Academic journal article Chinese Literature, Essays, Articles, Reviews

Confucius beyond the Analects

Academic journal article Chinese Literature, Essays, Articles, Reviews

Confucius beyond the Analects

Article excerpt

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Confucius Beyond the Analects, by Michael Hunter. Studies in the History of Chinese Texts, edited by Martin Kern, Robert E. Hegel, Theodore Huters and Ding Xiang Warner. Leiden/Boston: Brill, 2017. Pp. 347. $158.00 (hardcover).

This new study of Confucius (hereafter, Kongzi ?LŤ) and the Analects (hereafter, Lunyu ...) deserves our closest attention and is certain to provoke controversy. Some of its conclusions are not entirely new, as the author acknowledges. That the Lunyu only took form as a text during the Han has been argued, among others, by Zhao Zhenxin ..., Zhu Weizheng ..., Tsuda Sökichi, ..., John Makeham, and many others.2 Moreover, no less a scholar than the distinguished Arthur Waley was concerned about the relative lack of Lunyu parallels and references in pre-Han sources and attempted to explain how that could be so.3 Hunter's far more extensive probe of such issues is founded upon his compilation of a vast 230,000character database of all Confucius-related material in pre-Han and Han texts, including recently excavated texts.4 He then uses this database to carry out the kind of analysis and cross-checking digitalization facilitates. The results, as I shall attempt to indicate below, are impressive and, for those of us who have held other views of how Lunyu might have taken shape, disturbing.

Professor Hunter deserves our praise not just for the prodigious amount of work that went into this study but for his unusual combination of boldness and modesty. One must be bold to consider in print not only that Kongzi might not have been from the state of Lu ..., but that he might not have been at all. At the same time, Hunter repeatedly emphasizes that his work does not prove such things and does not, for that matter, even disprove the traditionalist and accretionist models of Lunyu compilation, which he recognizes as the chief alternatives to his "revisionist" position (10, 207, 245, and passim). What Hunter sees as his mission is to present a vast amount of material and to draw certain conclusions that will need fully to be addressed in future discussions of Lunyu and, more broadly, of the entire Confucius phenomenon (being of an older generation, I bristle just a bit at referring to this phenomenon, following Hunter, as a "discursive space"; see 19).

Any attempt to summarize the rich contents of Hunter's book, at least with any brevity, is sure to leave out evidence critical to the larger argument as well as a load of information individual researchers will want to incorporate into their own work. The central argument is that Lunyu is a Western Han text that might draw some material from the vast pre-Han Kongzi literature but is still best understood as a "bounded collection of Kongzi material" from "no earlier than the reign of Emperor Wu or thereabouts." Lunyu, then, is best understood as a Han text not only in its format but in its content as well. On such points, Hunter remains cautious and admits that we cannot know this with certainty, but, in his words, "We simply do not have enough evidence to suppose otherwise" (p245).

Hunter begins with a survey of available Kongzi material, emphasizing how vast and varied such material is. He indicates, in both statistical and visual form, the distribution of this huge corpus, which taken as a whole is larger than any pre-Han or Western Han text other than Shiji and within which Lunyu occupies a relatively small place (see, particularly, p. 13, figure 1). He concludes from this that a Lunyu-centric approach to Kongzi is a distortion, or at least a significant reduction, of a much larger phenomenon. Consequently, one must subordinate "Lunyu studies to the study of 'Kongzi' in general" (31). When one proceeds to do this, attending as best one can to the relative dates of the Kongzi material, certain characteristics of the early, extraLunyu Kongzi become evident. He is, for example, valued far more for the authority of his judgments than any circumstances of his biography so that "Kongzi the universal commentator dominates Kong Qiu of Lu" (73). …

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