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Confucian Analects, Titbits ☼

Quotations are from Arthur Waley's translation (2007). Book data is further down.

A quick survey

The Analects, "Edited Conversations", is a collection of sayings and ideas attributed to the Chinese philosopher Kongzi (Confucius) and his contemporaries. It is believed to have been written by followers of Confucius during the Warring States period (475 BC–221 BCE), and was given its final form during the mid-Han dynasty (206 BC–220 CE).

"As for unwearying effort to learn and unflagging patience in teaching others, those are merits I do not hesitate to claim," Confucius is credited with saying in the Analects (7.33). The status of the Analects grew till they were raised above that of the older Five Classics. The Analects has been one of the most widely read and studied books in China for the last 2,000 years, and continues to influence on Chinese and East Asian thought and values today.

To succeed

Confucius taught among much else that one's individual desires do not need to be suppressed, but that people should be educated to demonstrate their respect for others and a sense of virtue, ren, also understood as "humaneness; human-heartedness" . He wanted to produce ethically well-cultivated men who would demonstrate integrity.

Confucius taught no comprehensive definition of ren. But he said that those who had cultivated ren could be distinguished by being "simple in manner and slow of speech" and that ren could be cultivated by practicing the Golden Rule: "Do not do to others what you would not like done to yourself". "A man with ren, desiring to establish himself, helps others establish themselves; desiring to succeed himself, helps others to succeed" (Analects 12.2; 6.28).[15] He taught that the ability for people to "think themselves into the shoes of others" - to imagine and project themselves to the conditions of others - could be good for moral self-cultivation (Analects 4.15; see also 5.12; 6.30; 15.24).

Confucius believed that ren could best be cultivated by the self-discipline involved in cultivating one's understanding of li, that is, various forms of propriety, showing respect and adhering to roles (Analects 3.3). Confucius and his followers taught that public cultivation of li brought about a well-ordered society (Analects 2.3). In Confucian philosophy there are five sets of relationships to take into account: ruler to ruled; father to son; husband to wife; elder brother to younger brother; and, friend to friend.

Deep cultivation - in part from li to ren, that is, from conform propriety to an inward sense of virtue.

Good concerns

Arenas of tact: In the Analects, li manages one's relationship with one's family and close community, and ren governs one's interactions with many.

Confucius believed that a good ruler would be self-disciplined, would govern his subjects through education and by his own example, and would seek to correct his subjects with love and concern (Analects 2.3; see also 13.6).

"Good government consists in the ruler being a ruler, the minister being a minister, the father being a father, and the son being a son" (Analects 12.11).

The concept of de or te

As for "virtue" and morality, de, Confucius judged a good ruler by his having de (te) ("virtue"), a sort of moral force to rule and gain by. (Analects 2.1). Ways to cultivate a ruler's de included binding nobility in complex hierarchical relationships of obligation and indebtedness. He describes de as a measurable force that one can "return," "cultivate," "extend," and "heighten" (Analects 1:9; 7:3; 19:2; 12:21).

Some understandable questions are: "How can I make de return if it has been stolen from me? How may I cultivate it, extend it and heighten it if I hardly understand what de is?" Confucius said, "Those who understand virtue are few and far between." (Analects 15:3)

De is a very complex and sweeping term among the Chinese of old. For all that, de is a key concept in Chinese philosophy, usually translated "inherent character; inner power; integrity" in Taoism, "moral character; virtue; morality" in Confucianism and other contexts, and "quality; virtue" (guna) or "merit; virtuous deeds" (punya) in Chinese Buddhism. Arthur Waley believed that de was better translated "power" than "virtue". "Selfhood-power; selfhood-integrity" are two other attempt at laying bare what de is about.

Education and study: Education and study are basic themes of the Analects. They emphasise the need to find balance between formal study and intuitive self-reflection (Analects 2.15). His main goal in educating his students was to produce ethically well-cultivated men who would demonstrate integrity (Analects 12.11; see also 13.3). He was willing to teach anyone regardless of social class, as long as they were sincere, eager, and really exerted themselves to learn (Analects 7.7; 15.38). He taught practical skills also, but regarded moral self-cultivation as his most important subject. Traditionally, seventy students are said to have mastered what he taught.

Chapters and quotations: Chapters in the Analects are grouped by individual themes, but the chapters are not arranged so as to carry a continuous stream of thoughts or ideas. The themes of adjacent chapters are completely unrelated to each other. Central themes recur repeatedly in different chapters, sometimes in exactly the same wording and sometimes with small variations. Chapter 10 contains detailed descriptions of Confucius' behaviors in various daily activities.

[Source of the above: WP, "Analects"; "Ren"; "Li"; "De".]

The quotations below are from the translation of Dr. Arthur Waley of the Lun Yü (The Analects), attributed to Confucius. The structural arrangement of the points aims, ideally, at handling.


1. Those without friends to enjoy the late night with, might perhaps cultivate politeness for starters, but it is not always an individual matter

Fine words and an insinuating appearance are seldom associated with true virtue.

Have no night-friends not equal to yourself, and no friend not practicing the rules of propriety

When someone has time off and opportunity, he should employ them in polite studies.

A man of complete virtue is earnest in what he is doing, savoury and careful in his speech.

A youth should cultivate the friendship of the good. (2)

2. There are different kinds of politeness; one is to give careful attention to delighting things, step by step, to be respected

In order to investigate well, sincerity is needed. (3)

Sincerity can be cultivated and brought to one or more forms of order, by steps.

Let there be a careful attention to the sacrifices of excellence. (4)

It can be delightful to have friends coming from distant quarters.

3. Go for rewarding principles with respect for business and truthfulness: that could work well

Who is a friend is benign enough to be with. (5)

Who is benign may get his information.

Frequent the company of men who are rewarding to be wit.

Feel no discomposure although men take no notice of you. ✪ 

The poor man who yet does not flatter, and the rich man who is not proud will do; but they are not equal to him, who, though poor is yet cheerful, and to him, who, though rich appreciates decency all right.

Hold faithfulness and sincerity as first principles.

The superior man focuseshis attention to the basics involved. From it, courses naturally grow up.

When you have faults, do not fear to abandon them.

A youth should be earnest and truthful. (7)

Employ people at the proper seasons.

Advance those who are earnest and truthful.

Adhere to reverent attention to business,

In transacting business for others: faithful - in intercourse with friends: stay sincere - and master and practice the instructions of your favourite teacher.


  1. Friendless people, alone throughout the nights, could cultivate politeness for starters. There could be no harm in that, granting "there is a right way, a wrong way and the way of the Army," though.
  2. There are different kinds of politeness and different sorts of businesses and friends. Yet one is to give careful attention to delighting things, step by step, to be respected. That is quite a principle.
  3. Go for rewarding principles with respect for business and truthfulness: that could work well all the time where there are no criminals about or in high places over you.

There may be no harm in cultivating truthful and suave (bland) politeness and respectability with due care. Opportunities for business may evolve after time, supposedly, unless they are in the hands of criminals above you. Then you need other sorts of advice.

Confucian Analects, Lun Yu, tr. Arthur Waley, Literature  

Slingerland, Edward. 2003. Confucius Analects. Cambridge: Hackett Publishing Company. ⍽▢⍽ An accessible, reliable contribution and an accurate, lucid rendition. It is paired with helpful explanations and reference material. Professor Slingerland's book is excellent and much liked by many, including students.

Watson, Burton, tr. 2007. The Analects of Confucius. New York: Columbia University Press.

Symbols, brackets, signs and text icons explained: (1) Text markers(2) Digesting

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