission was the more remarkable when we remember that K'ung Ch'iu lived in the feudal period when there was still a great dividing line between aristocracy and commonalty. But to K'ung Ch'iu, the first teacher, such distinctions did not exist; certainly, they were overlooked in his school-room. Very proudly he announced to his students: 'There is no class in education.'3

Master K'ung's educational policy being such, all sorts of young men flocked to his schoolroom. There was Tzŭ-lu, once a swashbuckling bravado, who died a loyal official and a martyr to the cause of li; there was Yen Hui, a poor but industrious scholar, who was satisfied with his bamboo bowl of rice and his gourd cup of water; there was Ssŭ-ma Niu, in constant fear of persecution by his elder brother, a wicked minister of Sung; there was Kung-yeh Ch'ang, who, while studying with the Master, was thrown into jail; there was Tsai-yü, who fell to day-dreaming during the Master's lecture; there was Fan Chi, who seemed to be more interested in gardening and farming than in literature and politics; there was Kung-hsi Chih, a ceremonial expert in the great ceremonial school; and many others from every walk of life, equally rich and diversified in their personality. What a galaxy of wits these were that enlivened the happy atmosphere of the K'ung school!

As a result of Master K'ung's indefatigable teaching, a number of his students became ritual experts, stewards of ministerial families, governors of walled towns, officials, courtiers, as well as teachers. By this time, K'ung Ch'iu, who had started as a teacher of ceremonies, had greatly widened his scope of instruction to include in his curriculum history and poetry, ethics and politics, all of which were essential to a successful public career. The importance of historical knowledge to government officials is readily understood; but, in those days, poetry too played a vital part in diplomatic intercourse, in which ancient odes were often quoted not only to show the speaker's good breeding, but also to illustrate and support by subtle implication the argument to be advanced. Especially among his younger students, both these subjects were studied with increasing interest, and the literary tradition of the K'ung school was thus established.

In the meantime, Master K'ung had grown more experienced in human affairs, just as he had become more advanced in learning. Desiring to study its culture at first hand, he had visited Lo, the Chou capital. There he had learned from Lao-tan, the great ceremonialist and keeper of the royal archives. Next, he had visited Ch'i, where he had become acquainted with its divine music, which so engrossed him that he is said to have forgotten the taste of meat for three months. He had also filled responsible administrative positions in Lu, first as magistrate, then as minister of crime and, possibly, as acting premier. He had taken part in the diplomatic conference between Ch'i and Lu, in which his supreme knowledge of ritual had won for his state a great moral triumph. Later, when he had had to give up his office in Lu, he had spent thirteen or fourteen years abroad, travelling, teaching, and visiting the feudal rulers of his time. When at last he was recalled to Lu, he was already an old man, an elder statesman, whose advice was constantly sought after by both the reigning duke and his chief minister. The humble overseer of herds, who had turned schoolmaster, was now the most honoured man in his native state; he was also the most learned scholar of the Chinese world.

5. A Happy Innovation

A new inspiration seized K'ung Ch'iu in the last years of his life. He must have then realized that his days were fast running short, and that, if he had successfully initiated a noble profession, he was by no means sure that his doctrines would be handed down intact through mere oral tradition. Something, it seemed, should be done to insure their preservation in future years. Hence, thoughts like these led ultimately to his becoming a literary editor and anthologist.

K'ung Ch'iu, an authority on Chou culture, was also its preserver. For many years he had industriously gathered all the literary materials that he could lay his hands on. In this attempt he was more than fortunate, for at that time many of the official documents formerly kept in the court archives and ancestral temples had begun to leak out to the public. In addition, he must have obtained a large part of his materials through his connexions with the feudal courts. In Lu, which had long been the centre of Chou culture, he had had direct access to valuable sources hitherto not available to the common people. His trip to the Chou capital must also have yielded a rich harvest, as undoubtedly did his visit to the other states. What he had collected, however, was mostly unedited material in bundles of bamboo tablets that had to be strung together with leather thongs. Books in the modern sense of the word did not exist; and Master K'ung, the pedagogue, soon became China's first book-maker.

K'ung Ch'iu's contribution to Chinese literature can never be over-estimated. He it was who first brought together the Chou classics under the name of his school. It is possible, of course, that portions of the Classic of Poetry and the Classic of History had been in circulation long before K'ung Ch'iu's time. But it is doubtful whether they ever existed in the form left to us by him, who was in this sense their 'sole begetter'.4 To be sure, what he actually did was merely to collate and edit, but even so, this work that seems so conventional and simple to us, was in those days certainly an epoch-making innovation.

Unfortunately, Anthologist K'ung's labour on rituals and music has been lost to posterity. The Record of Rites that we have is a compilation of the Han dynasty, though it may retain much of the original material as well as many of the Master's observations on these subjects.

The Classic of Change, a manual of divination, said to have been written by King Wen, founder of the Chou dynasty, and the Duke of Chou, is probably the earliest Chinese book extant. Its mysterious contents seem to have fascinated K'ung Ch'iu in his last years, but his share in this work is rather uncertain. According to some critics, even the philosophical interpretation given it in the ten 'Wings' or 'Appendices' traditionally attributed to Master K'ung might have come from another pen.

So far, in all the works we have mentioned, K'ung Ch'iu was satisfied to play the rôle of a transmitter.5 It was a great rôle without doubt, for what he transmitted was none other than the main bulk of ancient Chinese culture. But that was not all. To K'ung Ch'iu also belonged the honour of being the first Chinese author, a great honour indeed.

As a writer, K'ung Ch'iu is chiefly remembered for his Spring and Autumn, annals of Lu covering the reigns of its twelve dukes from 722-481 B.C. It was probably the last literary work that he undertook. As the first Chinese book written by a private individual,6 it had an immense historical interest. As a matter of fact, K'ung Ch'iu himself entertained such a high opinion of this unprecedented adventure that he staked his reputation on it. Said he: 'If anyone recognizes my greatness in future generations, it will be because of the Spring and Autumn. If any one condemns me in future generations, it will likewise be because of the Spring and Autumn.'7

Such being the author's opinion of the Spring and Autumn, it comes as a surprise that the book contains merely a list of dry, uninspiring entries under the reign of each of the twelve dukes. But we have an explanation for this. In K'ung Ch'iu's time the Chinese language, as we know, had not attained that flexibility, eloquence, and richness which characterize the historical and philosophical writings of a later period. K'ung Ch'iu's style, therefore, was simple, straightforward, and factual. This, too, was natural enough, because it was only the facts, the bare historical events of his native state and the confederated Chou world, in which he was primarily interested. But even here little credit was due to the writer, who did not first record these events, but took them from the official chronicles of Lu. Hence K'ung Ch'iu's originality consisted merely in his arrangement of the entries, his wording, his style, and his purpose, which was to use the past to mirror the present and the future.8 If this first historical book by a private individual fails to meet our expectation as a great work of literature, we must bear in mind that it is after all only an innovation.

6.Short of a Miracle: the Professionals turned Philosophers

When K'ung Ch'iu died in 479 B.C. at the age of seventy-three, his mission of embodying in himself and his school the best of orthodox Chou culture had been accomplished. As we remember, he started his career as a ritual expert, vaguely known in those days as Ju, but soon became famous as a scholar of wide learning. Though a Ju by profession, he seemed to have used the word rather gingerly in his recorded sayings. In fact, only once did he mention it, and that was when he advised Tzŭ-hsia, one of his younger pupils, to become a noble, and not a lowly, Ju. Here, however, the meaning is somewhat equivocal. Since Tzŭ-hsia has never been known as a ritual practitioner, we might infer that the Master was using the word in the broader sense of a scholar rather than in its original sense of a mild-dispositioned man of li. Anyway, the Ju class, from which K'ung Ch'iu sprang, and of which he was the greatest representative, had been so closely identified with him that Ju and K'ung soon became synonymous. Meanwhile, the word Ju began to assume its new meaning, as Master K'ung had used it in reference to Tzŭ-hsia, as a scholar of the K'ung school. And, most important of all, amidst all these changes, a Ju philosophy had been developed.

It all came about like this. While basing his teaching on the authority of the sage kings of antiquity9 and the orthodox feudal concepts of his time, K'ung Ch'iu, the great originator, soon evolved a new ethical and political philosophy of his own. In politics he contributed the idea of paternal government, in which the ruler should govern his people benevolently, as a patriarch his family. And just as a father is bound to his children by the tie of blood, which accounts for their attachment to one another, so should a prince be bound to his subjects by the same inalienable tie of love and kindness. Hence to a ruler the most important consideration was the welfare of the people. To summarize, according to Master K'ung, the three fundamental requirements of a state are that its sovereignty be safeguarded by adequate military strength, its welfare by sufficient food, and its government by the confidence of the people; of which the last is the most important. When we remember how the peasants of those days were oppressed by the autocratic rulers, we can see very well why Master K'ung's principle of benevolent government, though to us trite and old-fashioned, was, when viewed historically, highly significant.

But K'ung Ch'iu's real greatness lies in his transforming the feudal code of rites and etiquette into a universal system of ethics. It is wonderful that the humble practitioner of li should have become ultimately the greatest teacher of morality; but what is even more wonderful is that that morality, though 2,500 years old, is in its fundamental concept strikingly up to date and still aspiring. Here we are not referring to his observations on family relationship, which have failed to harmonize with modern trends owing to the great social changes of the past centuries. But what impresses us most is his lofty conception of the basic virtues of chung (faithfulness to oneself and others), shu (altruism), jen (human-heartedness), yi (righteousness), li (propriety), chih (wisdom), hsin (realness or sincerity), all of which the Master preached so forcibly and exemplified in himself so worthily that they have since become an ethical creed of the Chinese people. In fact, it was this insistence on man's moral cultivation, irrespective of rank and class, that has made K'ung Ch'iu such an immortal teacher. Thus, though living in the medieval society of the sixth century B.C., he was able to transcend the limitations of his age and profession to develop a far-reaching philosophy with moral perfection as its ultimate aim. As he himself had constantly asserted, he was all his life championing a way of life, or truth, which he called tao; and he would not be satisfied until it had been adopted by mankind.

The pursuit of this tao was therefore the greatest endeavour of Master K'ung's life. He also taught it to his pupils, no matter what personal ambitions they might have. In studying with him, they might seek training as ritual functionaries, family stewards, courtiers, governors, or teachers, but no one could leave the door of the K'ung school without being instilled with a lofty sense of morality. The Master's enthusiasm was so intense that a number of his devoted disciples were fired by it. Thus these men who had come to him to learn a profession turned out to be the torch-bearers of a grand new philosophy, the Ju philosophy, whose ultimate achievement was the superior man.


  1. Page 15. For a discussion of this subject, see Hu Shih, 'On the Ju,' in his Recent Essays on Learning (Chinese), Shanghai, 1935, 3-102; Fung Yu-lan, A History of Chinese Philosophy (Chinese), II, Appendix, 1-61; Ch'ien Mu, An Interlinking Chronology of the Ante-Ch'in Philosophers (Chinese), 85-8, 92; and Ch'ien Mu, An Outline of Chinese National History (Chinese), Shanghai, 1948, I, 65-6.
  2. Page 15. The Duke of Chou (12th century B.C.), one of the great figures in ancient Chinese history, was highly praised by Master K'ung as a model statesman. He helped his father, King Wen, and his brother, King Wu, to establish the Chou dynasty and to institute the feudal system that lasted for many centuries.
  3. Page 19. Lun-yü (The Analects), Bk XV, Ch. 38.
  4. Page 22. In the course of the Ch'in fire, as told later in Ch. VII, most of the K'ung classics were destroyed. But they were restored later by the Han scholars. It is believed that these Han versions are substantially the same as those handed down by Master K'ung himself.
  5. Page 22. Master K'ung once called himself a transmitter who believed in and loved the ancients. (Lun-yü, VII, 1.)
  6. Page 23. The Chou Li (The Ritual of Chou) was supposed to have been written by the Duke of Chou, but his authorship has been generally discredited by scholars, and the book itself is now considered as a much later work, probably at the time of the Warring States (5th-3rd century B.C.). Also of dubious origin are the Kuan-tzŭ (The Works of Master Kuan), a Legalist book attributed to Kuan Chung, a great statesman of the 7th century B.C. and the Tao Teh Ching (The Classic of Tao), attributed to Lao-tan, a senior contemporary of Master K'ung. After such elimination, the Ch'un Ch'iu (Spring and Autumn) becomes the first Chinese book written by a known author.
  7. Page 23. Meng-tzŭ (The Works of Master Meng), Bk III, Pt ii, Ch. 9.
  8. Page 23. Cf. Meng K'o's somewhat exaggerated claim that 'When Master K'ung completed the Spring and Autumn rebellious ministers and villainous sons were struck with terror.' Ibid. These words, however, make a good testimony to the significance of the book which, though unimportant to us, had nevertheless a great influence in its time when the lessons of history it contains were still fresh in the minds of its readers.
  9. Page 24. For a list of the sage kings and their periods, see Appendix 1. All these kings were noted for their great virtue. Yao and Shun were model rulers who, instead of leaving the throne to their lineal descendants, yielded it to their sage ministers, i.e. Yao to Shun, and Shun to Yü. Yü, the founder of Hsia, the first Chinese dynasty, was the saviour of the Chinese people from a devastating flood that had overrun the land. When the last of the Hsia kings, who came to the throne some 400 years later, proved to be a tyrant, he was overthrown by the virtuous Tang, who established the Shang dynasty. Likewise, after some 600 years, the Shang came to an end during the reign of Chou Hsin, another tyrant, and it was succeeded by the Chou dynasty, whose founders, as we have already noted, were King Wen, King Wu, and the Duke of Chou. Some modern critics, however, doubt the existence of Yao, Shun, and Yü as well as the historicity of the Hsia dynasty. Still others believe that the entire story of these sage kings was invented by the Confucianists to give authority to their political teachings.

Wing-tsit Chan (essay date 1963)

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SOURCE: "The Humanism of Confucius," in A Sourcebook in Chinese Philosophy, Princeton University Press, 1963, pp. 14-48.

[In the following excerpt, Chan argues that Confucius's ideas on humanism greatly influenced the development of Chinese philosophy and that Confucius's belief in "the perfectibility of all men" radically altered the traditional concept of the "superior man."]

Confucius (551-479 B.C.) can truly be said to have molded Chinese civilization in general. It may seem far-fetched, however, to say that he molded Chinese philosophy in particular—that he determined the direction or established the pattern of later Chinese philosophical developments—yet there is more truth in the statement than is usually realized.

Neo-Confucianism, the full flowering of Chinese thought, developed during the last eight hundred years. Its major topics of debate, especially in the Sung (960-1279) and Ming (1368-1644) periods, are the nature and principle (li) of man and things. (For this reason it is called the School of Nature and Principle, or Hsing-li hsüeh.) Supplementary to these topics are the problems of material force (ch'i); yin and yang (passive and active cosmic forces or elements); T'ai-chi (Great Ultimate); being and non-being; substance and function; and the unity of Nature and man. Confucius had nothing to do with these problems, and never discussed them. In fact, the words li, yin, yang, and t'ai-chi are not found in the Lun-yü (Discourses or Analects). The word ch'i appears several times, but is not used in the sense of material force.1 And Confucius' pupils said that they could not hear the Master's views on human nature and the Way of Heaven.2 He did not talk about human nature except once, when he said that "by nature men are alike. Through practice they have become far apart,"3 but the theory is entirely different from the later orthodox doctrine of the Confucian school that human nature is originally good.

The present discussion is based on the Analects, which is generally accepted as the most reliable source of Confucius' doctrines. The subject of "the investigation of things" originated in the Great Learning and most of the other topics are mentioned in the Book of Changes. But these two Classics are not generally regarded as Confucius' own works. Furthermore, even if they were, the subjects are only briefly mentioned without elaboration. It is correct then to say that the Neo-Confucianists drew their inspiration from them or made use of them to support their own ideas, but it would be going too far to suggest that they provided an outline or framework for later Chinese philosophy.

However, judging on the basis of the Analects alone, we find that Confucius exerted great influence on Chinese philosophical development in that, first of all, he determined its outstanding characteristic, namely, humanism.

As pointed out in the previous chapter, the humanistic tendency had been in evidence long before his time. But it was Confucius who turned it into the strongest driving force in Chinese philosophy. He did not care to talk about spiritual beings or even about life after death. Instead, believing that man "can make the Way (Tao) great," and not that "the Way can make man great,"4 he concentrated on man. His primary concern was a good society based on good government and harmonious human relations. To this end he advocated a good government that rules by virtue and moral example rather than by punishment or force. His criterion for goodness was righteousness as opposed to profit. For the family, he particularly stressed filial piety and for society in general, proper conduct or li (propriety, rites).

More specifically, he believed in the perfectibility of all men, and in this connection he radically modified a traditional concept, that of the chün-tzu, or superior man. Literally "son of the ruler," it came to acquire the meaning of "superior man," on the theory that nobility was a quality determined by status, more particularly a hereditary position. The term appears 107 times in the Analects. In some cases it refers to the ruler. In most cases, however, Confucius used it to denote a morally superior man. In other words, to him nobility was no longer a matter of blood, but of character—a concept that amounted to social revolution. Perhaps it is more correct to say that it was an evolution, but certainly it was Confucius who firmly established the new concept. His repeated mention of sage-emperors Yao and Shun and Duke Chou5 as models seems to suggest that he was looking back to the past. Be that as it may, he was looking to ideal men rather than to a supernatural being for inspiration.

Not only did Confucius give Chinese philosophy its humanistic foundation, but he also formulated some of its fundamental concepts, five of which will be briefly commented on here: the rectification of names, the Mean, the Way, Heaven, and jen (humanity). In insisting on the rectification of names, Confucius was advocating not only the establishment of a social order in which names and ranks are properly regulated, but also the correspondence of words and action, or in its more philosophical aspect, the correspondence of name and actuality. This has been a perennial theme in the Confucian school, as well as in nearly all other schools. By the Mean, Confucius did not have in mind merely moderation, but that which is central and balanced. This, too, has been a cardinal idea in Chinese thought. In a real sense, the later Neo-Confucian ideas of the harmony of yin and yang and that of substance and function did not go beyond this concept. In his interpretation of Heaven, he departed from traditional belief even more radically. Up to the time of Confucius, the Supreme Power was called Ti (the Lord) or Shang-ti (the Lord on High) and was understood in an anthropomorphic sense. Confucius never spoke of Ti. Instead, he often spoke of T'ien (Heaven). To be sure, his Heaven is purposive and is the master of all things. He repeatedly referred to the T'ien-ming, the Mandate, will, or order of Heaven. However, with him Heaven is no longer the greatest of all spiritual beings who rules in a personal manner but a Supreme Being who only reigns, leaving his Moral Law to operate by itself. This is the Way according to which civilization should develop and men should behave. It is the Way of Heaven (T'ien-tao), later called the Principle of Heaven or Nature (T'ien-li).

Most important of all, he evolved the new concept of jen which was to become central in Chinese philosophy. All later discussions on principle and material force may be said to serve the purpose of helping man to realize jen.6 The word jen is not found in the oracle bones. It is found only occasionally in pre-Confucian texts, and in all these cases it denotes the particular virtue of kindness, more especially the kindness of a ruler to his subjects. In Confucius, however, all this is greatly changed. In the first place, Confucius made jen the main theme of his conversations. In the Analects fifty-eight of 499 chapters are devoted to the discussion of jen, and the word appears -105 times. No other subject, not even filial piety, engaged so much attention of the Master and his disciples. Furthermore, instead of perpetuating the ancient understanding of jen as a particular virtue, he transformed it into general virtue. It is true that in a few cases jen is still used by Confucius as a particular virtue, in the sense of benevolence. But in most cases, to Confucius the man of jen is the perfect man. He is the true chün-tzu. He is a man of the golden rule, for, "wishing to establish his own character, he also establishes the character of others, and wishing to be prominent himself, he also helps others to be prominent."7 In these balanced and harmonized aspects of the self and society, jen is expressed in terms of chung and shu, or conscientiousness and altruism, which is the "one thread" running through Confucius' teachings, and which is in essence the golden mean as well as the golden rule. It was the extension of this idea of jen that became the Neo-Confucian doctrine of man's forming one body with Heaven, or the unity of man and Nature, and it was because of the character of jen in man that later Confucianists have adhered to the theory of the original good nature of man.

It is clear, therefore, that Confucius was a creator as well as a transmitter. He was not a philosopher in a technical sense, but Chinese philosophy would be quite different if he had not lived. He was born in 551 (or 552) B.C. in the state of Lu in modern Shantung. His family name was K'ung, private name Ch'iu, and he has been traditionally honored as Grand Master K'ung (K'ung Fu-tzu, hence the Latinized form Confucius). He was a descendant of a noble but fairly poor family. His father died when Confucius was probably three years old. Evidently a self-made man, he studied under no particular teacher but became perhaps the most learned man of his time.

He began his career in his twenties or thirties. He was the first person in Chinese history to devote his whole life, almost exclusively, to teaching. He sought to inaugurate private education, to open the door of education to all, to offer education for training character instead of for vocation, and to gather around him a group of gentlemen-scholars (thus starting the institution of the literati who have dominated Chinese history and society).

In his younger years Confucius had served in minor posts in Lu. At fifty-one he was made a magistrate, and became minister of justice the same year, perhaps serving as an assistant minister of public works in between. At fifty-four, finding his superiors uninterested in his policies, he set out to travel (for almost fourteen years) in a desperate attempt at political and social reform. He took some of his pupils along with him. Eventually disappointed, he returned, at the age of sixty-eight, to his own state to teach and perhaps to write and edit the Classics. According to the Shih chi (Records of the Historian),8 he had three thousand pupils, seventy-two of whom mastered the "six arts."9 He died at the age of seventy-three.

Many Chinese scholars, especially in the last several decades, have debated such questions as whether he actually made a trip some time in his forties to see Lao Tzu to inquire about ancient rites and ceremonies, whether he wrote the Ch'un-ch'iu (Spring and Autumn Annals), edited the other ancient Classics, and wrote the "ten wings" or commentaries of one of them, namely, the Book of Changes. After having once rejected these claims, many scholars are now inclined to believe them. The controversy has by no means ended. At the same time, the fact that the Analects is the most reliable source of Confucius' teachings is accepted by practically all scholars. For this reason, the following selections are made entirely from this book.

Ceremonies and Music: 1:12; 2:5; 3:3-4, 17,
 19; 6:25; 8:8
Confucius: 2:4; 5:25; 6:26; 7:1, 2, 7, 8, 16,
 18-20, 37; 9:1, 4; 10:9, 14; 14:30, 37, 41;
 18:6; 19:24
Education and Learning: 1:1, 6, 8, 14;
 2:11, 15; 6:25; 7:7, 8, 24; 16:9; 17:8;
Filial piety: 1:2, 6, 11; 2:5, 7; 4:18, 19, 21
Government: 2:1, 3; 3:19; 8:9, 14; 12:7, 11,
 17, 19; 13:3, 6, 16, 29, 30; 14:45; 15:4;
Heaven, Spirits, Destiny: 2:4; 3:12, 13; 5:12;
 6:20, 26; 7:20, 22, 34; 9:1, 5, 6; 11:8, 11;
 12:5; 14:37; 16:8; 17:19
Humanism: 6:20; 10:12; 12:22; 15:28; 18:6
Humanity (jen): 1:2, 3, 6; 3:3; 4:2-6; 6:20, 21,
 28; 7:6, 29; 8:7; 12:1, 2, 22; 13:19, 27;
 14:30; 15:8, 32, 35; 17:6, 8; 19:6
Knowledge and Wisdom: 2:17, 18; 4:2; 6:18,
 20, 21; 7:27; 12:22; 14:30; 15:32; 16:9
Literature and Art: 1:15; 6:25; 7:6; 8:8; 9:5;
 15:40; 17:9
Love and Golden rule: 4:2, 15; 5:11; 6:28;
 12:2, 5; 14:36, 45; 17:4
Mean and Central thread: 4:15; 15:2
Nature, human: 5:12; 6:17, 19; 16:9; 17:2, 3
Rectification of names: 12:11, 17; 13:3, 6
Righteousness: 2:24; 4:16; 13:3, 6; 15:17
Superior man: 1:2, 8, 14; 2:11, 13; 4:5, 24;
 6:16; 9:13; 13:3; 14:30; 15:17, 20, 31; 16:8,
 10; contrasted with inferior man: 2:14; 4:11,
 16; 8:6; 12:16; 13:23, 26; 14:24; 15:20;
Virtue: 1:4, 6, 8; 4:12; 7:6; 8:5, 7, 13; 9:4;
 13:18, 19; 14:33; 15:8, 17; 16:4, 10; 17:6,
Way (Tao): 4:5, 8; 7:6; 15:28, 31; 17:4
Words and Acts: 2:13, 18; 4:24; 13:3;


1:1. Confucius said, "Is it not a pleasure to learnand to repeat or practice from time to time what hasbeen learned? Is it not delightful to have friendscoming from afar? Is one not a superior man if hedoes not feel hurt even though he is not recognized?" Comment. Interpretations of Confucian teachings have differed radically in the last 2,000 years. Generally speaking, Han (206 B.C.-A.D. 220) scholars, represented in Ho Yen (d. 249), Lun-yü chi-chieh (Collected Explanations of the Analects),11 were inclined to be literal and interested in historical facts, whereas Neo-Confucianists, represented in Chu Hsi (1130-1200), Lun-yü chi-chu, (Collected Commentaries on the Analects) were interpretative, philosophical, and often subjective. They almost invariably understand the Confucian Way (Tao) as principle (li), which is their cardinal concept, and frequently when they came to an undefined "this"or "it," they insisted that it meant principle. This divergency between the Han and Sung scholars has colored interpretations of this passage. To Wang Su (195-265), quoted in Ho, hsi (to learn) means to recite a lesson repeatedly. To Chu Hsi, however, hsi means to follow the examples of those who are first to understand, and therefore it does not mean recitation but practice. In revolt against both extremes, Ch'ing (1644-1912) scholars emphasized practical experience. In this case, hsi to them means both to repeat and to practice, as indicated in Liu Pao-nan (1791-1855), Lun-yü cheng-i (Correct Meanings of the Analects). Thus Ho Yen, Chu Hsi, and Liu Pao-nan neatly represent the three different approaches in the three different periods. Generally speaking, the dominant spirit of Confucian teachingis the equal emphasis on knowledge and action. This dual emphasis will be encountered again and again.12

1:2. Yu Tzu13 said, "Few of those who are filial sons and respectful brothers will show disrespect to superiors, and there has never been a man who is not disrespectful to superiors and yet creates disorder. A superior man is devoted to the fundamentals (the root). When the root is firmly established, the moral law (Tao) will grow. Filial piety and brotherly respect are the root of humanity (jen)."

1:3. Confucius said, "A man with clever words and an ingratiating appearance is seldom a man of humanity."14

1:4. Tseng-Tzu15 said, "Every day I examine myself on three points: whether in counseling others I have not been loyal; whether in intercourse with my friends I have not been faithful; and whether I have not repeated again and again and practiced the instructions of my teacher."16

1:6. Young men should be filial when at home and respectful to their elders when away from home. They should be earnest and faithful. They should love all extensively and be intimate with men of humanity. When they have any energy to spare after the performance of moral duties, they should use it to study literature and the arts (wen).17

1:8. Confucius said, "If the superior man is not grave, he will not inspire awe, and his learning will not be on a firm foundation.18 Hold loyalty and faithfulness to be fundamental. Have no friends who are not as good as yourself. When you have made mistakes, don't be afraid to correct them."

Comment. The teaching about friendship here is clearly inconsistent with Analects, 8:5, where Confucius exhorts us to learn from inferiors. It is difficult to believe that Confucius taught people to be selfish. According to Hsing Ping (932-1010),19 Confucius meant people who are not equal to oneselfin loyalty and faithfulness, assuming that one is or should be loyal and faithful; according to Hsü Kan (171-218), Confucius simply wanted us to be careful in choosing friends.20

1:11. Confucius said, "When a man's father is alive, look at the bent of his will. When his father is dead, look at his conduct. If for three years [of mourning] he does not change from the way of his father, he may be called filial."

Comment. Critics of Confucius have asserted that Confucian authoritarianism holds an oppressive weight on the son even after the father has passed away. Fan Tsu-yü (1041-1098) did understand the saying to mean that the son should observe the father's will and past conduct,21 but he was almost alone in this. All prominent commentators, from K'ung An-kuo to Cheng Hsüan (127-200),22 Chu Hsi, and Liu Pao-nan have interpreted the passage to mean that while one's father is alive, one's action is restricted, so that his intention should be the criterion by which his character is to be judged. After his father's death, however, when he is completely autonomous, he should be judged by his conduct. In this interpretation, the way of the father is of course the moral principle which has guided or should have guided the son's conduct.

1:12. Yu Tzu said, "Among the functions of propriety (li) the most valuable is that it establishes harmony. The excellence of the ways of ancient kings consists of this. It is the guiding principle of all things great and small. If things go amiss, and you, understanding harmony, try to achieve it without regulating it by the rules of propriety, they will still go amiss."

1:14. Confucius said, "The superior man does not seek fulfillment of his appetite nor comfort in his lodging. He is diligent in his duties and careful in his speech. He associates with men of moral principles and thereby realizes himself. Such a person may be said to love learning."

1:15. Tzu-kung23 said, "What do you think of a man who is poor and yet does not flatter, and the rich man who is not proud?" Confucius replied, "They will do. But they are not as good as the poor man who is happy24 and the rich man who loves the rules of propriety (li)." Tzu-kung said, "The Book of Odes says:

As a thing is cut and filed,
As a thing is carved and polished.…25

Does that not mean what you have just said?"

Confucius said, "Ah! Tz'u. Now I can begin to talk about the odes with you. When I have told you what has gone before, you know what is to follow."

1:16. Confucius said, "[A good man] does not worry about not being known by others but rather worries about not knowing them."26

2:1. Confucius said, "A ruler who governs his state by virtue is like the north polar star, which remains in its place while all the other stars revolve around it."

Comment. Two important principles are involved here. One is government by virtue, in which Confucianists stand directly opposed to the Legalists, who prefer law and force. The other is government through inaction, i.e., government in such excellent order that all things operate by themselves. This is the interpretation shared by Han and Sung Confucianists alike.27 In both cases, Confucianism and Taoism are in agreement.28

2:2. Confucius said, "All three hundred odes can be covered by one of their sentences, and that is, 'Have no depraved thoughts.'"29

2:3. Confucius said, "Lead the people with governmental measures and regulate them by law and punishment, and they will avoid wrongdoing but will have no sense of honor and shame. Lead them with virtue and regulate them by the rules of propriety (li), and they will have a sense of shame and, moreover, set themselves right."30

2:4. Confucius said, "At fifteen my mind was set on learning. At thirty my character had been formed. At forty I had no more perplexities. At fifty I knew the Mandate of Heaven (T'ien-ming). At sixty I was at ease with whatever I heard. At seventy I could follow my heart's desire without transgressing moral principles."

Comment. What T'ien-ming is depends upon one's own philosophy. In general, Confucianists before the T'ang dynasty (618-907) understood it to mean either the decree of God, which determines the course of one's life, or the rise and fall of the moral order,31 whereas Sung scholars, especially Chu Hsi, took it to mean "the operation of Nature which is endowed in things and makes things be as they are."32 This latter interpretation has prevailed. The concept of T'ien-ming which can mean Mandate of Heaven, decree of God, personal destiny, and course of order, is extremely important in the history of Chinese thought. In religion it generally means fate or personal order of God, but in philosophy it is practically always understood as moral destiny, natural endowment, or moral order.

