Tag Archives: Analects of Confucius

Notes from the field: gentrified Cyberpunk in Agency?

gentrified cyberpunk

As a huge fan of William Gibson I feel a little guilty in confessing that I’m having a hard time working my way through his latest novel, Agency. Although the writing is of the usual high quality, it lacks the sharp edge and raw energy of the prose in his earlier works. Perhaps I’m being a little harsh here, but I can’t help feeling as if it’s a gentrified Cyberpunk. Sure, in places the book is clever and witty, but it tastes more like a cup of caffeine-free latte than a mug of freshly-roasted coffee.

Or, to borrow from 6.18 of the Analects of Confucius, it has a little too much cultural refinement (文/wén) and not enough native substance (質/zhì). For all his love of ritual and propriety, even the great sage himself believed that it was better to err on the side of the latter rather than the former lest you become too fake and foppish. Continue reading Notes from the field: gentrified Cyberpunk in Agency?

Notes from the field: exploring multiple pathways

multiple pathways

One of the great delights of hiking around the Four Beasts Scenic Area (四獸山) is that there are lots of smaller pathways to follow that take you away from the main trails deeper into the lush vegetation covering the mountainside.

This morning I happened along this delightful little shrine when I took a different route down the mountain before arriving at a nearby temple. There are in fact, a lot of temples in the Four Beasts dedicated to an eclectic array of Buddhist, Daoist, and other Chinese deities. One day, I keep telling myself, I’ll be able to identify all of them… Continue reading Notes from the field: exploring multiple pathways

Analects of Confucius Book 4: new English translation

Read this new English translation of the Analects of Confucius Book 4 to learn more about the teachings of China’s most famous philosopher. Its main themes include goodness, leadership, filial devotion, and the need for restraint.

Chapter 1
Confucius said: “It’s beautiful to live in a neighborhood that’s filled with goodness. How can someone be wise if they choose to live in a place that lacks goodness?”
Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 4: new English translation

Analects of Confucius Book 1: Overview

Lingxing Gate, Temple of Confucius, Qufu
Lingxing Gate, Temple of Confucius, Qufu

Before you read a single word of the Analects, it is important to understand that the work comprises a collection of conversations and aphorisms rather than a manifesto. Each of its twenty books features multiple exchanges between multiple characters discussing multiple topics – much like a modern-day social media feed. There are no linear arguments based on carefully-marshaled facts that build up to a resounding conclusion. It is left to you, the reader, to pick through the various threads of the text and connect them to the others to build up your overall understanding of the teachings contained in it.
Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 1: Overview

A learning opportunity


Confucius said: “Let me take a stroll with any two random people, and I can always be sure of learning something from them. I can take their good points and emulate them; and I can take their bad points and correct them in myself.”

You can feel Confucius’s outgoing nature and zest for life in these famous words. To him, any situation he encounters is an opportunity to learn something and anybody he meets has something to teach him. Continue reading A learning opportunity

Analects of Confucius: peripheral characters

Many peripheral characters pop up in The Analects like members of a large supporting cast for an epic movie or stage production. They are listed here in the order of their first appearance in the book.

Book 2
Meng Yizi/孟懿子

Meng Wubo/孟武伯

Duke Ai/哀公

Ji Kangzi/季康子

Book 3
Wangsun Jia/王孫賈

Book 5
Kong Wenzi/孔文子

Book 1

Meng Yizi
Meng Yizi (孟懿子) was one of two young nobles of the state of Lu who were entrusted by their father to a young Confucius for tutoring – thus enabling the sage to launch a career as a teacher. Meng is said to have subsequently risen to become head of one of the notorious Three Families that were the real power in the state of Lu. In Chapter 5 of Book 2, Confucius criticizes him obliquely for holding over-elaborate ritual ceremonies that violated the conventions of the rites.

Appearances in the Analects
Book 2, Chapter V

Book 2
Chapter V
Meng Yizi asked Confucius about filial piety. Confucius said: “Never disobey.” While Fan Chi was driving him in his chariot, Confucius told him: “Meng Yizi asked me about filial piety and I replied: ‘Never disobey.’” Fan Chi asked: “What does that mean?” Confucius replied: “When your parents are alive, serve them according to the rites. When they die, bury them according to the rites, and make sacrifices to them according to the rites.”

Meng Wubo
Meng Wubo was the son of Meng Yizi (孟懿子). He is featured in Chapter 6 of Book 2 of the Analects, in which he asks Confucius about filial piety, and Chapter 8 of Book 5 in which he asks him for his opinions on three of his disciples.

Appearances in the Analects
Book 2, Chapter VI
Book 5, Chapter VIII

Book 2
Chapter VI
Meng Wubo asked about filial piety. Confucius said: “The only time a son should make his parents worried is when he is sick.”

