Analects of Confucius

The Analects (Chinese (Hanyu Pinyin) Lúnyǔ, literally meaning selected sayings) of Confucius consists of the philosophical expressions attributed to Kong Qiu and his contemporaries and disciples. The traditional scholarly consensus generally considers the collection to have been written during the Warring States Period through to the middle of the Han dynasty (475 BCE - 220 CE).

Though originally considered a commentary on the Five Classics it eventually was considered to be the primary text of Confucianism. The original title of Lunyu - lun meaning discuss or dispute and yu meaning speach or sayings - is expressed in the English word analects, from the Ancient Greek análekta (things chosen) literally means excerpts or quotes. The term was popularized in this context through James Legge's English translation. This version includes the Legge translation and for comparison, the A. Charles Muller translation. There is also an audio version of Legge's translation with a Chinese and English reading.

The Han dynasty scholar Liu Xiang referred to two versions, the Lu and the Qi; the former having only 20 chapters and the latter having 22. During the Han period the Five Classics were considered canonical and the Analects as secondary since the Classics were believed to have been more directly associated with Confucius whereas the Analects themselves were believed to be an oral commentary on the Classics composed of by his disciples.

Confucius was born in the year 550 BCE, [F1] in the land of Lu, in a small village, situated in the western part of the modern province of Shantung. His name was K'ung Ch'iu, and his style (corresponding to our Christian name) was Chung-ni. His countrymen speak of him as K'ung Fu-tzu, the Master, or philosopher K'ung. This expression was altered into Confucius by the Jesuit missionaries who first carried his fame to Europe.

Since the golden days of the Emperors Yao and Shun, the legendary founders of the Chinese Empire, nearly two thousand years had passed. Shun chose as his successor Yü, who had been his chief minister, a man whose devotion to duty was such that when engaged in draining the empire of the great flood — a task that took eight years to accomplish — he never entered his home till the work was done, although in the course of his labors he had thrice to pass his door. He founded the Hsia dynasty, which lasted till 1766 BCE. The last emperor of this line, a vile tyrant, was overthrown by T'ang, who became the first ruler of the house of Shang, or Yin. This dynasty again degenerated in course of time and came to an end in Chou, or Chou Hsin (1154-22 BCE), a monster of lust, extravagance, and cruelty. The empire was only held together by the strength and wisdom of the Duke of Chou, or King Wen, to give him his popular title, one of the greatest men in Chinese history. He controlled two-thirds of the empire; but, believing that the people were not yet ready for a change, he refrained from dethroning the emperor. In his day 'the husbandman paid one in nine; the pay of the officers was hereditary; men were questioned at barriers and at markets, but there were no tolls; fishgarths were not preserved; the children of criminals were sackless. The old and wifeless—the widower; the old and husbandless — the widow; the old and childless — the lone one; the young and fatherless — the orphan; these four are the people most in need below heaven, and they have no one to whom to cry, so when King Wen reigned his love went out first to them' (Mencius, Book II, chapter 5). After his death, his son, King Wu, decided that the nation was ripe for change. He overcame Chou Hsin by force of arms, and, placing himself on the throne, became the founder of the Chou dynasty.

In the time of Confucius the Chou dynasty still filled the throne. But it had long since become effete, and all power had passed into the hands of the great vassals. The condition of China was much like that of Germany in the worst days of the Holy Roman Empire. The emperor was powerless, the various vassal states were independent in all but name, and often at war one with the other. These states again were disintegrated, and their rulers impotent against encroaching feudatories. In Confucius' native state, Lu, the duke was a mere shadow. The younger branches of his house had usurped all power. Three in number, they were called the Three Clans. The most important of the three was the Chi, or Chi-sun clan, whose chiefs Chi Huan and Chi K'ang are often mentioned by Confucius. But the power of the Chi, too, was ill-secured. The minister Yang Huo overawed his master, and once even threw him into prison. Nor was the condition of the other states of the empire better than that of Lu. Confucius thought it worse.

Into this turbulent world Confucius was born. Though his father was only a poor military officer, he could trace his descent from the imperial house of Yin. Confucius married at nineteen, and is known to have had one son and one daughter. Shortly after his marriage he entered the service of the state as keeper of the granary. A year later he was put in charge of the public fields. In 527 BCE his mother died, and, in obedience to Chinese custom, he had to retire from public life. When the years of mourning were over, he did not again take office, but devoted himself instead to study and teaching. As the years rolled by his fame grew, and a band of pupils gathered round him. In 517 BCE the anarchy in Lu reached such a pitch that Confucius moved to the neighbouring land of Ch'i. Here he had several interviews with the reigning duke, but met with little encouragement. So he soon returned to his native country, and resumed for fifteen years his work as student and teacher.

