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L·n YÈ: The Analects by Confucius

The Analects by Confucius is one of the most revered works in Chinese history. It is the centerpiece of Confucianism and a part of the Chinese way of life.

Chinese traditional culture, art, and philosophy encompass many forms. The Analects by Confucius contain much wisdom, folklore, guidelines for daily living, and encouragement to practice virtue and good citizenship.

The literal meaning of the term analects is "discussion over Confucius’ words." The Analects continue to influence Asian thought and values even today. There has even been a recent attempt to reintroduce Confucian learning in public schools.

Traditional accounts tell us that Confucius wrote these words over a period of 30-50 years, during the Spring and Autumn Period through the Warring States era, approximately 479 B.C. and 221 B.C. The exact publication date cannot be pinpointed. It is even quite likely that disciples of Confucius later wrote down their master’s thoughts and their own thoughts about him. That might account for the chapters in the book not being arranged to contain a continuous stream of thoughts or ideas. It seems the chapters are completely random. Adjacent chapters are unrelated to each other, and vital ideas recur repeatedly in various chapters throughout the book, leading many scholars to believe the book was penned by more than one individual-a collective effort, much like the compilation of the Christian Bible (written many years after Jesus’ death) and the Greek classic Plato’s Republic. One of Confucius’ most renowned students, Zhengzi, urged his followers to function as final editors of the analects.

By the time of the Han Dynasty three analects versions were popular-the Lu, Qi, and Ancient Text Analects. The two former works were quite similar, but the Ancient Text Analects featured two additional chapters. Except for the latter, all three versions shared 20 chapters. The version that survives and is the most popular today is known as the Marquis Zhang Analects.

Confucius lived during an era where warrior-based, personality-based societies were unraveling. Evident then was a society based on mediation and more direct access to the ruler. Extreme ethics of loyalty to one’s superiors and paternal care for inferiors was fading somewhat. Manners and proscribed rituals were losing some of their luster as well. Nevertheless, The Analects continued to foster Confucian values, including propriety, righteousness, learning, filial piety and loyalty—all attributes based on Confucius’ concept of humanity. A traditional Chinese scholar was not considered his worth of learning if he did not practice moral fortitude, and he was considered completely unenlightened unless he had studied Confucius’ works. Anyone seeking employment in those days had to pass the imperial examinations, begun during the Jin Dynasty. These exams were abolished with the founding of the Republic of China.

The book’s tenth chapter details instructions for proper conduct in daily living, applicable for all to this day.