2:5. Meng I Tzu33 asked about filial piety. Confucius said: "Never disobey." [Later,] when Fan Ch'ih34 was driving him, Confucius told him, "Meng-sun asked me about filial piety, and I answered him, 'Never disobey.'"35 Fan Ch'ih said, "What does that mean?" Confucius said, "When parents are alive, serve them according to the rules of propriety. When they die, bury them according to the rules of propriety and sacrifice to them according to the rules of propriety."

2:6. Meng Wu-po36 asked about filial piety. Confucius said, "Especially be anxious lest parents should be sick."37

2:7. Tzu-yu38 asked about filial piety. Confucius said, "Filial piety nowadays means to be able to support one's parents. But we support even dogs and horses.39 If there is no feeling of reverence, wherein lies the difference?"

2:11. Confucius said, "A man who reviews the old so as to find out the new is qualified to teach others."

2:12. Confucius said, "The superior man is not an implement (ch' i)."40

Comment. A good and educated man should not be like an implement, which is intended only for a narrow and specific purpose. Instead, he should have broad vision, wide interests, and sufficient ability to do many things.41

2:13. Tzu-kung asked about the superior man. Confucius said, "He acts before he speaks and then speaks according to his action."42

2:14. Confucius said, "The superior man is broadminded but not partisan; the inferior man is partisan but not broadminded."

2:15. Confucius said, "He who learns but does not think is lost; he who thinks but does not learn is in danger."

2:17. Confucius said, "Yu,43 shall I teach you [the way to acquire] knowledge?44 To say that you know when you do know and say that you do not know when you do not know—that is [the way to acquire] knowledge."

2:18. Tzu-chang45 was learning with a view to official emolument. Confucius said, "Hear much and put aside what's doubtful while you speak cautiously of the rest. Then few will blame you. See much and put aside what seems perilous while you are cautious in carrying the rest into practice. Then you will have few occasions for regret. When one's words give few occasions for blame and his acts give few occasions for repentance—there lies his emolument."

Comment. The equal emphasis on words and deeds has been a strong tradition in Confucianism.46 Eventually Wang Yang-ming identified them as one.47

2:24. Confucius said, "It is flattery to offer sacrifice to ancestral spirits other than one's own. To see what is right and not to do it is cowardice."

3:3. Confucius said, "If a man is not humane (jen), what has he to do with ceremonies (li)? If he is not humane, what has he to do with music?"

3:4. Lin Fang48 asked about the foundation of ceremonies. Confucius said, "An important question indeed! In rituals or ceremonies, be thrifty rather than extravagant, and in funerals, be deeply sorrowful rather than shallow in sentiment."

3:12. When Confucius offered sacrifice to his ancestors, he felt as if his ancestral spirits were actually present. When he offered sacrifice to other spiritual beings, he felt as if they were actually present. He said, "If I do not participate in the sacrifice, it is as if I did not sacrifice at all."

3:13. Wang-sun Chia49 asked, "What is meant by the common saying, 'It is better to be on good terms with the God of the Kitchen [who cooks our food] than with the spirits of the shrine (ancestors) at the southwest corner of the house'?" Confucius said, "It is not true. He who commits a sin against Heaven has no god to pray to."

3:17. Tzu-kung wanted to do away with the sacrificing of a lamb at the ceremony in which the beginning of each month is reported to ancestors. Confucius said, "Tz'u!50 You love the lamb but I love the ceremony."

3:19. Duke Ting51 asked how the ruler should employ his ministers and how the ministers should serve their ruler. Confucius said, "A ruler should employ his ministers according to the principle of propriety, and ministers should serve their ruler with loyalty."

3:24. The guardian at I (a border post of the state of Wei) requested to be presented to Confucius, saying, "When gentlemen come here, I have never been prevented from seeing them." Confucius' followers introduced him. When he came out from the interview, he said, "Sirs, why are you disheartened by your master's loss of office? The Way has not prevailed in the world for a long time. Heaven is going to use your master as a wooden bell [to awaken the people]."

4:2. Confucius said, "One who is not a man of humanity cannot endure adversity for long, nor can he enjoy prosperity for long. The man of humanity is naturally at ease with humanity. The man of wisdom cultivates humanity for its advantage."

4:3. Confucius said, "Only the man of humanity knows how to love people and hate people."52

4:4. Confucius said, "If you set your mind on humanity, you will be free from evil."53

4:5. Confucius said, "Wealth and honor are what every man desires. But if they have been obtained in violation of moral principles, they must not be kept. Poverty and humble station are what every man dislikes. But if they can be avoided only in violation of moral principles, they must not be avoided. If a superior man departs from humanity, how can he fulfill that name? A superior man never abandons humanity even for the lapse of a single meal. In moments of haste, he acts according to it. In times of difficulty or confusion, he acts according to it."

4:6. Confucius said, "I have never seen one who really loves humanity or one who really hates inhumanity. One who really loves humanity will not place anything above it.54 One who really hates inhumanity will practice humanity in such a way that inhumanity will have no chance to get at him. Is there any one who has devoted his strength to humanity for as long as a single day? I have not seen any one without sufficient strength to do so. Perhaps there is such a case, but I have never seen it."

4:8. Confucius said, "In the morning, hear the Way; in the evening, die content!"

4:10. Confucius said, "A superior man in dealing with the world is not for anything or against anything. He follows righteousness as the standard."

Comment. This is a clear expression of both the flexibility and rigidity of Confucian ethics—flexibility in application but rigidity in standard. Here lies the basic idea of the Confucian doctrine of ching-ch'üan, or the standard and the exceptional, the absolute and the relative, or the permanent and the temporary. This explains why Confucius was not obstinate,55 had no predetermined course of action,56 was ready to serve or to withdraw whenever it was proper to do so,57 and, according to Mencius, was a sage who acted according to the circumstance of the time.58

The words shih and mo can be interpreted to mean being near to people and being distant from people, or opposing people and admiring people, respectively, and some commentators have adopted these interpretations.59 But the majority follow Chu Hsi, as I have done here. Chu Hsi was thinking about the superior man's dealing with things. Chang Shih (Chang Nan-hsien, 1133-1180), on the other hand, thought Confucius was talking about the superior man's state of mind.60 This difference reflects the opposition between the two wings of Neo-Confucianism, one inclining to activity, the other to the state of mind.61

4:11. Confucius said, "The superior man thinks of virtue; the inferior man thinks of possessions.62 The superior man thinks of sanctions; the inferior man thinks of personal favors."

4:12. Confucius said, "If one's acts are motivated by profit, he will have many enemies."

4:15. Confucius said, "Ts'an,63 there is one thread that runs through my doctrines." Tseng Tzu said, "Yes." After Confucius had left, the disciples asked him, "What did he mean?" Tseng Tzu replied, "The Way of our Master is none other than conscientiousness (chung) and altruism (shu)."

Comment. Confucian teachings may be summed up in the phrase "one thread" (i-kuan), but Confucianists have not agreed on what it means. Generally, Confucianists of Han and T'ang times adhered to the basic meaning of "thread" and understood it in the sense of a system or a body of doctrines. Chu Hsi, true to the spirit of Neo-Confucian speculative philosophy, took it to mean that there is one mind to respond to all things. In the Ch'ing period, in revolt against speculation, scholars preferred to interpret kuan as action and affairs, that is, there is only one moral principle for all actions.64 All agree, however, on the meanings of chung and shu, which are best expressed by Chu Hsi, namely, chung means the full development of one's [originally good] mind and shu means the extension of that mind to others.65 As Ch'eng I (Ch'eng I-ch'uan, 1033-1107) put it, chung is the Way of Heaven, whereas shu is the way of man; the former is substance, while the latter is function.66 Liu Pao-nan is correct in equating chung with Confucius' saying, "Establish one's own character," and shu with "Also establish the character of others."67 Here is the positive version of the Confucian golden rule. The negative version is only one side of it.68

4:16. Confucius said, "The superior man understands righteousness (i); the inferior man understands profit."

Comment. Confucius contrasted the superior man and the inferior in many ways,69 but this is the fundamental difference for Confucianism in general as well as for Confucius himself. Chu Hsi associated righteousness with the Principle of Nature (T'ien-li) and profit with the feelings of man, but later Neo-Confucianists strongly objected to his thus contrasting principle and feelings.

4:18. Confucius said, "In serving his parents, a son may gently remonstrate with them. When he sees that they are not inclined to listen to him, he should resume an attitude of reverence and not abandon his effort to serve them. He may feel worried, but does not complain."

4:19. Confucius said, "When his parents are alive, a son should not go far abroad; or if he does, he should let them know where he goes."

4:21. Confucius said, "A son should always keep in mind the age of his parents. It is an occasion for joy [that they are enjoying long life] and also an occasion for anxiety [that another year is gone]."

4:24. Confucius said, "The superior man wants to be slow in word but diligent in action."

5:11. Tzu-kung said, "What I do not want others to do to me, I do not want to do to them." Confucius said, "Ah Tz'u! That is beyond you."70

5:12. Tzu-kung said, "We can hear our Master's [views] on culture and its manifestation,71 but we cannot hear his views on human nature72 and the Way of Heaven [because these subjects are beyond the comprehension of most people]."

5:25. Yen Yüan73 and Chi-lu74 were in attendance. Confucius said, "Why don't you each tell me your ambition in life?" Tzu-lu said, "I wish to have a horse, a carriage, and a light fur coat75 and share them with friends, and shall not regret if they are all worn out." Yen Yüan said, "I wish never to boast of my good qualities and never to brag about the trouble I have taken [for others]."76 Tzu-lu said, "I wish to hear your ambition." Confucius said, "It is my ambition to comfort the old, to be faithful to friends, and to cherish the young."77

5:27. Confucius said, "In every hamlet of ten families, there are always some people as loyal and faithful as myself, but none who love learning as much as I do."

6:5. Confucius said, "About Hui (Yen Yüan), for three months there would be nothing in his mind contrary to humanity. The others could (or can) attain to this for a day or a month at the most."78

Comment. On the basis of this saying alone, some philosophers have concluded that Yen Yüan was a mystic and that Confucius praised mysticism!

6:16. Confucius said, "When substance exceeds refinement (wen), one becomes rude. When refinement exceeds substance, one becomes urbane. It is only when one's substance and refinement are properly blended that he becomes a superior man."

6:17. Confucius said, "Man is born with uprightness. If one loses it he will be lucky if he escapes with his life."

Comment. Although the Confucian tradition in general holds that human nature is originally good, Confucius' own position is not clear. We have read that his doctrine of nature could not be heard,79 and we shall read his statement that by nature men are alike.80 But how they are alike is not clear. The saying here can be interpreted to mean that man can live throughout life because he is upright. This is the interpretation of Ma Jung (79-166),81 which is followed by Wang Ch'ung (27-100?).82 Most people followed Chu Hsi. He had the authority of Ch'eng Hao (Ch'eng Ming-tao, 1032-1085),83 who echoed Cheng Hsüan's interpretation that Confucius said that man is born upright. This means that Confucius was not only the first one in Chinese philosophy to assume a definite position about human nature, but also the first to teach that human nature is originally good.

6:18. Confucius said, "To know it [learning or the Way] is not as good as to love it, and to love it is not as good as to take delight in it."

6:19. Confucius said, "To those who are above average, one may talk of the higher things, but may not do so to those who are below average."

6:20. Fan Ch'ih asked about wisdom. Confucius said, "Devote yourself earnestly to the duties due to men, and respect spiritual beings84 but keep them at a distance. This may be called wisdom." Fan Ch'ih asked about humanity. Confucius said, "The man of humanity first of all considers what is difficult in the task and then thinks of success. Such a man may be called humane."

Comment. Many people have been puzzled by this passage, some even doubting the sincerity of Confucius' religious attitude—all quite unnecessarily. The passage means either "do not become improperly informal with spiritual beings,"85 or "emphasize the way of man rather than the way of spirits."86

6:21. Confucius said, "The man of wisdom delights in water; the man of humanity delights in mountains. The man of wisdom is active; the man of humanity is tranquil. The man of wisdom enjoys happiness; the man of humanity enjoys long life."

Comment. In the Confucian ethical system, humanity and wisdom are like two wings, one supporting the other.87 One is substance, the other is function. The dual emphasis has been maintained throughout history, especially in Tung Chung-shu (c.179-c.104 B.C.) and in a certain sense in K'ang Yu-wei (1858-1927). Elsewhere, courage is added as the third virtue,88 and Mencius grouped them with righteousness and propriety as the Four Beginnings.89

6:23. Confucius said, "When a cornered vessel no longer has any corner, should it be called a cornered vessel? Should it?"

Comment. Name must correspond to actuality.90

6:25. Confucius said, "The superior man extensively studies literature (wen) and restrains himself with the rules of propriety. Thus he will not violate the Way."

6:26. When Confucius visited Nan-tzu (the wicked wife of Duke Ling of Wei, r. 533-490 B.C.) [in an attempt to influence her to persuade the duke to effect political reform], Tzu-lu was not pleased. Confucius swore an oath and said, "If I have said or done anything wrong, may Heaven forsake me! May Heaven forsake me!"91

6:28. Tzu-kung said, "If a ruler extensively confers benefit on the people and can bring salvation to all, what do you think of him? Would you call him a man of humanity?" Confucius said, "Why only a man of humanity? He is without doubt a sage. Even (sage-emperors) Yao and Shun fell short of it. A man of humanity, wishing to establish his own character, also establishes the character of others, and wishing to be prominent himself, also helps others to be prominent. To be able to judge others by what is near to ourselves may be called the method of realizing humanity."92

Comment. The Confucian golden rule in a nutshell.

7:1. Confucius said, "I transmit but do not create. I believe in and love the ancients. I venture to compare myself to our old P'eng."93

Comment. This is often cited to show that Confucius was not creative. We must not forget, however, that he "goes over the old so as to find out what is new."94 Nor must we overlook the fact that he was the first one to offer education to all.95 Moreover, his concepts of the superior man and of Heaven were at least partly new.

7:2. Confucius said, "To remember silently [what I have learned], to learn untiringly, and to teach others without being wearied—that is just natural with me."

7:6. Confucius said, "Set your will on the Way. Have a firm grasp on virtue. Rely on humanity. Find recreation in the arts."

7:7. Confucius said, "There has never been anyone who came with as little a present as dried meat (for tuition)96 that I have refused to teach him something."

7:8. Confucius said, "I do not enlighten those who are not eager to learn, nor arouse those who are not anxious to give an explanation themselves. If I have presented one corner of the square and they cannot come back to me with the other three, I should not go over the points again."

7:15. Confucius said, "With coarse rice to eat, with water to drink, and with a bent arm for a pillow, there is still joy. Wealth and honor obtained through unrighteousness are but floating clouds to me."

7:16. Confucius said, "Give me a few more years so that I can devote fifty years to study Change.97 I may be free from great mistakes."

7:17. These were the things Confucius often98 talked about—poetry, history, and the performance of the rules of propriety. All these were what he often talked about.

7:18. The Duke of She99 asked Tzu-lu about Confucius, and Tzu-lu did not answer. Confucius said, "Why didn't you say that I am a person who forgets his food when engaged in vigorous pursuit of something, is so happy as to forget his worries, and is not aware that old age is coming on?"100

7:19. Confucius said, "I am not one who was born with knowledge; I love ancient [teaching] and earnestly seek it."

7:20. Confucius never discussed strange phenomena, physical exploits, disorder, or spiritual beings.

7:22. Confucius said, "Heaven produced the virtue that is in me; what can Huan T'ui101 do to me?"

7:24. Confucius taught four things: culture (wen), conduct, loyalty, and faithfulness.

7:26. Confucius fished with a line but not a net. While shooting he would not shoot a bird at rest.102

7:27. Confucius said, "There are those who act without knowing [what is right].103 But I am not one of them. To hear much and select what is good and follow it, to see much and remember it, is the second type of knowledge (next to innate knowledge)."

7:29. Confucius said, "Is humanity far away? As soon as I want it, there it is right by me."

Comment. This is simply emphasizing the ever-present opportunity to do good. There is nothing mystical about it. The practice of humanity starts with oneself.104

7:34. Confucius was very ill. Tzu-lu asked that prayer be offered. Confucius said, "Is there such a thing?" Tzu-lu replied, "There is. A Eulogy says, 'Pray to the spiritual beings above and below.'" Confucius said, "My prayer has been for a long time [that is, what counts is the life that one leads]."

7:37. Confucius is affable but dignified, austere but not harsh, polite but completely at ease.

Comment. The Confucian Mean in practice.

8:5. Tseng Tzu said, "Gifted with ability, yet asking those without ability; possessing much, yet asking those who possess little; having, yet seeming to have none; full, yet seeming vacuous; offended, yet not contesting—long ago I had a friend [Confucius' most virtuous pupil Yen Yüan?]105 who devoted himself to these ways."

Comment. The similarity to Taoist teachings is striking.

8:6. Tseng Tzu said, "A man who can be entrusted with an orphaned child, delegated with the authority over a whole state of one hundred li,106 and whose integrity cannot be violated even in the face of a great emergency—is such a man a superior man? He is a superior man indeed!"

8:7. Tseng Tzu said, "An officer must be great and strong. His burden is heavy and his course is long. He has taken humanity to be his own burden—is that not heavy? Only with death does his course stop—is that not long?"

8:8. Confucius said, "Let a man be stimulated by poetry, established by the rules of propriety, and perfected by music."

8:9. Confucius said, "The common people may be made to follow it (the Way) but may not be made to understand it."

Comment. Confucianists have taken great pains to explain this saying. Cheng Hsüan said "the common people" refers to ignorant people and Chu Hsi said that ordinary people do things without understanding why. There can be no denial that Confucius reflected the feudal society in which it was the duty of ordinary people to follow the elite.

8:13. Confucius said, "Have sincere faith and love learning. Be not afraid to die for pursuing the good Way. Do not enter a tottering state nor stay in a chaotic one. When the Way prevails in the empire, then show yourself; when it does not prevail, then hide. When the Way prevails in your own state and you are poor and in a humble position, be ashamed of yourself. When the Way does not prevail in your state and you are wealthy and in an honorable position, be ashamed of yourself."

8:14. Confucius said, "A person not in a particular government position does not discuss its policies."107

9:1. Confucius seldom talked about profit, destiny (ming or the Mandate of Heaven), and humanity.

Comment. Few passages in the Analects have given commentators as much trouble as this one. It is true that the topic of profit is mentioned in the Analects only six times and destiny or fate only ten times, but fifty-eight of the 499 chapters of the Analects are devoted to humanity and the word jen occurs 105 times. Confucianists have tried their best to explain why Confucius can be said to have seldom talked about them. Huang K'an said these things are so serious that Confucius seldom expected people to live up to them. This line of thought was followed by Juan Yüan (1764-1849).108 Ho Yen thought that Confucius seldom talked about them because few people could reach those high levels. Hsing Ping, who commented on Ho's commentary, repeated it. Chu Hsi, quoting Ch'eng I, said that Confucius seldom talked about profit, for example, because it is injurious to righteousness, and seldom talked about the others because the principle of destiny is subtle and that of humanity is great.

Other scholars have tried to change the meaning of the passage. Shih Sheng-tsu (fl. 1230) in his Hsüeh-chai chan-pi (Simple Observations) interpreted not as "and" but as "give forth," thus making the sentence say that Confucius seldom talked about profit but gave forth [instructions] on destiny and humanity. Bodde accepts this view.109 Laufer thinks it should be read: "The Master rarely discussed material gains compared with the will of Heaven and compared with humaneness."110 Chiao Hsün (1763-1820), in his Lun-yü pu-shu (Supplementary Commentary on the Analects) said that when Confucius occasionally talked about profit, he spoke of it together with destiny or humanity, that is, in the light of either of them. Han Yü (768-824) thought that what Confucius seldom talked about was the men of profit, destiny, or humanity, not the three subjects themselves (Lun-yü pi-chieh, or Explanations of the Analects). According to Huang Shih-nan's Lun-yü hou-an (Recent Examinations of the Analects, 1844), the word han does not mean "seldom," but is an alternate for hsien, "elucidation." While this is possible, it seems to be going too far. Most scholars leave the difficulty alone. As K'ang Yu-wei, in his Lun-yü chu, says, Confucius talked about the three subjects a great deal, since they are inherently important subjects for discussion.

9:3. Confucius said, "The linen cap is prescribed by the rules of ceremony (li) but nowadays a silk one is worn. It is economical and I follow the common practice. Bowing below the hall is prescribed by the rules of ceremony, but nowadays people bow after ascending the hall. This is arrogant, and I follow the practice of bowing below the hall though that is opposed to the common practice."

9:4. Confucius was completely free from four things: He had no arbitrariness of opinion, no dogmatism, no obstinacy, and no egotism.

9:5. When Confucius was in personal danger in K'uang,111 he said, "Since the death of King Wen,112 is not the course of culture (wen) in my keeping? If it had been the will of Heaven to destroy this culture, it would not have been given to a mortal [like me]. But if it is the will of Heaven that this culture should not perish, what can the people of K'uang do to me?"

9:6. A great official asked Tzu-kung, "Is the Master a sage? How is it that he has so much ability [in practical, specific things]?" Tzu-kung said, "Certainly Heaven has endowed him so liberally that he is to become a sage,113 and furthermore he has much ability." When Confucius heard this, he said, "Does the great official know me? When I was young, I was in humble circumstances, and therefore I acquired much ability to do the simple things of humble folk. Does a superior man need to have so much ability? He does not." His pupil Lao said, "The Master said, 'I have not been given official employment and therefore I [acquired the ability] for the simple arts.'"114

9:13. Confucius wanted to live among the nine barbarous tribes of the East. Someone said, "They are rude. How can you do it?" Confucius said, "If a superior man lives there, what rudeness would there be?"

9:16. Confucius, standing by a stream, said, "It passes on like this, never ceasing day or night!"

Comment. What was Confucius thinking about? Was he thinking of the unceasing operation of the universe (Chu Hsi and Ch'eng I)? Was he lamenting over the fact that the past cannot be recovered (Hsing Ping)? Was he comparing the untiring effort of a superior man's moral cultivation (Liu Pao-nan)? Was he praising water because its springs continuously gush out (Mencius115 and Tung Chung-shu116)? Was he praising water because it has the qualities of virtue, righteousness, courage, and so forth (Hsün Tzu, fl. 298-238 B.C.)?117 One thing is fairly sure: water to him meant something quite different from what it meant to Indian and Western philosophers, and to some extent to Lao Tzu.

9:25. Confucius said, "The commander of three armies may be taken away, but the will of even a common man may not be taken away from him."

10:9. When his mat was not straight [Confucius] did not sit on it.

10:12. A certain stable was burned down. On returning from court, Confucius asked, "Was any man hurt?" He did not ask about the horses.

10:14. On entering the Ancestral Temple, he asked about everything.

11:8. When Yen Yüan died, Confucius said, "Alas, Heaven is destroying me! Heaven is destroying me!"

11:11. Chi-lu (Tzu-lu) asked about serving the spiritual beings. Confucius said, "If we are not yet able to serve man, how can we serve spiritual beings?" "I venture to ask about death." Confucius said, "If we do not yet know about life, how can we know about death?"

Comment. A most celebrated saying on humanism.

11:15. Tzu-kung asked who was the better man, Shih118 or Shang.119 Confucius said, "Shih goes too far and Shang does not go far enough." Tzu-kung said, "Then is Shih better?" Confucius said, "To go too far is the same as not to go far enough."

11:21. Tzu-lu asked, "Should one immediately practice what one has heard?" Confucius said, "There are father and elder brother [to be consulted]. Why immediately practice what one has heard?" Jan Yu (Jan Tzu) asked, "Should one immediately practice what one has heard?" Confucius said, "One should immediately practice what one has heard." Kung-hsi Hua120 said, "When Yu (Tzu-lu) asked you, 'Should one immediately practice what one has heard?' you said, 'There are father and elder brother.' When Ch'iu (Jan Yu) asked you, 'Should one immediately practice what he has heard?' you said, 'One should immediately practice what one has heard.' I am perplexed, and venture to ask you for an explanation." Confucius said, "Ch'iu is retiring; therefore I urged him forward. Yu has more than one man's energy; therefore I kept him back."

11:25. Tzu-lu, Tseng Hsi,121 Jan Yu, and Kung-hsi Hua were in attendance. Confucius said, "You think that I am a day or so older than you are. But do not think so. At present you are out of office and think that you are denied recognition. Suppose you were given recognition. What would you prefer?" Tzu-lu promptly replied, "Suppose there is a state of a thousand chariots, hemmed in by great powers, in addition invaded by armies, and as a result drought and famine prevail. Let me administer that state. In three years' time I can endow the people with courage and furthermore, enable them to know the correct principles." Confucius smiled at him [with disapproval].

"Ch'iu, how about you?" Jan Yu replied, "Suppose there is a state the sides of which are sixty or seventy li wide, or one of fifty or sixty li. Let me administer that state. In three years' time I can enable the people to be sufficient in their livelihood. As to the promotion of ceremonies and music, however, I shall have to wait for the superior man."

"How about you, Ch'ih?" Kung-hsi Hua replied, "I do not say I can do it but I should like to learn to do so. At the services of the royal ancestral temple, and at the conferences of the feudal lords, I should like to wear the dark robe and black cap (symbols of correctness) and be a junior assistant."

[Turning to Tseng Hsi,] Confucius said, "How about you, Tien?" Tseng Hsi was then softly playing the zither. With a bang he laid down the instrument, rose, and said, "My wishes are different from what the gentlemen want to do." Confucius said, "What harm is there? After all, we want each to tell his ambition." Tseng Hsi said, "In the late spring, when the spring dress is ready, I would like to go with five or six grownups and six or seven young boys to bathe in the Ch'i River, enjoy the breeze on the Rain Dance Altar, and then return home singing." Confucius heaved a sigh and said, "I agree with Tien."

Comment. Why did Confucius agree with Tseng Hsi? The field is wide open for speculation, and most Confucianists have taken the best advantage of it. Thus it was variously explained that Tseng Hsi was enjoying the harmony of the universe (Wang Ch'ung),122 that he was following traditional cultural institutions (Liu Pao-nan), that he was wisely refraining from officialdom at the time of chaos (Huang K'an), that he was thinking of the "kingly way" whereas other pupils were thinking of the government of feudal states (Han Yü), that he was in the midst of the universal operation of the Principle of Nature (Chu Hsi), and that he was expressing freedom of the spirit (Wang Yang-ming, 1472-1529).123 It is to be noted that the last two interpretations reflect the different tendencies of the two wings of Neo-Confucianism, one emphasizing the objective operation of the Principle of Nature, the other emphasizing the state of mind.

12:1. Yen Yüan asked about humanity. Confucius said, "To master124 oneself and return to propriety is humanity.125 If a man (the ruler) can for one day master himself and return to propriety, all under heaven will return to humanity.126 To practice humanity depends on oneself. Does it depend on others?" Yen Yüan said, "May I ask for the detailed items?" Confucius said, "Do not look at what is contrary to propriety, do not listen to what is contrary to propriety, do not speak what is contrary to propriety, and do not make any movement which is contrary to propriety." Yen Yüan said, "Although I am not intelligent, may I put your saying into practice."

12:2. Chung-kung127 asked about humanity. Confucius said, "When you go abroad, behave to everyone as if you were receiving a great guest. Employ the people as if you were assisting at a great sacrifice.128 Do not do to others what you do not want them to do to you.129 Then there will be no complaint against you in the state or in the family (the ruling clan)." Chung-kung said, "Although I am not intelligent, may I put your saying into practice."

12:5. Ssu-ma Niu,130 worrying, said, "All people have brothers but I have none."131 Tzu-hsia said, "I have heard [from Confucius]132 this saying: 'Life and death are the decree of Heaven (ming); wealth and honor depend on Heaven. If a superior man is reverential (or serious) without fail, and is respectful in dealing with others and follows the rules of propriety, then all within the four seas (the world)133 are brothers.'134 What does the superior man have to worry about having no brothers?"

12:7. Tzu-kung asked about government. Confucius said, "Sufficient food, sufficient armament, and sufficient confidence of the people." Tzu-kung said, "Forced to give up one of these, which would you abandon first?" Confucius said, "I would abandon the armament." Tzu-kung said, "Forced to give up one of the remaining two, which would you abandon first?" Confucius said, "I would abandon food. There have been deaths from time immemorial, but no state can exist without the confidence of the people."

12.11. Duke Ching of Ch'i135 asked Confucius about government. Confucius replied, "Let the ruler be a ruler, the minister be a minister, the father be a father, and the son be a son." The duke said, "Excellent! Indeed when the ruler is not a ruler, the minister not a minister, the father not a father, and the son not a son, although I may have all the grain, shall I ever get to eat it?"

12:16. Confucius said, "The superior man brings the good things of others to completion and does not bring the bad things of others to completion. The inferior man does just the opposite."

12:17. Chi K'ang Tzu136 asked Confucius about government. Confucius replied, "To govern (cheng) is to rectify (cheng). If you lead the people by being rectified yourself, who will dare not be rectified?"137

12:19. Chi K'ang Tzu asked Confucius about government, saying, "What do you think of killing the wicked and associating with the good?" Confucius replied, "In your government what is the need of killing? If you desire what is good, the people will be good. The character of a ruler is like wind and that of the people is like grass. In whatever direction the wind blows, the grass always bends."

12:22. Fan Ch'ih asked about humanity. Confucius said, "It is to love men." He asked about knowledge. Confucius said, "It is to know man."

Comment. As a general virtue, jen means humanity, that is, that which makes a man a moral being. As a particular virtue, it means love. This is the general interpretation during the Han and T'ang times. Later in Neo-Confucianism, it was modified to mean man and Nature forming one body. The doctrine that knowledge of men is power has been maintained throughout the history of Confucianism. This humanistic interest has to a large degree prevented China from developing the tradition of knowledge for its own sake.

13:3. Tzu-lu said, "The ruler of Wei is waiting for you to serve in his administration. What will be your first measure?" Confucius said, "It will certainly concern the rectification of names." Tzu-lu said, "Is that so? You are wide of the mark. Why should there be such a rectification?" Confucius said, "Yu! How uncultivated you are! With regard to what he does not know, the superior man should maintain an attitude of reserve. If names are not rectified, then language will not be in accord with truth. If language is not in accord with truth, then things cannot be accomplished. If things cannot be accomplished, then ceremonies and music will not flourish. If ceremonies and music do not flourish, then punishment will not be just. If punishments are not just, then the people will not know how to move hand or foot. Therefore the superior man will give only names that can be described in speech and say only what can be carried out in practice. With regard to his speech, the superior man does not take it lightly. That is all."

Comment. Most ancient Chinese philosophical schools had a theory about names and actuality. In the Confucian school, however, it assumes special importance because its focus is not metaphysical as in Taoism, or logical as in the School of Logicians, or utilitarian as in the Legalist School, but ethical. This means not only that a name must correspond to its actuality, but also that rank, duties, and functions must be clearly defined and fully translated into action. Only then can a name be considered to be correct or rectified. With the ethical interest predominant, this is the nearest the ancient Confucianists came to a logical theory, except in the case of Hsün Tzu, who was the most logical of all ancient Confucianists.

13:6. Confucius said, "If a ruler sets himself right, he will be followed without his command. If he does not set himself right, even his commands will not be obeyed."138

13:16. The Duke of She asked about government. Confucius said, "[There is good government] when those who are near are happy and those far away desire to come."139

13:18. The Duke of She told Confucius, "In my country there is an upright man named Kung.140 When his father stole a sheep, he bore witness against him." Confucius said, "The upright men in my community are different from this. The father conceals the misconduct of the son and the son conceals the misconduct of the father. Uprightness is to be found in this."

13:19. Fan Ch'ih asked about humanity. Confucius said, "Be respectful in private life, be serious (ching)141 in handling affairs, and be loyal in dealing with others. Even if you are living amidst barbarians, these principles may never be forsaken."

13:23. Confucius said, "The superior man is conciliatory but does not identify himself with others; the inferior man identifies with others but is not conciliatory."142

13:26. Confucius said, "The superior man is dignified but not proud; the inferior man is proud but not dignified."

