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論語 Lúnyǔ translation


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Analects: With Selections from Traditional Commentaries (Translated & Annotated) (Hackett Classics) by Edward Slingerland.

Translates the Analects, includes helpful commentary by the translator, but also includes translations of the some of the famous or 'classic' commentaries from the past, the ones which fixed key interpretations of the Analects into broader Confucian thought.


Here's how it starts:




One of the central themes of this Book is that learning (xue ) has more to do with actual behavior than academic theory, and that virtuous public behavior as an adult is rooted in such basic familial virtues as filial piety (xiao ) and respect for elders (ti ) (lit. “being a good younger brother”).


1.1 The Master said, “To learn and then have occasion to practice what you have learned—is this not satisfying? To have friends arrive from afar—is this not a joy? To be patient even when others do not understand—is this not the mark of the gentleman?”

As Cheng Shude (following Mao Qiling) notes, “People today think of ‘learning’ as the pursuit of knowledge, whereas the ancients thought of ‘learning’ as cultivating the self.” For evidence, he points to 6.3, where Confucius cites Yan Hui as the only one of his disciples that truly loved learning because he “never misdirected his anger and never repeated a mistake twice,” and 2.18, where learning is described in terms of seldom erring in one’s speech and seldom having cause for regret in one’s behavior. This is an important point: we will see throughout the text that the sort of learning Confucius is interested in is a practical kind of “know-how” rather than abstract theoretical knowledge (see 1.7). Li Chong explains that the three activities mentioned in 1.1 refer to the stages of learning: mastering the basics, discussing them with fellow students and working hard at mastering them, and finally becoming a teacher of others.



1.2 Master You said, “A young person who is filial and respectful of his elders rarely becomes the kind of person who is inclined to defy his superiors, and there has never been a case of one who is disinclined to defy his superiors stirring up rebellion.

“The gentleman applies himself to the roots. ‘Once the roots are firmly established, the Way will grow.’ Might we not say that filial piety and respect for elders constitute the root of Goodness?”

The line enclosed in quotation marks is probably a traditional saying. A comment upon this passage found in the Garden of Persuasions reads, “If the roots are not straight then the branches will necessarily be crooked, and if the beginning does not flourish then the end will necessarily wither. An ode says, ‘The highlands and lowlands have been pacified/ The springs and streams have been made clear/ Once the roots are firmly established, the Way will grow.’ ” The quoted ode is a variant of the extant Ode 227. We see from the common Confucian theme that political order grows naturally out of the moral character formed within the context of family life. As Chen Tianxiang notes, we find a similar theme in Mencius 4:A:11: “If everyone simply loved their parents and respected their elders, the world would be at peace.”


1.3 The Master said, “A clever tongue and fine appearance are rarely signs of Goodness.”

This suspicion of glib speech and superficial appearance is found throughout the Analects. This saying is repeated in 17.7 below (cf. 5.5, 11.25, 12.3, 16.4), and in 15.11 the danger presented by “glib people” (ningren ) is compared to the derangement of morals brought about by the music of Zheng. David Nivison (1999: 751) has made a very interesting observation that may explain Confucius’ hatred for these clever, ingratiating people: in archaic Chinese, ning was pronounced *nieng2 and is actually a graphic modification of its cognate ren (AC *nien). The original meaning of ren was something like “noble in form,” and it would appear that ning was its counterpart in the verbal realm: “attractive or noble in speech.” In giving ning a negative meaning in the Analects, Confucius drives a wedge between the two qualities: ren now becomes “true” (i.e., inner) nobleness or Virtue, whereas ning represents the false, external counterfeit of ren. This is no doubt the sentiment behind such passages as 12.3, “The Good person is sparing of speech,” and 13.27, “reticence is close to Goodness,” as well as Confucius’ general suspicion of language and outward show.


1.4 Master Zeng said, “Every day I examine myself on three counts: in my dealings with others, have I in any way failed to be dutiful? In my interactions with friends and associates, have I in any way failed to be trustworthy? Finally, have I in any way failed to repeatedly put into practice what I teach?”

Here again we find the emphasis on practice—actual social behavior—as opposed to academic, theoretical knowledge. The sort of incessant self-examination practiced by Master Zeng no doubt informs his observation in 8.7 that “the burden is heavy and the Way is long.” For the importance of introspection, cf. 5.27.


1.5 The Master said, “To guide a state of one thousand chariots, be respectful in your handing of affairs and display trustworthiness; be frugal in your expenditures and cherish others; and employ the common people only at the proper times.”


A great deal of commentarial ink has been spilled over the question of exactly how large a state of one thousand chariots is, but for our purposes, it suffices to note that it is not small. Employing the common people refers to the use of peasant farmers in public work projects, which should be timed so as to not interfere with their agricultural activities. Early texts suggest that the levy should not exceed three days in a year. As Brooks and Brooks note, “The description does not imply a minister ‘leading’ [a] state, but a middle administrator: dutiful toward his superiors, thoughtful of his junior colleagues, and appropriate in his demands on the subject population” (1998: 170).

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I note Michael Nylan in the further reading section of her Five Confucian Classics says she still prefers Waley's 1938 translation. Have Burton Watson's and the Slingerland, plus the Brooks's cited above and have consulted DC Lau's, think I agree with Nylan.

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I really enjoy Slingerland's translation for its copious notes. It may be a bit "scholarly" though, depending on your purposes. If you're reading through 論語 in the original and want a translation to make sure you're understanding correctly, I'd have Slingerland nearby. If you just want a readable English translation, Waley's may indeed be the one to go for.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Really interesting link, although I can't agree with any of it! I think he is wrong to try to apply this separation between 'morals' and 'ethics' to Confucius. The author of that paper is suggesting morals are universal and public, and ethics are personal or contingent, some kind of best-practice-behaviour in society. Regardless of whether that's true today, isn't it bizarre to apply it to Confucius?

The way I see it:


- the goal is a functioning society that avoids anarchy/starvation and allows its members to flourish

- this goal is a 'good', it is vitally important, it has a moral importance

- it is people's behaviour, specifically how they interact with one another, that determines whether this society functions and survives, or not

- therefore behaving in a way supportive of society is a moral good

- therefore behaving in the 'right' way is simultaneously morally 'right', and also in-keeping-with-best-and-expected-practice 'right'.

- therefore 君君臣臣父父子子

- therefore it's pointless trying to separate morality from ethics in Confucius. :mrgreen:

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