Analects (Analects of Confucius, Lun Yu, The Sayings of Confucius) Confucius (Kongfuzi, K'ung Fu Tzu)

Encyclopedia of the Literature of Empire - Mary Ellen Snodgrass 2010

Analects (Analects of Confucius, Lun Yu, The Sayings of Confucius) Confucius (Kongfuzi, K'ung Fu Tzu)

Analects (Analects of Confucius, Lun Yu, The Sayings of Confucius) Confucius (Kongfuzi, K'ung Fu Tzu) (ca. 210 B.c.)

The WISDOM LITERATURE of Confucius (551-479 B.c.) represents the acme of humanity, learning, and cultural reform in early China. Known by the honorific Kongfuzi (K'ung Fu-tsu [Grand Master]), Confucius was a wandering philosopher and political theorist who taught his disciples to trust humankind and behave respectfully to all while anticipating no reward or divine salvation. Born in Qufu (Ch'u-fu), Lu Province (present-day Shandong) of the Chu kingdom during the Zhou (Chou) dynasty, he lived during a feudal time known as the Spring and Autumn Period (770-481 B.c.), named after the Spring and Autumn Annals, which he is credited for compiling. This was also the time of the Hundred Schools of Thought (770-221 B.c.), an era of great intellectual and philosophical growth in China—as well as tremendous chaos and strife among the feudal nobility.

Confucius studied at the Grand Temple of the Duke of Zhou and with state philosopher and antiquarian Laozi (Lao Tsu), the formulator of Daoism (Taoism; see DAODEJING). He became a high minister in Lu Province but resigned in 497 B.c. because he disapproved of the Duke of Lu's behavior. Thereafter, he became an itinerant adviser and teacher to promising young males from all social and economic classes. Around 530 B.c., he began teaching in the household of Baron Qi (Chi). Wherever Confucius went, he expounded democratic ideals. Throughout his life, he urged China's unification under a benevolent emperor, an outcome that was later achieved when Qin Shi Huangdi founded the Qin dynasty in 221 B.c., marking the end of the violent time known as the Warring States Period.

In his teachings, to prepare the whole man, Confucius devised a curriculum ranging from classical Chinese literature and history to ritual and ethics, archery, charioteering, calligraphy, music, and math. In 501 B.c., he launched a crusade to revive the nonmaterialistic values of home and community from China's agrarian past. For models, he pictured an androcentric world with the sovereign as a father and the subjects as sons. About 488 B.c., the philosopher became China's first professional ethicist by authoring the Tuan Quan (Tuan Chuan [Commentary on the decision]), an application of the I CHING (The Book of Changes, 1144 B.c.-206 B.c.) to morality. One adherent predicted, “The Empire has long been lying in evil ways, but now God is going to make Confucius his herald to rouse the land” (Confucius 1910, 118). His lectures, drawing on such works as the Daodejing (Tao-te Ching [Classic of the way of power, 300 B.c.]) of Laozi, denounced arrogance, bias, and the vainglory of the political hierarchy.

In retirement, Confucius edited 305 aphorisms, verses, and hymns in The Book of Songs (ca. 480 B.c.), which introduced the utopian concept of the Dao (Tao [the Way]), a path to serenity. Following his death a year later, his concepts started to influence childhood education through student memorization of wise sayings. His long-lasting philosophy is known as Confucianism.

Editions of Confucius's Sayings

Confucius’s anthologized writings, like those of the Buddha, Jesus, Muhammad, and Socrates, were the collections of disciples. In the decade preceding the rise of imperial China, the sage Mencius (also Mengzi or Meng Tzu, 372-289 B.c.) compiled 497 aphorisms into Chinese scripture known as the Analects of Confucius, a series of teacher-student discussions. In Mencius’s version, the master’s advice is direct, a style later popularized by the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius: “Promote the deserving and instruct those who fall short, and they will be encouraged to follow the path of virtue” (40). Of public affairs, the master urges “scrupulous attention to business, honesty, economy, charity, and the employment of the people at the proper season” (39). Additional aphorisms warn of petty criticisms, wasted funds, ruthless authorities, and the devaluation of the citizen’s toil. Mencius’s representation of Confucianism anticipates an ideal sovereignty based on right thinking and the generosity of ordinary citizens. One metaphor depicts the philosopher-king as wind and his people as grass: “For it is the nature of grass to bend when the wind blows upon it” (42). Through core beliefs in human rights, the Analects denounce the ruling class for indulgence and exonerate rebels for overthrowing corrupt regimes.

In the eastern state of Qi (Ch’i), Xunzi (Xun zi, or Hsun-tzu, ca. 312-230 B.c.), an intellectual from Chi-Hsia, shaped the simplistic Confucian doctrines into a pragmatic text of social and political behavior governed by balance and acquired learning. Other first- and second-generation disciples of Confucius enlarged and amended the Analects over time, making it a collective work rather than the work of Confucius himself. The book’s final editors were probably disciples of the Confucian Zengzi (Tsengtzu, 505-436 B.c.). By 136 B.c., the emperor Wudi (Wu Ti) (140 B.c.-87 B.c.), fifth ruler of the Han dynasty, had legitimized Confucianism as the state cult and the Analects as a standard text of Confucian-trained civil servants. By A.D. 58, Confucianism was serving China as the imperial ideology.

The version of the Analects known today was compiled by Zhang Yu, a teacher of Emperor Cheng (51-7 B.c.), during the late Han dynasty. Zhang Yu combined previous versions known as the Lu and Qi Analects but retained the number of chapters in the Lu Analects. The 501 short chapters (none longer than 15 lines) are organized into 20 books. One of the Four Books of Confucianism (the others are the Mengzi [Book of Mencius], Zhongyong [Doctrine of the Mean], and Daxue [The Great Learning]), the Analects is also one of the cornerstones of Confucianism, a moral code that not only played an important role in the unification of China but continued to resonate through the ages.

Confucianism and its disciples spread from China to distant nations. Among the devout Chinese Confucians was poet-historian Du Fu of Shaoling. In the Nara period in eighth-century Japan, poet YAMANOUE NO OKURA incorporated Confucian morality in his altruistic verse. The novelist Cao Xueqin, author of DREAM OF THE RED CHAMBER (1791), illustrated the value of Confucius’s philosophy to subsequent generations by depicting the success of the scholarly protagonist Chia Pao-yu at studying the original texts and placing seventh on state exams. American novelists PEARL S. BUCK and AMY TAN attacked the patriarchy of Confucius’s writings in feminist novels depicting the lives of silenced and overworked peasant women in the final decades of imperial China.


Clements Jonathan. Confucius: A Biography. Charleston, S.C.: History Press, 2005.

Confucius. The Book of Songs: The Ancient Chinese Classic of Poetry. Translated by Arthur Waley. New York: Grove, 1996.

----- . The Sayings of Confucius. Translated by Lionel Giles. New York: E. P Dutton, 1910.