13:27. Confucius said, "A man who is strong, resolute, simple, and slow to speak is near to humanity."

13:29. Confucius said, "When good men have instructed the people [in morals, agriculture, military tactics]143 for seven years, they may be allowed to bear arms."

13:30. Confucius said, "To allow people to go to war without first instructing them is to betray them."

14:2. [Yüan Hsien]144 said, "When one has avoided aggressiveness, pride, resentment, and greed, he may be called a man of humanity." Confucius said, "This may be considered as having done what is difficult, but I do not know that it is to be regarded as humanity."

14:24. Confucius said, "The superior man understands the higher things [moral principles]; the inferior man understands the lower things [profit]."145

14:29. Confucius said, "The superior man is ashamed that his words exceed his deeds."

14:30. Confucius said, "The way of the superior man is threefold, but I have not been able to attain it. The man of wisdom has no perplexities; the man of humanity has no worry; the man of courage has no fear." Tzu-kung said, "You are talking about yourself."

14:33. Confucius said, "He who does not anticipate attempts to deceive him nor predict his being distrusted, and yet is the first to know [when these things occur], is a worthy man."146

14:36. Someone said, "What do you think of repaying hatred with virtue?" Confucius said, "In that case what are you going to repay virtue with? Rather, repay hatred with uprightness and repay virtue with virtue."

Comment. The word for uprightness, chih, is not to be understood as severity or justice, which would imply repaying evil with evil. The idea of repaying hatred with virtue is also found in the Lao Tzu, ch. 63, and some have therefore theorized that the questioner was a Taoist or that the saying was a prevalent one at the time. In any case, by uprightness Confucianists mean absolute impartiality, taking guidance from what is right instead of one's personal preference, however admirable. Obviously this does not satisfy followers of the Christian doctrine of loving one's enemy. As to the golden rule, see above, comment on 4:15.

14:37. Confucius said, "Alas! No one knows me!" Tzu-kung said, "Why is there no one that knows you?" Confucius said, "I do not complain against Heaven. I do not blame men. I study things on the lower level but my understanding penetrates the higher level.147 It is Heaven that knows me."

14:41. When Tzu-lu was stopping at the Stone Gate148 for the night, the gate-keeper asked him, "Where are you from?" Tzu-lu said, "From Confucius." "Oh, is he the one who knows a thing cannot be done and still wants to do it?"

14:45. Tzu-lu asked about the superior man. Confucius said, "The superior man is one who cultivates himself with seriousness (ching)." Tzu-lu said, "Is that all?" Confucius said, "He cultivates himself so as to give the common people security and peace." Tzu-lu said, "Is that all?" Confucius said, "He cultivates himself so as to give all people security and peace. To cultivate oneself so as to give all people security and peace, even Yao and Shun found it difficult to do."149

15:2. Confucius said, "Tz'u (Tzu-kung), do you suppose that I am one who learns a great deal and remembers it?" Tzu-kung replied, "Yes. Is that not true?" Confucius said, "No. I have a thread (i-kuan) that runs through it all."150

15:4. Confucius said, "To have taken no [unnatural] action151 and yet have the empire well governed, Shun was the man! What did he do? All he did was to make himself reverent and correctly faced south [in his royal seat as the ruler]."

15:8. Confucius said, "A resolute scholar and a man of humanity will never seek to live at the expense of injuring humanity. He would rather sacrifice his life in order to realize humanity."152

15:17. Confucius said, "The superior man regards righteousness (i) as the substance of everything. He practices it according to the principles of propriety. He brings it forth in modesty. And he carries it to its conclusion with faithfulness. He is indeed a superior man!"

15:20. Confucius said, "The superior man seeks [room for improvement or occasion to blame] in himself; the inferior man seeks it in others."153

15:22. Confucius said, "The superior man (ruler) does not promote (put in office) a man on the basis of his words; nor does he reject his words because of the man."

15:23. Tzu-kung asked, "Is there one word which can serve as the guiding principle for conduct throughout life?" Confucius said, "It is the word altruism (shu). Do not do to others what you do not want them to do to you."

15:28. Confucius said, "It is man that can make the Way great, and not the Way that can make man great."

Comment. Humanism in the extreme! Commentators from Huang K'an to Chu Hsi said that the Way, because it is tranquil and quiet and lets things take their own course, does not make man great. A better explanation is found in the Doctrine of the Mean, where it is said, "Unless there is perfect virtue, the perfect Way cannot be materialized."154

15:31. Confucius said, "The superior man seeks the Way and not a mere living. There may be starvation in farming, and there may be riches in the pursuit of studies. The superior man worries about the Way and not about poverty."

15:32. Confucius said, "When a man's knowledge is sufficient for him to attain [his position]155 but his humanity is not sufficient for him to hold it, he will lose it again. When his knowledge is sufficient for him to attain it and his humanity is sufficient for him to hold it, if he does not approach the people with dignity, the people will not respect him. If his knowledge is sufficient for him to attain it, his humanity sufficient for him to hold it, and he approaches the people with dignity, yet does not influence them with the principle of propriety, it is still not good."

15:35. Confucius said, "When it comes to the practice of humanity, one should not defer even to his teacher."

15:39. Confucius said, "In education there should be no class distinction."

Comment. Confucius was the first to pronounce this principle in Chinese history. Among his pupils there were commoners as well as nobles, and stupid people as well as intelligent ones.156

15:40. Confucius said, "In words all that matters is to express the meaning."

16:1. Confucius said, " … I have heard that those who administer a state or a family do not worry about there being too few people, but worry about unequal distribution of wealth. They do not worry about poverty, but worry about the lack of security and peace on the part of the people. For when wealth is equally distributed, there will not be poverty; when there is harmony, there will be no problem of there being too few people; and when there are security and peace, there will be no danger to the state.…"157

16:4. Confucius said, "There are three kinds of friendship which are beneficial and three kinds which are harmful. Friendship with the upright, with the truthful, and with the well-informed is beneficial. Friendship with those who flatter, with those who are meek and who compromise with principles, and with those who talk cleverly is harmful."

16:8. Confucius said, "The superior man stands in awe of three things. He stands in awe of the Mandate of Heaven; he stands in awe of great men;158 and he stands in awe of the words of the sages. The inferior man is ignorant of the Mandate of Heaven and does not stand in awe of it. He is disrespectful to great men and is contemptuous toward the words of the sages."

16:9. Confucius said, "Those who are born with knowledge are the highest type of people. Those who learn through study are the next. Those who learn through hard work are still the next. Those who work hard and still do not learn are really the lowest type."159

16:10. Confucius said, "The superior man has nine wishes. In seeing, he wishes to see clearly. In hearing, he wishes to hear distinctly. In his expression, he wishes to be warm. In his appearance, he wishes to be respectful. In his speech, he wishes to be sincere. In handling affairs, he wishes to be serious. When in doubt, he wishes to ask. When he is angry, he wishes to think of the resultant difficulties. And when he sees an opportunity for a gain, he wishes to think of righteousness."

17:2. Confucius said, "By nature men are alike. Through practice they have become far apart."

Comment. This is the classical Confucian dictum on human nature. Neo-Confucianists like Chu Hsi and Ch'eng I160 strongly argued that Confucius meant physical nature, which involves elements of evil, for since every man's original nature is good, men must be the same and therefore cannot be alike. Others, however, think that the word chin (near or alike) here has the same meaning as in Mencius' saying, "All things of the same kind are similar to one another."161 However, on the surface this saying is indisputably neutral, but all of Confucius' teachings imply the goodness of human nature.162

17:3. Confucius said, "Only the most intelligent and the most stupid do not change."

Comment. Advocates of the theory of three grades of nature, notably Wang Ch'ung, Chia I (201-169 B.C.),163 and Han Yü drawn support from this saying by equating the most intelligent with those born good, the most stupid with those born evil, and the rest born neutral. They overlooked the fact that this passage has to do not with nature but only with intelligence. Practically all modern Confucianists are agreed on this point. As Ch'eng I,164 Wang Yangming,165 Tai Chen (Tai Tung-Yüan, 1723-1777),166 and Juan Yüan167 all pointed out, it is not that they cannot change. It is simply that they are too intelligent to change downward or too stupid to change upward.

17:4. Confucius went to the city of Wu [where his disciple Tzu-yu was the magistrate] and heard the sound of stringed instruments and singing. With a gentle smile, the Master said, "Why use an ox-knife to kill a chicken [that is, why employ a serious measure like music to rule such a small town]?" Tzu-yu replied, "Formerly I heard you say, 'When the superior man has studied the Way, he loves men. When the inferior man has studied the Way, he is easy to employ.'" Confucius said, "My disciples, what I just said was only a joke."

17:6. Tzu-chang asked Confucius about humanity. Confucius said, "One who can practice five things wherever he may be is a man of humanity." Tzu-chang asked what the five are. Confucius said, "Earnestness, liberality, truthfulness, diligence, and generosity. If one is earnest, one will not be treated with disrespect. If one is liberal, one will win the hearts of all. If one is truthful, one will be trusted. If one is diligent, one will be successful. And if one is generous, one will be able to enjoy the service of others."

17:8. Confucius said, "Yu (Tzu-lu), have you heard about the six virtues168 and the six obscurations?" Tzu-lu replied, "I have not." Confucius said, "Sit down, then. I will tell you. One who loves humanity but not learning will be obscured by ignorance. One who loves wisdom but not learning will be obscured by lack of principle. One who loves faithfulness but not learning will be obscured by heartlessness. One who loves uprightness but not learning will be obscured by violence. One who loves strength of character but not learning will be obscured by recklessness."

17:9. Confucius said, "My young friends, why do you not study the odes? The odes can stimulate your emotions, broaden your observation, enlarge your fellowship, and express your grievances. They help you in your immediate service to your parents and in your more remote service to your rulers. They widen your acquaintance with the names of birds, animals, and plants."

17:19. Confucius said, "I do not wish to say anything." Tzu-kung said, "If you do not say anything, what can we little disciples ever learn to pass on to others?" Confucius said, "Does Heaven (T'ien, Nature) say anything? The four seasons run their course and all things are produced. Does Heaven say anything?"

Comment. This is usually cited to support the contention that Confucius did not believe in an anthropomorphic God but in Heaven which reigns rather than rules. In Neo-Confucianism, Heaven came to be identified with principle (li.)169

17:23. Tzu-lu asked, "Does the superior man170 esteem courage?" Confucius said, "The superior man considers righteousness (i) as the most important. When the superior man has courage but no righteousness, he becomes turbulent. When the inferior man has courage but no righteousness, he becomes a thief."

17:25. Confucius said, "Women and servants are most difficult to deal with. If you are familiar with them, they cease to be humble. If you keep a distance from them, they resent it."

Comment. From Confucius down, Confucianists have always considered women inferior.

18:6. Ch'ang-chü and Chieh-ni were cultivating their fields together. Confucius was passing that way and told Tzu-lu to ask them where the river could be forded. Ch'ang-chü said, "Who is the one holding the reins in the carriage?" Tzu-lu said, "It is K'ung Ch'iu (Confucius)." "Is he the K'ung Ch'iu of Lu?" "Yes." "Then he already knows where the river can be forded!" Tzu-lu asked Chieh-ni. Chieh-ni said, "Who are you, sir?" Tzu-lu replied, "I am Chung-yu (name of Tzu-lu)." "Are you a follower of K'ung Ch'iu of Lu?" "Yes." Chieh-ni said, "The whole world is swept as though by a torrential flood. Who can change it? As for you, instead of following one who flees from this man or that man, is it not better to follow those who flee the world altogether?" And with that he went on covering the seed without stopping. Tzu-lu went to Confucius and told him about their conversation. Confucius said ruefully, "One cannot herd with birds and beasts. If I do not associate with mankind, with whom shall I associate? If the Way prevailed in the world, there would be no need for me to change it."171

19:6. Tzu-hsia said, "To study extensively, to be steadfast in one's purpose, to inquire earnestly, and to reflect on what is at hand (that is, what one can put into practice)—humanity consists in these."

19:7. Confucius said, "The hundred artisans work in their works to perfect their craft. The superior man studies to reach to the utmost of the Way."

19:11. Tzu-hsia said, "So long as a man does not transgress the boundary line in the great virtues, he may pass and repass it in the small virtues."

Comment. Even Chu Hsi quoted someone who pointed out that this passage is not free from defect.

19:13. Tzu-hsia said, "A man who has energy to spare after studying should serve his state. A man who has energy to spare after serving his state should study."172

19:24. Shu-sun Wu-shu173 slandered Chung-ni (Confucius). Tzu-kung said, "It is no use. Chung-ni cannot be slandered. Other worthies are like mounds or small hills. You can still climb over them. Chung-ni, however, is like the sun and the moon that cannot be climbed over. Although a man may want to shut his eyes to the sun and the moon, what harm does it do to them? It would only show in large measure that he does not know his own limitations."


  1. Analects, 8:4; 10:4 and 8; 16:7. In the rest of this introduction, references to the Analects are given only in specific cases. For references on general subjects, see the analytical list at the end of this introduction. For discussion of the Analects, see below, n.11.
  2. Analects, 5:12.
  3. ibid., 17:2.…
  4. Analects, 15:28.
  5. Yao was a legendary ruler of the 3rd millennium B.C. Shun was his successor. Duke Chou (d. 1094) helped the founder of the Chou dynasty to consolidate the empire and establish the foundations of Chinese culture.
  6. For this concept, see Chan, "The Evolution of the Confucian Concept Jen," Philosophy East and West, 4 (1955), 295-319; also, see below, comment on Analects 12:22, and comments on the following: ch. 30, A; ch. 31, secs. 1, 11; ch. 32, sec. 42; ch. 34, A, treatise 1.
  7. Analects, 6:28.
  8. These accounts are found in the first—and still the standard—biography of Confucius, ch. 47 of the Shih chi. See French translation by Chavannes, Les mémoires historiques, vol. 5, pp. 299-300, 391-403, 420; or English translation by Lin Yutang, The Wisdom of Confucius, pp. 57, 88-91, 95.
  9. Traditionally believed to refer to the Six Classics, i.e., the Books of History, Odes, Changes, Rites, and Music, and the Spring and Autumn Annals. The Book of Music is now lost. For three of the others, see above, ch. 1, nn.4-6. The "six arts" are also understood to mean ceremonies, music, archery, carriage-driving, writing, and mathematics.
  10. The Analects is a collection of sayings by Confucius and his pupils pertaining to his teachings and deeds. It was probably put together by some of his pupils and their pupils. The name Lun-yü did not appear until the 2nd century B.C. At that time there were three versions of it, with some variations. Two of these have been lost. The surviving version is that of the state of Lu, where it circulated. It is divided into two parts, with ten books each. In the Ching-tien shih-wen (Explanation of Terms in the Classics) by Lu Te-ming (556-627), ch. 24, it is divided into 492 chapters. Chu Hsi combined and divided certain chapters, making a total of 482, one of which is divided into eighteen sections. In translations like Legge's Confucian Analects, and Waley's The Analects of Confucius, these divisions are taken as chapters, making 499. The same numbering is used in the following selections.

    The material is unsystematic, in a few cases repetitive, and in some cases historically inaccurate. However, it is generally accepted as the most authentic and reliable source of Confucian teachings. Chu Hsi grouped it together with the Book of Mencius, the Great Learning, and the Doctrine of the Mean as the "Four Books." Thereupon they became Classics. From 1313 to 1905, they served as the basis for civil service examinations, replacing the earlier Classics in importance.

  11. In the Lun-yü chu-shu (Commentary and Subcommentary on the Analects) in the Thirteen Classics Series.
  12. See below, comment on Analects, 2:18.
  13. Confucius' pupil whose private name was Jo (538-c.457 B.C.), thirteen years (some say thirty-three years) Confucius' junior. In the Analects, with minor exceptions, he and Tseng Ts'an are addressed as Tzu, an honorific for a scholar or gentleman, giving rise to the theory that the Analects was compiled by their pupils, who supplemented Confucius' sayings with theirs.
  14. Cf. below, 13:27.
  15. Tseng Ts'an (505-c.436 B.C.), pupil of Confucius, noted for filial piety, to whom are ascribed the Great Learning and the Book of Filial Piety.
  16. Ho Yen's interpretation: Whether I have transmitted to others what I myself have not practiced. This interpretation has been accepted by many.
  17. Wen, literally "patterns," is here extended to mean the embodiment of culture and the moral law (Tao)— that is, the Six Arts of ceremony, music, archery, carriage-driving, writing, and mathematics.
  18. To K'ung An-kuo (fl. 130 B.C.), quoted by Ho Yen, ku means "obscure," not "firm." The sentence would read, "If he studies, he will not be ignorant."
  19. Lun-yü shu (Subcommentary on the Analects). This is part of the Lun-yü chu-shu.
  20. Chung lun (Treatise on the Mean), pt. 1, sec. 5, SPTK, 1:21b.
  21. Quoted in Chu Hsi's Lun-yü huo-wen (Questions and Answers on the Analects), 1:20a, in Chu Tzu i-shu (Surviving Works of Chu Hsi).
  22. Lun-yü chu (Commentary on the Analects).
  23. Confucius' pupil, whose family name was Tuan-mu, private name Tz'u, and courtesy name Tzu-kung (520-c.450 B.C.). He was noted for eloquence and was thirty-one years younger than the Master. See Analects, 5:8 about him.
  24. An old edition has "happy with the Way."
  25. Ode no. 55. Describing the eloquence of a lover, but here taken by Tzu-kung to mean moral effort.
  26. Similar ideas are found in Analects, 14:32; 15:18, 20.
  27. See Ho Yen's Lun-yü chi-chieh and Chu Hsi's Lun-yü chi-chu.
  28. Cf. Analects, 15:4 and Lao Tzu, ch. 57.
  29. Odes, ode no. 297. Actually there are 305 odes in the book. The word ssu means "Ah!" in the poem but Confucius used it in its sense of "thought." For discussion of the Book of Odes, see above, ch. 1, n.5.
  30. The word ko means both to rectify (according to Ho Yen and most other commentators) and to arrive (according to Cheng Hsüan). In the latter sense, it can mean either "the people will arrive at goodness" or "the people will come to the ruler".…
  31. See Ch'eng Shu-te Lun-yü chi-shih (Collected Explanations of the Analects), 1943.
  32. Chu Hsi, Lun-yü chi-chu.
  33. A young noble, also styled Meng-sun, once studied ceremonies with Confucius.
  34. Confucius' pupil, whose family name was Fan, private name Hsü, and courtesy name Tzu-ch'ih (b. 515 B.C.).
  35. Not to disobey the principle of propriety, according to Hsing Ping; not to disobey moral principles, according to Chu Hsi; or not to obey parents, according to Huang K'an (448-545), Lun-yü i-shu (Commentary on the Meanings of the Analects).
  36. Son of Meng I Tzu.
  37. Another interpretation by Ma Jung (79-166), quoted by Ho Yen: A filial son does not do wrong. His parents' only worry is that he might become sick. About half of the commentators have followed him.
  38. Confucius' pupil. His family name was Yen, private name Yen, and courtesy name Tzu-yu (b. 506 B.C.).
  39. Alternative interpretations: (1) Even dogs and horses can support men; (2) Even dogs and horses can support their parents.
  40. Literally "an implement or utensil," ch'i means narrow usefulness rather than the ability to grasp fundamentals.
  41. Cf. below, 9:6.
  42. Cf. below, 4:22, 24; 14:29.
  43. Name of Confucius' pupil whose family name was Chung and courtesy name Tzu-lu (542-480 B.C.). He was only nine years younger than Confucius. He was noted for courage.
  44. The sentence may also mean: "Do you know what I teach you?"
  45. Courtesy name of Confucius' pupil, Chuan-sun Shih (503-c.450 B.C.).
  46. See also Analects, 4:22, 24; 5:9; 13:3; 14:29; 15:5; 18:8; and The Mean, chs. 8, 13.
  47. See below, ch. 35, B, sec. 5.
  48. A native of Lu, most probably not a pupil of Confucius.
  49. Great officer and commander-in-chief in the state of Wei.
  50. Tzu-kung's private name.
  51. Ruler of Confucius' native state of Lu (r. 509-495 B.C.).
  52. Hate here means dislike, without any connotation of ill will. See Great Learning, ch. 10, for an elaboration of the saying.
  53. The word e, evil, can also be read wu to mean hate or dislike, but it is hardly ever done.
  54. It is possible to interpret the phrase to mean "will not be surpassed by anyone," but few commentators chose it.…
  55. Analects, 9:4.
  56. ibid, 18:8.
  57. Mencius, 2A:2.
  58. ibid, 5B:1.
  59. See Liu Pao-nan, Lun-yü cheng-i.
  60. See Chu Hsi, Lun-yü chi-chu, and Chang Shih, Lun-yü chieh (Explanation of the Analects).
  61. See Ch'eng Shu-te, Lun-yü chi-shih, on this point.
  62. Literally "land," or one's shelter, food, etc.
  63. Private name of Tseng Tzu.
  64. The Ch'ing viewpoint is best represented in Wang Nien-sun (1744-1832), Kuang-ya shu-cheng (Textual Commentary on the Kuang-ya Dictionary).
  65. Chu Hsi, Lun-yü chi-chu. For discussion of chung-shu, see Appendix.
  66. I-shu (Surviving Works), 21B:1b, in ECCS.
  67. Lun-yü cheng-i. He is referring to Analects, 6:28.
  68. See other positive versions in Analects, 14:45; The Mean, ch. 13; Mencius, 1A:7. The negative version is found in Analects, 5:11; 12:2; 15:23; in The Mean, ch. 13; and in the Great Learning, ch. 10.
  69. See Analects, 2:14; 4:11, 16; 6:11; 7:36; 12:16; 13:23, 25, 26; 14:7, 24; 15:1, 20, 33; 17:4, 23.
  70. Cf. Great Learning, ch. 10.
  71. The term wen-chang can also mean literary heritage or simply the ancient Classics.
  72. The word hsing (nature) is mentioned elsewhere in the Analects only once, in 17:2.
  73. Confucius' favorite pupil, whose family name was Yen, private name Hui, and courtesy name Tzu-yüan (521-490 B.C.). He died at 32.
  74. Tzu-lu.
  75. The word "light" does not appear in the stone-engraved Classic of the T'ang dynasty and is probably a later addition.
  76. Another interpretation: For his own moral effort.
  77. This is Chu Hsi's interpretation. According to Hsing Ping, it would mean this: The old should be satisfied with me, friends should trust me, and the young should come to me.
  78. We don't know whether this was said before or after Yen Yüan's death.
  79. Analects, 5:12.
  80. Analects, 17:2.
  81. Quoted by Ho Yen.
  82. Lun-heng (Balanced Inquiries), ch. 5, SPPY, 2:2a. For English translation, see Forke, Lun-heng, vol. 1, p. 152.
  83. See Lun-yü chi-chu.
  84. Meaning especially ancestors.
  85. According to Lun-yü chi-chieh.
  86. According to Cheng Hsüan, Chu Hsi, and most commentators.
  87. See also Analects, 4:2; 12:22; 15:32.…
  88. See Analects, 9:28; 14:30; The Mean, ch. 20.
  89. Mencius, 2A:6; 6A:6.
  90. For the Confucian doctrine of the rectification of names, see below, comment on 13:3.
  91. This episode took place when Confucius was 57.
  92. See above comment on 4:15.
  93. An official of the Shang dynasty (1751-1112 B.C.) who loved to recite old stories.
  94. Analects, 2:11.
  95. See Fung, History of Chinese Philosophy, vol. 1, pp. 46-49.
  96. Cheng Hsüan's interpretation: From young men fifteen years old and upward. Cf. Analects, 15:38.
  97. The traditional interpretation of the word i (change) is the Book of Changes. The ancient Lu version of the Analects, however, has i (then) instead of i (change). Some scholars have accepted this version, which reads " … to study, then I may be.…" Modern scholars prefer this reading because they do not believe that the Book of Changes existed at the time. However, the fact that Confucius was thinking of the system of Change instead of the Book should not be ruled out.
  98. The word ya (often) was understood by Cheng Hsüan as standard, thus meaning that Confucius recited the Books of Odes, History, and Rites in correct pronunciation.
  99. Magistrate of the district She in the state of Ch'u, who assumed the title of duke by usurpation.
  100. According to Shih chi (Records of the Historian), PNP, 47:18a, Confucius was 62 when he made this remark. See Chavannes, trans., Les mémoires historiques, vol. 5, p. 361.
  101. A military officer in the state of Sung who attempted to kill Confucius by felling a tree. Confucius was then 59 years old.
  102. He would not take unfair advantage.
  103. Other interpretations: Act without the necessity of knowledge; invent stories about history without real knowledge of it; write without knowledge.
  104. See Analects, 12:1.
  105. According to Ma Jung, quoted by Ho Yen, Yen Yüan had died long before.
  106. About one-third of a mile.
  107. The same idea is expressed in 14:27-28.
  108. "Lun-yu lun jen lun" (A Treatise on Jen in the Analects), Yen-ching-shih chi (Collected Works of the Yen-ching Study), 1st collection, 8:21a.
  109. "Perplexing Passage in the Confucian Analects," Journal of the American Oriental Society, 53 (1933),350.
  110. "Lun Yü IX, 1," ibid., 54 (1934), 83.
  111. The people of K'uang, mistaking Confucius for Yang Hu, their enemy whom Confucius resembled in appearance, surrounded him. This happened when Confucius was 56.
  112. Founder of the Chou dynasty.
  113. The term chiang-sheng is also understood to mean a great sage, or almost a sage.
  114. Cf. Analects, 2:12.
  115. Mencius, 4B:18.
  116. Ch'un-ch'iu fan-lu (Luxuriant Gems of the Spring and Autumn Annals), ch. 73, SPTK, 16:3a.
  117. Hsün Tzu, ch. 28, SPTK, 20:5b-6a.…
  118. Name of Confucius' pupil, Tzu-chang.
  119. His family name was Pu and courtesy name Tzu-hsia (507-420 B.C.). Also Confucius' pupil.
  120. Confucius' pupil. His private name was Ch'ih and courtesy name Tzu-hua (b. 509 B.C.). Jan Yu (522-c. 462), whose private name was Ch'iu and courtesy name Jan Tzu, was also a pupil.
  121. Tseng Tzu's father, whose private name was Tien and courtesy name Hsi. He was also a Confucian pupil.
  122. Lun-heng, ch. 45; SPPY, 15:10a. Cf. Forke, Lun-Heng, vol. 2, p. 235.
  123. Ch'uan-hsi lu (Instructions for Practical Living), sec. 257. See Chan, trans., Instructions for Practical Living.
  124. The word k'o was understood by Ma Jung as "to control" but Chu Hsi interpreted it to mean "to master," that is, to conquer the self since it is an embodiment of selfish desires. Here is another example of the sharply different approaches to the Analects between the Han Confucianists and the Sung Neo-Confucianists. The Ch'ing Confucianists, such as Juan Yüan, violently opposed Chu Hsi, as is to be expected.
  125. An old saying. Other interpretations: (1) To be able to return to propriety by oneself; (2) to discipline oneself and to act according to propriety.
  126. Other interpretations: (1) Ascribe humanity to him; (2) will follow him.
  127. Confucius' pupil, whose family name was Jan, private name Yung, and courtesy name Chung-kung. He was noted for excellent character.
  128. Paraphrasing two ancient sayings.
  129. See above, comment on 4:15.
  130. Confucius' pupil, whose family name was Hsiang.
  131. Meaning that his brother Huan T'ui (see above, 7:32) was not worthy to be a brother.
  132. Insertion according to Liu Pao-nan.
  133. Ordinarily meaning China, none doubts that here it means the entire world.
  134. Some say that the last sentence is Tzu-hsia's utterance.
  135. He reigned from 546 to 489 B.C.
  136. A great official of the state of Lu. He assumed power of government by usurpation in 492 B.C.
  137. Cf. below, 13:6.
  138. Cf. above, 12:17.
  139. See below, 16:1.
  140. According to Kung An-Kuo, kung is not the name but is used as a noun, meaning the body, and that the man walked erect.
  141. The word ching here does not mean reverence, which assumes an object, but seriousness, which is a state of mind. See Appendix.
  142. Cf. above, 2:14.
  143. This is Chu Hsi's understanding, which has been satisfactory to most readers.
  144. Confucius' pupil.
  145. This is the general interpretation, based on Huang K'an and commonly accepted before the Sung times. According to Ho Yen, higher things mean the fundamentals and the lower things mean secondary things. Chu Hsi, consistent with his own philosophy, interpreted the word ta not to mean to understand but to reach, and said that the superior man reaches the higher level because he follows the Principle of Nature while the inferior man reaches the lower level because he is carried away by selfish human desires. Cf. below, 14:37.
  146. See Wang Yang-ming, Ch'uan-hsi lu, in Chan, trans., Instructions for Practical Living, secs. 171 and 191 for his discussion of this topic.
  147. There is a general agreement that the higher level refers to matters of Heaven, such as Heaven's decree (K'ung An-kuo and Huang K'an) and the Principle of Nature (Chu Hsi), and that the lower level refers to mundane matters. Cf. above, 14:24.
  148. The outer gate of the city of Lu. Cf. below, 18:6.
  149. See above, comment on 4:15.
  150. For the idea of a central thread, see above, 4:15.
  151. The term is the same as in Taoism, wu-wei. See above, comment on 2:1
  152. Cf. Mencius, 6A:10.
  153. Cf. Great Learning, ch. 9.
  154. The Mean, ch. 27.
  155. According to Pao Hsien (6 B.C.-A.D. 65), quoted by Ho Yen.
  156. Cf. above, 7:7.
  157. The historical background in this chapter may be inaccurate, but the teaching in this selection has never been questioned.
  158. Variously interpreted as sages or rulers. It is more likely a Platonic philosopher-king, for in the Confucian system, the sage should be a ruler and the ruler should be a sage.
  159. Cf. The Mean, ch. 20.
  160. I-shu, 8:2a.
  161. Mencius, 6A:7.
  162. See above, comment on 6:17.…
  163. Hsin-shu (New Treatises), ch. 5, sec. 3, SPPY, 5:7a.…
  164. I-shu, 18:17b.
  165. Ch'uan-hsi lu, sec. 109. See Chan, trans., Instructions for Practical Living.
  166. Meng Tzu tzu-i shu-cheng (Commentary on the Meanings of Terms in the Book of Mencius), sec. 22.
  167. Hsing-ming ku-hsün (Classical Interpretations of Nature and Destiny), in Yen-ching-shih chi, 1st collection, 10:16b.
  168. The word yen, ordinarily meaning saying, here refers to the virtues mentioned below.
  169. Cf. Lao Tzu, ch. 23.
  170. In the Analects sometimes "superior man" means a ruler and "inferior man" means a common person. It is not clear which is meant here. But the moral is the same.
  171. This episode took place when Confucius was 64. Cf. above, 14:41.
  172. Cf. above, 1:6.
  173. Official-in-chief of Lu.

Wing-tsit Chan (essay date 1975)

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SOURCE: "Chinese and Western Interpretations of Jen (Humanity)," in Journal of Chinese Philosophy, Vol. 2, No. 2, March, 1975, pp. 107-128.

[In the following essay, Chan compares Chinese and Western interpretations of jen, the idea of humanity or humaneness, which is a central concept in Confucian thought.]

The concept of jen (humanity, love, humaneness; pronounced ren) is a central concept of Confucian thought and has gone through a long evolution of more than 2000 years. The story of that evolution has been told elsewhere.1 The purpose here is to see how the Chinese have understood the concept and how the West has interpreted it. We shall discuss the Chinese understanding under seven headings.

