The Original Analects: Sayings of Confucius and His Successors

The Original Analects: Sayings of Confucius and His Successors

The Original Analects: Sayings of Confucius and His Successors

The Original Analects: Sayings of Confucius and His Successors


This new translation presents the Analects in a revolutionary new format that, for the first time in any language, distinguishes the original words of the Master from the later sayings of his disciples and their followers, enabling readers to experience China's most influential philosophical work in its true historical, social, and political context.


Young men entering court service presumably needed the guidance of a mentor. From the beginning of the reign of the Lǔ Prince Aī-gūng in 0494, Confucius had been mentor to a series of such hopefuls, some of good family, some humbler. The last of these protégés, left stranded at his death in 0479, may have continued as a group. It was perhaps Dž-gùng (for a later tale of his prominence among the disciples at this time, see MC 3A4) who compiled this set of remembered sayingss. They preserve the voice of a disappointed but dedicated officer, hoping for the return of authority to the Lǔ Prince, but scornful of the culture of self-interest to which the Prince's new society had opened the gates. Confucius urges a more spartan service ethic, in descriptions of the ideal gentleman officer (the “he” of the typical Analects saying).

These sayings, as remembered, were no more than a wisdom repository, but here, written down and arranged thematically, they imply a conscious philosophy: the first of many that were to come under the label “Confucian.”

Thematic sections are not marked in the original; headings are supplied “in brackets” for the convenience of readers. The pairing of sayings, also implicit in the original, is marked by half brackets: ┌ for the first and └ for the second, of a pair; any unpaired section-final sayings are indicated with ╘ For an explanation of the accretion theory of the Analects, see Appendix 1.

The numbering of passages is identical in the Legge text.

“A. The Cardinal Virtue rv̀n ”

┌ 4:1. The Master said, It is best to dwell in rv̀n. If he choose not to abide in rv̀n, how will he get to be known?

Court officers were chosen by personal acquaintance, hence being known for
the right qualities was the only route to advancement. The theme of the ruler
who recognizes talent remained important in later ages; see Henry Motif.

└ 4:2. The Master said, He who is not rv̀n cannot for long abide in privation; cannot forever abide in happiness. The rv̀n are content with rv̀n; the knowing turn rv̀n to their advantage.

Most Analects translations argue for a single English equivalent for “rv̀n,” but
its meaning changes within the text, and the original term can better take on
these various nuances. We here learn that, as a career asset, it may be paraded
by the ambitious. You need to have your qualities observed by others (4:1),
though as a matter of good form you cannot display them yourself (4:2). We
also discover that rv̀n is steadfast in adversity and success. The crass new value
lì “advantage, profit” is here the causative verb “take advantage of.”

┌ 4:3. The Master said, It is only the rv̀n who can like others; who can hate others.

rv̀n is not niceness, though it evolves in that direction. It confers a capacity to
judge others (William James saw this as the end of education; Kallen James
287). Enthusiasm for right implies antagonism (hatred, wù) for its opposite.
Right is not only different from wrong, it is better than wrong.

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