The sayings of Confucius : a new translation of the greater part of the Confucian analects online

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Transcriber's Note:

The Table of Contents is not part of the original book.


















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Confucius was born in the year 550 B.C.,[1] in the land of Lu, in a
small village, situated in the western part of the modern province of
Shantung. His name was K'ung Ch'iu, and his style (corresponding to
our Christian name) was Chung-ni. His countrymen speak of him as K'ung
Fu-tzu, the Master, or philosopher K'ung. This expression was altered
into Confucius by the Jesuit missionaries who first carried his fame
to Europe.

[Footnote 1: According to the great historian Ssu-ma Ch'ien. Other
authorities say, 552 and 551 B.C.]

Since the golden days of the Emperors Yao and Shun, the legendary
founders of the Chinese Empire, nearly two thousand years had passed.
Shun chose as his successor Yü, who had been his chief minister, a man
whose devotion to duty was such that when engaged in draining the
empire of the great flood - a task that took eight years to
accomplish - he never entered his home till the work was done, although
in the course of his labours he had thrice to pass his door. He
founded the Hsia dynasty, which lasted till 1766 B.C. The last emperor
of this line, a vile tyrant, was overthrown by T'ang, who became the
first ruler of the house of Shang, or Yin. This dynasty again
degenerated in course of time and came to an end in Chou, or Chou Hsin
(1154-22 B.C.), a monster of lust, extravagance, and cruelty. The
empire was only held together by the strength and wisdom of the Duke
of Chou, or King Wen, to give him his popular title, one of the
greatest men in Chinese history. He controlled two-thirds of the
empire; but, believing that the people were not yet ready for a
change, he refrained from dethroning the emperor. In his day 'the
husbandman paid one in nine; the pay of the officers was hereditary;
men were questioned at barriers and at markets, but there were no
tolls; fishgarths were not preserved; the children of criminals were
sackless. The old and wifeless - the widower; the old and
husbandless - the widow; the old and childless - the lone one; the young
and fatherless - the orphan; these four are the people most in need
below heaven, and they have no one to whom to cry, so when King Wen
reigned his love went out first to them' (Mencius, Book II, chapter
5). After his death, his son, King Wu, decided that the nation was
ripe for change. He overcame Chou Hsin by force of arms, and, placing
himself on the throne, became the founder of the Chou dynasty.

In the time of Confucius the Chou dynasty still filled the throne. But
it had long since become effete, and all power had passed into the
hands of the great vassals. The condition of China was much like that
of Germany in the worst days of the Holy Roman Empire. The emperor was
powerless, the various vassal states were independent in all but name,
and often at war one with the other. These states again were
disintegrated, and their rulers impotent against encroaching
feudatories. In Confucius' native state, Lu, the duke was a mere
shadow. The younger branches of his house had usurped all power. Three
in number, they were called the Three Clans. The most important of the
three was the Chi, or Chi-sun clan, whose chiefs Chi Huan and Chi
K'ang are often mentioned by Confucius. But the power of the Chi, too,
was ill-secured. The minister Yang Huo overawed his master, and once
even threw him into prison. Nor was the condition of the other states
of the empire better than that of Lu. Confucius thought it worse.

Into this turbulent world Confucius was born. Though his father was
only a poor military officer, he could trace his descent from the
imperial house of Yin. Confucius married at nineteen, and is known to
have had one son and one daughter. Shortly after his marriage he
entered the service of the state as keeper of the granary. A year
later he was put in charge of the public fields. In 527 B.C. his
mother died, and, in obedience to Chinese custom, he had to retire
from public life. When the years of mourning were over, he did not
again take office, but devoted himself instead to study and teaching.
As the years rolled by his fame grew, and a band of pupils gathered
round him. In 517 B.C. the anarchy in Lu reached such a pitch that
Confucius moved to the neighbouring land of Ch'i. Here he had several
interviews with the reigning duke, but met with little encouragement
(xviii. 3). So he soon returned to his native country, and resumed for
fifteen years his work as student and teacher.