Book 2

Duke Ai
Duke Ai (哀公) was the hereditary ruler of the state of Lu, but had little actual power because it was concentrated in the hands of the Three Families, the Jisun (季孫), Mengsun (孟孙), and Shusun (叔孫). During the course of his reign (495 to 465 BC), the Duke attempted to restore the primacy of his family, but was forced to flee from Lu towards the end of it, ending up in the state of Yue (越). Soon after arriving there he went back to Lu, but never returned to the court and lived out his finals days at the home of a family called Shan (山).

Appearances in the Analects
Book 2, Chapter XIX

Book 2
Chapter XIX
Duke Ai asked: “What should I do to win the support of the people?” Confucius replied: “Promote the ethical and place them above the unethical, and the people will support you. Promote the unethical and place them above the ethical, and the people will not support you.”

Ji Kangzi
Ji Kangzi (季康子) is the posthumous title given to Jisun Fei (季孫肥), the chief minister of Lu between 491 and 468 BC and head of the Ji (季) clan, one of the notorious Three Families that ran the state. Although Confucius criticized him heavily for disrespecting the rites and introducing a field tax, Ji Kangzi invited the sage to return to Lu from his long exile at the request of his counselor Ran Qiu.

Appearances in the Analects
Book 2, Chapter XX
Book 3, Chapter I

Book 2
Chapter XX
Ji Kangzi asked: “What should I do to make the people respectful, loyal, and eager to follow me? Confucius said: “Treat them with dignity, and they will be respectful. Show you are a good son and a loving father, and they will be loyal. Promote the good and teach those who lack ability, and they will be eager to follow you.”

Book 3
Chapter I
When he heard that the head of the Ji Family used eight rows of dancers to perform in the ceremonies at his ancestral temple, Confucius commented: “If he is capable of that, what isn’t he capable of?”

Book 3

Wangsun Jia
Wangsun Jia (王孫賈) was the chief minister of Duke Ling of Wei, the ruler of one of the states that Confucius visited in his fruitless quest for engagement as an advisor. No doubt feeling threatened by the arrival of the sage, he obliquely warned Confucius to go through him rather than directly to his ruler by quoting an old proverb.

Appearances in the Analects
Book 3, Chapter XIII

Book 3
Chapter XIII
Wangsun Jia asked: “What does this saying mean: ‘Better pray to the kitchen god rather than the house god.’?” Confucius said: “This is nonsense. If you sin against Heaven, you have no god you can pray to.”

Book 5

Kong Wenzi
Kong Wenzi (孔文子) was the posthumous title given to Kong Yu (孔圉) a minister of the state of Wei who died in around 480 BC. It literally means Kong-the-Civilized, which was rather ironic given that Kong was said to be rather an unsavory character notorious for his disloyalty and dissoluteness. No wonder Zigong was so befuddled by the news that the old rogue has been given such an honor in his one and only appearance in the Analects!

Appearances in the Analects
Book 5, Chapter XV

Book 5
Chapter XV
Zigong asked: “Why was “Kong-the-Civilized” called civilized?” Confucius said: “He had an active mind, was fond of learning, and was not ashamed to listen and learn from his inferiors: that is why he was given the name.”

Analects of Confucius: on virtue

Virtue (德/) is a key ethical term with a range of meanings that shift with context. It is sometimes also translated as “moral power” in the sense that it creates its own environment, radiates influence, and attracts followers. A true leader leads simply by being virtuous rather than trying to persuade or compel their people to follow their ways. A large number of references to virtue can be found in the Analects. Continue reading Analects of Confucius: on virtue

Youzi speaks

Chapter Two of Book One of the Analects features the first quotation from one of Confucius’s disciples. Youzi (有子), or Zi Ruo (子若) or You Ruo (有若) to use his courtesy and given names, apparently bore such a remarkable physical resemblance to the sage that for a short period after Confucius’s death he was regarded as his successor. Unfortunately for Youzi, however, his talents didn’t match those as of the sage and he went off to set up his own school after losing the confidence of Confucius’s other remaining disciples. Continue reading Youzi speaks

Narrative arcs and social media fodder

Youzi said: “A man who respects his parents and elders is not likely to question the authority of his superiors. Such a man will never provoke disorder. A leader focuses on the fundamentals; once these are established the Way appears. Respect for parents and elders constitutes the essence of goodness.”

One of the pleasures – and frustrations – of reading the Analects is that it has no coherent narrative arc and instead comprises a random collection of pithy sayings from the sage and his disciples as well as some curt mini-dialogs between them. Continue reading Narrative arcs and social media fodder