(1) Confucius (551-479 B.C.) the First to Conceive of Jen as the General Virtue. The word jen is not prominent in pre-Confucian Classics. It does not appear in the 'Book of Yü' or the 'Book of Hsia' in the Book of History and only twice in its 'Book of Shang' where the word was originally JEN (man) and three times in its 'Book of Chou'. It is not found in the three 'Eulogies' of the Book of Odes and only twice elsewhere in the book besides once written Jen.2 It is found in eight passages in the Book of Changes, all in the Appendixes which are generally regarded as post-Confucian and none in the text itself which is believed to be pre-Confucian. In sharp contrast to these pre-Confucian Classics, the Confucian Analects mentions jen 105 times in 58 out of 499 chapters. Thus more than ten percent of the Analects is devoted to the discussion of jen, more than those on filial piety, Heaven, or rules of propriety.3

What is more important, Confucius looked at jen in a new light. In pre-Confucian Classics, whether the word is written jen or JEN, it means benevolence, a particular virtue, along with other particular virtues like wisdom, liberality, etc. Until the time of Confucius, the Chinese had not developed a concept of the general virtue which is universal and fundamental from which all particular virtues ensue. But Confucius was propagating a comprehensive ethical doctrine which must have a basic virtue on which all particular virtues are rooted. In this respect Confucius not only took a great step forward but also built Chinese ethics on a solid foundation. It is true that in a number of cases Confucius still treated jen as a particular virtue. When he said, "The man of jen is naturally at ease with jen: the man of wisdom cultivates jen for its advantage" (Analects, 4:2) and "The man of wisdom delights in water; the man of jen delights in mountains," (6:12), jen is coupled with wisdom. When he said, "A man of jen necessarily possesses courage but a man of courage does not necessarily have jen", (14:5) jen and courage are considered as two separate virtues. In his famous saying. "The man of wisdom has no perplexity; the man of jen has no worry; the man of courage has no fear", (9:28, 14:30) jen is one of three 'great virtues'. And in talking about the six virtues and six obscurations, (17:8) jen is one of the six. In all these cases, Confucius was following tradition in understanding jen as a specific virtue. In this sense, jen may be translated as 'benevolence', 'kindness', or even 'love' or 'humanity' so long as it is understood as a particular virtue.

The great majority of Confucius' sayings on jen in the Analects, however, goes beyond this idea of particularity. When he said, "A man who is strong, resolute, simple, and slow to speak is near to jen", (13:27) he obviously meant that jen involves many moral qualities. The same is true of his utterance, "One who can practice five things wherever he may be is a man of jen—earnestness, liberality, truthfulness, diligence, and generosity", (17:6) or "When one has avoided aggresiveness, pride, resentment, and greed, he may be called a man of jen", (14:2) or "To study extensively, to be steadfast in one's purpose, to inquire earnestly, and to reflect on what is at hand—jen consists in these". (19:6) In saying that "A man of jen is respectful in private life, is serious in handling affairs, and is loyal in dealing with orders" (13:19) he clearly thought of jen as the moral standard governing one's entire life. He also said, "If a man is not jen, what has he to do with ceremonies? If he is not jen, what has he to do with music?" (3:3) Thus jen even embraces ceremonies and music. The most important sayings on jen, however, are these: When a pupil asked about jen, Confucius answered, "Do not do to others what you do not want them to do to you". (12:2) When another pupil asked about jen, he said, "To master oneself and to return to propriety is jen". (12:1) And when a third pupil asked him about jen, he replied, "A man of jen, wishing to establish his own character, also establishes the character of others, and wishing to be prominent himself, also helps others to be prominent". (6:28) To master oneself and to establish one's character means self-perfection, and to return to (or restore) propriety and to establish the character of others mean to bring about a perfect society. Undoubtedly the virtue of jen involves the perfection of others as well of oneself. Significantly the word jen is written in two parts, one a figure of a human being, meaning oneself, and the other with two horizontal strokes, meaning human relations. Jen is therefore the moral ideal whether the self or society is concerned. In fact, one involves the other. In short, jen is the general virtue which is basic, universal, and the source of all specific virtues. "If you set your mind on jen", Confucius said, "you will be free from evil". (4:4) "Only the man of jen knows how to love people and hate people", (4:3) for he has reached the highest level of morality. Needless to say that 'hate' here does not mean ill will but the refusal to tolerate evil. With the general virtue established, Chinese ethics entered upon a higher stage, for virtue as a whole can now be understood and particular virtues can now have a foundation.

(2) Jen as Love. Although Confucius' concept of jen as the general virtue is unmistakable, he never defined it. This responsibility fell upon his followers. In the Doctrine of the Mean traditionally attributed to his grandson Tzu-ssu (492-431 B.C.), it is said, "Jen is JEN", (Ch. 20) that is, jen is simply man, or rather the distinguishing characteristic of man. Mencius (372-289 B.C.?) expanded it by saying, "Jen is JEN. When embodied in man's conduct, it is the Way (Tao)." (Mencius, 7B:16) He also said, "Jen is man's mind". (6A:11) Commentators generally agree that by the mind of man he meant man's feeling of love.

The idea that jen means love began with Confucius. When a pupil asked him about jen. Confucius answered by saying that "It is to love men". (Analects, 12:22) This line of thought was continued by Mencius who said, "The man jen loves others". (Mencius, 4B:28) He said further, "A man of jen extends his love from those he loves to those he does not love". (7B:1) Again, "The man of jen loves all". (7A:46) Generally speaking, from the time of Confucius through the Han Dynasty (206 B.C.-A.D. 220), jen was understood in the sense of love. According to Mo Tzu (468-376 B.C.?) "Jen is to love" and to "embody love".4 To Chuang Tzu (c. 369-286 B.C.), "To love people and benefit things is called jen".5 According to Hsün Tzu (313-238 B.C.?), "Jen is love".6 In the words of Han Fei Tzu (d. 233 B.C.), "Jen means that in one's heart one joyously loves others".7 In the Book of Rites, it is said, "Jen is to love".8 In the Kuo-yü (Conservations of the states), it is said, "To love people is to be able to be jen".9 Tung Chung-shu (176-104 B.C.) was more explicit when he said, "Jen is the name for loving people" and "Jen is to love mankind".10 A little later, Yang Hsiung (53 B.C.-18 A.D.) said, "Jen is to see and love" and "To love universally is called jen.11 From all these it is clear that the interpretation of jen as love was a consistent tradition in ancient Confucianism. It is for this reason, no doubt, that the Shuo-wen (Explanation of words) of 100 A.D. equated jen with ch'in (affection, endearing).

The above quotations show that not only the Confucian School understood jen as love but the Moist, Taoist, and Legalist Schools as well. However, love to Mo Tzu was universal love, whereas love in the Confucian School meant love with distinctions, degree, or grades. On this score the two schools stood diametrically opposed and engaged in one of the most bitter debates in the history of Chinese thought. In Mencius' eyes, the Moist doctrine was "a great flood and ferocious animals". He cried, "Mo Tzu advocated universal love, which means a denial of the special relationship with the father". (3B:9) To the Confucianists, jen must rest on the foundation of affection to relatives. According to a Confucian pupil, "Filial piety and brotherly respect are roots of jen". (Analects, 1:20) After the Doctrine of the Mean describes jen as the distinguishing characteristic of man, it immediately continues to say that "The greatest application of it is in being affectionate toward relatives". (Ch. 20) This is why Mencius said, "The actuality (or substance) of jen consists in serving one's parents". (4A:27) The result is his well-known formula:

In regard to [inferior] creatures, the superior man loves them but is not humane (jen) to them (that is, showing them the feeling due human beings). In regard to people generally, he is humane to them but not affectionate. He is affectionate to his parents and humane to all people. He is humane to all people and feels love for all.


Put briefly, this is the Confucian doctrine of love with distinctions or grades. From Mencius' point of view, when the Moists regarded people's parents as their own parents, they had two foundations, (3A:45) for he believed that "Heaven produced creatures" in such a way as to provide them with one foundation (such as parents being the foundation of men) but the Moists would have two foundations, that is, parents and other people. He argued that "It is the nature of things to be unequal". (3A:4) Applied to human relations, some are close and others are remote, and therefore the intensity of feeling varies. From the one foundation, that is, one's parents, one's love extends to other relatives, other people, and finally to all creatures. The point is that love is the same for all but its application varies with different relations. Confucianists start with parents because the relationship with parents is the first relationship in human life and the indispensable one, for one could be without other relations. From the practical point of view, it is also the nearest. As a matter of common practice, although one should have good will toward all, one greets first of all those nearest to him. It is the application that has degrees or grades, not love itself, for it is unthinkable to have half love or quarter love. The repeated sayings by the Confucianists that jen is to love all should make the all-embracing character of jen perfectly clear.

Partly because Mencius had to clarify why application must vary while love is the same, he advocated the doctrine of righteousness (i), or what is correct and proper, along with jen. He spoke of jen and i together many times.12 He said, "Humanity is man's mind and righteousness is man's path". (6A:11) He also said, "Humanity is the peaceful abode of man and righteousness is his straight path". (4A:10) In other words, the general virtue of humanity has to be carried out in a proper way. This does not mean that humanity is internal whereas righteousness is external, an issue on which Mencius debated vigorously with Kao Tzu. (6A:4) Rather, humanity is the substance while righteousness is the function. In the functioning of anything, there is necessarily priority in time or degree in intensity. The substance does not vary but its operations differ in different situations. The major conflict between Moist universal love and Confucian love for all does not lie in the substance of love but in whether or not there should be differences in application. For the Moists there should be none but the Confucianists insisted that there should and must be. This has been a persistent theme in the Confucian tradition. The upshot of Moist universal love is universalism in which no distinction is made between one's own parents and other people's parents, thus denying any special relationship with one's own parents. When Mencius attacked Mo Tzu and his followers as having no parents he was not merely rhetorical. Instead, he was defending a central Confucian doctrine on human relations.

(3) Jen as Universal Love. As a result of the Burning of Books by the Ch'in rulers in 213 B.C., the Moist School virtually disappeared. After Buddhism entered China, its doctrine of universal salvation for all eventually became prevalent. It reached its climax in the T'ang Dynasty (618-907). Scholars who talked about Tao, virtue, humanity, and righteousness followed either the Taoists or the Buddhists. Being greatly alarmed, the most outstanding Confucianist of the dynasty, Han Yü (768-824), took it upon himself to "clarify the Way of ancient kings". In his Inquiry on the Way he loudly declared, "Universal love is called humanity". And he advocated 'burning the books' of the Taoists and Buddhists and "made their lodgings (monasteries) human abodes again".13 Some writers have claimed that Han Yü's doctrine of universal love is the same as the universal love of the Moists and the doctrine of universal salvation of the Buddhists. If so, what is the difference and why did Han Yü feel he had to attack them?

It should be made clear that the translation of 'universal love' in the case of Han Yü is from the Chinese term po-ai. The Moist term is chien-ai, literally 'mutual love'. Since the Moist concept is intended to cover all mankind, the translation 'universal love' is perfectly proper. However, although the translation 'universal love' has been used by practically all translators for both Han Yü's po-ai and Mo Tzu's chien-ai, Mo Tzu repeatedly emphasized the idea of "mutual love and mutual benefit".14 There is no question that for Mo Tzu the practical benefit is a key factor in mutual love. This utilitarian motive is utterly different from that of Confucianism where humanity is the natural unfolding of man's nature.

The term po-ai comes from the Kuo-yü where a note to the 'Conversations of Chou' says, "Jen is universal love for men".15 It also appears in the Classic of Filial Piety (Ch. 7). It is also found in the Chung-lun (Treatise on the Mean) by Hsü Kan (170-217), where it is said, "By the exercise of humanity the superior man loves universally".16 Thus the concept of universal love is originally Confucian and there was no need to borrow from the outside. Han Yü did not attack the Buddhists and Taoists only but also Mo Tzu and Yang Chu (440-360 B.C.?). The reason he attacked them is that while they taught humanity, they neglected righteousness. This is why he began his Inquiry on the Way by saying, "Universal love is called humanity. To practice this in the proper manner is called righteousness". What is proper involves the question of method, a sense of propriety, and a relative degree of intensity. Han Yü granted the Taoists and the Buddhists the feeling of love but he insisted that the lack of righteousness led to the neglect of specific human relations and culminated in neglecting society in favor of a life of quietude and inactivity with the result that economic production was undermined and life itself was endangered. In his view, the Buddhist doctrine of universal salvation is empty and therefore negative whereas the Confucian doctrine is concrete and therefore positive. Actually Han Yü did not contribute much to the development of the Confucian concept of jen, but in affirming both the universal and particular aspects of jen and in stressing its solid and active character, he did much to strengthen the tradition.

(4) The Identification of Jen with Nature and Principle and the Doctrine of 'Principle is One but Its Manifestations are Many' (li-i fen-shu). Both Mencius and Han Yü spoke of humanity and righteousness together because they wanted it to be clear that while humanity is universal in nature, being extended to the entire human race, its applications in different relations and circumstances require specific expressions. However, they did not provide a philosophical basis for this doctrine. For this we have to wait for the Neo-Confucian philosopher Chang Tsai (1020-1077). The philosophical basis of jen may be traced to the saying in the Doctrine of the Mean, "Humanity is [the distinguishing characteristic of] man" (20) and Mencius' saying, "Humanity is the mind of man". (6A:11) Mencius also described humanity as the "The mind that cannot bear [to see the suffering of] others, that is, "the feeling of commiseration" which is "the beginning of humanity"". (2A:6) Here humanity is identified with the nature of man. Han Dynasty Confucianists generally considered humanity to belong to the nature of man and love to belong to man's feeling. For example, in the Po-hu t'ung (The comprehensive discussion in the White Tiger Hall), it is said that "In man's nature there is humanity", but love is considered as one of six feelings.17 In his Inquiry on Human Nature, Han Yü also considers humanity as nature and love as feeling.18 To Neo-Confucianists of the Sung Dynasty (960-1279), Humanity, principle, and nature are three in one.

The relationship among these three as well as between them and the doctrine of principle being one but its manifestations being many is best expressed, though only implicitly, in Chang Tsai's Western Inscription. It reads:

Heaven is my father and Earth is my mother.… Therefore that which fills the universe I regard as my body and that which directs the universe I consider as my nature. All people are my brothers and sisters and all things are my companions.… The sage identifies his character with that of Heaven and Earth.… He who disobeys [the Principle of Nature] violates virtue. He who destroys humanity is a robber.… One who knows the principle of transformation will skillfully carry forward the undertakings [of Heaven and Earth].… 19

Though a short essay, the Western Inscription is one of the most important writings in Neo-Confucianism. As Yang Shih (1053-1135) told us, Chang Tsai's purpose in writing the essay was to urge us to seek humanity.20 Yang Shih said,

The meaning of the Western Inscription is that principle is one but its manifestations are many. If we know that principle is one, we understand why there is humanity and if we know manifestations are many, we understand why there is righteousness. By manifestations being many is meant, as Mencius has said, to extend affection for relatives to humaneness for people and love for all creatures. Since functions are different, the application [of humanity] cannot be without distinctions. Some may say that in this case substance (one principle) and function (many manifestations) are two different things. My answer is that function is never separate from substance. Take the case of the body. When all members of the body are complete, that is substance. In its operation, shoes cannot be put on the head and a hat cannot be worn by the feet. Thus when we speak of substance, functions are already involved in it.21

Chu Hsi (1130-1200) made it clearer. He said:

There is nothing in the entire realm of creatures that does not regard Heaven as the father and Earth as the mother. This means that the principle is one. … Each regards his parents as his own parents and his son as his own son. This being the case, how can the principle not be manifested as the many? When the intense affection for parents is extended to broaden the impartiality that knows no ego, and when sincerity in serving one's parents leads to the understanding of the way to serve Heaven, then everywhere there is the operation that the principle is one but its manifestations are many.22

(5) The Man of Humanity Regards Heaven and Earth and the Ten Thousand Things as One Body. Chang Tsai said in his Western Inscription, "That which fills the universe I regard as my body and that which directs the universe I consider as my nature". The meaning of this is that one extends his affection for parents and relatives to all things until one, Heaven, Earth, and all things form one body. In his essay On Understanding the Nature of Jen, Ch'eng Hao (1032-1085) said, "The student must first of all understand the nature of jen. The man of jen forms one body with all things without any differentiation".23 Elsewhere he said,

A book on medicine describes paralysis of the four limbs as absence of jen.24 This is an excellent description. The man of jen regards Heaven and Earth and all things as one body. To him there is nothing that is not himself. Since he has recognized all things as himself, can there be any limit to his humanity? If things are not parts of the self, naturally they have nothing to do with it. As in the case of paralysis of the four limbs, the vital force no longer penetrates them, and therefore they are no longer parts of the self.… Therefore, to be charitable and to assist all things is the function of the sage. It is most difficult to describe jen. Hence Confucius merely said that the man of jen, "wishing to establish his own character, also establishes the character of others, and wishing to be prominent himself, also helps others to be prominent."25

This doctrine of forming one body with all things is a cardinal one in the Neo-Confucianism of the Sung and Ming (1368-1644) Dynasties. From Ch'eng Hao, his brother Ch'eng I (1033-1107), to Chu Hsi, Lu Hsiang-shan (1139-1193) and Wang Yang-ming (1472-1529), they all advocated it. In Wang Yang-ming, the relationship between the concept of jen and this doctrine is the most direct. He said,

The great man regards Heaven and Earth and the myriad things as one body.… That the great man can regard Heaven, Earth, and the myriad things as one body is not because he deliberately wants to do so, but because it is natural to the humane nature of his mind that he does so.… Therefore when he sees a child about to fall into a well, he cannot help a feeling of alarm and commiseration.26 This shows that his humanity forms one body with the child.… Even when he sees tiles and stones shattered and crushed, he cannot help a feeling of regret. This shows that his humanity forms one body with tiles and stones. This means that even the mind of the small man necessarily has the humanity that forms one body with all. Such a mind is rooted in his Heaven-endowed nature and is naturally intelligent, clear, and not beclouded.27

In Ch'eng Hao's thinking, jen is similar to the vital power of the body which penetrates the entire body while in the thinking of Wang Yang-ming, in the clear character of jen there is neither division nor obstruction. In both cases, there is in jen the natural power of spontaneous flowing to the point of filling the entire universe. Implicit in this idea is that jen is a creative force, a power to grow and to give life.

(6) Jen and the Process of Production and Reproduction (Recreation and Re-creation, sheng-sheng). The principle of production and reproduction is a long tradition in the history of Chinese thought. The idea of production goes back to the Book of Changes where it is said, "The great virtue of Heaven and Earth is production".28 In the Comprehensive Discussion on the White Tiger Hall, productivity is ascribed to jen. "The man of jen loves productions", it says.29 Chou Tun-i said, "To grow things is jen".30 However, the Ch'eng brothers were the ones who definitely interpreted jen as the power to produce. To Ch'eng Hao, "The will to grow in all things is most impressive.… This is jen"31 And according to his brother Ch'eng I, "The mind is like seeds. Their characteristic of growth is jen".32 Here the interpretation of yew is based on its common meaning as seeds. It is not to be taken as merely a pun. Rather, it is an extension of the meaning of jen as love or commiseration to include the characteristic of growth, for only with the creative force of growth can one gradually embrace all things and form one body with the universe. Hence their pupil Hsieh Liang-tso (1050-1103) said, "The seeds of peaches and apricots that can grow are called jen. It means that there is the will to grow. If we infer from this, we will understand what jen is."33 For this reason, Ch'eng I said,

Origination in the Four Characters (of Origination, Flourishing, Advantage, and Firmness in the process of Change) is comparable to humanity in the Five Constant Virtues (of humanity, righteousness, propriety, wisdom, and faithfulness). Separately speaking, it is one of the several, but collectively speaking, it embraces all the four.34

Jen naturally gives rise to the other Constant Virtues just as Origination in the spring naturally leads to the successive stages of Flourishing in the summer, Advantage in the autumn, and Firmness in the winter. Hence philosopher Ch'eng said, "Jen is the whole body whereas the other four Constant Virtues are the four limbs".35 Because of the characteristic to grow and to produce, there is the sense of commiseration that cannot bear the suffering of others, the desire to establish the character of others as well as that of oneself, the extension of affection for parents to the love of all creatures, and the goal to form one body with Heaven, Earth, and all things. This is why Wang Yang-ming said that the man of jen does not deliberately form one body but it is because of the nature of his jen that he does so. From this, it is clear that jen is creative and as such is active.

Jen was interpreted as impartiality by Chou Tun-i (1017-1073)36 but impartiality is merely an attitude; its nature is passive. For this reason, Ch'eng I said,

Essentially speaking, the way of jen may be expressed in one word, namely, impartiality. However, impartiality is but the principle of jen; it should not be equated with jen itself. When one makes impartiality the substance of his person, that is jen. Because of his impartiality, there will be no distinction between him and others.37

Hsieh Liang-tso understood jen as consciousness or awareness. He said, "When there is the consciousness of pain in the case of illness, we call it jen".38 This theory sounds like that of Ch'eng Hao who considered the paralysis of the four limbs as an absence of jen. However, Hsieh's emphasis is on the state of mind. This can be seen from his saying, "Jen is the awareness of pain (in case of illness). The Confucianists call it jen while the Buddhists call it consciousness."39 By equating jen with Buddhist consciousness, it is obvious that Hsieh's emphasis is on tranquillity. Such a Buddhistic doctrine can hardly be attractive to Neo-Confucianists. In criticism of it, Ch'eng I said, "One who is not jen is not conscious of anything. But it is incorrect to consider consciousness as jen."40 Later Chu Hsi frankly stated, "In over-emphasizing the concept of consciousness, Heieh Liang-tso seems to be expounding the doctrine of the Buddhist Meditation School".41 The main defect of the interpretation of jen as impartiality or consciousness is that it lacks the creative character of jen as the process of production and reproduction.

(7) Jen as 'the Character of the Mind and the Principle of Love'. As to how jen can produce and reproduce, the answer has been provided by Chu Hsi. This is what he said:

The mind of Heaven and Earth is to produce things.42 In the production of man and things, they receive the mind of Heaven and Earth as their mind.43 Therefore, with reference to the character of the mind, although it embraces and penetrates all and leaves nothing to be desired, nevertheless, one word will cover all, namely, jen.… In discussing the excellence of man's mind, it is said, "Jen is man's mind".44 … What mind is this? In Heaven and Earth it is the mind to produce things infinitely. In man it is the mind to love people gently and to benefit things.… In my theory, jen is described as the principle of love.45

What Chu Hsi meant by the 'character of the mind' and 'principle of love' is that the human mind is endowed with the principle of production and reproduction. That is its nature and its substance. When that principle is expressed in love, respect, etc., these are the feelings and the function of the mind. When the mind to produce things is extended throughout the universe, one will form one body with Heaven, Earth, and all things. The various concepts of jen are here synthesized and the Neo-Confucian doctrine of jen reaches its climax.

From the survey above, it can readily be seen that the concept of jen is very profound and extensive. Western studies of it may be said to have begun in 1662 when the Great Learning was translated. The Doctrine of the Mean was translated in 1667 and the Analects in 1687, all in Latin. The three Classics were rendered into English in 1688 and into French three years later. When in 1711 the Book of Mencius was translated into Latin, the Four Books began to attract the attention of Western intellectuals. In 1881, the English missionary James Legge translated the Four Books into English and published them in Hong Kong. He secured the help of Confucian scholar Wang T'ao (1828-1897) and consulted the commentaries of Chu Hsi. Inevitably Chu Hsi's interpretation of the Confucian Classics dominated the translation. Legge's work is scholarly and generally accurate and after a hundred years is still considered as a standard work. Its influence in England and America has been great. In other words, the West has been reading and studying to some extent the Confucian doctrine of jen for some three hundred years. What has been its understanding? What has been its appraisal? And what is its tendency? From the survey above, we may roughly draw these conclusions: (1) Although jen as the general virtue was understood from the very early days, the fact that jen is a central concept in Confucianism is beginning to be appreciated only recently. (2) The West had always considered the Confucian Golden Rule as negative, contrasted with that of Christianity which is considered to be positive. There has been a turn around but not quite complete. (3) The West has been favorable to the Moist doctrine of universal love and critical of the Confucian doctrine of love with distinctions. The reason for this is that the West has not studied the Neo-Confucian doctrine of principle being one and manifestations being many. (4) In the last thirty years, Western scholars have gradually analyzed the concept of jen in its various meanings. This is a most encouraging development. Nevertheless, because Western study of Neo-Confucianism developed only after World War II, there are still misunderstandings that need to be corrected and important aspects of jen that need to be expounded. These may be discussed as follows:

(1) Jen and the General Virtue. From the very early days, Catholic fathers had translated jen as 'humanitas', probably based on the saying in the Doctrine of the Mean and in the Book of Mencius that "Jen is [the distinguishing characteristic of] man". In his translation, Legge took great care to distinguish jen as a special virtue and jen as the general, basic virtue, rendering the former as 'benevolence' and the latter as 'perfect virtue', 'true virtue', and 'the good'. Clearly the Catholic fathers and Legge knew that jen denoted a universal virtue. However, in the last hundred years, few Western scholars understood jen in this sense but mostly as a particular virtue in the sense of benevolence or kindness. Consequently 'benevolence' has been almost the standard translation. Even as late as 1958, in his excellent work on the Ch'eng brothers entitled Two Chinese Philosophers: Ch'eng Ming-tao [Ch'eng Hao] and Ch'eng Yi-ch'uan [Ch'eng I], A.C. Graham chose to translate jen as 'benevolence'.46 There are two reasons for the failure to understand jen as the general virtue. On the one hand, the West has not yet recognized that jen is a center, or rather the center, of Confucian ethics and has regarded Legge's translation of jen as 'perfect virtue', etc. as merely general descriptions. The upshot is that jen as a particular virtue has been prominent whereas jen as the universal virtue has remained in the background at best. Another reason is that Neo-Confucian discussions and debates on the concept have not been well known in the West. Graham's discussion of the basic concepts of the Ch'eng brothers is penetrating. He may have had in mind benevolence as a general virtue, but to him benevolence "covers those virtues which distinguish first the gentleman from the peasant, later the civilized man from savages and beasts".47 This is good as far as Mencius' doctrine of jen is concerned but Neo-Confucian discussions on jen as production and reproduction and jen as seeds have been overlooked. In his translation of the Analects in 1938, Arthur Waley translated jen as 'Goodness' with a capital letter and carefully noted that "Jen in the Analects means 'good' in an extremely wide and general sense."48 Undoubtedly he meant that jen is the general virtue embracing all other particular virtues. However, he also said that jen in the sense of humanity is totally absent from the Analects. What happened was that Waley opposed Chu Hsi's interpretation of Confucianism and refused to accept Chu Hsi's interpretation of jen as the character of the mind and the principle of love. Thus Waley's understanding of jen is still onesided.

In the last ten years or so the most popular translations of jen have been 'human-heartedness' and 'love'. No doubt the former is based on Mencius' dictum that "Jen is man's mind (or heart)" and the latter on pre-Neo-Confucian interpretations. To the extent that both 'human heartedness' and 'love' indicate the general character of jen, they are acceptable. However, the description of jen as human heartedness represents only the interpretation of Mencius and ignores later interpretations. What is more important, human-heartedness is merely a state of mind, whereas the Confucian tradition emphasizes jen as an activity. As to the rendering of 'love', the word should be reserved for the Chinese word ai which means love. Besides, as the Ch'eng brothers said, "Love is feeling while jen is nature",49 and the the two should not be confused. This, I believe, was why Chu Hsi said that jen is "the principle of love" but not love itself. From all these considerations, I believe if we have the entire history of Confucian thought in mind and take care of all important ideas involved in the concept of jen, the best translation for it is 'humanity' of 'humaneness'. That is to say, use 'benevolence' for jen as a particular virtue and 'humanity' for jen as the general virtue. In this way the homonym of jen as virtue and JEN as man, both in pronunciation and in meaning, will be preserved. This will take in the idea that jen is both nature and principle as taught by Sung and Ming Neo-Confucianists. When Lin Yutang rendered jen in the Analects as 'true manhood',50 and when Peter Boodberg, noting that the word jen consists of two parts, one meaning an individual man and the other meaning two (human relations), rendered it as 'co-humanity',51 they expressed the essential meaning.

(2) The Golden Rule and the Silver Rule. Before the twentieth century, the introduction of Confucianism into the West and its study were almost completely done by Christian missionaries. They liked to contrast Confucianism and Christianity, naturally in favor of the latter. Again and again they declared that the Confucian Silver Rule was not as good as the Christian Golden Rule because, they contended, the Confucian rule was negative. When a pupil asked about jen, Confucius replied, "Do not do to others what you do not want them to do to you". (Analects, 12:2, 15:23) When another pupil said, "What I do not want others to do to men, I do not want to do to them", Confucius remarked that it was beyond him. (5:11) In the Doctrine of the Mean it is said, "What you do not wish others to do to you, do not do to them". (Ch. 13) And in the Great Learning, it is said, "what a man dislikes in his superiors let him not show it in dealing with his inferiors". (Sec. 10) All these sayings are in negative expressions. Hence the Confucian rule was called a negative Golden Rule or simply Silver Rule to show that it is inferior to the Christian Golden Rule of loving all others as oneself. Before World War II, this interpretation was virtually standard.

No one doubts the positive character of the Christian teaching, but to think that the Confucian teaching is negative is to overlook several things. The first is that negative expressions such as 'infinite' are often most positive. Secondly, Chinese commentators on the Confucian Classic have never taken the saying to be negative in content. No one understood the Confucian saying, "Do not do to others what you do not want them to do to you" better than Mencius. He said, "And there is a way to win their (people's) hearts. It is to collect for them what they want and do not do to them what they do not like, that is all." (4A:10) There is no question that 'want' and 'not like' are direct borrowings from the Confucian saying. The significant point here is Mencius expressed the doctrine in both positive and negative terms. In commenting on the Confucian saying, the Han-shih wai-chuan (Han's commentary on human events with quotations from the Book of Odes) says, "If one hates cold and hunger, one knows that the world wants clothing and food. If one hates toil and pain, one knows that the world wants comfort and ease. If one hates poverty, one knows that the world wants riches."52 A modern commentator, Liu Pao-nan (1791-1855), perhaps the most authoritative on the Analects since Chu Hsi, elaborated on the Confucian saying by remarking that "Since one does not do to others what he does not want others to do to him, this means that he will surely do to others what he wants others to do to him".53 Throughout Chinese history no one has understood the Confucian saying in the negative sense.

In the third place, those who have regarded the Confucian doctrine as negative have failed to understand the real meaning of the word jen. In discussing the meaning of jen, we have quoted the Confucian saying that "To master oneself and to return to propriety is humanity" (12:1) and that "A man of humanity, wishing to establish his own character, also establishes the character of others, and wishing to be prominent himself, also helps others to be prominent". (6:28) Restoring propriety means restoring social order. In both sayings, the idea is that both the self and society are to be perfected. There is nothing negative in this teaching. When Confucius taught his pupil not to do to others what he does not want others to do to him, it merely means to apply to others the standard one sets for oneself. That is why wishing to establish one's own character, one also helps others to establish their character. It is significant that following the utterance on this, Confucius continued to say, "To be able to judge others by what is near to oneself may be called the method of realizing humanity". In the Doctrine of the Mean, preceding the sentence "What you do not wish others to do to you, do not do to them", it says, "Conscientiousness (chung loyalty) and altruism (shu reciprocity) are not far from the Way". (Ch. 13) Traditionally, these two moral qualities, conscientiousness and altruism, have been considered as the two inseparable aspects of jen. As Chu Hsi described them, "Conscientiousness means exercising one's mind to the utmost and altruism means to extend to others what one holds for oneself'.54 The mind of course refers to the moral mind. This saying, which has served as the standard description of jen in the last six or seven hundred years, is derived from Ch'eng Hao. This is what Ch'eng Hao said:

Jen means to devote oneself to the benefit of other people and things. Altruism means putting oneself in their place. Conscientiousness and altruism form the central thread running through all conduct. Conscientiousness is the Principle of Nature whereas altruism is the way of man. Conscientiousness is unerring and altruism is the way to practice that conscientiousness. Conscientiousness is substance while altruism is function. They are the great foundation and universal way of life.55

It is clear that the Confucian doctrine of jen covers both the self and others and aims at both complete self-realization and full development of society. Only with this understanding can we get the full meaning of such Confucian sayings as "He (the ruler) cultivates himself so as to give the common people security and peace" in the Analects, (14:45) "To serve my father as I would expect my son to serve me" in the Doctrine of the Mean (Ch. 13), and "Treat with respect the elders in my family, and then extend that respect to include the elders in other families" in the Book of Mencius. (1A:7) Jen is indeed the one principle that penetrates through Confucian teachings.