During these fifteen years the power of the duke sank lower and lower,
and the Chi was menaced by his minister Yang Huo. In times so dark,
men that loved quiet sought in the world of thought an escape from the
gloom around them, whilst others that were less resigned turned over
in their minds the causes of the realm's decay. Lao-tzu, the founder
of the mystic Taoist philosophy, taught that in inaction alone peace
can be found; Mo-tzu proclaimed the doctrine of universal love: that
we should love all men as we love self, love the parents of others as
we love our own parents. Upright men were driven or fled from the
world. Confucius often met them in his wanderings, and was reproved
for not doing as they did. But his practical mind told him that
inaction could not help the world, and that to find a remedy for the
nation's ills, their cause must first be learned. This could only be
done by historical study. He therefore devoted himself to the study of
past times, edited in later life the _Book of History_, and compiled
the work called _Spring and Autumn_, a history of his native state
from 722 to 481 B.C. To bring again the golden days of Yao and Shun a
return must be made to the principles of Wen and Wu, the kings that
had rebuilt the empire after tyranny and selfishness had laid it low.
Of impracticable ideals and renunciation of the world no good could

At last in 501 B.C. Yang Huo was forced to flee from Lu, and prospects
brightened. A year later Confucius was appointed governor of a town.
So great was his success as governor that before long he was promoted
to be Superintendent of Works, and then to be Chief Criminal Judge. He
won great influence with his master, and did much to lighten the
general misery. He so strengthened the power of the duke that
neighbouring states grew jealous. To sow dissension between duke and
minister the men of Ch'i sent the duke a gift of singing girls. Such
joy they gave him that for three days no court was held. On this
Confucius left the land, 497 B.C.

For the next thirteen years Confucius wandered from land to land,
followed by his disciples, seeking in vain for a ruler that was
willing to employ him, and whom he was willing to serve. At times he
was exposed to danger, at other times to want. But as a rule he was
treated with consideration, although his teachings were ignored. Yet
thirteen years of homeless wandering, of hopes deferred and
frustrated, must have been hard to bear. When he left office Confucius
was already fifty-three years old, and his life so far seemed a
failure. The sense of his wasted powers may well have tempted him now
and again to take office under an unworthy ruler; but knowing that no
good could come of it he refrained, and probably he never seriously
thought of doing so.

In 483 B.C., when Confucius was sixty-six years old, through the
influence of his disciple Jan Yu, who was in the service of the Chi,
the Master was invited to return to his native land. Here he remained
till his death in 479 B.C. He had many interviews with the reigning
duke and the head of the Chi clan, but gained no influence over either
of them. So he turned once more to his favourite studies; edited the
_Book of Poetry_ - perhaps the most interesting collection of ancient
songs extant - and wrote _Spring and Autumn_. His closing years were
darkened by the loss of those dearest to him. First his son died, then
Yen Yüan, the disciple whom he loved best. At his death the Master was
overcome by grief, and he left none behind him that loved learning.
Lastly Tzu-lu, the frank and bold, was killed in battle. A little
later, in his seventy-first year, Confucius himself passed away, 479

This book of the Master's Sayings is believed by the Chinese to have
been written by the disciples of Confucius. But there is nothing to
prove this, and some passages in the book point the other way. Book
viii speaks of the death of Tseng-tzu, who did not die till 437 B.C.,
forty-two years after the Master. The chief authority for the text as
it stands to-day is a manuscript found in the house of Confucius in
150 B.C., hidden there, in all likelihood, between the years 213 and
211 B.C., when the reigning emperor was seeking to destroy every copy
of the classics. We find no earlier reference to the book under its
present name. But Mencius (372-289 B.C.) quotes seven passages from
it, in language all but identical with the present text, as the words
of Confucius. No man ever talked the language of these sayings. Such
pith and smoothness is only reached by a long process of rounding and
polishing. We shall probably come no nearer to the truth than Legge's
conclusion that the book was put together by the pupils of the
disciples of Confucius, from the words and notebooks of their masters,
about the year 400 B.C.



_January, 1909_

* * * * *


Such information as seemed necessary to enable the reader to
understand the text, or that appeared to me to be of general interest,
I have given in the notes at the foot of the page. Further details
about the men and places mentioned in the text will be found in the

Dates I have taken from Legge, Hirth and other standard authors.

