Foreign chieftains and leaderless states

子曰:「夷狄之有君,不如諸夏之亡也。」
Confucius said: “The Yi and Di tribes with chieftains are not equal to the various states in our land that don’t have them.”

There are many different interpretations of Chapter V of Book 3 of the Analects depending on whether you believe the meaning of the phrase “不如” (bùrú) is “to be unequal/inferior to” or simply “to be unlike”.

I have opted for the former interpretation though there are equally strong reasons for the latter depending on your viewpoint. The Yi and Di tribes lived to the north and east of China and followed different cultural traditions and practices. There is no justification for translating the term 夷狄 (yídí) as “barbarians” as other Western scholars have.

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