During these fifteen years the power of the duke sank lower and lower, and the Chi was menaced by his minister Yang Huo. In times so dark, men that loved quiet sought in the world of thought an escape from the gloom around them, whilst others that were less resigned turned over in their minds the causes of the realm's decay. Lao-tzu, the founder of the mystic Taoist philosophy, taught that in inaction alone peace can be found; Mo-tzu proclaimed the doctrine of universal love: that we should love all men as we love self, love the parents of others as we love our own parents. Upright men were driven or fled from the world. Confucius often met them in his wanderings, and was reproved for not doing as they did. But his practical mind told him that inaction could not help the world, and that to find a remedy for the nation's ills, their cause must first be learned. This could only be done by historical study. He therefore devoted himself to the study of past times, edited in later life the Book of History, and compiled the work called Spring and Autumn, a history of his native state from 722 to 481 BCE To bring again the golden days of Yao and Shun a return must be made to the principles of Wen and Wu, the kings that had rebuilt the empire after tyranny and selfishness had laid it low. Of impracticable ideals and renunciation of the world no good could come.

At last in 501 BCE Yang Huo was forced to flee from Lu, and prospects brightened. A year later Confucius was appointed governor of a town. So great was his success as governor that before long he was promoted to be Superintendent of Works, and then to be Chief Criminal Judge. He won great influence with his master, and did much to lighten the general misery. He so strengthened the power of the duke that neighboring states grew jealous. To sow dissension between duke and minister the men of Ch'i sent the duke a gift of singing girls. Such joy they gave him that for three days no court was held. On this Confucius left the land, 497 BCE.

For the next thirteen years Confucius wandered from land to land, followed by his disciples, seeking in vain for a ruler that was willing to employ him, and whom he was willing to serve. At times he was exposed to danger, at other times to want. But as a rule he was treated with consideration, although his teachings were ignored. Yet thirteen years of homeless wandering, of hopes deferred and frustrated, must have been hard to bear. When he left office Confucius was already fifty-three years old, and his life so far seemed a failure. The sense of his wasted powers may well have tempted him now and again to take office under an unworthy ruler; but knowing that no good could come of it he refrained, and probably he never seriously thought of doing so.

In 483 BCE, when Confucius was sixty-six years old, through the influence of his disciple Jan Yu, who was in the service of the Chi, the Master was invited to return to his native land. Here he remained till his death in 479 BCE. He had many interviews with the reigning duke and the head of the Chi clan, but gained no influence over either of them. So he turned once more to his favorite studies; edited the Book of Poetry — perhaps the most interesting collection of ancient songs extant — and wrote Spring and Autumn. His closing years were darkened by the loss of those dearest to him. First his son died, then Yen Yüan, the disciple whom he loved best. At his death the Master was overcome by grief, and he left none behind him that loved learning. Lastly Tzu-lu, the frank and bold, was killed in battle. A little later, in his seventy-first year, Confucius himself passed away, 479 BCE.

This book of the Master's Sayings is believed by the Chinese to have been written by the disciples of Confucius. But there is nothing to prove this, and some passages in the book point the other way. Book 8 speaks of the death of Tseng-tzu, who did not die till 437 BCE, forty-two years after the Master. The chief authority for the text as it stands today is a manuscript found in the house of Confucius in 150 BCE, hidden there, in all likelihood, between the years 213 and 211 BCE, when the reigning emperor was seeking to destroy every copy of the classics. We find no earlier reference to the book under its present name. But Mencius (372-289 BCE) quotes seven passages from it, in language all but identical with the present text, as the words of Confucius. No man ever talked the language of these sayings. Such pith and smoothness is only reached by a long process of rounding and polishing. We shall probably come no nearer to the truth than Legge's conclusion that the book was put together by the pupils of the disciples of Confucius, from the words and notebooks of their masters, about the year 400 BCE.



January, 1909


[F1] According to the great historian Ssu-ma Ch'ien. Other authorities say, 552 and 551 BCE.

Confucius (Kǒng Fūzǐ (孔夫子; Kong Qui) traveled the country in an ox cart observing and teaching his numerous disciples on the subjects of civics, ethics, literature, music and science. Of course, he claimed no divine inspiration and so naturally the writings attributed to him, recorded by his disciples, also make no such claim.

  • Evening Chores, by Terry Redlin: 1987 (original uncropped image)
  • Animations: Dragonset, Matters of Grave Concern, The Pillars of Barad-Dur, Heart of Stone, Golden Leaves, Gravity, and Dragons in Moonlight, by Steven David Bennett

Dragonset, by Steven David Bennett Matters of Grave Concern, by Steven David Bennett The Pillars of Barad-Dur, by Steven David Bennett Heart of Stone, by Steven David Bennett Golden Leaves, by Steven David Bennett Gravity, by Steven David Bennett Dragons in Moonlight, by Steven David Bennett