In Chinese names, consonants are generally pronounced as in English,
vowels as in Italian.

_E_, when not joined with _i_, is pronounced nearly as German _ö_, or
much as _u_ in English l_u_ck.

_ao_ rhymes approximately with h_ow_
_ei_ " " " th_ey_
_ou_ " " " th_ough_
_uo_ " " " p_oo_r,

the _u_ being equivalent to _w_.

_Chih_ and _Shih_ rhyme approximately with _her_. _Tzu_ is pronounced
much as _sir_ in the vulgar _yessir_, but with a hissing sound

* * * * *



1. The Master said, To learn and then do, is not that a pleasure? When
friends come from afar do we not rejoice? To live unknown and not
fret, is not that to be a gentleman?

2. Yu-tzu[2] said. Few men that are good sons and good brothers are
fond of withstanding those over them. A man that is not fond of
withstanding those over him and is yet fond of broils is nowhere
found. A gentleman heeds the roots. When the root has taken, the Way
is born. And to be a good son and a good brother, is not that the root
of love?

[Footnote 2: A disciple.]

3. The Master said, Smooth words and fawning looks are seldom found
with love.

4. Tseng-tzu[3] said, Thrice daily I ask myself: In dealing for
others, have I been unfaithful? Have I been untrue to friends? Do I
practise what I preach?

[Footnote 3: A disciple.]

5. The Master said, To guide a land of a thousand chariots, honour
business and be true; spend little and love men; time thy calls on the

6. The Master said, The young should be dutiful at home, modest
abroad, careful and true, overflowing in kindness for all, but in
brotherhood with love. And if they have strength to spare they should
spend it on the arts.

7. Tzu-hsia[3] said, If a man eschews beauty and honours worth, if he
serves his father and mother with all his strength, if he is ready to
give his life for his lord, and keeps faith with his friends, though
others may say he has no learning, I must call him learned.

8. The Master said, A gentleman will not be looked up to unless he is
staid, nor will his learning be sound. Put faithfulness and truth
first; have no friends unlike thyself; be not ashamed to mend thy

9. Tseng-tzu[4] said, Heed the dead, follow up the past, and the soul
of the people will again grow great.

[Footnote 4: A disciple.]

10. Tzu-ch'in[5] said to Tzu-kung,[6] When he comes to a country the
Master always hears how it is governed; does he ask, or is it told

[Footnote 5: A disciple.]

[Footnote 6: A disciple.]

Tzu-kung said, The Master gets it by his warmth and honesty, by
politeness, modesty and yielding. The way the Master asks is unlike
other men's asking.

11. The Master said, Whilst thy father lives look for his purpose;
when he is gone, look how he walked. To change nothing in thy father's
ways for three years may be called pious.

12, Yu-tzu[7] said, To behave with ease is the best part of courtesy.
This was the beauty of the old kings' ways; this they followed in
small and great. But knowing this, it will not do to give way to ease,
unchecked by courtesy. This too is wrong.

[Footnote 7: A disciple.]

13. Yu-tzu said, If pledges are close to right, word can be kept. If
attentions are close to courtesy, shame will be kept far. If we do not
choose our leaders wrong, we may worship them too.

14. The Master said, A gentleman that does not seek to eat his fill,
nor look for ease in his home, who is earnest at work and careful of
speech, who walks with those that keep the Way, and is guided by them,
may be said to love learning.

15. Tzu-kung[8] said, Poor, but no flatterer; rich, but not proud: how
would that be?

[Footnote 8: A disciple.]

It would do, said the Master; but better still were poor but merry;
rich, but loving courtesy.

Tzu-kung said, When the poem says:

If ye cut, if ye file,
If ye polish and grind,

is that what is meant?

The Master said, Now I can begin to talk of poetry to Tz'u. Tell him
what is gone, and he knows what shall come.

