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The Analects of Confucus
(The Lun-yü of K’ung Fu-tzu )
A Study Guide
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Definition
Format, Years Written
Life of Confucius
General Theme
Style
Examples of Teachings
Complete Text
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Definition

.......The Analects (Lun-yü)  is a collection of moral and ethical principles enunciated by the Chinese thinker Confucius (K’ung Fu-tzu) in conversations with his disciples. These principles set standards for individual conduct and the administration of government and community. After Confucius died in 479 BC, his followers compiled his teachings in the form of dialogues between him and his students. The resulting collection highly influenced educational, social, and cultural thought in China and elsewhere. 

Format and Years Written

.......The passages in The Analects appear as dialogues between Confucius and his disciples. In 479 BC, when Confucius died, these disciples began collecting and compiling the dialogues. Over the next two-and-a-half centuries, followers of Confucian ideals saw the work through to its conclusion in 221 BC. 

The Life of Confucius

.......Confucius, or K’ung Fu-tzu, was born in China on Sept. 27 or 28, 551 BC, in the state of Lu, now Shantung Province. The Chinese observe his birthday, called Teachers’ Day, on Sept. 28. 
.......The father of Confucius was said to have been a member of the nobility, but the K’ung family fell into poverty after his death, when Confucius was just three. In spite of his family’s financial problems, Confucius received a good education in music, arithmetic, calligraphy, and other disciplines. After marrying at age nineteen, he earned a living tending stable animals and keeping accounts for granaries. Then he became a philosopher and teacher. 
.......Meanwhile, his wife gave birth to a son and two daughters. In his early fifties, he accepted prestigious government employment in his region, overseeing public works and efforts to combat crime. However, the powers-that-be later drove him from office, probably because he incurred their displeasure. In his later years, he spent his time interpreting classic Chinese literature. He died in 479 BC in his home province and was buried in the town of Qufu (also transliterated as Chü-fou and Kufow), the capital of the state of Lu in ancient times. A temple honoring Confucius and his disciples was built in 1724 on the site where his house once stood. Just outside the town is the tomb of Confucius and other members of the K’ung family. 

General Theme of The Analects

.......Running through the teachings of Confucius is this theme: A man should lead an upright life, educate himself, and contribute to the betterment of society. The superior man, he says, respects elders, cultivates the friendship of good people, presides over his subordinates with a fair and even hand, continually educates himself, overflows with love for fellow human beings, and in general sets a good example for others to follow. 

Style

.......The passages in The Analects are terse and easy to understand. Many of these passages, though presented in the form of conversation, are epigrams that stand alone as wise and memorable admonitions. The statements make frequent use of parallel structure and antithesis, as in the following passages from The Analects

    The Master said, "If a man in the morning hear the right way, he may die in the evening without regret" (Book 4, Chapter 8).
    The Master said, "Is virtue a thing remote? I wish to be virtuous, and lo! virtue is at hand" (Book 7, Chapter 29).
    When a country is well-governed, poverty and a mean condition are things to be ashamed of. When a country is ill-governed, riches and honour are things to be ashamed of" (Book 8, Chapter 13, Number 3).
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Examples of Specific Teachings

The following specific examples of the teachings of Confucius were excerpted from a translation of The Analects by James Legge:

The Golden Rule

    Tsze-kung asked, saying, "Is there one word which may serve as a rule of practice for all one's life?' The Master said, "Is not RECIPROCITY such a word? What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others" (Book 15, Chapter 23).
    Comment: This precept is similar to the golden rule of the Christian Bible, as enunciated in the Sermon on the Mount and reported by Matthew (Chapter 7, Verse 12: All things therefore whatsoever you would that men should do to you, do you also to them) and Luke (Chapter 6, Verse 31: And as you would that men should do to you, do you also to them in like manner).
Other Rules to Live By
    1. The Master said, "Without recognising the ordinances of Heaven, it is impossible to be a superior man.
    2. "Without an acquaintance with the rules of Propriety, it is impossible for the character to be established.
    3. "Without knowing the force of words, it is impossible to know men" (Book 20, Chapter 3)
Right Living
    The Master said, "Man is born for uprightness. If a man lose his uprightness, and yet live, his escape from death is the effect of mere good fortune" (Book 6, Chapter 17).

    The Master said, "The superior man in everything considers righteousness to be essential. He performs it according to the rules of propriety. He brings it forth in humility. He completes it with sincerity. This is indeed a superior man" (Book 15, Chapter 17). 

    Tsze-chang asked how a man should conduct himself, so as to be everywhere appreciated.
    The Master said, "Let his words be sincere and truthful, and his actions honourable and careful;– such conduct may be practiced among the rude tribes of the South or the North. If his words be not sincere and truthful and his actions not honourable and careful, will he, with such conduct, be appreciated, even in his neighborhood? (Book 15, Chapter 5, Numbers 1 and 2).

    When you have faults, do not fear to abandon them (Book 1, Chapter 8, Number 4).

