Compiled by disciples of Confucius in the centuries following his death in 479 B.C.E., The Analects of Confucius is a collection of aphorisms and historical anecdotes embodying the basic values of the Confucian tradition: learning, morality, ritual decorum, and filial piety. Reflecting the model eras of Chinese antiquity, the Analects offers valuable insights into successful governance and the ideal organization of society. Filled with humor and sarcasm, it reads like a casual conversation between teacher and student, emphasizing the role of the individual in the attainment of knowledge and the value of using historical events and people to illuminate moral and political concepts.
Confucius's teachings focus on cultural and peaceful pursuits and the characteristics of benevolent and culturally distinguished government. He also discusses ancestor worship and other rites performed for the spirits of the dead. The single most influential philosophical work in all of Chinese history, The Analects of Confucius has shaped the thought and customs of China and neighboring countries for centuries. Burton Watson's concise translation uses the pinyin romanization system and keeps explanatory notes to a minimum, yet his intimate knowledge of the Confucian tradition and precise attention to linguistic detail capture the original text's elegance, cogency, and wit.
About the Author
Burton Watson has taught at Columbia, Stanford, and Kyoto Universities and is one of the world's best-known translators of Chinese and Japanese works. His translations include The Tales of the Heike; The Lotus Sutra; the writings of Zhuangzi, Mozi, Xunzi, and Han Feizi; The Columbia Book of Chinese Poetry; and Records of the Grand Historian.
Read an Excerpt
1.1. The Master said: "To learn something and then to put it into practice at the right time: is this not a joy? To have friends coming from afar: is this not a delight? Not to be upset when one's merits are ignored: is this not the mark of a gentleman?"(*)
1.2. Master You said: "A man who respects his parents and his elders would hardly be inclined to defy his superiors. A man who is not inclined to defy his superiors will never foment a rebellion. A gentleman works at the root. Once the root is secured, the Way unfolds. To respect parents and elders is the root of humanity."
1.3. The Master said: "Clever talk and affected manners are seldom signs of goodness."
1.4. Master Zeng said: "I examine myself three times a day. When dealing on behalf of others, have I been trustworthy? In intercourse with my friends, have I been faithful? Have I practiced what I was taught?"
1.5. The Master said: "To govern a state of middle size, one must dispatch business with dignity and good faith; be thrifty and love all men; mobilize the people only at the right times."
1.6. The Master said: "At home, a young man must respect his parents; abroad, he must respect his elders. He should talk little, but with good faith; love all people, but associate with the virtuous. Having done this, if he still has energy to spare, let him study literature."
1.7. Zixia said "A man who values virtue more than good looks, who devotes all his energy to serving his father and mother, who is willing to give his life for his sovereign, who in intercourse with friend's is true to hiswordeven though some may call him uneducated, I still maintain he is an educated man."
1.8. The Master said: "A gentleman who lacks gravity has no authority and his learning will remain shallow. A gentleman puts loyalty and faithfulness foremost; he does not befriend his moral interiors. When he commits a fault, he is not afraid to amend his ways."
1.9. Master Zeng said "When the dead are honored and the memory of remote ancestors is kept alive, a people's virtue is at its fullest."
1.10. Ziqin asked Zigong: "When the Master arrives in another country, he always becomes informed about its politics. Does he ask for such information, or is it given him?" Zigong replied: "The Master obtains it by being cordial, kind, courteous, temperate, and deferential. The Master has a way of enquiring which is quite different from other people's, is it not?"
1.11. The Master said: "When the father is alive, watch the sons's aspirations. When the father is dead, watch the son's actions. It three years later, the son has not veered from the father's way, he may be called a dutiful son indeed."
1.12. Master You said: "When practicing the ritual, what matters most is harmony. This is what made the beauty of the way of the ancient kings; it inspired their every move, great or small. Yet they knew where to stop: harmony cannot be sought for its own sake, it must always be subordinated to the ritual; otherwise it would not do."
1.13. Master You said: "If your promises conform to what is right, you will be able to keep your word. If your manners conform to the ritual, you will be able to keep shame and disgrace at bay. The best support is provided by one's own kinsmen."
1.14. The Master said: "A gentleman eats without stuffing his belly; chooses a dwelling without demanding comfort; is diligent in his office and prudent in his speech; seeks the company of the virtuous in order to straighten his own ways. Of such a man, one may truly say that he is fond of learning."
1.15. Zigong said: "'Poor without servility; rich without arrogance.' How is that?" The Master said: "Not bad, but better still: 'Poor, yet cheerful; rich, yet considerate.'" Zigong said: "In the Poems, it is said: 'Like carving horn, like sculpting ivory, like cutting jade, like polishing stone.' Is this not the same idea?" The Master said: "Ah, one can really begin to discuss the Poems with you! I tell you one thing, and you can figure out the rest."
1.16. The Master said: "Don't worry if people don't recognize your merits; worry that you may not recognize theirs." (*) For explanations and comments, readers should refer to the second part of this book, where all the notes are collected under numbered headings corresponding to the chapters and paragraphs of the translation. No further callouts for notes appear in the text of the translation.
Table of Contents
Glossary of Persons and Places
What People are Saying About This
The Analects of Confucius is arguably the single most influential work on the philosophical, religious, and cultural life of the Chinese people. Burton Watson's translation is clear, crisp, terse, less predigested, and much more elegant than its contemporaries. This translation shall remain as a standard for many years to come.
Philip J. Ivanhoe, professor of philosophy, City University of Hong Kong
There has been a handful of competent and interesting versions of The Analects of Confucius published during the last two decades, but none of them, in my judgment, can surpass the excellence of this edition. What the seasoned scholar-translator has accomplished throughout is to render his English version in style answerable to the pithiness, simplicity, and sapiential flair of the Chinese original. Stylistic and linguistic economy, however, in no way sacrifice elegance and succinctness. This is a book that can be recommended enthusiastically to the English reader worldwide.
Anthony C. Yu, Carl Darling Buck Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus in the Humanities and professor emeritus of religion and literature, Divinity School, The University of Chicago