Many Western writers have also been bothered with the Confucian saying, "Repay hatred with uprightness". (Analects, 14:36) Surely, they say, this is negative ethics, especially contrasted with the Christian teaching of treating enemies as friends. It has been suggested that the saying was a response to the Taoist theory. The person who asked Confucius, "What do you think of repaying hatred with virtue?" may have been a Taoist or at least had in mind Lao Tzu's saying, "Repay hatred with virtue".56 In reply to that question, Confucius said, "In that case what are you going to repay virtue with? Rather, repay hatred with uprightness and repay virtue with virtue". The key to the understanding of the Confucian teaching lies in the word chih. It is generally understood to mean reciprocity or severity, but these interpretations are wrong. The word has always been understood by Chinese commentators to mean uprightness, the same sense as in the Confucian saying, "Man is born with uprightness". (6:17) It means that in response to evil, one should be morally correct and not be swayed by emotion or to return evil with evil. In dealing with people, for example, the ruler should seek to educate those who did wrong rather than punish them. (2:2) Fortunately, the negative interpretation of the Confucian Golden Rule has been declining since World War II. The chief reason for this is that more and more interpreters of Confucian thought are scholars who know the Confucian texts. Still, while conceding that "Confucius formulated a law of human relationship identical with the Golden Rule of the New Testament", one writer said that Confucius "limited the operation of the law of reciprocity, in its complete sense, to the circle of the good, because evil persons were judged unworthy of the mutual consideration prompted by fellow-feeling".57 Where this writer could have found such teaching in Confucianism is beyong one's imagination.

(3) Universal Love and Love with Distinctions. Because Mo Tzu advocated universal love, many Western scholars have regarded Moist ethics as more progressive than the Confucian which insists on distinctions in love. It was argued that this Confucian teaching is ethically deficient and contributed to the downfall of dynasties. According to the argument, it was for the purpose of amending this deficiency that Han Yü taught universal love. In this, it was said, Han Yü was influenced by Buddhism and Mo Tzu. It was further claimed that when several hundred years later Chou Tun-i advocated impartiality and Chang Tsai taught that "All people are my brothers", their goal was to remove the deficiency of the Confucian doctrine.58 Since Han Yü strongly attacked Mo Tzu along with Buddhism and Taoism, it is difficult to see how he could have accepted a Moist doctrine. In regard to Chang Tsai, we have pointed out that implicit in his Western Inscription is the doctrine that principle is one but its manifestations are many. If this doctrine is understood, there won't be any difficulty to see why Mencius, then Han Yü, and later all Neo-Confucianists criticized Mo Tzu and Yang Chu at the same time. According to the Neo-Confucianists, Mo Tzu was sound in teaching universal love for all but he neglected specific human relations such as one's special relation to one's own parents. Similarly, Yang Chu was justified in teaching self-preservation but he ignored society. In either case, the teaching is one-sided. Mo Tzu was right in concentrating on the many, that is, society, but he neglected the one or the particular, that is, one's particular relation with parents, whereas Yang Chu concentrated on the one or the self at the expense of the many. In Confucianism, both the self and society are equally emphasized. This is what jen means, whether in its etymological sense of 'man' plus 'two' or in its elaborate sense as conscientiousness with oneself and altruism toward others. It turns out that the doctrines of Mo Tzu and Yang Chu are deficient rather than the Confucian. To understand the Confucian doctrine of love with distinctions, we need to appreciate the teaching of principle being one while its manifestations are many.

(4) Jen as the Principle of Production and Reproduction. Only in recent years has the Neo-Confucian doctrine of jen as production and reproduction been brought into the discussion of jen in the West. In an article on the Neo-Confucian solution of the problem of evil, the present writer devoted a special section to the Ch'eng brothers and their concepts of jen and sheng (production, creation) and another section to the sources of the idea of sheng. The question was asked whether the Neo-Confucian idea of jen as seeds could have been borrowed from Buddhism. According to the Consciousness-Only School of Buddhism, consciousness consists of 'seeds'. The 'seeds' or effects of good and evil deeds are stored in the 'store-consciousness'. These seeds have existed from time immemorial and become the energy to produce manifestations. This Buddhist school was very active in Loyang where the Ch'eng brothers lived. Both of them had studied Buddhism. Moreover, their pupil Hsieh Liang-tso came very close to Buddhism in his ideas and actually equated the Confucian jen with Buddhist consciousness.59 Ch'eng I himself said, "The mind is like seeds. Their characteristic of growth is jen."60 However, these Neo-Confucianists were very critical of Buddhism. Besides, the Buddhist idea of seeds, working in a circular way as seeds perfuming or influencing manifestations and manifestations in turn perfuming seeds, leads ultimately to emptiness, whereas the Confucian jen as seeds is a progressively creative force that leads to development and fulfillment. The source of the idea of sheng has been traced earlier in the discussion of jen as production and reproduction. It was pointed out that the idea of production, growth, etc., has been a long tradition in Confucianism. An additional factor that influenced the Ch'eng brothers was probably the influence of their teacher Chou Tun-i. After studying with him, they gave up hunting.61 Master Chou did not cut the grass outside his window. When Ch'eng Hao was asked about it, he replied, "He felt toward the grass as he felt toward himself".62 Ch'eng Hao also said, "Feeling the pulse is the best way to embody jen" and "Observe the chickens. One can see jen this way."63 With this feeling for life, the sense of production and growth is inevitable.

As a creative force, jen is definitely active in character. However, some Western scholars have chosen to see jen as a quality of weakness. Waley, for example, who understood jen correctly as the general virtue, regarded jen as passive in character. He based his contention on the Confucian saying that "The man of humanity delights in mountains". (Analects, 6:21) As Waley put it, jen "is passive and therefore eternal as the hills". No wonder he concluded that "Jen is a mystic entity not merely analogous to but in certain sayings practically identical with the Tao of the Quietists (Taoists)".64 One is at a loss to find another Confucian saying to support this conclusion. On the contrary, one reads in the Analects: The man of jen, "after having performed his moral duties, employs his time and energy in cultural studies" (1:6); he "applies his strength to jen" (4:6); he "confers benefits upon and assist all" (6:28); he "devotes his strength to jen for as long as a single day" (4:6); and he helps others to establish their character and be prominent. Also, "A man who is strong, resolute, simple and slow to speak is near to jen". (13:29) All these sayings indicate an active character. Of course an element of tranquillity is present in jen but that means calmness and is not to be equated with passivity or weakness.

In a penetrating study, Peter Boodberg pointed out that in ancient Chinese pronunciation, forty or fifty of those words beginning with j have the quality of weakness, notably words like jao (weak), jang (to yield), juan (soft), jo (weak), ju (weakling, scholar). He therefore concluded that jen also possesses the meaning of weakness or softness.65 Boodberg has statistics on his side. However, there are words beginning with j that mean strength such as jan (to burn) and jui (sharp). If statistics is the only guide, then in the Analects at least, it is on the side of jen as strength.

Along with the supposed element of passivity, some writers have asserted that jen is mystical, citing the Confucian saying, "Is jen far away? As soon as I want it, there it is right by me." (7:29) They have asserted that this is mysticism. Confucius once praised his most favorite pupil Yen Hui (521-490 B.C.), saying, "About Hui, for three months there would be nothing in his mind contrary to jen". (6:5) On the basis of this, some writers, both Chinese and Western, have concluded that Yen Hui was a mystic and that Confucius praised mysticism. To me all this is far-fetched. In the last ten years Western studies have been less speculative and far more analytical as well as comprehensive. In 1966, Takeuchi Teruo traced the evolution of the meaning of jen as external beauty to internal morality in ancient times,66 and Hwa Yol Jung discussed jen as practical activity, as sociality, and as love or the feeling of commiseration which is also relational.67 Two years later, Wei-ming Tu examined the dynamic process between jen and li (propriety, ceremonies) with li as an externalization of jen, its concrete manifestation. Thus jen is actualization of inner strength and self cultivation in social context.68 Antonia S. Cua expounded on the same theme in 1971 but considered jen as an internal criterion of morality whereas li as external, the two being interdependent.69 A year later, Timothy Tian-min Liu, based on the Analects, compared the Confucian concept of jen with the Christian concept of love.70 In 1973, Lik Kuen Tong undertook a comparative study of Confucian jen and Platonic eros, regarding both as rational love but thought that Plato emphasized the object of love whereas Confucius stressed the subject.71 In 1974, Thaddeus T'ui-chieh Hang discussed the choice of jen, jen as existential actualization, and the cosmic and metaphysical meanings of jen, including a comparison with Western interpretations.72 By far, the most important and most extensive contribution to the subject is that of Father Olaf Graf who in rendering Chu Hsi's Chin-ssu lu (Reflections on things at hand) into German in 1953 had greatly advanced Western studies of Neo-Confucianism.73 In his Tao und Jen, Sein und Sollen im sungchinesischen Monismus of 197074, he surveys the concepts of jen from ancient Confucianism to Neo-Confucianism, especially Chu Hsi. He examines the various aspects of Confucian ethics and Neo-Confucian philosophy in relation to jen. And he compares jen with the ethics of Plato, Thomas Aquinas, Spinoza, and the New Testament, among others. With all this informative and instructive material, Western studies of jen should develop at a rapid pace.


  1. Wing-tsit Chan, 'The Evolution of the Confucian Concept Jen,' Philosophy East and West 4 (1955), 295-319; reprinted in Neo-Confucianism, Etc., pp. 1-4.
  2. Book of Odes, odes Nos. 77, 103, 204.
  3. On whether Confucius really "seldom talked about jen," see my discussion in work cited in Note 2, pp. 296-297.
  4. Mo Tzu, Ch. 40 and 42, Ssu-pu ts'ung-k'an (Four Libraries series), ed., 10:1a, 6b.
  5. Chuang Tzu, Ch. 12, Ssu-pu pei-yao (Essentials of the Four Libraries series) ed. entitled Nan-hua chen-ching (True classic of Nan-hua), 5:2b.
  6. Hsün Tzu, Ch. 27, Ssu-pu pei-yao ed., 19:5a.
  7. Han Fei-Tzu, Ch. 20, Ssu-pu pei-yao ed., 6:1a.
  8. Book of Rites, Ch. 19.
  9. Kuo-yü 'Conversations of Chou' Ssu-pu pei-yao ed., 3:3b.
  10. Tung Chung-shu, Ch'un-ch'iu fan-lu (Luxuriant gems of the Spring and Autumn), Ch. 29 and 30, Ssu-pu pei-yao ed., 8:9a, 12b.
  11. Yang Hsiung, T'ai-hsüan ching (Classic of the supremely profound principle), Ch. 9, Ssu-pu ts'ung-k'an ed., 7:8b, 9a.
  12. In the Analects, jen and i are not spoken together. However, Confucius is quoted in many ancient works as speaking of jen and i together.
  13. Han Yü, Yüuan tao (Inquiry on the Way), in Han Ch'ang-li ch'üan-chi (Complete works of Han Yü), Ssu-pu pei-yao ed., 11:1a, 5a. For a translation of the essay, see Wing-tsit Chan. A Source Book in Chinese Philosophy, Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey, 1973, pp. 454-456.
  14. Mo Tsu, Ch. 15.
  15. Kuo-yü, Ch. 3 (3:3b).
  16. Hsü Kan, Chung-lun, Ch. 9, Ssu-pu ts'ung-k'an ed., 1:34a.
  17. Pan Ku (32-92), Po-hu t'ung, Ssu-pu ts'ung-k'an ed., 8:la-b.
  18. Han Yü, op. cit., 11:6a. For a translation, see Chan, Source Book, pp. 451-453.
  19. Chang Tzu ch'üan-shu (Complete works of Master Chang), Ch. 1. For a translation, see Chan, Source Book, pp. 497-498.
  20. Kuei-shan yü-lu (Recorded sayings of Yang Shih), Ssu-pu ts'ung-k'an ed., 2:18a, 3:28a.
  21. Ibid.
  22. Commentary on the Western Inscription in the Chang Tzu ch'üan-shu.
  23. I-shu (Surviving works), 2A:3a, in Ch'eng Hao and Ch'eng I, Erh-Ch'eng ch'üan-shu (Complete works of the two Ch'engs), Ssu pu pei-yao ed.
  24. Su-wen (Questions on original simplicity), Sec. 42.
  25. I-shu, 2A:2a-b.
  26. Referring to the Book of Mencius, 2A:6.
  27. Wang Wen-ch'eng Kung ch'üan-shu. (Complete works of Wang Yang-ming), Ssu-pu ts'ung-k'an ed., 26:1b-3a.
  28. Hsi-tz'u (Appended remarks), Pt. 2, Ch. 1.
  29. Po-hu t'ung, 8:2a.
  30. T'ung-shu (Penetrating the Book of Changes), Ch. 11.
  31. I-shu, 11:3a-b.
  32. Ts'ui-yen (Pure words), 1:4b, in the Erh-Ch'eng ch'üan-shu.
  33. Shang-ts'ai yü-lu (Recorded sayings of Hsieh Liang-tso), Pt. 1, p. 2b.
  34. I chuan (Commentary on the Book of Changes), 1:2b, in the Erh-Ch'eng ch'üan-shu.
  35. I-shu, 2A:2a. It is not known which brother said this. The two brothers shared many ideas in common.
  36. T'ung-shu, Ch. 21 and 37.
  37. I-shu, 15:8b.
  38. Shang-ts'ai yü-lu, Pt. 1, 11a.
  39. Ibid., Pt. 2, p. 1a.
  40. Ts'ui-yen, 1:4a.
  41. Chu Tzu yü-lei (Recorded conversations of Master Chu), 1880 edn., 6:19b.
  42. Quoting the Ch'eng brothers, Wai-shu (Additional works), 3:1a, in the Erh-Ch'eng ch'üan-shu.
  43. Chu Tzu yü-lei, 1:4a.
  44. Book of Mencius, 6A:11.
  45. Chu Tzu wen-chi (Collection of literary works by Master Chu), Ssu-pu pei-yao ed. entitled Chu Tzu tach'üan (Complete works of Master Chu), 67:20a-21a.
  46. Lund Humphries, London, 1958, Pt. 2, Sec. 1.
  47. Two Chinese Philosophers, p. 96.
  48. The Analects of Confucius, Allen and Unwin, London, 1938, p.28.
  49. I-shu, 18:1a.
  50. Lin Yutang, The Wisdom of Confucius, Joseph, London, 1948, p. 184ff.
  51. 'The Semaisiology of Some Primary Confucian Concepts'. Philosophy East and West 2 (1953), 330.
  52. Han Ying (fl. 160-130 B.C.), Han-shih wai-ch'uan, Ssu-pu pei-yao ed., 3:24a-b.
  53. Lun-yü cheng-i (Correct meanings of the Analects), 12:2.
  54. Chung-yung chang-chü (Commentary on the Doctrine of the Mean), Ch. 13.
  55. I-shu, 11:5b.
  56. Lao Tzu, Ch. 63.
  57. John B. Noss, Man's Religion, Macmillan, New York, 4th edn., 1969, p. 285.
  58. Homer H. Dubs, 'The development of Altruism in Confucianism'. Philosophy East and West 1 (1951), 48-55.
  59. Shang-ts'ai yü-lu, Pt. 2, p. 1a.
  60. I-shu, 18:2a.
  61. Ibid., 7:1a.
  62. Ibid, 3:2a.
  63. Ibid., 3:1a.
  64. The Analects of Confucius, pp. 28-29.
  65. Boodberg, op cit. pp. 328-330. (Note 52)
  66. 'A Study of the Meaning of Jen Advocated by Confucius', Acta Asiatic 9 (1966) 57-77.
  67. 'Jen: an Existential and Phenomenological Problem of Inter-subjectivity', Philosophy East and West 16 (1966), 169-188.
  68. 'The Creative Tension between Jen and Li', ibid., 18 (1968), 29-39.
  69. 'Reflections on the Structure of Confucian Ethics', ibid, 21 (1971), 125-140.
  70. 'The Confucian Concept of Jen and the Christian Concept of Love', Ching Feng 15 (1973), 162-172.
  71. 'Confucian Jen and Platonic Eros: a Comparative Study', Chinese Culture 14 No. 3 (September, 1973), 1-8.
  72. 'Jen Experience and Jen Philosophy', Journal of the American Academy of Religion 17 (1974), 53-65.
  73. Chu Hsi, Djin-sï lu 3 vols., Sophia University Press, Tokyo, 1953.
  74. Otto Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden, 1970, 429 pp. xx

Jeffrey K. Riegel (essay date 1986)

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SOURCE: "Poetry and the Legend of Confucius's Exile," in Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 106, No. 1, January-March, 1986, pp. 13-22.

[In the essay below, Riegel analyzes three poems about Confucius's time of exile.]

Among the many stories and tales which constitute the legends of Confucius's life, the most well-known and dramatic involve the Master's suffering and hardships during his exile from Lu.… According to the account set forth in the Tso chuan … and Shih chi …, Confucius departed, or perhaps was banished, from his homeland in 497 B.C., after a failed attempt, supported by him, to dismantle the defensive walls around the cities controlled by the powerful Chi … , Meng … , and Shu … families.1 Along with a small group of followers, he wandered for thirteen years, travelling through Wei … , Ch'en … , Ts'ai … and other states which lay to the west and southwest of Lu.2

Tales of his trials, usually introduced with such conventional phrases as, "When the Master was in Wei" or "When Confucius was in danger somewhere between the states of Ch'en and Ts'ai … ," are found in numerous ancient sources including his collected sayings, the Lun yü … , as well as the Meng tzu … ,Mo tzu …,Chuang tzu … , and, of course, the Shih chi chapter which Ssu-ma Ch'ien … (ca. 145-90 B. C.) devoted to Confucian lore, the "K'ung tzu shih chia".…3 It is conventional among those who have made a careful study of Confucius's biography to accept the accounts of the Lun yü and Meng tzu as "true" while dismissing the hostile Mo tzu and Chuang tzu stories as fictive hyperboles. Since the "K'ung tzu shih chia" is eclectic and its contents confused by Ssu-ma Ch'ien's attempts to fashion his materials into a consistent chronological whole (and perhaps by subsequent textual tampering as well), its versions have been judged unreliable unless attested by the Lun yü and Meng tzu.4

There can be little doubt that, because works such as the Chuang tzu and Mo tzu are openly hostile to Confucian teachings, their authors took great liberties with the received tradition, creating a Confucius to serve as the butt of their criticisms. It can at least be allowed that, in contrast to these, the books of the Lun yü are, with certain notable exceptions, friendly to Confucius, as is the Meng tzu, and hence may be more faithful representations of the earliest versions of the Master's years of exile. Yet, while Confucius's exile may have been an actual historical occurrence, it is doubtful that a claim of strict historicity can be attached to any of the accounts which relate it. All are complex and highly crafted literary pieces involving what we would label, from our perspective, fact and fiction. All exhibit the ingredients of "historical romance."5 I propose to demonstrate this by showing that some of the literary remains of Confucius's life consist of bits and pieces of ancient poetry which in their origins had nothing to do with Confucius and even predated him.

Among the Pei feng … of the Shih ching … is a group of three songs—No. 34: "P'ao yu k'u yeh" … , No. 36: "Shih wei" …, and No. 37: "Mao ch'iu" …6—which share striking thematic similarities with some of the lore surrounding Confucius's famous thirteen-year exile from Lu. More specifically, the language and structure of these three early songs are similar to, and in some cases identical with, the language and structure of certain later anecdotes about the exile now found primarily in the Lun yü and the "K'ung tzu shih chia," and, to a lesser extent, in the other sources of exile lore mentioned above. It is proposed that the parallels are close enough to warrant our regarding the songs as the models, or thematic archetypes, for the Confucian tales. It will be argued that because of their provenance in a literary compendium which according to scholastic traditions was much admired by Confucius, though remote from him in their original purposes, such literary sources were nevertheless judged, by those who would define the pattern of the Master's life, to be suitable examples of his behavior and teachings. By examining these songs in their original settings and then comparing them with the stories they have influenced, it is possible to provide a relatively detailed example of how Confucian legends utilized such ancient materials.

Together with the Wei feng …, all of the Pei feng and Yung feng … have long been identified as songs about the ancient state of Wei.…7 This is in part due to the tradition that Pei … and Yung … were appanages of Wei. More importantly, their association with Wei is drawn from the observation that, along with the Wei feng, many of the Pei and Yung songs refer to place names in Wei while some allude to historical personages who can with some certainty be identified with Wei figures known from other accounts. (Although Marcel Granet, Bernhard Karlgren, Arthur Waley, and other Shih ching authorities of European training have tended to discount the significance of regionalism within the Kuo feng songs in general, other scholars, most notable among them Shirakawa Shizuka …, have emphasized the regional origins of the Kuo feng as an important feature that should not be ignored.8) It is in any case the concern of the various "Small Prefaces" which introduce the songs, of Mao Heng …, patriarch of the Mao School version of the Shih ching and supposed author of the Ku hsün chuan … commentary, and of the great Han scholiast, Cheng Hsüan … (A.D. 127-200), to explain the meaning of the three songs and reconstruct their original settings in terms of people, places, and events, in Wei. They are naturally unconcerned with the purposes to which the songs may have later been put and we should not expect from them any notice of the songs' influence on Confucian lore.

It should also be noted that the numerous studies of the legends of Confucius, including the monumental works of Ts'ui Shu … (1740-1816) and (somewhat more recently) Fujiwara Tadashi …, do not mention the contribution of the three songs to Confucian traditions.9 To the extent that I try to expose this unappreciated connection between later lore and its literary antecedents in the Shih ching as well as to formulate the reasons why the connection was made, the study to follow represents a new, and perforce tentative, method of considering and evaluating the nature of the stories of Confucius.

In the analysis of the three songs, each will be taken up in the order in which it appears in the Shih ching. Each song is translated, its meaning paraphrased, and its connection to stories about Confucius's exile examined.

Song 34: "The Gourd Has Bitter Leaves"

"'The gourd has bitter leaves,'
   the ford is deep to cross."
"Where deep step on stones;
  where shallow wade."

"How fully the ford swells,
         'Evil!' the pheasant cries."
"The swelling ford will not wet your axle;
 the pheasant cries out to seek her mate."

"How harmoniously honk the geese,
         when the genial sun first rises.
If a knight goes to take a wife,
   he acts before the ice breaks."

"Beckoning, beckoning, is the boatman,
         Others cross, not I!
         Others cross, not I!
         I await my friend."

Song 34 tells of a man who is hesitant to take a wife. The story is presented as an elliptical dialogue between the man and another person, perhaps his betrothed or a go-between, who tries, without success, to convince him to act.10 The song opens with the first person referring to himself metaphorically as "a gourd with bitter leaves." Because such gourds, when old, were inedible and merely ornamental, the speaker is casting himself as a useless old man.11 The same person adds another figurative aphorism about a ford (chi…) in the river being too deep to cross. In the Shih ching, various tropes which have in common the image of crossing a river occur with some frequency in love songs where they express great passion or are euphemistic for seduction. For the first person of Song 34 to say figuratively that the river is too deep to cross means that he is, perhaps out of some unnamed fear, unwilling or reluctant to marry. A second person answers the first by refuting the figure of speech about crossing the river, with terms suitable to its imagery: "Where deep, step on the stones / where shallow, wade."12 In this way the second person encourages the first to ignore the dangers and be brave and persistent.13

In the opening of the second stanza the first person continues to resist. Now to his earlier saying about the depth of the river he adds the expansiveness of the water, in order to emphasize figuratively his fear that he is not meet for marriage. To this he couples a line about the baleful cry of a pheasant—the pheasant's call is given as yao … which sounds like the words yao …"die young" and yao …"calamity"—which is meant to say that the times are not right. But again he is refuted in the terms of the tropes he has chosen. For, in response, the second person claims that the first has misunderstood the pheasant—yao … also sounds like yao … , the desirous call of the cricket in Song 14, "The Grass Bug"14—and that its call means that it is seeking its mate. He assures, moreover, that, as deep as the water may appear, it will in fact not even wet his axles.15

The second person continues to encourage the first to go (stanza 3), exhorting him, through two bright sayings about overcoming timidity and seizing the moment: if he waits, the friendly circumstances are bound to change, just as the geese honk harmoniously in the morning but not later in the day; if he delays, he will not be able to go, just as a knight seeking a bride will not be able to fetch her once the winter ice melts and the rivers flood. The first person remains unconvinced (stanza 4) and, in keeping with his earlier metaphors about fording the river, sadly portrays himself as one left behind on a shore awaiting a friend while the boatman ferries others across to happiness.

The language of the song, its structure as a dialogue, and its theme of indecision all closely parallel an episode in the account of Confucius's exile in Wei, as preserved both in the Lun yü—but in the disparate fashion typical of that book—and more completely and coherently in the "K'ung tzu shih chia."

Sometime toward the end of Confucius's first sojourn in Wei, roughly between the years 493 and 490 B.C. according to the traditional chronology, the Chin nobleman, Chao Chien Tzu … initiated an attack on his enemies, the Fan … and Chung-hang … families. Pi Hsi … , Steward of the Fan family stronghold of Chung Mou … located in Chin north of the Yellow River, rebelled and took the fortress, apparently as an expression of his alliance with Master Chien of the Chao.16 He then sent an envoy to Wei, inviting Confucius to join him. The passage describing Confucius's response is found at Lun yü 17.7 and in the "K'ung tzu shih chia."17

Confucius wished to go. His disciple Tzu Lu said,"I learned from you that, 'Into the company of any man who personally commits evil, the gentleman will not enter.' Now, Pi Hsi is personally holding Chung Mou in revolt. How can you consider going there?" Confucius replied. "There is indeed such a saying. But is it not also said of the truly hard that 'No grinding will ever wear it down'? Is it not also said of the truly white that 'No steeping will ever make it black'?"

Confucius then uttered words which closely mirror the opening metaphor of Song 34: "How is it that I am a gourd? How can I be merely hung as an ornament and not eaten." With these words Confucius expresses his great desire to join Pi Hsi. Yet he does not act. According to a passage immediately following the preceding in the "K'ung tzu shih chia" but occurring in a completely separate chapter in the Lun yü, Confucius retires to his home and plays the stone chimes to give expression to his feelings on the matter.18 A passerby carrying a basket—a man identified by all commentators as an unrecognized sage—declares upon hearing the music: "With such passion does he strike the chimes!" But when the music was over the listener did not care for what it expressed of Confucius's decision. "How stupid he is! How stubborn he is! Since no one recognizes him he just quits! Where deep, step on stones. Where shallow, wade it."

With these last words, identical with the last couplet of the first stanza of Song 34 and intended to encourage Confucius to be brave and persistent, the stranger succeeds in changing Confucius's mind: "The Master said, 'That is resolute indeed. Against such resoluteness there can be no argument.'"19 There occurs at this point in the "K'ung tzu shih chia" another, unrelated, passage on music occasioned by the story of Confucius playing the chimes. Immediately following it, the story resumes (the passage is not found at all in the Lun yü) with Confucius going to the banks of the Yellow River, intending to cross it and join with the Chao family of Chin.20 In this way, the figurative line in Song 34 about crossing a ford has become in the Confucian legend a literal element of the story: we are meant to suppose that Confucius actually travelled to the river. At the very edge of the river, however, he "hears" the news that two virtuous ministers have been murdered by Chao Chien Tzu. Because of this, Confucius changes his mind once again and, in words which echo the sentiments of the first persona in the last stanza of Song 34, declares his decision not to cross the river: "How beautiful is the river! How very immense it is! That I, Ch'iu, do not ford (chi…), is fate." When asked why he did not go, Confucius explains that the murders are an example of yao… "perverse murders of the young and innocent," and that a virtuous man will not travel to places where such things occur. His calling the murders yao is significant for it reveals that the episode of having Confucius hear the baleful news is based on the Song 34 figurative saying about the ominous cry of the pheasant which is cited by the persona of the song to say that the times are not right for marriage.

In summary, in both Song 34 and the foregoing Confucian anecdote the main theme is indecision as expressed in someone's hesitation to cross a ford. At several points in the extended tale Confucius is made to say or do something which either identically repeats or closely paraphrases the imagery of Song 34—especially noteworthy are the mention of the gourd, the allusions to crossing a river, the identical couplet about fording it no matter the depth, the reference to baleful news heard at a river's edge, the vastness of the river, and the final decision not to cross. In a manner similar to Song 34, the anecdote consists of a series of dialogues. Moreover, the order of Confucius's actions and utterances, as they are recorded in the more complete "K'ung tzu shih chia" version, follows that of the Song 34 narrative.

Song 36: "One so reduced!"

Oh, One so reduced, so reduced!
 Why not return?
If it were not for the lord's misfortune,
   why would we be here in the open?

Oh, One so reduced, so reduced!
 Why not return?
If it were not for the lord's impoverishment,
  why would we be here in the mire?

Song 36 is addressed to an exile by his followers. Both the "Small Preface" and Cheng Hsüan agree that this piece and Song 37 are a pair which refer to the exile of a certain Lord Li … who was driven from his territory by the Ti barbarians and fled to Wei.… Aside from their commentary, there is in the Tso chuan a brief mention of how, in 594 B.C., a Lord Li was established by the Chin army in Ti lands.21 But nothing is said of his having been driven out by the Ti nor is there mention of his having gone to Wei. Still, it is significant that Songs 36 and 37 were recognized by Shih ching scholars as a pair, for it is as a pair that they influenced Confucian lore.

We may summarize generally what Song 36 reveals about the character of the exile and his relationship with his followers who address the song to him. Their calling him Shih Wei …, "One Most Reduced," identifies him as a once-prominent figure who has lost his prestige and is living in humble circumstances.22 The question "Why not return?" reveals that the man could give up his exile if he chose to do so, but that he is perhaps stubbornly resisting repatriation and thus causing his followers to exhort him. His companions blame his "misfortune" and "impoverishment"23 for their being "exposed" and "in the mire," hyperbolic metaphors for abject circumstances.24

The theme of the stubborn exile accompanied by unhappy followers is also found in the account of an incident that took place during Confucius's time of homeless wandering, when he was in the small state of Ch'en. In 489 B.C., Wu … attacked Ch'en and it may be that Confucius and his followers were in fact caught in the crossfire. According to the legend, as embroidered in numerous sources, the small band was starving and near death. There is no specific mention of these troubles in the "K'ung tzu shih chia," only an elliptical reference to how Ch'en was, at the time, plagued by bandits. A story in the Hsün tzu … refers to Confucius's impoverishment when in the area of Ch'en and Ts'ai and has Tzu Lu wondering why it is that Heaven has rewarded Confucius's merits with such catastrophe.25 The use of the terms "impoverishment" (o … ) and "catastrophe" (huo … ) may reflect the influence of Song 36.26 The equally fictive Lun yü 15.1 says of Confucius's disciples that, when their food ran out, they were so ill "none could rise to his feet," a phrase reminiscent of the Song 36 followers complaining metaphorically of being exposed and "in the mire." The passage relates that Tzu Lu then came to the master and asked indignantly, "Does the gentleman suffer impoverishment?"—a question which appears to take its inspiration from the Song 36 reference to the impoverishment of the exile portrayed in that song.27

Song 37: "Long Hair Hill"

'The kudzu on Long Hair Hill,
 how long its joints extend.'
Oh, my brethren!
 how many have been the days?

