Kong Qiu Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Uncertainty clouds our understanding of the life of China’s most important moral philosopher. The causes of confusion are multiple; one is the difficulty of translation across both linguistic and cultural traditions. The very name “Confucius” (cuhn-FYEW-shuhs), for example, is the result of the Latinization of the Chinese Kongfuzi (“Master Kung”) by his first Western (sixteenth century Jesuit) translators; his “proper” or Chinese name is Kong Qiu. The greater cause of difficulty, however, is that tradition has attributed much to Confucius that modern historians reject as problematic. Furthermore, by the period of the Former Han Dynasty (202 b.c.e.-8 c.e.), Confucianism was official state doctrine. It thus attracted many spurious legends that came to be attributed to Master Kung himself. For example, chapter 47 of the Shiji (records of the great historian, c. 100 b.c.e.) of Sima Qian was long held to be the authoritative biography of Confucius. The work is filled with errors, however, and it is now treated as a great literary work that is unreliable as a source of facts.{$S[A]K’ung Ch’iu[Kung Chiu];Confucius}

Furthermore, sinologists now dispute the traditional claim that Confucius authored several of the Chinese classic texts. For example, legend attributes the Chun Qiu (spring and autumn annals) and the ten commentaries (or “wings”) of the I ching (book of changes) to his later years; most modern scholars, however, reject these claims while recognizing that Confucius was nevertheless thoroughly familiar with these and the other four of the “Six Classics” (the Shi Jing, or book of odes, the Li Ji, or book of rites, the Yue Jing, or book of music, and the Shu Jing, or book of history). Current scholarship treats only the aphorisms collected under the title of the Analects as an accurate recording of his moral teachings. This text—probably compiled by others sometime in the third century b.c.e. and thus not in the...

(The entire section is 876 words.)