The Analects

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The Analects

Unread postby Sun Fin » Tue Oct 10, 2017 5:17 pm

Has anyone read this classic Confucian book? If so what did people think? Can you recommend a good, academic translation (perhaps with a commentary)? What do you think are the most important aspects of it to take away?

I'm about to start reading it!
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Re: The Analects

Unread postby Kotosho » Tue Oct 10, 2017 5:38 pm

I was thinking of reading it as well! I've been reading an article about Confucianism and I must say that it is very interesting!
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Re: The Analects

Unread postby Sun Fin » Tue Oct 10, 2017 5:42 pm

Interesting! Funny how it's suddenly of interest to two of us! Would you mind positing a link to the article you were reading?
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Re: The Analects

Unread postby Kotosho » Wed Oct 11, 2017 1:41 pm

''Do not do evil because it is a small evil; do not leave undone a small good because it is a small good'' - Liu Bei
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Re: The Analects

Unread postby Lady Wu » Sat Oct 14, 2017 3:30 am

I have read it in the original Chinese, as well as the James Legge translation. A classic translation, but not one I'd recommend (dated, stilted, things not really explained).

Just googling "the analects translation" gave me this: The Analects of Confucius: an online teaching translation. Seems to be what you're looking for. Has notes and all. Easy-to-read language.

I would really recommend reading the introduction and getting an idea of the core concepts/terms. The translator chose to leave those untranslated (and rather just use the phonetic spelling in the translation), which I think is wise. For example, many of the passages deal with the concept of ren--which is often translated as "benevolence"--and de, which is often translated as "virtue". Sound familiar? Yeah, those are the terms used in the Romance of the Three Kingdoms to describe Liu Bei. But those are really more complex concepts than the English words imply, so it's difficult to fully grasp what Liu Bei was supposed to stand for (though you all know what I think of him) unless you accept ren and de (and probably yi, "righteousness") as concepts in their own right instead of a direct equivalent of the English terms. But if you do make it through the text (or even just the first ten books; the second half is... weird.), you'll come to understand the moral and cultural concepts as referred to in RTK (and other Chinese stories/history) better.

In reading the text itself, it's worth noting that the passages are pretty random. The books are vaguely organized by theme, and if you're expecting a narrative or an exposition or a set of laws of conduct like what you'd find in the Bible, you'll be disappointed. It may be helpful to just read a few passages at a time (with the commentary) and maybe keep a chart of how those key ideas are explained. Like, in one passage a disciple would ask Confucius "what does virtue mean?" and he'd say one thing, and in another passage he'd say another. I personally think it's less important to pin down what Confucius the man really thought about virtue (or filial piety or benevolence or being a Good Person), than how his answers influenced Chinese thought through the ages.

I would have a list of questions at hand to help you analyze or reflect on the passages, or relate them to other aspects of East Asian history/culture that you're already familiar with. For example (just off the top of my head):
  • How did Confucius think society should be organized? Why?
  • How did Confucius think people should relate to others or conduct themselves in public? Why?
  • What was Confucius's idea of self-improvement and personal growth?
  • What did Confucius think about learning? How did he teach? How did he learn?
  • What would Confucius say when you're going through a rough patch of life? When it seems like no one understands you? When you're wronged?
  • What was the ideal form of leadership?
  • What were his standards for assessing another person?
  • What did he think about looking for a job? What did he think about hiring people for a job?
  • He talked a lot about following the proper rituals, performing the right ceremonial sacrifices, that kind of thing. Performing rituals and sacrifices seem to be a religious thing, but Confucius is often considered a humanist. Why? And what would his personal relationship with faith look like?
  • What did he think about power?
  • What did he think about government? What would good governance look like according to him?

Hope that helps!

PS: Lots of people go into the Analects with the assumption that Confucius was some stodgy morality-preacher who would have nothing to do with fun, but if you read closely, you might discern the Master's humour. Not exactly laugh-out-loud material, but Confucius did have a sense of humour, and valued spontaneity (he also teased and sometimes outright trolled his students, and sometimes delivered some sick burns :shock: ). And despite all the talk about behaving yourself and following propriety and all that, I think he did believe in being true to oneself--not in the sense of being reckless and insisting on one's own way, but rather in the sense of believing in your inner goodness and moral compass and not being swayed by temptation or the vicissitudes of life. It's little bits of the text that give nuance to Confucius that makes the Analects interesting to me.
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Re: The Analects

Unread postby Sun Fin » Sat Oct 14, 2017 8:04 am

Thanks Lady Wu, the link was wonderful as was your post. It turns out that despite reading your detailed post about style names many times I'd misunderstood them. I knew that peers used style names and superiors and family used given names. However I thought that the use of style names were more intimate, used only by close friends, rather than your given name being seen as being more intimate.
“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” ― Nelson Mandela
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Re: The Analects

Unread postby Lady Wu » Sat Oct 14, 2017 5:50 pm

Check out Appendix 1. It's awesome. It's got the bios of the main disciples and all the names they went by, and could provide more context for some of the conversations in the passages. When I first read the text way back before we had internet, I had to compile my own list of names/style names. Some I didn't figure out were the same person until last night, lol.

I used to get indignant at how the disciple Zai Wo was depicted... like, everything he said something Confucius shut him down, and there's that weird passage about how he took a nap one day and Confucius basically called him a piece of rotten log. But Professor Eno makes a good point--it could be the compilers of the text, aka Zai Wo's fellow disciples, who had a problem with him, and not Confucius. Either way, kinda sucks to go down in one of the most taught textbooks in history as a lazy and difficult person.
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Re: The Analects

Unread postby Sun Fin » Sun Oct 15, 2017 8:01 am

Lady Wu wrote:Check out Appendix 1. It's awesome. It's got the bios of the main disciples and all the names they went by, and could provide more context for some of the conversations in the passages. When I first read the text way back before we had internet, I had to compile my own list of names/style names. Some I didn't figure out were the same person until last night, lol.

I used to get indignant at how the disciple Zai Wo was depicted... like, everything he said something Confucius shut him down, and there's that weird passage about how he took a nap one day and Confucius basically called him a piece of rotten log. But Professor Eno makes a good point--it could be the compilers of the text, aka Zai Wo's fellow disciples, who had a problem with him, and not Confucius. Either way, kinda sucks to go down in one of the most taught textbooks in history as a lazy and difficult person.


You're right, both Appendix 1 and 2 are really helpful! I'm going to print them out so I have them alongside whilst I'm reading!
“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” ― Nelson Mandela
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