Wherever I have rested,
 I have always had friends.
Wherever I have tarried,
 I have always had helpers.

The fox-furs, crazed and confused,
 complain that chariot comes not to the east.
Oh, my brethren!
 I am without friends or comrades.

Oh, my pretty little things!
 sons of the vagabond bird.
Oh, my brethren!
 billowing sleeves and ear-plugs.

Song 37 records the sad, embittered words of an exile—again the "Small Preface" and Cheng Hsüan identify him as Lord Li—whose followers have tired of his cause and are abandoning him for a life of convenience and prestige. He begins by comparing himself to Mao Ch'iu …"Long Hair Hill,"28 an oddly shaped mound—Mao says of it that "it is high in the front with a depression at the rear"—on which there hangs a mass of dangling kudzu vines (the hill's "hair") whose length symbolizes how the persona's followers have distanced themselves from him. Observing aloud to his followers—whom he calls throughout his "brethren" (shu po … )—that his exile has been long, he claims for himself that wherever he has chosen to visit or remain he has been able to have with him men who share his values and are meritorious.29

But his situation has changed and thus, in stanza three, the persona quotes a saying, "The fox-furs are crazed and confused."30 "Fox-furs" is a metonymy for noblemen; to say that they are "crazed and confused" (meng jung …) refers to their acting wild and abandoned, as if their heads were hooded and they could not see.31 The line alludes metaphorically to the persona's adherents abandoning him. Following this is a problematic line in which the persona appears to relate how his followers, dissatisfied as they are with him and his cause, complain32 that a chariot has not come to the east, which presumably refers to the fact that there has been no invitation from his homeland to return.

After further lamenting the disloyalty of his "brethren," the exile, in stanza four, brands them "turncoats." Calling them "pretty little things" (so wei … ),33 a name which figuratively labels them junior and may convey some measure of contempt as well, he condemns them as traitorous and duplicitous by metaphorically identifying them as "sons of the vagabond bird," birds which, as Mao points out, are, "pretty when young but ugly when old."34 In the closing couplet of the song the "brethren" are described as having "billowing sleeves and ear-plugs," the elegant and elaborate insignia of a high official, and thus they are identified as having accepted office somewhere.

The theme of the exile who expresses his need for loyal friends while criticizing and lamenting the way-wardness and disloyalty of his followers is also to be found in an account of an episode during the exile of Confucius. Sometime after the near starvation suffered by Confucius and his small band, referred to above, his companions began to break ranks with him. According to the "K'ung tzu shih chia" account of Confucius's wanderings, when Confucius and his party were still in Ch'en, Chi K'ang Tzu … , the newly empowered dictator of Lu, contemplated inviting him to return to his native state.35 Warned by one of his advisers of Confucius's difficult personality, Chi K'ang Tzu decided instead to invite into his service one of Confucius's followers, Jan Yu.… Jan Yu immediately accepted. Confucius worried aloud that the invitation meant that Chi K'ang Tzu intended to employ Jan Yu in some grand office. But when Confucius saw Jan Yu, the disciple's dress and pretentious manner elicited from Confucius an acid comment also found in Lun yü 5.22 but without the introduction and setting provided by the "K'ung tzu shih chia".36

Shall we return home? Shall we return home? The young boys of my party are wild and brazen. They show off their replete insignia of office without knowing how properly to cut them.

Confucius's question, "Shall we return home?" is a purposeful echo of the exhortation to the exile of Song 36 by his dissatisfied companions. The pleonasm k'uang chien … "wild and brazen" by which Confucius refers to Jan Yu is but a prosaic gloss on the rarer binom meng jung, "crazed and confused," used in the Song 37 saying about disloyal noblemen. Having Confucius refer to Jan Yu as one of the "young boys," an epithet used elsewhere by Confucius to address his disciples, parallels the "pretty little things" of the song. The "billowing sleeves and ear-plugs" of Song 37 become, in the prose anecdote, the less figurative "replete insignia" of Jan Yu.

The contents of Lun yü 5.22 also occur in the Meng tzu where Confucius is made to say: "My young sons are wild and brazen in entering and taking office. Have they not forgotten their beginnings?"37 For reasons which are not entirely clear, the "K'ung tzu shih chia" treats Lun yü 5.22 and the corresponding Meng tzu passage as two separate entries.38 Numerous authorities have recognized that this must be a mistake and that Confucius should be considered to have uttered his condemnation of his "young sons" only once.39 It has not been noted, however, that the "K'ung tzu shih chia" places the Meng tzu version immediately following its elliptical reference to banditry in Ch'en. This pairing duplicates exactly the traditional coupling of Songs 36 and 37. If the two songs did indeed serve as a source for the anecdotes, this sequence of events in the "K'ung tzu shih chia" is perhaps the one intended by those who formulated the legend. Thus the story of Jan Yu's disloyalty and ambitiousness which parallels Song 37 should be joined with and viewed as a sequel to the tales of Confucius's earlier impoverishment which derive from Song 36.

One initial point suggested by the foregoing analysis of the literary origins of Confucian legend is that, in terms of coherence and completeness as defined by their relative closeness to the language and structure of the songs, the versions of the stories preserved in the "K'ung tzu shih chia" are often preferable to those of the Lun yü. This is especially clear in the case of the story of Confucius's indecision about fording the river to go to Chin. What appears in the "K'ung tzu Shih Chia" as a single narrative that parallels Song 34 is divided in the Lun yü into two separate passages, with the climax found in the "K'ung tzu shih chia" version omitted entirely. I am not suggesting that the "K'ung tzu shih chia" is a more reliable source for Confucius than the Lun yü. Nor am I discounting the distortions of the original lore which apparently resulted from Ssu-ma Ch'ien's passion for a chronologically connected narrative. I am claiming for the "K'ung tzu shih chia" that, in the instances studied above and in others as well, its arrangement and presentation of the anecdotes it shares with the Lun yü may be closer to earlier forms of the legend than that of the Lun yü.

We need not, because of some misguided faith in their antiquity, be wed to the disposition and division of passages in the Lun yü. While that book certainly had something like its present form as early as the time of Cheng Hsüan, who wrote the classical commentary for it, we cannot know how long before him this was true. Quotations of the Lun yü by title in the "Fang chi" … opuscule of the Li chi … and in the Han shih wai chuan … are not sufficient evidence in this regard, not only because they do not testify to the overall contents and division of passages of the Lun yü, but also because the dates of these sources are themselves problematic. They certainly do not prove that the extant recension of the Lun yü predates the compilation of the "K'ung tzu shih chia."40

Since there are many quotations of Confucian sayings in the Meng tzu which do not appear in the Lun yü, it may be, as Arthur Waley seems to suggest, that during the late Chou, the body of Confucian sayings and lore was much larger than and of a rather different nature from the Lun yü.41 The "K'ung tzu shih chia" may adumbrate an alternate arrangement of Confucian tales found in this earlier body of lore, now lost but perhaps similar to the chronological presentation of the first two books of the Meng tzu, in which indications of chronology and concern for the coherence and completeness of the narrative were more in evidence than they are in the present Lun yü.

I would propose that this early body of Confucian sayings and lore was not only extensive but also enjoyed wide and perhaps even popular circulation. This is already suggested, at least for the Han dynasty, by the incorporation of numerous rather simplistic cautionary tales involving the Master and his disciples in the Shuo yüan … , Hsin hsü … , and other eclectic collections of moralistic anecdotes gathered by Liu Hsiang … (ca. 79-76 B.C.). The K'ung tzu chia yü… , which purports to be a collection of ancient Confucian tales, might be another useful reflection of the extent and popularity of Confucian lore during the Warring States and early Han, were it not made suspect by what appear to be numerous interpolations and distortions added to the text to serve the selfish scholarly interests of Wang Su …(195-256) in his attempts to denigrate the authority of Cheng Hsüan.42

It is thus significant in this regard that in the Fu-yang … , Anhwei, tomb of Hsia-hou Tsao … (d. 165 B.C.), the second Lord of Ju-yin … , there was discovered, among other very fragmentary manuscript remains, a board on both sides of which was written the table of contents of a collection of forty-six stories about Confucius and his disciples.43 Though the text itself was unfortunately not found—if placed in the tomb it disappeared through deterioration—the table of contents gives the titles of its stories and these suggest that the work had much in common with the present K'ung tzu chia yü and was the sort of collection upon which the latter may have been based. In any case, this shred of evidence, found as it was in an area which in Han times was a cultural outpost remote from the centers of learning, does provide some indication of the wide circulation of Confucian tales. We learn by the serendipity of Chinese reporting on the find that one of the anecdotes had the title, "Confucius Wails upon Approaching the River" (K'ung tzu lin ho erh t'an … ).44 Even if we cannot know in detail this early version of the story of Confucius's decision not to join the Chao family upon learning, at the edge of the Yellow River, of Chao Chien Tzu's crimes, it is gratifying to have some confirmation of its popularity.

That there should have been discovered in the songs of the Shih ching models and patterns upon which to base accounts of Confucius's life is not in itself anomalous. Even in antiquity the ancient canon of songs was highly admired as a mirror of proper words and behavior. According to numerous Lun yü passages, Confucius himself regarded the songs as a rich catalogue of sentiments, deeds, and expressions which should be emulated. This attitude toward the text is also seen in the frequent quotation of the Shih ching to illustrate a point of morality or decorum, a practice much in evidence in the ancient philosophical, historical, and ritual literature.

In the examples we have studied, however, the songs are not merely quoted but reworked and transformed into the skeletons of prose anecdotes. They serve as frameworks of plot and terminology which are then considerably expanded with other materials to fit what the author wishes to say about Confucius and his times. Perhaps the most notable aspect of this exploitation of Shih ching imagery is the way in which aphorisms and maxims, figures of speech typical of Shih ching style and clearly critical to the rhetorical function of ancient poetry more generally, become literal narrative in the legend. Thus, for example, the fear of fording a river in Song 34, figurative for a man's hesitation to take a wife, serves as a crucial element in the plot of whether Confucius will ford the Yellow River and join the morally suspect government of Chin; and the Song 36 use of "exposed" and "in the mire" as metaphors for abject suffering becomes a literal description of the crawling of Confucius' sick disciples. In Song 37, moreover, we have examples of how the more flowery examples of poetical tropes, e.g., "The fox-furs are crazed and confused" or "billowing sleeves and ear-plugs," are translated into more commonplace expressions.

Though transmuted by literal interpretation and paraphrase, the songs are still recognizable in the language and structure of the legend. This provides a subtle but explicit connection between Confucius and his spiritual forebears, the personae of the Shih ching songs. The weavers of the Confucian legend, his "biographers," have Confucius relive the songs by having him say their lines, think their intentions, and act out the gestures portrayed in them. It would be to miscast and underestimate their achievements, however, to say of these "biographers" that they have merely borrowed prestigious materials, or to accuse them of fabricating and fictionalizing Confucius's biography. What they have done is to discover in the Shih ching the ancient patterns of proper behavior which Confucius admired and to show how in his life the Master, too, adhered to them. The life of Confucius is made the summation of the Shih ching lessons he so revered; or, in the words of Lun yü 2.11, he has "reanimated the past" (wen ku … ).

Moreover, according to one ancient literary theory, the Shih ching songs should be counted among the great literary works created by those wrongfully banished, punished, or otherwise disaffected, to protest their fate and the circumstances of their age. Ssu-ma Ch'ien says:.45

In the past, when Hsi Po …(i.e., Wen Wang) was caught in Yu-li he lectured on the Chou i. When Confucius was impoverished in Ch'en and Ts'ai he made the Ch'un ch'iu. When Ch'ü Yüan was banished he wrote the Li sao. When Tso Ch'iu … lost his sight (?) he possessed the Kuo yü. When Sun Tzu … was defooted he discoursed on the Ping fa. … When [Lü] Pu-wei … was demoted to Shu he transmitted the Lü lan … (i.e., Lü shih ch'un ch'iu) to his age. When Han Fei was imprisoned in Ch'in [he wrote] "The difficulties of persuasion" and "Lonely anger." The three hundred songs of the Shih are fundamentally works composed by the worthies and sages to express anger.

To some extent this is a self-serving judgment on the part of Ssu-ma Ch'ien, for it provides him with antecedents to his own decision to continue his work on the Shih chi in spite of his disgrace at the hands of Han Wu Ti. It is of course most doubtful that the Chou i, Ch'un ch'iu, and Kuo yü were compiled under anything like the circumstances he describes.46 Moreover, there are other accounts (some of them provided elsewhere in the Shih chi) of when and where the Lü shih ch'un ch'iu, Ping fa, and the discourses of Han Fei were composed. While the historical details of these characterizations are questionable, yet Ssu-ma Ch'ien is not greatly distorting the motivations that led to most of the works he cites. Certainly prominent among the intentions of those who authored the philosophical treatises he mentions was a passionate and often frustrated desire to reform what were perceived as the ignorant evils and mistakes committed by ancient rulers. The persona of the Li sao has undoubtedly suffered banishment. Reading the Shih ching one cannot escape the feeling that many, if not most, of its songs are the resentful expressions of the outcast and unhappy who were thwarted by the unresponsiveness of indifferent lovers, rulers, and gods.

It may have seemed to those who have given us the legend of Confucius's exile that the songs, as the expressions of the worthies of antiquity who had undergone similar deprivations, contained the proper prescriptions for the portrayal of the Master whose sufferings had inspired him to literary efforts: Ssu-ma Ch'ien claims that Confucius composed the Ch'un ch'iu … at that critical moment when he and his disciples were stranded and starving. Seen in this light, the songs defined the proper ways of portraying those special individuals, like Confucius, who were believed to have inherited the predicaments and sensitivities of the Shih ching poets. In this way these literary antecedents predetermine the circumstances and characterization as presented in the account of Confucius's life. They are the essential fundamental upon which the miscellaneous details of time, place, and personality—what we would call the real facts of Confucius's life—must rest. The process and its effects are not unlike the use by later Chinese historians of conventional sayings or formulaic characterizations—topoi—to introduce and identify the subject of a biography in terms of the classically prescribed roles, as well as to organize and give meaning to the more individualistic details of his life.47

The occurrence in Confucian lore of influence from the Shih ching goes beyond historiographical practices, however, and is an example of a more broad-based and important phenomenon in Chinese literary history. The harking back to the language and imagery of the Shih ching occurs so commonly in later literature, especially of course in poetry, that it deserves to be identified as a literary convention which distinguishes and typifies the Chinese tradition. The significance of these occurrences often escapes due recognition. This oversight is prompted, perhaps unintentionally, when borrowings from the Shih ching are labelled mere "allusions." This is an empty term which unfortunately obscures the active and determining influence of the old songs on later literary expression by casting the Shih ching as somehow inert or by viewing it as an archaic touchstone or storehouse and the later author who makes reference to it as merely traditional or pedantic. If the examples of the use to which the Shih ching songs are put in Confucian lore are typical, they suggest that in literary studies more efforts should be directed toward uncovering the details of how the Shih ching and other canonical sources not only influenced the lexicon of later literature but also shaped its themes and content.

Finally, it should be emphasized that the selection of songs to serve in the capacity of models for Confucian legends was not haphazard. Since Songs 34, 36, and 37, but no others, were selected, this choice must have been due to features inherent in the songs which were concordant with what Confucius's biographers already believed to be facts about his life and character. It was undoubtedly important, for example, that the three songs were about Wei, the place where tradition said Confucius spent much of his exile, and that two of them, Songs 36 and 37, were already identified as a pair of songs about someone exiled from his home. More specifically, the hesitation and scrupulousness communicated by Song 34 are traits for which Confucius was well known, and sometimes mocked, elsewhere in the ancient accounts of him. Similarly the "misfortune" and "impoverishment" of which Song 36 speaks are leitmotifs which occur throughout Confucian legend.

More than either Songs 34 and 36, Song 37 seems to exhibit features which may have marked it as an especially fitting archetype for Confucian lore. Most striking is the song's opening metaphor about kudzu growing upon what is called Mao Ch'iu, "Long Hair Hill," for Confucius's given name was Ch'iu …, "Hill," and tradition said of him, similar to what Mao said of "Long Hair Hill," that he had a depression atop his head.48 The song's persona refers to his followers as shu po, "brethren," a familial term similar to ti tzu …, "younger brothers," the name by which Confucius's corps of disciples was known. In Song 37 there is a complaint that no chariot returns to take the persona home, a detail which uncannily anticipates the fact that Chi K'ang Tzu decided not to invite Confucius to end his exile and return east to Lu. Moreover, the claim of the song's persona that he had always been able to attract and associate with like-minded people closely resembles several Confucian sayings—for example, Lun yü 4.25: "Virtue never lives alone; it always has neighbors." A song so replete with characteristic "Confucian" images and teachings may have seemed to the composers and compilers of Confucian lore not a mere literary mode but a magical precursor which prefigured and portended Confucius's fate.


It is a privilege and an honor to dedicate this study to Edward H. Schafer, Agassiz Professor of Oriental Languages and Literature, Emeritus, of the University of California, Berkeley. All citations of the Thirteen Classics of the Confucian Canon are to the edition prepared under the supervision of Juan Yüan … (1764-1849) and printed in Nan-ch'ang, Kiangsi, in 1816. For the Shih ching I also give the "Mao Number" and for the Lun yü and Meng tzu I also provide the chapter and section numbers used in the Harvard-Yenching Concordances. References to the Shih chi … are to the edition included in the Erh shih wu shih compiled by the I-wen Press of Taiwan. Unless otherwise indicated, the editions of all other Chinese sources consulted are those of the Ssu pu pei yao. My thanks to Paul W. Kroll for his comments on an earlier draft of this article.

  1. For the events leading up to Confucius's exile, see Tso chuan, Ting 10, 56.5a-6b and Ting 12, 56.9b-10b. Kung-yang chuan…, Ting 12, 26.11a, claims Confucius originated the plan to dismantle the cities. The Tso chuan, however, credits his disciple, Tzu Lu.… A further discussion of this material may be found in Homer Dubs, "The Political Career of Confucius," JAOS 66 (1946), 273-82.
  2. A convenient chronological account of Confucius's wanderings, based on Lun yü and Meng tzu, is provided in D.C. Lau, tr., The Analects (Harmondsworth, 1979), 170-77.
  3. H. G. Creel, Confucius and the Chinese Way (New York, 1960), 7-11 and 291-94, discusses these sources.
  4. Ibid., 10.
  5. The classic study of the roman in ancient Chinese literature is Henri Maspero, "Le Roman de Sou Ts'in," in Etudes Asiatiques publiées par l'Ecole Française d'Extrême-Orient à l'occasion de son 25e anniversaire, Volume II (Paris, 1925), 127-42. See also Maspero's China in Antiquity, tr. F. A. Kierman (Amherst, 1978), 357-65. In these studies Maspero attempts to show that much of what is said in early sources of the Warring States political strategist, Su Ch'in …, is the product of "pure imagination." He believes that the fragmentary stories of Su Ch'in derive not from a work of history but from the now-lost Su tzu … which he calls a novel or "a work of political philosophy in the form of a novel." Maspero argues not from the origins of the Su Ch'in legends but from chronological inconsistencies and internal contradictions. His conclusion, that Su Ch'in was fictional, should be regarded with some tentativeness, as Maspero himself seems to have done. Moreover, Maspero seems not to have fully appreciated how the competition of cults which grow up about a figure lead to great diversity in the sources for them which have come to us. This was certainly the case with the traditions surrounding Confucius. These and related questions are discussed by David Johnson in connection with the cult of Wu Tzu-hsü which grew and influenced legends about the great hero of the kingdom of Wu during ancient as well as medieval times. See his "The Wu Tzu-hsü Pien-wen and Its Sources," HJAS 40.1 (1980), 93-156, and 40.2 (1980),465-505.
  6. The three songs would form a single series were it not for Song No. 35, "Ku feng" …, which has nothing to do with the others. That song should instead be read together with three other Pei feng songs, Nos. 30, 32, and 41, which form a set having to do with the winds of the four cardinal directions.
  7. On the very fragmentary remains of a manuscript of the Shih ching, dating to ca. 185-165 B.C., and quite different in significant details from the Mao School version, there appears the state name Pei kuo. … This certainly suggests that the division of the Wei songs among three different states was not exclusive to the Mao School version, as was argued by some Ch'ing dynasty authorities, but instead was an ancient feature inherited by the various Han dynasty Shih ching traditions. (The manuscript was one of several discovered in 1977 in one of a pair of Former Han tombs located near Fu-yang … in Anhwei province. Another text from the cache is discussed below. For details on the Shih ching manuscript see Wen wu, 1984.8, pp. 1-21.)
  8. See Shirakawa Shizuka, Shikyō kenkyū: tsuronhen … (Kyoto, 1981), 51-177.
  9. Ts'ui Shu does, however, treat the legendary accounts discussed below in terms of their relative historicity in his Chu Ssu k'ao hsin lu … (TSCC), 2.47-51, 3.63-70. Fujiwara's useful two-volume study is entitled Kōshi zenshū … (Tokyo, 1931).
  10. Arthur Waley, The Book of Songs (New York, 1960), 54, already renders the song as a dialogue.
  11. Mao says that the bitterness of the leaves of the p'ao … "gourd" means that they cannot be eaten. The leaves evidently became inedible only very late in autumn when the gourd was old because the leaves of the hu…"calabash", with which Mao equates the p'ao, were delicacies offered the ancestors, according to Song 231, Shih ching 15C.3b. The Ho Yen … commentary at Lun yü 17.4a says that because the gourd cannot be eaten it is regarded as useless and thus hung on a wall where it remains.
  12. Shuo wen chieh tzu … 11 A(2).15b defines li … as "stepping on stones to ford a stream." Ch'i …"wading" is defined more specifically by Mao and Erh ya…, 7.21a-b as "lifting the skirts." Because of these and other lines in the song which encourage the reluctant first person to act, the song is often taken as an expression of resoluteness.
  13. At Tso chuan, Hsiang 14, 32.1 1a-b, and Kuo yü…,"Lu yü," 5.2b-3a, there is an anecdote in which Song 34 is recited by a man to illustrate his resolve to ford a river and pursue the enemy.
  14. Shih ching 1D. 1a.
  15. For kuei …"axle." see B. Karlgren, Glosses on the Book of Odes (Stockholm 1970). p. 118, loss 91.
  16. For proof that Chung Mou was at this time a Fan family possession and not, as some old interpretations have held, already one of the Chao fortresses, see the comments of Huang Shih-san …, quoted in Shikikaichū kōshō…, ed., Takigawa Kametarō … (Kyoto, 1958), 47.46-47.
  17. The quote is found at Lun yü, 17.3b-4a and Shih chi,47.14b. For a full translation of the latter, see E. Chavannes, Les mémoires historiques de Se-Ma Ts'ien (Paris, 1905), V, 347-48.
  18. See Lun yü, 14.39 (=14.15b) and Shih chi, 47.14b-15a, Chavannes, op. cit., 348-49.
  19. The quote from Song 34 and Confucius's reply to it appear in Lun yü, 14.39 but have dropped from the "K'ung tzu shih chia."
  20. Shih chi, 47.15a-b; Chavannes, 351-53.
  21. Tso chuan, Hsüan 15, 24.11b-12a.
  22. Wei… occurs in two senses in Song 36. It is in the first line of each stanza the noun, "obscure one, humble one." In the second line it is the negative, "if it were not for.…" The word shih … in general has two meanings in the Shih ching. Before verbs it is a modal. This aspect of the word has been studied in Ting Sheng-shu …, "Shih ching 'shih' tzu shou" …, Bulletin of the Institute of History and Philology 6.4 (1936), 487-95. When it occurs before nouns I take it to be an emphatic, related to other ancient words whose old pronunciations are similar to it. This seems to be what is suggested by Kuo P'u …, at Erh ya, 4.12a, who explains shih wei … as chih wei …, a gloss I have followed in my translation.
  23. Ma Jui-ch'en …, Mao shih chuan chien t'ung shih …, 4.26b-27b demonstrates that ku … should be understood as "calamity" or "misfortune" and that kung … is a short form for ch'iung …, "impoverishment."
  24. When Mao identifies chung lu …"in the open" and ni chung …"in the mire" as fortresses in Wei he is not defining the terms as toponyms but merely associating the scene of distress with strongholds in Wei.
  25. Hsün tzu, "Yu tso, " 20.4b. At Mo tzu, "Fei Ju," 9.15b-16a, a passage with an almost identical formulaic introduction but intended to mock Confucius's hypocrisy claims that Confucius, who was usually scrupulous about his meals, ate meat given him by Tzu Lu even though he had reason to believe Tzu Lu had stolen it.
  26. Cf. note 23 above.
  27. Lun yü, 15.1b.
  28. Mao … should be read mao.…
  29. Following Mao's paraphrase.
  30. For another instance of the saying, see Shih chi, "Chin shih chia," 39.8b, where it refers to the confusion of the Chin nobility when the three families usurped power and there was no single leader.
  31. Meng jung …, or its variant meng jung … given in the Fu-yang Shih ching (see note 7 above), describes something completely covered over and concealed by a dense growth of vegetation and, by extension, the wild movements of those thus blinded. Because earlier scholars did not appreciate that "fox-furs" (hu ch'iu …) is a metonymy for the noblemen who wear them, meng jung has been mistakenly understood as descriptive of messy and unkempt fur.
  32. I follow the Fu-yang Shih ching (see note 7 above) and read fei …"complain" rather than the negative fei… given in the Mao School version. The Mao reading has long been recognized as problematic. Ma Jui-ch'en, op. cit. 4.29b, for example, argued that the graph … did not here stand for the negative but for a homophonous demonstrative pronoun.
  33. So wei… is but a variant of shao wei.…
  34. The bird gets the name liu li …, "vagabond," from the way it rides about on the wind and does not perch. The identity of the tiny bird is uncertain, though it is probably related to the siskin and, as Ma Jui-ch'en, 4.29b-30a points out, not the owl.
  35. Shih chi, 47.16a/b; Chavannes, 357-59.
  36. Lun yū 5.10a/b. The passage has been taken to be a comment about some anonymous disciples who remained home during Confucius's exile, but the Shih chi makes it clear that it is Jan Yu whom Confucius is criticizing.
  37. Meng tzu, 7B.37 (=14B.8a). The last sentence, which begins with the negative pu …, should be read as rhetorical question, a usage attested at Meng tzu 2A.2 and elsewhere.
  38. The Meng tzu passage is repeated at Shih chi, 47.13b.
  39. Liang Yü-sheng …, Shih chi chih i … (Kuang ya shu chü, 1887), 25.18b-19a.
  40. There is an ancient tradition which ascribes the "Fang chi" to Confucius's grandson, Tzu Ssu.… This led numerous Ch'ing authorities to identify the "Fang chi" as a fragment of the latter's lost writings. In my doctoral dissertation, "The Four 'Tzu Ssu' Chapters of the Li Chi" (Stanford, 1978), I show that the ancient traditions are mistaken and propose that the "Fang chi" cannot be dated to much before the first century B.C.
  41. Arthur Waley, The Analects of Confucius (New York, 1952), 22-23.
  42. For the authoritative discussion of the problems surrounding the K'ung tzu chia yü as well as the differences between the Wang Su and Cheng Hsüan camps, see Gustav Haloun, "Fragmente des Fu-tsi und des Tsin-tsi," Asia Major 8 (1932), 456-61.
  43. The Fu-yang cache, first discovered in 1977, is reported in some detail in Wen wu, 1983.2, pp. 21-23. (It included the Shih ching MS discussed above in note 7.)
  44. Wen wu, 1983.2, p. 23, lists the titles of three of the stories and happens to include this one. One imagines that in some future publication we will learn the other forty-three titles included on the board.
  45. Shih chi, "T'ai Shih Kung tzu hsü," 130.12a.
  46. The line about the Kuo yü is garbled. Historical inconsistencies in the passage's other characterizations of the authorship of the texts it mentions are discussed in the commentary at Shikikaichü kōshō, 13.28-29.
  47. See Herbert Franke, "Some Remarks on the Interpretation of Chinese Dynastic Histories," Oriens 3 (1950), 113-22, esp. 120-21.
  48. Shih chi, "K'ung tzu shih chia," 47.2a.

David L. Hall and Roger T. Ames (essay date 1987)

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SOURCE: "Some Uncommon Assumptions," in Thinking Through Confucius, State University of New York Press, 1987, pp. 11-25.

[In the following excerpt, Hall and Ames comment on distinctions between Confucius's original teachings and later interpretations of them.]

In this essay we have been bold enough to challenge both the principal understandings of Confucian thought and the traditional methods of articulating them. It behooves us, therefore, to begin by discussing certain of the fundamental background assumptions which characterize what we consider to be an appropriate interpretive context within which Confucius' thought may be clarified. The primary defect of the majority of Confucius' interpreters—those writing from within the Anglo-European tradition as well as those on the Chinese side who appeal to Western philosophic categories—has been the failure to search out and articulate those distinctive presuppositions which have dominated the Chinese tradition.

The assumptions we shall be considering are precisely those not shared by the mainstream thinkers of our own tradition. It should be of some real assistance to our Anglo-European readers if they have ready to hand some important cultural contrasts as a means of avoiding the unconscious translation of Chinese Confucian notions into an idiom not altogether compatible with them. We should caution, as well, Chinese thinkers trained within the Neo-Confucian tradition to keep in mind that we are here primarily attempting to explicate the thought of Confucius as it appears in the Analects, and not as his Neo-Confucian disciples, however distinguished, have envisioned it.

We must attempt to be as clear as possible at the outset concerning the nature and applicability of these uncommon assumptions. By "assumptions" we mean those usually unannounced premises held by the members of an intellectual culture or tradition that make communication possible by constituting a ground from which philosophie discourse proceeds. By calling attention to contrasting assumptions of classical Chinese and Western cultures, we certainly do not wish to suggest that the conceptual differences we chose to highlight are in any sense absolute or inevitable. The richness and complexity of the Chinese and the Western traditions guarantee that, at some level, the cultural presuppositions dominant in one culture can be found—if only in a greatly attenuated form—in the other milieu as well. Thus, our claims with respect to the assumptions uncommon to Chinese or Anglo-European cultures are to be understood as assertions as to their differential importance within the two cultures.

When we discuss the "uncommon assumptions" in the following pages we shall take the conceptual contrasts from the inventory of Anglo-European philosophy, but the meanings of these contrasts will be shaped in part by the fact that we are employing them to engage Confucius with the Western tradition. This is only to say that we shall often be employing our philosophic vocabulary in a fashion that stretches its traditional connotative bounds.

As we noted in our consideration of the necessary resort to cross-cultural anachronism in the Apologia above, by discussing concepts that Confucius did not explicitly entertain or by representing him as a defender of one of two contrasting assumptions grounded in a distinction he might not explicitly have recognized, we are attempting to provide an assessment of Confucian thought that openly accepts as inevitable that one always begins to think where one is. The naive assumptions that one can find a neutral place from which to compare different cultural sensibilities or that one can easily take an objective interpretive stance within an alternative culture, while comforting to those compulsively attached to the external trappings of objective scholarship, have led to the most facile and distorted accounts of exoteric thinkers.

1 An Immanental Cosmos

Perhaps the most far-reaching of the uncommon assumptions underlying a coherent explication of the thinking of Confucius is that which precludes the existence of any transcendent being or principle. This is the presumption of radical immanence. Our language here is somewhat misleading, since, in the strict sense, the contrast of transcendence and immanence is itself derived from our Anglo-European tradition. At any rate, it will become clear as we discuss Confucius' thinking in subsequent chapters that attempts to articulate his doctrines by recourse to transcendent beings or principles have caused significant interpretive distortions. Employing the contrast between "transcendent" and "immanent" modes of thought will assist us materially in demonstrating the inappropriateness of these sorts of transcendent interpretations.