    The Master said, "With coarse rice to eat, with water to drink, and my bended arm for a pillow;– I have still joy in the midst of these things. Riches and honours acquired by unrighteousness, are to me as a floating cloud" (Book 7, Chapter 15).

    The Master said, "If a man in the morning hear the right way, he may die in the evening without regret" (Book 4, Chapter 8).

    The Master said, "Is virtue a thing remote? I wish to be virtuous, and lo! virtue is at hand" (Book 7, Chapter 29).

    The Master said, "The superior man is modest in his speech, but exceeds in his actions" (Book 14, Chapter 29).

    The Master said, "The superior man is distressed by his want of ability. He is not distressed by men's not knowing him" (Book 15, Chapter 18).

    The Master said, "What the superior man seeks, is in himself. What the mean man seeks, is in others" (Book 15, Chapter 20).

Foresight
    The Master said, "If a man take no thought about what is distant, he will find sorrow near at hand" (Book 15, Chapter 11).
Prudence
    The Master said, "The cautious seldom err" (Book 4, Chapter 23).
Laziness
    Tsai Yu being asleep during the daytime, the Master said, 'Rotten wood cannot be carved; a wall of dirty earth will not receive the trowel. This Yu!–what is the use of my reproving him?" (Book 5, Chapter 9)
Government
    The Master said, "To rule a country of a thousand chariots, there must be reverent attention to business, and sincerity; economy in expenditure, and love for men; and the employment of the people at the proper seasons" (Book 1, Chapter 5).

    The Master said, "He who exercises government by means of his virtue may be compared to the north polar star, which keeps its place and all the stars turn towards it" (Book 2, Chapter 1). 

    When a country is well-governed, poverty and a mean condition are things to be ashamed of. When a country is ill-governed, riches and honour are things to be ashamed of" (Book 8, Chapter 13, Number 3).

    Tsze-chang asked about government. The Master said, "The art of governing is to keep its affairs before the mind without weariness, and to practise them with undeviating consistency" (Book 12, Chapter 14).

    Chi K'ang asked Confucius about government, saying, "What do you say to killing the unprincipled for the good of the principled?" Confucius replied, "Sir, in carrying on your government, why should you use killing at all? Let your evinced desires be for what is good, and the people will be good. The relation between superiors and inferiors, is like that between the wind and the grass. The grass must bend, when the wind blows across it" (Book 12, Chapter 19).

    The Duke of Sheh asked about government. 
    The Master said, "Good government obtains, when those who are near are made happy, and those who are far off are attracted" (Book 13, Chapter 16, Numbers 1 and 2).

Duties of Youth
    The Master said, "A youth, when at home, should be filial, and, abroad, respectful to his elders. He should be earnest and truthful. He should overflow in love to all, and cultivate the friendship of the good. When he has time and opportunity, after the performance of these things, he should employ them in polite studies" (Book I, Chapter 6).
Military Strategy
    Tsze-lu said, "If you had the conduct of the armies of a great State, whom would you have to act with you?"
    The Master said, "I would not have him to act with me, who will unarmed attack a tiger, or cross a river without a boat, dying without any regret. My associate must be the man who proceeds to action full of solicitude, who is fond of adjusting his plans, and then carries them into execution" (Book 7, Chapter 10, Numbers 2 and 3).
Humanity and Treatment of Others
    Zi Zhang asked Confucius about humanity. Confucius said: “To be able to practice five virtues everywhere in the world constitutes humanity.” Zi Zhang begged to know what these were. Confucius said: “Courtesy, magnanimity, good faith, diligence, and kindness. He who is courteous is not humiliated, he who is magnanimous wins the multitude, he who is of good faith is trusted by the people, he who is diligent attains his objective, and he who is kind can get service from the people” (Book 17, Chapter 6).

    Tsze-yu asked what filial piety was. The Master said, "The filial piety of now-a-days means the support of one's parents. But dogs and horses likewise are able to do something in the way of support;–without reverence, what is there to distinguish the one support given from the other?" (Book 2, Chapter 7)

    Tsze-chang asked how a man should conduct himself, so as to be everywhere appreciated.
    The Master said, "Let his words be sincere and truthful, and his actions honourable and careful;– such conduct may be practiced among the rude tribes of the South or the North. If his words be not sincere and truthful and his actions not honourable and careful, will he, with such conduct, be appreciated, even in his neighborhood? (Book 15, Chapter 5, Numbers 1 and 2).

Poetry
    The Master said, "In the Book of Poetry are three hundred pieces, but the design of them all may be embraced in one sentence–'Having no depraved thoughts' " (Book 2, Chapter 2).
Education
    The Master said, "Learning without thought is labour lost; thought without learning is perilous" (Book 2, Chapter 15).

    1. The Master said, "At fifteen, I had my mind bent on learning.
    2. "At thirty, I stood firm.
    3. "At forty, I had no doubts.
    4. "At fifty, I knew the decrees of Heaven.
    5. "At sixty, my ear was an obedient organ for the reception of truth.
    6. "At seventy, I could follow what my heart desired, without transgressing what was right" (Book 2, Chapter 4).

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