16. The Master said, Not to be known is no sorrow. My sorrow is not
knowing men.


1. The Master said, He that rules by mind is like the north star,
steady in his seat, whilst the stars all bend to him.

2. The Master said, The three hundred poems are summed up in the one
line, Think no evil.

3. The Master said, Guide the people by law, aline them by punishment;
they may shun crime, but they will want shame. Guide them by mind,
aline them by courtesy; they will learn shame and grow good.

4. The Master said, At fifteen, I had the will to learn; at thirty, I
could stand; at forty, I had no doubts; at fifty, I understood the
heavenly Bidding; at sixty, my ears were opened[9]; at seventy, I
could do as my heart lusted without trespassing from the square.

[Footnote 9: _Lit._, obedient.]

5. Meng Yi asked the duty of a son.

The Master said, Not to transgress.

As Fan Chi'ih[10] was driving him, the Master said, Meng-sun[11] asked
me the duty of a son; I answered, Not to transgress.

[Footnote 10: A disciple.]

[Footnote 11: Meng Yi.]

What did ye mean? said Fan Chi'ih.

To serve our father and mother with courtesy whilst they live; to bury
them with courtesy when they die, and to worship them with courtesy.

6. Meng Wu asked the duty of a son.

The Master said, He should not grieve his father and mother by
anything but illness.

7. Tzu-yu[12] asked the duty of a son.

[Footnote 12: A disciple.]

The Master said, He that can feed his parents is now called a good
son. But both dogs and horses are fed, and unless we honour our
parents, what is the difference?

8. Tzu-hsia[13] asked the duty of a son.

[Footnote 13: A disciple.]

The Master said, Our manner is the hard part. For the young to be a
stay in toil and leave the wine and food to their elders, is this to
fulfil their duty?

9. The Master said, If I talk all day to Hui,[14] like a dullard, he
never differs from me. But when he is gone, if I watch him when alone,
he can carry out what I taught. No, Hui is no dullard!

[Footnote 14: The disciple Yen Yüan.]

10. The Master said, See what he does; watch what moves him; search
what pleases him: can the man lie hidden? Can the man lie hidden?

11. The Master said, To keep old knowledge warm and get new makes the

12. The Master said, A gentleman is not a vessel.

13. Tzu-kung[15] asked, What is a gentleman?

[Footnote 15: A disciple.]

The Master said, He puts words into deeds first, and follows these up
with words.

14. The Master said, A gentleman is broad and fair; the small man
takes sides and is narrow.

15. The Master said, Learning without thought is naught; thought
without learning is dangerous.

16. The Master said, To fight strange doctrines does harm.

17. The Master said, Yu,[16] shall I teach thee what is wisdom? To
know what we know, and know what we do not know, is wisdom.

[Footnote 16: The disciple Tzu-lu.]

18. Tsu-chang[17] learned with an eye to pay.

[Footnote 17: A disciple.]

The Master said, Hear much, leave all that is doubtful alone, speak
warily of everything else, and few will be offended. See much, leave
all that is dangerous alone, deal warily with everything else, and
thou wilt have little to rue. If thy words seldom give offence, and
thy deeds leave little to rue, pay will follow.

19. Duke Ai[18] asked, What should I do to win the people?

[Footnote 18: Of Lu.]

Confucius answered, Lift up the straight, put away the crooked; and
the people will be won. Lift up the crooked, put away the straight;
and the people will not be won.

20. Chi K'ang[19] asked how to make the people lowly, faithful and

[Footnote 19: The head of the Chi clan.]

The Master said, Meet them with dignity, they will be lowly; be a good
son and merciful, they will be faithful; lift up the good and teach
the unskilled, and they will take pains.

21. One said to Confucius, Why do ye not govern, Sir?

The Master said, What does the Book[20] say of a good son? 'To be a
good son and a friend to thy brothers is to show how to govern.'
This, too, is to govern. Must one be in office to govern?

[Footnote 20: The Book of History.]

22. The Master said, A man without truth, I know not what good he is!
A cart without a crosspole, a carriage without a yoke, how can they be

23. Tzu-chang[21] asked whether we can know what is to be ten
generations hence.

[Footnote 21: A disciple.]

The Master said, The Yin[22] took over the manners of the Hsia; the
harm and the good that they did them can be known. The Chou took over
the manners of the Yin; the harm and the good that they did them can
be known. And we may know what shall be, even an hundred generations
hence, whoever follows Chou.