Given the complexity surrounding the several applications of the term "transcendence" in the development of Western thought, it is essential that we be as precise as possible in what we intend by it. Strict transcendence may be understood as follows: a principle, A, is transcendent with respect to that, B, which it serves as principle if the meaning or import of B cannot be fully analyzed and explained without recourse to A, but the reverse is not true. The dominant meanings of principles in the Anglo-European philosophic tradition require the presumption of transcendence in this strict sense.

The prominence of the language of transcendence in considering the basic principles of Western philosophers tempts Anglo-European interpreters of Confucius' thinking to employ such language in their analyses of the Analects. This has been particularly true to the extent that the major burden of introducing the Chinese classics to the non-Chinese world fell initially to Christian apologists with an inescapable commitment to the notion of transcendence. The necessity to employ transcendent principles is, of course, quite obvious in the Platonic and Aristotelian traditions. In Plato's Timaeus, the ideas or forms are independent of the Cosmos and provide the models in accordance with which the Cosmos is made. Aristotle's Unmoved Mover is the primary substance which, as the eternal, immutable, immaterial source of all other things, is the principle that accounts for all change and motion and grounds our understanding of the natural world. This principle, by its very definition, remains undetermined by the Cosmos or any element in it.

Classical forms of materialism, drawn from the philosophies of Democritus and Lucretius, construe the world in terms of "atoms" as the independent and unchanging units of which everything else is comprised. In the strictest sense the atoms of classical materialism transcend the things of the world which they comprise since they are the determinants of these things while themselves remaining unaffected by that which they determine.

A fourth alternative source of philosophical categories among the traditions of Western philosophy is associated with the dominant forms of the existentialist or volitional perspective. Here principles have their ultimate origin in human agents. "Princes" provide principles; rules come from "rulers." In the most general sense the human world is an array of artificial constructs which places upon each individual the burden of achieving "authenticity" by making this world his own through acts of reconstruction and valuation. Although this characterization of the existentialist perspective may seem to echo the sort of human-centered contextual ethics that we choose to associate with Confucius, these are false resonances to the extent that, in the Anglo-European tradition, existentialists have tended to be less concerned with interdependence than with the independent realization of excellence. According to this view, individuals at the peak of self-actualization become transcendent principles of determination, independent of the world that they create.

The existentialist perspective can be adjusted toward classical Confucianism only to the extent that it recognizes the relativity of the individual with respect to the society that determines, as well as is determined by, him. Furthermore, this interaction with the social context cannot be in the form of a "war of each against all" but must be grounded in deferential relations within interdependent contexts.

In the project of comparative philosophy, we have no choice but to attempt to articulate the other tradition by seeking out categories and language found in our own tradition that, by virtue of some underlying similarity, can be reshaped and extended to accommodate novel ideas. The thought of Confucius can only make sense to the Western reader by appeal to analogous structures within the purview of his own cultural experience that, however inadequate, can provide some basic similarity through which to deal with the differences. Difference cannot be taken on wholesale. What we are at a loss to find in the classical Anglo-European philosophic tradition is any fully developed position within which the principles of order and value are themselves dependent upon and emerge out of the contexts to which they have intrinsic relevance. An appropriate and adequate explication of the meaning of Confucius' thought requires a language of immanence grounded in the supposition that laws, rules, principles, or norms have their source in the human, social contexts which they serve.

If contemporary comparative philosophic activity is any indication, it might be the pragmatic philosophies associated with Peirce, James, Dewey, and Mead, and extended toward a process philosophy such as that of A.N. Whitehead, that can serve as the best resource for philosophical concepts and doctrines permitting responsible access to Confucius thought. This presumption, in fact, will be tested in the following chapters. This is hardly a controversial move, of course, since many from both the Chinese and Western contexts have pointed out the similarities between pragmatism and process philosophy, on the one hand, and classical Chinese philosophy, on the other.1

This immanental language necessary in the explication of Confucius' thought is of peculiar importance in articulating the Confucian concept of the self as an ethical agent. For there is a direct relationship between the Anglo-European language of transcendence and the necessity to construe the world, and a fortiori the social world, in terms of substances. Thus any recourse to transcendent principles inevitably leads to a substance view of the self. If the meaning of an agent or an action is to be discerned by recourse to a transcendent principle, then it is that principle which defines the essential nature of both person and context. Rational principles require rational beings to implement them. Moral principles require moral beings to enact them. Such beings are agents characterized respectively in terms of "rationality" and of "morality." And it is such characterization that renders the agent into a substantial being—that is, a being with an essence, an essential "nature."

Confucian philosophy, on the other hand, entails an ontology of events, not one of substances. Understanding human events does not require recourse to "qualities," "attributes," or "characteristics." Thus in place of a consideration of the essential nature of abstract moral virtues, the Confucian is more concerned with an explication of the activities of specific persons in particular contexts. This does not involve a mere shift of perspective from the agent to his acts, for such would still require the use of the substance language we have deemed inappropriate. Characterizing a person in terms of events precludes the consideration of either agency or act in isolation from the other. The agent is as much a consequence of his act as its cause.

The defense of the substantial self so prominent in the Judaeo-Christian tradition is to be contrasted with articulations of more diffuse senses of "self" in the Buddhist, Taoist, and Confucian schools of classical Chinese philosophy. The fact that these two disparate traditions have begun to interact constructively by dint of the recent growth of comparative philosophy raises some extremely interesting questions with regard to the distinctions within the various traditions. Criticisms of the notion of substantial selfhood within Anglo-European philosophy, beginning perhaps with Nietzsche and emerging most distinctively in the twentieth-century process philosophies of James, Bergson, and Whitehead, altered the problematic that had been presumed fundamental to the understanding of persons. The resort to exoteric cultures was therefore almost inevitable, for the theoretical context of Anglo-European thought was not conducive to the optimal expression of the nonsubstantialist insights.

The ontology of events underlying Confucius' thought is a most important implication of the immanental cosmos. Two other implications should be highlighted. These are the altered meanings of "order" and "creativity" in an immanental universe. Two fundamental understandings of order are possible: one requires that order be achieved by application to a given situation of an antecedent pattern of relatedness. This we might call "rational" or "logical" order.2 A second meaning of order is fundamentally aesthetic. Aesthetic order is achieved by the creation of novel patterns. Logical order involves the act of closure; aesthetic order is grounded in disclosure. Logical order may be realized by the imposition or instantiation of principles derived from the Mind of God, or the transcendent laws of nature, or the positive laws of a given society, or from a categorical imperative resident in one's conscience. Aesthetic order is a consequence of the contribution to a given context of a particular aspect, element, or event which both determines and is determined by the context. It would be an error to suppose that order in Confucius' thinking meant anything like the rational order that results from the imposition of an antecedently entertained pattern upon events. As strange as this may seem to those still persuaded by the rigid stereotypes foisted on us by our received tradition, for Confucius order is realized, not instantiated.

It is also important that the Confucian sense of "creativity" be noted. In the Western philosophic tradition, informed by the Judaeo-Christian notion of creatio ex nihilo, creativity is often understood as the imitation of a transcendent creative act. In Confucian terms, creative actions exist ab initio within the world of natural events and are to be assessed in terms of their contributions to the order of specific social circumstances. In no sense are creative actions modeled after the meaning-closing actions of an extra-mundane creative event. Creativity in a Confucian world is more closely associated with the creation of meaning than of being.

2 Conceptual Polarity

The ubiquity of the concept of transcendence in the Western tradition has introduced into our conceptual inventory a host of disjunctive concepts—God and the world, being and not being, subject and object, mind and body, reality and appearance, good and evil, knowledge and ignorance, and so forth—which, although wholly inappropriate to the treatment of classical Chinese philosophy, nonetheless have seriously infected the language we have been forced to employ to articulate that philosophy.3 The mutual immanence of the primary elements of the Confucian cosmos—heaven, earth and man—precludes the use of the language of transcendence and therefore renders any sort of dualistic contrast pernicious. The epistemological equivalent of the notion of an immanental cosmos is that of conceptual polarity. Such polarity requires that concepts which are significantly related are in fact symmetrically related, each requiring the other for adequate articulation. This is a truistic assertion about Chinese thinking, of course, and is usually illustrated with regard to the concepts of yin … and yang.… Yin does not transcend yang, nor vice versa. Yin is always "becoming yang" and yang is always "becoming yin," night is always "becoming day" and day is always "becoming night." But having said as much, most commentators on the Chinese tradition simply leave it at that, without spelling out precisely the character of the presupposition that underlies the mutual immanence and symmetrical relatedness of classical Chinese notions.

The presupposition, abstractly stated, is simply this: the Confucian cosmos is a context that both constitutes and is constituted by the elements which comprise it. But an important clarification is necessary. An organism is generally conceived as a whole with parts that functionally interrelate in accordance with some purpose or goal. In the West, Aristotelian naturalism is the most representative example where in an important sense the end or aim that characterizes the highest purpose or purposes transcends the natural world. The Unmoved Mover is an unconditional aim or goal. Where "organism" might be applied to the Confucian cosmos, an important distinction is that there is no element or aspect that in the strictest sense transcends the rest. Every element in the world is relative to every other; all elements are correlative.

If there is a true lack of correlativity even in naturalistic cosmologies such as the Aristotelian, then a fortiori there will be this same lack in philosophic systems influenced by cosmogonies of the creatio ex nihilo variety. Since the convergence of the Hebraic and Hellenic traditions in the West, creatio ex nihilo doctrines have had a profound influence in encouraging the language of transcendence and the dualistic categories which perforce must be employed to instantiate this language.

A dualism exists in philosophic vocabularies influenced by ex nihilo doctrines because in these doctrines a fundamentally indeterminate, unconditioned power is posited as determining the essential meaning and order of the world. This dualism involves a radical separation between the transcendent and nondependent creative source, on the one hand, and the determinate and dependent object of its creation on the other. The creative source does not require reference to its creature for explanation. This dualism, in its various forms, has been a prevailing force in the development of Western-style cosmogonies, and has been a veritable Pandora's box releasing the elaborated pattern of dualisms that have framed Western metaphysical speculations.

Polarity, on the other hand, has been a major principle of explanation in the initial formulation and evolution of classical Chinese metaphysics. By "polarity," we wish to indicate a relationship of two events each of which requires the other as a necessary condition for being what it is. Each existent is "so of itself and does not derive its meaning and order from any transcendent source. The notion of "self" in the locution "so of itself" has a polar relationship with "other." Each particular is a consequence of every other. And there is no contradiction in saying that each particular is both self-determinate and determined by every other particular, since each of the existing particulars is constitutive of every other as well. The principal distinguishing feature of polarity is that each pole can only be explained by reference to the other. "Left" requires "right," "up" requires "down," and "self" requires "other."

Dualistic explanations of relationships encourage an essentialistic interpretation in which the elements of the world are characterized by discreteness and independence. By contrast, a polar explanation of relationships requires a contextualist interpretation of the world in which events are strictly interdependent.

Not only are the dualistic categories mentioned above inappropriate to the orientation of polar metaphysics, they can be a source of distorted understanding. Polarity requires correlative terminologies in order to explain the dynamic cycles and processes of existence: differentiating/condensing, scattering/amalgamating, dispersing/coagulating, waxing/waning, and so forth. Further, since everything that exists falls on a shared continuum on which they differ in degree rather than in kind, the distinctions that obtain among them are only qualitative: clear (ch'ing …)/turbid (cho …); correct (cheng …)/one-side (p'ien …); thick (hou…)/thin (po … ); hard (kang …)/soft (jou …); genial (wen …)/overbearing (pao …).

The polar character of early Chinese thought discouraged the interpretation of creativity in terms of creatio ex nihilo. The historian, Michael Loewe, goes so far as to assert that in the classical Chinese context, "in neither mythology nor philosophy can there be found the idea of creatio ex nihilo."4 The Chuang Tzu, as an example of this tradition, explicitly challenges the principle of an absolute beginning:5

There is a beginning. There is not yet begun to be a beginning. There is not yet begun to not yet begin to be a beginning. There is being. There is nonbeing. There is not yet begun to be nonbeing. There is not yet begun to not yet begin to be nonbeing. Suddenly there is being and nonbeing. And yet I don't know what follows from there "being" nonbeing. Is it "being" or is it "nonbeing"?

The implications of this dualism/polarity distinction are both many and important in the kinds of philosophical questions that were posed by the Chinese thinkers, and in the responses they provoked. For example, Loewe suggests that in that culture, "no linear concept of time develops from the need to identify a single beginning from which all processes followed."6 The process of existence is fundamentally cyclical. There is no final beginning or end in this process; instead, there is cyclical rhythm, order and cadence.7

Again, the notion of a purposeful, anthropomorphic creator is certainly found in the classical tradition—the tsao wu che … of the Taoists, for example. However, the polar commitment which does not allow for a final distinction between creator and creature rendered this idea stillborn.8

If the Chinese tradition is grounded in conceptual polarities, a reasonable expectation is that this fact would be manifested in the main areas of classical Chinese thought: social and political philosophy. Benjamin Schwartz among others has observed that this is indeed the case. Schwartz identifies several "inseparably complementary" polarities which are grounded in classical Confucianism and which pervade the tradition: personal cultivation (hsiu shen …) and political administration (chih kuo …), inner (nei …) and outer (wai…), and the familiar knowledge (chih …) and action (hsing …).9

One of the most significant implications of this dualism/polarity distinction lies in the perceived relationship between mind and body. The dualistic relationship between psyche and soma that has so plagued the Western tradition has given rise to problems of a most troublesome sort. In the polar metaphysics of the classical Chinese tradition, the correlative relationship between the psychical and the somatic militated against the emergence of a mind/body problem. It is not that the Chinese thinkers were able to reconcile this dichotomy; rather, it never emerged as a problem. Because body and mind were not regarded as essentially different kinds of existence, they did not generate different sets of terminologies necessary to describe them. For this reason, the qualitative modifiers that we usually associate with matter do double duty in Chinese, characterizing both the physical and the psychical. Hou … for example, can mean either physically thick or generous, po … can mean either physically thin or frivolous. Roundness (yüan …) and squareness (fang …) can characterize both physical and psychical dispositions. In fact, the consummate person in this tradition is conventionally distinguished by his magnitude: great (ta …), abysmal (yüan …), and so forth. Similar yet perhaps less pervasive metaphors in the Western languages might hark back to a pre-dualistic interpretation of person. At the least, they reflect an interesting inconsistency between theory and metaphor, reason and rhetoric, in our tradition.

3 Tradition as Interpretive Context

The final assumption that gives access to the thinking of Confucius concerns the character of tradition as the interpretive context within which the foregoing presuppositions receive their literary and philosophic expression. As in the case of the two former assumptions, it will be helpful to characterize the Confucian position in terms of a conceptual contrast.10

History may be understood in distinctively different ways, of course, but there is a rather broad agreement concerning the centrality of the concept of agency. Whether history is construed directly in terms of efficient causal factors of an above all economic or military sort or is interpreted as the history of ideas, the concept of agency is indeed crucial. Ideas have consequences, if not in the same manner then certainly to the same degree as the arrangement of economic variables, for example. Even so, it would appear that neither idealist nor materialist conceptions of history would promote the notion of human agency to the same extent that, for example, volitional or heroic notions would. But there is little doubt that the materialist and idealist understandings are themselves constructions of individuals who lay claim to greatness. If not the historical figures themselves, then historians and philosophers, as authors of texts, become the efficacious agents determining the meaning of events. One has but to recall the manner in which the history of science, grounded in a materialist paradigm for most of its history, is celebrated in terms of the "great" scientists.

The situation is certainly no different with regard to intellectual history. We are still concerned with the import of our historical past construed almost exclusively in terms of the great minds. Ideas have discoverers, inventors, champions, and caretakers. And these individuals have names and careers. Their stories can be told.

All this is truistic and so much a part of our self-understanding as to be wholly taken for granted. Is there, after all, an alternative? The alternative that most readily contrasts with that of the preeminence of history as the defining context of cultural experience is one which finds tradition to be central. The terms "history" and "tradition" certainly have overlapping significances, but it is usually the case that one of these notions is more fundamental to a given social context. History is made by personages or events. Traditions possess a kind of givenness that defies or is at least resistant to the questions of originators and creators. History is rational and rationalizable in the sense that reasons and causes can be demonstrated for any given event or sets of events even though the whole complex of events may seem chaotic and irrational. With tradition just the reverse is true: it may be impossible to defend the rationality of this or that tradition, ritual or custom, but the rationality of the whole complex of traditions can usually be well-defended in terms of, for example, social solidarity and stability.

The different sorts of rationality associated with history and tradition indicate a great deal about the nature of the relationships that are most viable between them. Traditional cultures are ritualistic in the sense that the ritual forms associated with public and private praxis are employed in large measure as ways of maintaining institutional and cultural continuity with a minimum of conscious intervention. Those societies conditioned less by tradition and more by conscious history must resort to positive laws and sanctions to a greater degree.

This obvious and much advertised distinction between historical and traditional cultures is, of course, related to the fact that the former tend to stress morality in the sense of obedience and disobedience to principles and laws while the latter stress the aesthetic character of ritualistic participation. Rules are normative in the sense of external ordering principles with respect to historical cultures, while in traditional cultures rules are constitutive and immanent in the sense that, as ritualistic forms, they constitute the being or agent in the performance of the ritual. Also, given that a necessary and defining condition of ritual action is that it be personalized, there is a closer relationship between rituals and persons than between principles and individuals.

Rituals performed in accordance with tradition are readily contrasted with rules obeyed out of either rational deliberation or prudent self-interest. And the weight of this contrast is to be grasped in terms of the consequences it has for the exteriority of the person with respect to grounding principles characterizing his social matrix. As a constituting activity, ritual action provides form to the person and the means of his or her expression. On the other hand, laws, which transcend the individual, provide guidelines for actions since they serve as guiding norms which measure, and standardize. They are to be obeyed. As such, one may (indeed must) feel "outside" the laws and alienated to however slight a degree by them and from them.

In the West, the strength with which one feels one's individuality is a function of the exteriority of norms. Unless one exists over against and in tension with the norms of society, there can be little in the way of ego-centered existence. The blending with one's ambience associated with aesthetic, ritualized life does little to promote intense forms of individuality. One can easily understand this by recourse to the contrasting senses of individuality in Western and Chinese cultures.

The distinction between Western forms of individualism and the Confucian concept of the person lies in the fact that difference is prized in Western societies as a mark of creativity and originality, while in China the goal of personality development involves the achievement of interdependence through the actualization of integrative emotions held in common among individuals. Such an ethos is based upon a rejection of those idiosyncratic emotions and actions that are not expressible through immanent norms of custom and tradition. The actions of individuals who dare to stand away from and challenge tradition and the visions of the past are interpretable by the Confucian as consequences of self-serving effrontery in the face of the legitimate continuities of a received tradition.

The dominance of tradition as the source of practical and affective norms leads to a restriction of the novel contributions of persons as individuals who would break the continuities of the past and establish new directions in thought or institutional practice. History thrives on the actions of rebels, idiosyncratic creators and innovators. Traditional societies prize continuities as embodiments and elaborations of the thinking and action of the past. The history of theoretical disciplines in China and Europe illustrates this distinction extremely well. In Chinese philosophy, the mark of excellence is found in the manner in which the wisdom of the originating thinkers of the past is appropriated and made relevant by extension to one's own place and time. In the West, the history of philosophy may be read as a series of revolutionary visions forwarded by (to limit ourselves merely to modern times) Descartes, Hume, Kant, Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche, and so forth.

Tradition-oriented societies, like the persons who comprise them, do not tend to initiate dramatic cultural changes. Of course, this is not to deny change. On the contrary, the continued appeal to the authority of Confucius as sage in the Chinese tradition has masked a great deal of novelty. Doctrines significantly at variance with those of Confucius have been credited to him by virtue of the tendency to promote the continuity of traditional values. For example, although Confucius seems repeatedly to eschew the explicit treatment of metaphysical questions in the Analects, the profoundly metaphysical Chung-yung is nonetheless "attributed" to him via his grandson, Tzu-ssu. And Hsün Tzu, consciously flying under the banner of Confucius, does in fact represent a radical paradigmatic shift from his original teachings. Tung Chung-shu, the ranking Confucian scholar of the Western Han, is arguably more representative of Han syncretism than of Confucius or even pre-Ch'in Confucianism. And so on.

This relationship between the original teachings of Confucius and later interpretations can be understood in two ways. Either Confucius, for whatever reason, has been used as a medium to conceal the novel ideas of innumerable creative individuals, or he is in fact a "corporate" person who is continually being seen in a new way by virtue of the participation of later thinkers in the ongoing transmission of cultural values. Thus viewed, "Confucius" is a community, a society, a living tradition.…11

It is interesting in this connection to note the degree to which important historical changes in China have been occasioned by external forces. The so-called "Westernization" of China, particularly in its late nineteenth-and early twentieth-century phases, is a perfect example of such seeming historical passivity. This very historical passivity, however, masks the novelty and discontinuity of Chinese society. When Liang Souming, one of the principal theoreticians of the Chinese May Fourth Movement, spoke of China's "accommodating will" in contrast to the "aggressive will" of the West, he was alluding to this characteristic of many traditional societies. Such accommodation is a process of absorption taking place over a long period of time. It is, likewise, a process of transformation in which what is in its inception a novel element is provided a traditional interpretation.… [One] must avoid the temptation to interpret Confucius' thought from a strictly historical rather than a traditional perspective. To do so would make of him an originator, a "great man," instead of the "transmitter" that he understood himself to be. On the other hand, unless one remains sensitive to the meaning of creativity in Confucianism, the understanding of Confucius as a transmitter of tradition will lead one to mistake him for a mere transmitter, and not the sage that he indeed is.


  1. See, for example, Hall (1), pp. 169-228 for a discussion of some of the relations between classical Chinese thought and Anglo-European process philosophy.
  2. The distinction we are insisting upon between "logical" and "aesthetic" order will be discussed in some detail at the beginning of Chapter III, below.
  3. Indeed, one may question the appropriateness of dualistic categories in Western thought, as well. See Hall (1), Chapter 3, "What 'God' Hath Wrought," for a consideration of some of the cultural consequences of conceptual dualism.
  4. Loewe, p. 63.
  5. Chuang Tzu, 5/2/49.
  6. Loewe, pp. 63-64.
  7. Relative to this observation, it is significant that the notions of "birth" and the process of "growth" (or "life") are not clearly differentiated in Chinese; both are denoted by the character, sheng.… Since reality in the early Chinese tradition is conceived in terms of cyclical process, the absence of cosmogony is compensated for by an elaborate cosmological tradition, to which the Yi-ching and the Taoist, Yin-yang and Wu-hsing (Five Phases) schools bear witness.
  8. Loewe, p. 68.
  9. Schwartz, pp. 50-62.
  10. We should again stress that our employment of contrasting terms such as "transcendence and immanence," "polarity and dualism," and, in this section, "tradition and history" is not to be construed as descriptive of contrasts existing within the Confucian culture itself. On the contrary, these contrasts are couched in terms more congenial to the Anglo-European intellectual tradition and, as such, have the sort of dualistic associations supported by that context. Freed from these dualistic associations, the concepts of immanence, polarity, and tradition as stipulated here, are the most pertinent we have been able to discover in order to illumine the Confucian world view from a comparative perspective. The proof of their value, however, must be realized pragmatically as one attempts to use these uncommon assumptions in order to understand the discussions in the body of this work.
  11. See de Bary, (1) vol. II, pp. 188-91. Even the term ju …, typically rendered "Confucian" and taken as the emblem of Confucian thinkers, has the etymological association with ju … (weakness, servility).…

Works Cited

Chang Tzu. Harvard-Yenching Institute Sinological Index Series, Supp. 20. Peking: Harvard-Yenching Institute, 1947.

de Bary, Wm. Theodore. Sources of Chinese Civilization. New York: Columbia University Press, 1960.

Loewe, Michael. Chinese Ideas of Life and Death. London: Allen and Unwin, 1982.

Schwartz, Benjamin I. "Some Polarities in Confucian Thought." In Confucianism in Action, ed. David S. Nivison and Arthur F. Wright. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1959.

Philip J. Ivanhoe (essay date 1990)

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SOURCE: "Reweaving the 'One Thread' of the Analects," in Philosophy East and West, Vol. XL, No. 1, January, 1990, pp. 17-33.

[In the following excerpt, Ivanhoe discusses the Golden Rule, which, in Confucian thought, is described in the notions of chung and shu.]


The Golden Rule—the notion that one's own desires can serve, by analogy, as a guide for how one should treat others—is found in various forms, in cultures throughout the world.1 It seems that something like it must exist if there is to be any kind of society at all. One cannot have a friend, a tribe, or a civilization without the fundamental recognition that there are others who share at least some of one's central desires and that one can know what these are by reflecting on one's own desires. If this notion is joined with a concern for others, one has taken the first halting steps toward a moral life. One sees that one's actions should be reversible—that I should treat others as I would want to be treated by them, were we to exchange our positions.

The version of the Golden Rule found in the Analects is generally recognized as one of the oldest recorded statements of the notion of reversibility. It has been studied by several prominent scholars, who agree on at least one point: it is a notion of central importance to Confucius' thought.2 In this article, I will present interpretations of the Confucian Golden Rule by four scholars: Fung Yu-lan, D. C. Lau, Herbert Fingarette, and David S. Nivison. Their respective studies all have contributed significantly to our understanding of this aspect of Confucius' thought. But I believe each of their interpretations leaves certain important difficulties unresolved. After presenting my views on what these difficulties are, I will offer my own interpretation.


The Confucian version of the Golden Rule is usually described as consisting of two notions: chung and shu.

Confucius refers to these as the "one thread" running through his Way.

The Master said, "Shen! My Way has one thread passing through it."

Tseng-tzu replied, "Yes!"

After the master had left, the other disciples asked, "What did he mean?"

Tseng-tzu replied, "Our master's Way is chung and shu, nothing more."3

What these two words mean and how they fit together as two strands to form the "one thread" of Confucius' Way is our central problem.

Fung Yu-lan presents his interpretation in his book, A Short History of Chinese Philosophy.4 He understands the two concepts chung and shu as representing "positive" and "negative" aspects of the notion of reversibility. That is, chung describes those things that I should do to others because I would like to have them done to me, and shu describes those things I should not do to others because I would not like them done to me. They are two aspects of the same principle and together form the "one thread" running through Confucius' Way.

The major strengths of Fung's analysis are that he is able to account in a systematic way for a variety of passages which seem to be connected to the problem of the Golden Rule and that his analysis explains both chung and shu in terms of the single notion of reversibility. Thus the two strands of the Golden Rule are woven tightly together to form what Confucius describes as his "one thread." Fung says:

In the Analects we find the passage: "When Chung Kung asked the meaning of jen, the master said: '… Do not do to others what you do not wish yourself.…'" (XII, 2) Again, Confucius is reported in the Analects as saying: "The man of jen is one who, desiring to sustain himself, sustains others, and desiring to develop himself, develops others. To be able from one's own self to draw a parallel for the treatment of others; that may be called the way to practice jen." (VI, 28)

Thus the practice of jen consists in consideration for others. "Desiring to sustain oneself, one sustains others; desiring to develop oneself, one develops others." In other words: "Do to others what you wish yourself." This is the positive aspect of the practice, which was called by Confucius chung or "conscientiousness to others." And the negative aspect, which was called by Confucius shu or "altruism," is: "Do not do to others what you do not wish yourself." The practice as a whole is called the principle of chung and shu, which is "the way to practice jen."5

This is an interesting interpretation, but it presents several difficulties. First, there is simply no logical difference between the "positive" and "negative" statements of the principle of reversibility, which Fung has equated with the concepts chung and shu, respectively. Any action I might recommend that one do would, under an alternative description, be something I would recommend that one avoid doing. For example, the imperative "One should keep one's promises" goes over without remainder to the prohibition "Do not break one's promises." The statements of the Golden Rule in the Analects are almost all "negative," and Fung is right to point out this feature of the concept shu as significant. But his claim that this is complemented by a "positive" statement of the principle of reversibility seems problematic.6

Another difficulty is Fung's reading of key passages in the Analects. In the passage above, Fung quotes from Analects 12.2 and 6.28 to provide examples of the "negative" and "positive" versions of the Golden Rule. He then equates these with chung and shu, respectively. But neither term is mentioned in either of the passages he quotes. There is ample evidence to sustain the claim that Analects 12.2 concerns the notion of shu.7 But even here, Fung leaves out an important part of this passage, a part which contains recommendations for "positive" action.8 More damaging to Fung's interpretation is his understanding of the notion of chung. For while there are several passages in the Analects which show that shu involves the notion of reversibility, there is not a single passage which describes chung as a case of reversibility—positive or negative.

In making his case for chung as the "positive" version of the notion of reversibility, Fung relies on material from a different and later text, the Chung Yung.9 This significantly alters the interpretive project. Looking at other, later Confucian texts can often be helpful for understanding the Analects, but such material should not serve as the primary evidence for an interpretation of concepts within the Analects. We should turn to such material only when we cannot make sense of some concept by relying solely on the evidence within the Analects. But even if we allow all the material Fung quotes to be admitted as evidence, we still find no examples of the term chung being described as a "positive" case of reversibility.

The next interpretation is that of D. C. Lau.10 He sees the two concepts, chung and shu, related in a different way. According to Lau, shu is the method of drawing an analogy between oneself and others. It tells us both what we should do and what we should not do. Lau expresses the idea of shu with the words from Analects 6.30: it is "taking oneself—'what is near at hand'—as an analogy."11 As for chung, Lau says:

As the way of the Master consists of chung and shu, in chung we have the other component of benevolence. Chung is the doing of one's best and it is through chung that one puts into effect what one had found out by the method of shu.12

One of the great strengths of Lau's interpretation is the fact that he does not need to rely on texts beyond the Analects for support. But there is a difficulty with Lau's interpretation which involves a problem at the very heart of the notion of reversibility. Lau seems to say that shu is using one's intuitions about what is right and wrong as the standard for one's treatment of others.13 But this moral "principle" can lead one into severe difficulties. For if people are guided solely by their own intuitions about what is right, it seems that the Golden Rule might end up providing warrants for doing many things that are unacceptable—at least to a Confucian gentlemen. For example, following this "Way" would have the unhappy consequence of encouraging masochists to become sadists.14 In order to avoid such difficulties, the notion of drawing an analogy from oneself must include the qualification "if one were acting as an ideal moral agent." But if this is the case, then one's contribution to this imaginative exercise is at best obscure. One should just follow the imperative "behave like an ideal moral agent."

One way out of this difficulty is to argue for a well-articulated human nature which is shared by all people. Essentially, this packs the objective moral standards into each person's nature. This is the view of later Confucians, such as Chu Hsi. Mencius holds a related but less radical version of this view.15 But we find no clear statement of such a view in the Analects. Confucius' only recorded statement on human nature is, "By nature human beings are close, but through practice they grow apart."16 The point of this remark would seem to be that a common human practice is needed to keep human beings close to each other as they mature.

I find no evidence in the Analects to support the claim that Confucius advocated any strong form of innate moral intuitionism. Confucius seems to recommend something quite different. Rather than encourage us to rely upon our innate intuitions, he urges us to be guided by li, "rituals." But he does not advocate blind obedience to ritual. We must develop the ability to follow rituals informed by certain intuitions, but we only develop these intuitions through the intelligent practice of rituals. The case is not unlike that of skill acquisition in general, which relies on intuitions acquired through reflective training.17Shu is a principle we use in the application of rituals; it does not provide us with a moral guide apart from the matrix of rituals.

