Confucius Analects: With Selections from Traditional Commentaries

Confucius Analects: With Selections from Traditional Commentaries

Confucius Analects: With Selections from Traditional Commentaries

Confucius Analects: With Selections from Traditional Commentaries

Synopsis

This edition goes beyond others that largely leave readers to their own devices in understanding this cryptic work, by providing an entrée into the text that parallels the traditional Chinese way of approaching it: alongside Slingerland's exquisite rendering of the work are his translations of a selection of classic Chinese commentaries that shed light on difficult passages, provide historical and cultural context, and invite the reader to ponder a range of interpretations. The ideal student edition, this volume also includes a general introduction, notes, multiple appendices -- including a glossary of technical terms, references to modern Western scholarship that point the way for further study, and an annotated bibliography.

Excerpt

The Analects is not a “book” in the sense that most modern Westerners usually understand a book—that is, a coherent argument or story presented by a single author, to be digested alone in the quiet of one’s study. It is instead a record— somewhat haphazardly collected and edited together at an unknown point in history—of a dynamic process of teaching, and most likely was only committed to writing many years after the primary touchstone of the process, the Master Confucius, had passed away. It probably represents an attempt by later students and followers to keep alive the memory of his teaching, which had been conveyed both verbally and by personal example. Many, if not most, of the passages are quite cryptic, and this may be at least partially intentional. In 7.16, the Master is reported as saying, “I will not open the door for a mind that is not already striving to understand, nor will I provide words to a tongue that is not already struggling to speak. If I hold up one corner of a problem, and the student cannot come back to me with the other three, I will not attempt to instruct him again.” As we see throughout the text, Confucius’ comments are often intended to elicit responses from his disciples, which are then corrected or commented upon by the Master. Therefore, these “ordered sayings” of Confucius were originally embedded in a conversational context within which their meaning could be gradually extracted.

By the late fourth century B.C.E., with the Master gone, direct conversation was no longer possible, but this merely forced the dialogue to take a different form. It is at this point that we get the beginning of what came to be an over two thousand year old tradition of commentary on the words of Confucius. The tradition begins with such Warring States texts as the Mencius, Xunzi, and the Record of Ritual, and continues up to the present-day—carried on for most of this time in classical Chinese, branching out into the various vernaculars of East Asian nations in the Chinese cultural sphere, and finally expanding in the 18th century into a wide variety of Indo-European languages. For the most part, this commentarial tradition represents an attempt by later followers or admirers of the Master to find “the other three corners,” no longer in dialogue with the Master himself, but rather by embracing extant clues about the Master’s possible intention, the views of previous students of the text, and the opinions of contemporaries. For later students of the Analects, this written commentarial tradition serves as a proxy for the original conversational environment, providing context, making connections, and teasing out implications.

Since at least the Han Dynasty (202 B.C.E.–220 C.E.), no Chinese student of the text has attempted to approach the Analects outside of the context of this written commentarial tradition. Most modern Chinese people, of course, read . . .

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