Zhu Xi's Reading of the Analects: Canon, Commentary, and the Classical Tradition

Zhu Xi's Reading of the Analects: Canon, Commentary, and the Classical Tradition

Zhu Xi's Reading of the Analects: Canon, Commentary, and the Classical Tradition

Zhu Xi's Reading of the Analects: Canon, Commentary, and the Classical Tradition


The Analects is a compendium of the sayings of Confucius (551--479 b.c.e.), transcribed and passed down by his disciples. How it came to be transformed by Zhu Xi (1130--1200) into one of the most philosophically significant texts in the Confucian tradition is the subject of this book.

Scholarly attention in China had long been devoted to the Analects. By the time of Zhu Xi, a rich history of commentary had grown up around it. But Zhu, claiming that the Analects was one of the authoritative texts in the canon and should be read before all others, gave it a still more privileged status in the tradition. He spent decades preparing an extended interlinear commentary on it. Sustained by a newer, more elaborate language of metaphysics, Zhu's commentary on the Analects marked a significant shift in the philosophical orientation of Confucianism -- a shift that redefined the Confucian tradition for the next eight centuries, not only in China, but in Japan and Korea well.

Gardner's translations and analysis of Zhu Xi's commentary on the Analects show one of China's great thinkers in an interesting and complex act of philosophical negotiation. Through an interlinear, line-by-line "dialogue" with Confucius, Zhu effected a reconciliation of the teachings of the Master, commentary by later exegetes, and contemporary philosophical concerns of Song-dynasty scholars. By comparing Zhu's reading of the Analects with the earlier standard reading by He Yan (190--249), Gardner illuminates what is dramatically new in Zhu Xi's interpretation of the Analects.

A pioneering study of Zhu Xi's reading of the Analects, this book demonstrates how commentary is both informed by a text and informs future readings, and highlights the importance of interlinear commentary as a genre in Chinese philosophy.


When the Song dynasty (960–1279) was established in the tenth century, the so-called Five Classics—the Book of Changes, the Book of History, the Book of Poetry, the Book of Rites, and the Spring and Autumn Annals—had long been regarded as the audioritative texts in the Confucian tradition, to be read before all others in the canon. By the end of the dynasty, the Five Classics had been displaced by the Four Books. It was these four texts—the Greater Learning, the Analects, the Mencius, and the Mean—that were now to be read first, that were thought to embody the most cherished teachings of the Confucian school.

It was not just that Confucians of the Song had shifted their scholarly attention from one set of canonical texts to another. How they read the canon itself also had changed over the course of the dynasty. An elaborate language of metaphysics had come to be employed in the interpretation of the Confucian texts. Sustained by this new language, traditional Confucian teachings had been given a distinctly different philosophical orientation. Together, the shift away from the once . . .

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