Another difficulty with Lau's interpretation concerns his understanding of chung. He claims that chung means "doing one's best" (in doing those things indicated by the imaginative act of shu). Understanding chung in this way may be plausible, but it is unusual, and one would like to see an argument for this sense of the word. Its basic meaning—the meaning it seems to have throughout the Analects and the one that most translators recognize—is "loyalty."18

But let us, for the time being, accept Lau's reading; it does bring into relief several important features of the Golden Rule. Understanding chung as "doing one's best" would work well if Confucius believed, as most Neo-Confucians did, that we all, in some deep sense, possess complete moral knowledge. Shu would reveal to us what we ought to do, and then we must chung, "do our best," to carry this out. The problem is that there are no passages in the Analects which link chung and shu in this way. The individuals who are described as being chung are not putting into practice actions revealed by the imaginative act of shu. As I will show in the presentation of my own interpretation, those described as chung are people who scrupulously follow li. What is needed, and what I believe my interpretation supplies, is an explanation of the relationship between chung and li which reveals how these two notions are mediated by shu.

Herbert Fingarette presents his analysis of the Confucian Golden Rule in his article, "Following the 'One Thread' of the Analects."19 He believes a revealing analogy can be drawn between the Confucian Golden Rule and the Biblical version found, among other places, in Matthew 22: 35-40, in which Jesus is asked,

"What is the greatest commandment of the law?" Jesus replied, "Love thy Lord your God with all your soul and with all your mind. That is the greatest commandment. It comes first. The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. Everything in the Law and prophets hangs on these two commandments."20

According to Fingarette, the "greatest commandment," Love thy Lord your God with all your soul and with all your mind, corresponds to chung, and the "second commandment," Love your neighbor as yourself, corresponds to shu.

For Fingarette, the notion of imaginatively putting oneself in another's place only involves the second concept, shu. Chung is a kind of interpersonal good faith and loyalty, mediated by the li "rituals." It is one's personal loyalty to—one's love of—the Tao and corresponds to the Christian's loyalty to—love of— God. Fingarette sums up his interpretation:

Let there always be good faith and loyalty of one person to another, as specified for various circumstances and persons by the li; and let this always be conditioned by direct analogizing of self with other, rather than being solely a matter of conventions and rules and laws.21

Like Lau, Fingarette sees the notion of reversibility evident only in shu, and he seems basically to share Lau's interpretation in this respect.22 But they part company on the issue of chung. Lau sees it as the implementation of the revelations of shu, while Fingarette sees it as interpersonal good faith mediated by the li.

Fingarette's analysis reveals important features of the thought we find in the Analects. But it suffers from being based on a misunderstanding of the concept of chung. He claims that in the Analects there is a kind of hybrid notion, chung-hsin, which means something like "interpersonal good faith." But this interpretation obscures the very specific and clear use of the term chung in the Analects.Chung always means, "doing one's duty in service to another."23 To be chung is to be the kind of person who fulfills one's public obligations as defined by the li. Hsin has various related meanings. Its root sense is to be true to one's word. Related meanings include "being trustworthy" or "having trust in." When the two graphs are combined they describe a person who is reliable and worthy of trust. Fingarette has conflated these distinct senses and claimed that this is what Confucius intended by chung in the passages in which it relates to the Golden Rule. If indeed Confucius entertained such a notion, it seems odd that he did not use the purported combination chung-hsin in those critical passages relating to the Golden Rule.

The fourth and final interpretation is by David S. Nivison, as presented in his paper, "Golden Rule Arguments in Chinese Moral Philosophy."24 This study contains a wealth of information about the Golden Rule; Nivison traces this notion throughout the course of Chinese history. But I will restrict my discussion to his understanding of its meaning in the Analects.

Nivison's analysis turns on his noticing a very important fact: there is an explicit hierarchical structure in the concepts chung and shu. Nivison understands chung as a guide for personal conduct in regard to one's social equals or superiors. It is the act of imaginatively placing oneself in the position of one's equal or superior and, in light of the li, seeing, from this perspective, how one would want one's equal or subordinate to behave toward one. One then uses this insight as a guide for judging what actions are appropriate for one to perform toward one's equal or superior. This process reveals to me my duty toward them, and I can then set about exerting myself to fulfill that duty as so revealed. This interpretation understands the term chung in a sense closely related to its basic meaning of "loyalty." As Nivison points out, the loyalty of a person who is chung is not just obedience. For Confucius believed that we should be loyal to the spirit of the li. This may require one to remonstrate with an errant friend or bad superior. In extreme cases it may compel one to refuse to serve an evil ruler altogether—preferring to starve in the hills rather than aid a corrupt cause.

Shu forms the other half of the Confucian Golden Rule and is directed toward the opposite end of the hierarchical spectrum. It is the feeling of benevolence one should adopt—to one's equals and one's social subordinates— when in a position of authority. Shu is the feeling of care and concern one should exercise toward these people. It is the feeling of jen, "benevolence," which Confucius once defined as "loving the people."25 The li prescribe what is proper for every person in every situation, but the notion of shu insists that in exercising the prerogatives of our position, we temper our application of the rules when applying them to our social equals and subordinates. We are to be kind and considerate in what we demand from others. Nivison sums up his interpretation of chung and shu in the following way:

Chung then is the quality of reliably following one's duties towards superiors or equals. Shu on the other hand is a quasi-supererogatory virtue—that is, it had to do with things that are not strictly required of one; it will mean that in dealing with equals or inferiors as our respective roles may require, I will be polite and considerate. The distinction is implicit again in a familiar early text, Analects III. 19, not usually brought into this discussion: "The ruler employs his subordinates according to the 'rites'; the subordinate serves his ruler with chung, "loyalty."26

Nivison has revealed a number of important features of the concepts chung and shu. But, like Fung Yu-lan, he relies on passages outside of the Analects to make his case, specifically, for his interpretation of the notion chung. As I noted earlier, this alters the interpretive task. Also like Fung, Nivison claims that chung involves the notion of reversibility. But there is not a single passage in the Analects in which the notion chung is described as a case of imaginatively putting oneself in another's place. Nivison is correct to point out that chung consists of doing one's duties (as prescribed by li) in regard to one's social peers and superiors. But in no case does this involve the notion of reversibility.27 As I will show below, chung is to do one's duty in service to others, to fulfill one's obligations as prescribed by the li. This is why the translation "loyalty" is everywhere appropriate. Such loyalty must contain the important qualification, pointed out by both Lau and Nivison, that it is not blind obedience to an individual. But this is accomplished in principle by being dedicated to the li. One's loyalty is to the explicitly social Way described by the li, not to some hidden private agenda or individual.


Before I present my interpretation of the Confucian Golden Rule, I would like to examine briefly some important features of the notion of reversibility in ethical philosophy. Reversibility might be regarded as a formal principle which guides me, in the performance of specific actions, to only proper actions—that is, if before I perform a given action, I first conduct a kind of "thought experiment" and imagine how I would feel if I were in the place of the person or persons who will be affected by my proposed action. If I would be willing to be treated in the way I imagine, then I can act in the proposed way. If I follow this principle in every action I take, I can be assured of performing only proper actions.

But the principle of reversibility seems to degenerate in one of two ways. First, it can end up being a disguised way of advocating the adoption of one's personal preferences. For example, as I mentioned earlier, the principle of reversibility would seem to urge a masochist to become a sadist—to adopt the motto: "hurt others as you would have others hurt you." It would also urge those who enjoy hamburgers and beer to offer these to their vegetarian, teetotaler friends. Taken in this direction, the principle seems fatally flawed. It seems to amount to nothing more than a thinly veiled way of saying, "What I like is right, and you should like it too."

Taken in the opposite direction, the principle of reversibility can become a convoluted way of advocating the adoption of a set of unjustified prescriptions for action. It moves in this direction as soon as one realizes the difficulties of the overly subjective interpretation which we have examined above. If the principle of reversibility is to survive, it seems it must be part of a larger, objective ethical system. When I judge how I should treat others by imagining how I would like to be treated, I must accept the premise "If I were in their place and acting properly." Following this interpretation, when the Bible tells us, "And as ye would that men should do unto you, do ye also to them likewise,"28 it is not saying we should use our personal preferences as a standard. By itself, it does not tell us what things we should do. At most it is providing us with a way to judge proposed courses of action. But it will yield the desired results only if one assumes—when imaginatively placing oneself in another's place—that the you of your imagination is an ideal Christian.29

But if this is what the principle of reversibility accomplishes, then it offers very little. For, as we go on to describe, objectively, what it is to be an "ideal Christian," we cannot seem to avoid providing a set of prescriptions for action. The Golden Rule then appears to be nothing more than a way to hide these rules from plain view. The person following the Golden Rule is simply following a set of prescriptions for action, and rather than invoke the Golden Rule, one might simply urge others to "be good Christians."

It seems that the notion of reversibility, by itself, is inert. On the first interpretation, it elevates mere subjective opinions to universal prescriptions for action and hence provides no moral guidance at all. On the second interpretation, it simply camouflages an imperative to follow a set of unjustified prescriptions for action. It seems that reversibility can at best function as a way to remind one to act as an imaginative ideal agent (of an explicitly defined ethical system). It does not provide us with actions to perform, and it does not work unless it is embedded in a surrounding ethic.

In the absence of a set of explicit prescriptions for action, the only way the principle of reversibility can work successfully to guide moral action is if one accepts the premise that there is something called human nature which is shared among human beings and which will incline them to perform a certain class of actions. In this way, the needed justifications can be found, at some level, in basic human intuitions.30

I believe that in the Analects we find a case of the Golden Rule which combines an explicitly defined set of moral guidelines with a subtle appeal to developed human intuitions. It is an interesting case; it has difficulties of its own, but it seems to avoid the two problems I have described above.31 It avoids the merely subjective by advocating a set of prescriptions—the li "rituals"—which are regarded as the best possible set of rules for governing human life. Under normal circumstances, these prescriptions for action will lead one to act morally. But obedience to the rules is not the final goal. Rituals have an additional function; they guide one to develop a sense for what is right. This sense is necessary for a refined understanding of ritual. One develops this sense by continually reflecting upon the ultimate goal of ritual, the harmonious functioning of a society of human beings. In time, such reflection will reveal the spirit behind the letter of these "rules" and will show one that occasionally this spirit compels one to amend, bend, or suspend the "rules."

The first and primary notion in the Confucian Golden Rule is chung. Chung is one's loyalty to the Way; it is the personal virtue which assures others that one will do one's duty, as prescribed by the li, in service to others. Confucius taught his disciples, first of all, to adhere to a traditional creed of personal conduct described by the li. These rituals provided the initial direction and preliminary shape for their moral cultivation.

The gentleman studies culture extensively and restrains himself with the rites. In this way he makes no transgressions.32

Confucius' creed involved a strict set of rules, the li. He taught his disciples to submit to these prescriptions for action; he did not urge them merely to act in accordance with their innate intuitions.33 But he also insisted that there was much more to his way than simply following these rules.

They talk about ritual! They talk about ritual! Are gems and silks all that there is to ritual?34

One was not fully following the li until one performed each ritual with the appropriate attitude, but one could only develop these attitudes by practicing the li. One who had cultivated these proper attitudes and developed them into dispositions for ritual action would see that the traditional rituals provided the best way to give expression to human life. Such an individual would begin to acquire the cultivated sense of ritual which would allow him or her to depart from the mere practice of ritual and begin to apply the li with moral sensitivity. But one could make such judgments only at advanced levels of moral development. For example, when one is first introduced to the traditional rituals for mourning, one must begin by mastering a set of prescribed actions. As one masters the rudiments of these actions one becomes aware of the corresponding emotional states one is to adopt in each case. One comes to see how each facet of the ritual relates to and reflects every other and how its various parts fit together to form a pattern which gives beautiful expression to the deep and troubling emotions that accompany the loss of a loved one. One then fully understands the rationale for the various parts of the ritual. One sees that this ritual is the best way to give form to this aspect of human life, and one begins to see when and how the ritual is to be interpreted and applied in actual situations.

The first step in this process is simply to practice the li. One must learn to do one's duty in service to others, to take one's place and participate in society. Chung is one's commitment to do one's duty, as prescribed by the li, in service to others.

Confucius regarded government service as the highest calling a morally cultivated individual could follow. Throughout his life he sought for a position from which he could put the Way into practice, and he taught his disciples always with this goal in mind. Government service places one in a situation where the different senses of "loyalty" are put to the test. This is why Confucius proposed the example of a minister's service to his ruler as a paradigmatic case for chung behavior:

Lords employ their ministers according to ritual. Ministers serve their lords with loyalty (chung).35

In this passage, we clearly see the hierarchical nature of the concept chung.36Chung is following the rituals in service to others. A person can never be chung to a subordinate (just as it would be odd for us to say one is "loyal" to a subordinate).

In these and other passages, chung implies a morally charged sense of loyalty. It has the sense of "integrity" rather than "obedience." Chung is the commitment (and eventually the disposition) to follow the li. And since following the li consists of working in concert with others, there is an additional aspect to being chung. One who is chung will advise and instruct those he or she serves whenever they are failing to perform their ritual obligations.

Tzu-kung asked about friendship. The master said, "Loyally (chung) advise and skillfully lead them (to do what is proper). If they do wrong, do not join them in it. Do not disgrace yourself."37

A true friend or faithful subordinate does what is in one's "best" interest. And for Confucius, this means that this person helps one to stay on the Way. The loyalty of the chung person is not morally blind. As Confucius says, "Can there be loyalty without instruction?"38

But if this were all there was to Confucius' Way, his disciples would have been little more than moralizing martinets. They would have lost sight of—perhaps never even seen—the underlying rationale for the rituals: to produce a harmonious and humane society. They would never have developed the overarching concern for their fellow human beings, Confucius' premier virtue, jen, "benevolence."

Being perfectly chung does not constitute being jen. We see this in another passage, which also describes the behavior of an official.

Tzu-kung asked, "The prime minister Tzu-wen was appointed to office three times without manifesting joy and was dismissed three times without manifesting sadness. (In each case), he duly informed the incoming prime minister concerning the affairs of government. What can one say of him?"

The master said, "He was loyal (chung)."

"Was he benevolent (jen)?"

"I do not know. How can he be pronounced benevolent (jen)?"39

Tzu-wen did his duty in service to his lord, strictly adhering to li, and so he qualified as chung, "loyal." But Confucius declared that there was as yet no evidence to warrant calling Tzu-wen jen.40 What was missing? It was the other strand of Confucius' "one thread"—the moral sensitivity of shu. Shu is specifically defined in the Analects:

Tzu-kung asked, "Is there a maxim which one can follow all one's life?"

The master said, "Is it not the maxim of shu: do not bestow upon others what you do not want for yourself?"41

I noted earlier, as have others, that the maxim is stated "negatively"; it tells one what one should not do.42 I believe this is significant. It shows that shu is primarily concerned with mediating the application of rules—specifically the application of li. Shu is the governor of chung. It tells me when I should relax or suspend the rules of li, and when I should go beyond what li strictly prescribes. It gives me a way to know when I should not go strictly "by the book."

Shu consits of imaginatively placing oneself in the position of those who will be affected by one's proposed actions and considering whether or not one would accept such treatment oneself. It ensures that one will run the rules and not be run by the rules. Only through the sensitivity gained by the exercise of imaginatively placing oneself in another's place can one keep before one the ultimate goal of ritual—the harmonious, humane society. This is why Confucius regarded shu as "the method of jen, 'benevolence'."

… One who is jen, wishing to be established helps others to be established and wishing to advance helps others to advance. To be able to draw the analogy from oneself can be called the method of jen.43

Above, I quoted the passage in which Confucius refers to shu as the one maxim one could follow throughout one's life. Why did he single out shu over chung? Perhaps we can find the answer if we keep in mind Confucius' primary task: the cultivation of young men for service in a benevolent government. Is it not reasonable to assume that he found it easier to find zealous disciples than morally sensitive ones?

In particular, consider Tzu-kung, the disciple to whom Confucius gave this advice. There is clear evidence to show that he was a young man who had the letter but not quite the spirit of the li. In a well-known passage, Confucius describes Tzu-kung as a ch'i, "vessel" or "tool," one of limited capacity or ability.44 But Tzu-kung was no common "tool"; he was a tool for ritual, a "sacrificial vessel." He could serve another in performing his duties according to ritual, but he lacked the moral sensitivity necessary for fine-tuning their application. He still employed a kind of "cook book" approach to the li. He was not yet a moral connoisseur. Tzu-kung was strict with himself, but he was too strict with others.45 He did not know when and how to amend, bend, or suspend the li when they adversely affected others. He was a bit of a moral martinet. One of the most insidious forms of such overzealous righteousness is believing in one's own selfless devotion to the moral ideal. And this is precisely what Tzu-kung does. He claims to be shu, which is what he is not.

Tzu-kung said, "What I do not want others to do to me, I do not do to others."

The master said, "Oh Ssu! That is something you have not yet attained."46

Confucius' most difficult task was to instill in his disciples the sensitivity needed to implement the rituals in a humane manner. It is far easier to train people to follow a set of rules mechanistically than to apply them with sensitivity; the latter requires the consummate skill that comes only with reflective experience, if it comes at all. It requires wisdom as well as knowledge. Confucius' general emphasis on culture perhaps should be seen as an effort to refine his disciples' humanistic sensitivity in an effort to avoid the often horrible self-righteousness that accompanies moral education.47

We can now see how chung and shu are woven together to form the "one thread of Confucius' Way. Confucius was offering practical moral guidance to his young disciples, not a formal ethical theory. The locus classicus for this notion—the only passage in which the two terms of chung and shu are mentioned together and referred to as "Confucius' one thread"—is a record of Confucius in the act of such teaching.48

Confucius' Way was a refined traditionalism. He did not invent the li nor did he derive them from some set of underlying moral principles. Questions about what constituted the right or the good were, for him, already answered. He never questioned the legitimacy of the traditional rituals.49 He regarded the culture of the Chou—the culture described by the traditional rituals which he followed—as both inspired and protected by Heaven. Confucius was engaged in practical moral education. The first thing he taught was allegience to the li. Chung called on his disciples to do their ritual duty, to follow the li.

By being chung, Confucius' disciples would prove themselves capable and loyal subordinates to any ruler who followed the Way. But Confucius wanted more. He taught his disciples to be charitable in their demands and generous in their service. One was not to require strict ritual compliance from others, regardless of the consequences. And one was not to be satisfied with oneself in merely discharging one's duties in a perfunctory manner. One was to cultivate and use one's judgment to determine what was proper on a case-by-case basis. With enough experience and practice, one could learn when it was appropriate to amend, bend, or suspend the li. Sometimes one should not require strict compliance from others, and sometimes one should go beyond what was strictly required of oneself. One made such judgments by employing the imaginative act of putting oneself in the other person's place and determining what one should do by seeing how one would like to be treated. This is shu, the second strand of Confucius' "one thread."

Shu helps one avoid becoming a slave to the li. It insures that individuals will have an active sense of their co-humanity with others. It guarantees that people will run the rules and not be run by the rules. One is to see oneself as dedicated to serving others according to the rituals, but one is also to see oneself as responsible for the well-being of others. One is to be strict with oneself, but one is to be kind to others. Both of these imperatives are mediated through the rituals. Without a firm commitment to li, the "kindness" of shu can collapse into vague, formless sentimentality and the "loyalty" of chung can degenerate into blind, mechanistic obedience. Neither chung nor shu can be understood apart from the li, and only in support of each other do they constitute jen.

There is a passage in the Analects in which both strands of this "one thread" are clearly visible, though neither term is used. One of Confucius' disciples asks about jen (again, Confucius is giving practical moral guidance to a disciple who aspires to serve as a government official). Confucius responds by saying one should always act as if one were performing an important ritual (that is, one should be chung), and one "should not do to others what one does not want for oneself (that is, one should be shu).

Chung-kung asked about jen. The master said, "Outside your home, act as if you were hosting a grand reception (a ritual performed by a lord, who hosts his vassals). Employ the people as if you were officiating at a great sacrifice (another important ritual observance). What you do not want for yourself, do not do to others.…"50

Here we see both strands of the "one thread" which runs through Confucius' Way. It urges one to be disposed to carry out one's role-specific duties, as prescribed by li, but to insure that the performance of one's duties is informed by an overarching concern for others as fellow human beings.


In conclusion, I would like to illustrate my understanding of the notions chung and shu by looking at an interesting example proposed by Herbert Fingarette.51 Fingarette describes the case of a student who comes asking for a higher grade, in order to help him get into law school. In arguing for the higher grade, the student challenges his teacher to "put yourself in my place." Of course, to give the unwarranted grade clearly is wrong. And Fingarette claims that he comes to see this by placing himself in the student's position. This he says is an example of shu.

But there is no need to introduce the idea of imaginatively putting oneself in the student's place in order to see that giving the unwarranted grade would be wrong. It is self-evident that such a course of action is wrong. One is tempted to grant the higher grade only if one forgets where one's role-specific duty—as a teacher— lies. Chung helps one keep this duty clearly in mind.

Chung urges one to be a strict rule follower. It helps one to do what is right, according to li, especially when one might be inclined to be remiss or lax in the performance of one's duties. It helps one cultivate a sense of "loyalty" and "integrity," a virtue which insures others that one can be relied upon to fulfill one's role-specific duties. If one were to grant this student's request, one would not be loyal to one's colleagues, chairman, dean, and president. One would stray from the teacher's Tao. Fingarette's example is a perfect case of chung, not shu.

But one cannot fulfill the teacher's Tao by being chung alone. One must also be shu. Shu urges one to be a benevolent rule enforcer. It tells one that it is absurd to require an ill student to sit for a scheduled exam and cruel to insist that a student turn in a paper on time, if it means that she will not be able to attend her grandmother's funeral. Shu tells one to be alert for those students who might need a bit more encouragement, understanding, or guidance in order to do well. It urges one to keep before one the ultimate goal of assignments and deadlines—educating young men and women—and reminds one this cannot be done well if one is not concerned with these students as fellow human beings. By the imaginative act of putting oneself in their place, one can see those cases when one should amend, bend, or suspend the rules. In some situations, one will require a little less of them; in other situations, one will require much more of oneself. And in the process, both teacher and student may learn something critically important about being human.


References to the text of the Analects follow the section numbers in James Legge, trans., Confucian Analects, in The Chinese Classics (Reprint, Hong Kong: University of Hong Kong Press, 1970).

  1. For a survey of the Golden Rule in various cultures, see Bruce Alton, An Examination of the Golden Rule (Ann Arbor: University Microfilms, 1966). For a modern Western philosophical analysis which discusses the notion of the Golden Rule in contemporary moral theory, see R. M. Hare, Freedom and Reason (Oxford University Press, 1963).
  2. In addition to the analyses which I consider here, see Robert E. Allison, "On the Negative Version of the Golden Rule as Formulated by Confucius," New Asia Academic Bulletin 3, Thematic Issue on Confucianism (Hong Kong, 1982): 223-232; also see David L. Hall and Roger T. Ames, Thinking Through Confucius (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1987), pp. 283-290.
  3. Analects 4.15.
  4. Fung Yu-lan, A Short History of Chinese Philosophy, trans., Derk Bodde (New York: The Macmillan Co., 1953), pp. 43-44.
  5. Ibid., p. 43.
  6. As will be clear when I present my own interpretation, I do believe that the "negative" aspect of shu is significant: shu functions to limit one's allegience to the rituals. This explains why it is most often expressed in terms of what one Should not do. A similar view is presented by Hall and Ames in Thinking Through Confucius (pp. 289-290). However, they interpret shu as much more open-ended. It is difficult to discern the relationship, on their analysis, between chung and shu and the traditional rituals which Confucius so closely followed and so strongly advocated. They seem to see shu as the overriding notion in the Confucian Golden Rule, as they say, "… Confucius believed shu to be the single thread that served as the unifying theme of his thinking …" (p. 200). But, as is seen clearly in their own translation of Analects 4.15 (p. 285), the unifying thread of Confucius' Tao "is chung and shu"—not just shu.
  7. In Analects 15.23, shu is defined as "not doing to others what one does not want for oneself."
  8. I discuss this more fully below, in presenting my own interpretation.
  9. Fung also relies on evidence from another later text, the Ta Hsüeh "Great Learning." In this latter case, the material he quotes is not ascribed to Confucius.
  10. Lau presents his interpretation in the introduction to his translation of the Analects. See D. C. Lau, trans., The Analects (New York: Dorset Press, 1979).
  11. Ibid., p. 16.
  12. Ibid.
  13. Lau does not use the word "intuitions," but this seems to be what he intends by "… taking oneself—'what is near at hand'—as an analogy and asking oneself what one would like or dislike were one in the position of the person at the receiving end" (p. 16).
  14. For a more detailed discussion of this and related problems with the notion of reversibility, see the opening section of the presentation of my own interpretation, below.
  15. Mencius believes we have a nascent moral sense which can guide us in making moral judgments. But until one has developed this nascent sense, it seems one cannot fully rely upon it to make difficult moral decisions. However, versions of Mencius' position can provide powerful and provocative arguments for such an appeal.
  16. Analects 17.2.
  17. A given individual may have a greater innate ability to acquire the intuitions needed to perform a certain skill, but until this person has mastered the skill, he or she cannot be said to possess the needed intuitions. The intuitions of a master are acquired through the reflective practice of an art.
  18. In his introduction (p. 16, note 6), Lau points out that "loyalty" is the usual translation of chung but asserts this is wrong. He is correct to note that in the Analects, chung does not mean blind "devotion"; this is not the only sense of the word "loyalty." A loyal subordinate has one's true interests at heart, and this may require him or her, in certain situations, to disagree with one's behavior. In the Analects, chung is never directed at one's social subordinates and so "loyalty"—in the sense of a morally informed dedication—seems like the best translation. Lau's suggested alternative seems not to work well at all in Analects 14.8. Hall and Ames provide an argument for Lau's reading in Thinking Through Confucius (p. 285). But their evidence, while interesting, is not conclusive. I believe it can just as easily be read to support the interpretation I present below.
  19. Herbert Fingarette, "Following the 'One Thread' of the Analects," Journal of the American Academy of Religion 47, no. 35, Thematic Issue S (September 1979): 373-405.
  20. Ibid., p. 374.
  21. Ibid., p. 397.
  22. Fingarette believes that the qualification problem, mentioned in my discussion of Lau's notion of shu, is avoided by a special feature of the imaginative act: "I must not imagine myself being in your situation; I must imagine being you" (Ibid., p. 384). I do not fully understand what he means by this.
  23. In other words, to be chung is to serve others according to li. As I will show below, this is the meaning throughout the Analects. Fingarette's description of chung obscures the very important fact, first noted by Nivison (see below), that chung always refers to relationships with one's social peers or superiors. It is not simply "interpersonal good faith." For the meaning of hsin, "trust," see the article discussing this character by David S. Nivison in The Encyclopedia of Religion, ed., Mircea Eliade (New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1987), vol. 6, p. 477.
  24. David S. Nivison, Golden Rule Arguments in Chinese Moral Philosophy (Presented as the inaugural address of the annual Walter Y. Evans-Wentz Professorship in Oriental Philosophies, Religions and Ethics, Stanford University, 13 February 1984).
  25. Analects 12.22.
  26. Nivison, Golden Rule Arguments, p. 9.
  27. In the passage I quoted above, Nivison cites Analects 3.19 as evidence for his interpretation. But if he is correct—if chung and shu are parallel concepts—we would expect the first half of the line he quotes to say, "A ruler employs his subjects with shu.…"
  28. Luke 6.31.
  29. This seems to me to be the flaw in Fingarette's proposed solution to the qualification problem, mentioned earlier.
  30. As I mentioned earlier, I believe some version of this position offers the best hope for the Golden Rule and for moral philosophy in general. Strong versions of this claim cannot be defended, but weaker versions are not at all trivial. Human beings seem to share an important set of recognized "goods." Life, freedom, the opportunity to form and sustain interpersonal relationships, and health are just a few examples of "goods" which seem to be highly valued by reflective people in every culture. Such a view would recognize a great deal of what some regard as moral issues as really matters of taste. But some important moral issues might be decided and others made more clear by such an approach.
  31. The primary difficulty is providing a convincing justification for the traditional rituals which Confucius followed and advocated. Confucius' allegiance to tradition was largely unexamined, motivated by his belief in a past Golden Age which relied upon a cultural system sanctioned by Heaven. Granting that such a justification could be found, several issues remain; for example, could rituals be modified, added, or abandoned? If rituals are flexible to this extent, how would such decisions be made and implemented?
  32. Analects 6.25. See also 12.1 and so forth. It is easy to see why the young men Confucius trained made attractive subordinates. In addition to their administrative competence, they were politically known quantities. They were not out for personal gain. Their allegience and agenda were public knowledge.
  33. Had Confucius held a naïve belief in the innate goodness of human beings, he would simply have urged his disciples to follow their natural impulses. There would have been no need for him to preserve and promote the li. Clearly, he taught something quite different. One was to "Subdue oneself and submit to rituals" (Analects 12.1), at least in the initial stages of self-cultivation.
  34. Analects 17.11. See also 2.7, 3.3, etc.
  35. Analects 3.19. See also 2.20, 5.18, and 12.14.
  36. Nivison is the first to notice this feature of the concepts chung and shu. See Nivison, Golden Rule Arguments.
  37. Analects 12.23.
  38. Analects 14.8.
  39. Analects 5.18.
  40. There are other clear examples of people who are chung but not jen. In Analects 5.7, Confucius describes disciples who are competent in government service (chung) but are not jen. In Analects 14.2, we see that even one who is scrupulous in personal conduct (chung) does not, on that basis alone, qualify as jen.
  41. Analects 15.23.
  42. See note 6, above. Note however that sometimes the "limit" placed upon one's allegience to the li calls on one to go beyond what they strictly require one to do. Knowing when and how to do this distinguishes the jen person from one who is merely chung. In this aspect, shu is expressed "positively." See, for example, Analects6.28.
  43. Analects 6.28.
  44. Analects 5.3. This goes against Confucius' ideal. A gentleman is not restricted to any single skill or vocation. He says explicitly, in Analects 2.12, "A gentleman is not a vessel (or tool)."
  45. Confucius once upbraided Tzu-kung for constantly criticizing others. See Analects 14.31.
  46. Analects 5.11. Ssu is Tzu-kung's personal name. Confucius seems amused at Tzu-kung's presumption.
  47. Confucius' genuine concern for his fellow human beings too often gets obscured by the picture of Confucius we get from his later followers and from modern attempts to read into his thought too much formal philosophy. The profound appeal of Confucius is as an example of an excellent human being doing his best to make the world a better place in which to live. He is not a very good philosopher (arguably he is not a philosopher at all). He is a wise and compassionate human being, something not every philosopher can claim to be.
  48. Analects 4.15.
  49. In all of the Analects, there are only two passages which can be construed as evidence that Confucius had a flexible attitude toward the li. The first is Analects 2.23, which describes the evolution of the li from the Hsia dynasty down to the Chou. But Confucius' concluding remark seems to say that the li have now reached perfection and hence can be known "for a hundred generations to come." The other passage is Analects 9.3. This is sometimes cited as a case (it would be the only case) of Confucius modifying a ritual. First of all, it must be admitted that the change Confucius condones is quite trivial. Second, Confucius is not initiating this change. He says, "I follow the common practice." It seems that he is making a temporary concession to a current practice in order to insure the preservation of most of an important ritual; he does not modify or abandon the traditional li. I discuss this issue more thoroughly and offer suggestions for how this general question about the li might be dealt with in an as yet unpublished paper, "Chess, Checkers and Change: Traditional Confucianism and Its Modern Possibilities."
  50. Analects 12.2. Nivison was the first to point out the importance of this passage (see Nivison, Golden Rule Arguments, p. 8.). My interpretation differs slightly from his. For another example of this dual orientation, see 15.14.
  51. For the example, see Fingarette, "Following the 'One Thread'," p. 387.

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