[Footnote 22: Up to the time of Confucius, China had been ruled by
three lines of kings. First the T'ang, next the Yin or Shang, then the

24. The Master said, To worship the ghosts of men not akin to us is
fawning. To see the right and not do it is want of courage.


1. Of the Chi having eight rows of dancers[23] in his courtyard,
Confucius said, If this is to be borne, what is not to be borne?

[Footnote 23: An Imperial prerogative.]

2. When the sacrifice was ended, the Three Clans had the Yung hymn

The Master said,

Princes and dukes assist.
Solemn is the Son of heaven;

what meaning has this in the courtyard of the Three Clans?

3. The Master said, A man without love, what is courtesy to him? A man
without love, what is music to him?

4. Lin Fang asked what good form is at root.

The Master said, A big question! At high-tides, thrift is better than
waste; at burials, grief is worth more than nicety.

5. The Master said, Every wild tribe has its lord, whereas the lands
of Hsia[24] have none!

[Footnote 24: China.]

6. The Chi sacrificed to Mount T'ai.[25]

[Footnote 25: A prerogative of the Duke of Lu.]

The Master said to Jan Yu,[26] Canst thou not stop this?

[Footnote 26: A disciple in the service of the Chi.]

He answered, I cannot.

Alas! said the Master; dost thou think Mount T'ai less wise than Lin

7. The Master said, A gentleman never strives with others. Or must he,
perhaps, in shooting? But then, as he bows and makes way in going up
or steps down to drink,[27] his strife is that of a gentleman.

[Footnote 27: The loser had to drink a cup of wine.]

8. Tzu-hsia asked, What is the meaning of:

Her cunning smiles,
Her dimples light,
Her lovely eyes,
So clear and bright,
All unadorned,
The background white.

Colouring, said the Master, is second to the plain ground.

Then good form is second, said Tzu-hsia.

Shang,[28] said the Master, thou hast hit my meaning! Now I can talk
of poetry to thee.

[Footnote 28: Tzu-hsia.]

9. The Master said, I can speak of the manners of Hsia; but as proof
of them Chi[29] is not enough. I can speak of the manners of Yin; but
as proof of them Sung is not enough. This is due to their dearth of
books and great men. If there were enough of these, I could use them
as proofs.

[Footnote 29: Chi was the homeland of the House of Hsia, Sung that of
the House of Yin.]

10. The Master said, After the drink offering at the Great Sacrifice,
I have no wish to see more.

11. One asked the meaning of the Great Sacrifice.

The Master said, I do not know. He that knew the meaning would
overlook all below heaven as I do this - and he pointed to his palm.

12. He worshipped as if those whom he worshipped were before him; he
worshipped the spirits as if they were before him.

The Master said: For me, to take no part in the sacrifice is the same
as not sacrificing.

13. Wang-sun Chia[30] said, What is the meaning of, It is better to
court the hearth-god than the god of the home?

[Footnote 30: Wang-sun Chia was minister of Wei, and had more
influence than his master. The hearth-god ranks below the god of the
home (the Roman _lares_), but since he sees all that goes on in the
house, and ascends to heaven at the end of the year to report what has
happened, it is well to be on good terms with him.]

Not so, said the Master. A sin against Heaven leaves no room for

14. The Master said, Chou[31] looks back on two lines of kings. How
rich, how rich it is in art! I follow Chou.

[Footnote 31: The royal house of Chou, which was then ruling China.]

15. On going into the Great Temple the Master asked about everything.

One said, Who says that the Tsou man's son knows the rites? On going
into the Great Temple he asked about everything.

When he heard this, the Master said, Such is the rite.

16. The Master said, In shooting, the arrow need not go right through
the target, for men are not the same in strength. This was the old

17. Tzu-kung wished to do away with the sheep offering at the new

The Master said, Thou lovest the sheep, Tz'u: I love the rite.

18. The Master said: Serve the king with all courtesy, men call it

19. Duke Ting asked how a lord should treat his lieges, and how lieges
should serve their lord.

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