Book: The Analects of Confucius (Roger Ames & Henry Rosemont, Jr.)

A sweet book… Co-author Roger Ames gave me this pirated copy in person back in 2010

Orderly politick padded with multiple layers of excellent endnotes.
A concise introduction to traditional Chinese thought.

326 pages, ★★★★★

Uncovering and decoding The Analects is like decoding the woolly mammoth genome. Just like a genome, this text evolved as it was re-recorded over time. Current copies of The Analects have probabilities assigned to each character—rather like a genome map! (See page 301.)

The notes explain everything, and more. Subtle puns—and a thousand other details—that I would have had never have picked up are explained beautifully in the notes section (see Analects 3.21). Other notes discuss the rationale behind the historical substitution of one character for another that is so common in different versions of The Analects (due to puns, changes in meaning, simplifications, or copying error).

Read this book from cover to cover: the notes are separated from the text for good reason. First, everyone, even China-novices, will love the introduction. In many respects, the introduction distills all the parts of The Geography of Thought (another book discussing East/West cultural differences) that made any sense, into just a few tens of pages. The philosophical text that follows is difficult even for Sinologists to understand, but refrain from looking at the notes and find your own meanings first time. Then proceed to read the lengthy notes section; referring back to the text when necessary.

Some of my favourite quotes are listed below:

On education… Analects 6.20: 子曰:知之者不如好之者,好之者不如樂之者。

(From the notes) This use of “love (hao 好)” evokes the expression, “to love learning (haoxue 好学)” that pervades the text. The worth of knowledge is a direct consequence of its efficacy: to what degree does it conduce to human happiness and enjoyment?

On politics… Analects 8.14: 子曰:不在其位不在其位,不谋其政。

The Master said, “Do not plan the policies of an office you do not hold”.

On class… Analects 13.25: 君子易事而難說也。說之不以道,不說也;及其使人也,器之。小人難事而易說也。說之雖不以道,說也;及其使人也,求備焉。

Exemplary persons (junzi 君子) are easy to serve but difficult to please… in employing others, they use them according to their abilities. Petty persons (xiaoren 小人) are difficult to serve but easy to please… but in employing others, they expect them to be good at everything.

The Analects were written on various materials over 2000 years ago, and the ancient text is now found damaged, scattered and buried several meters deep across central China. The last major discovery of The Analects was in Dingxian 定縣, Hebei Province 河北省, in 1973. Buried in a tomb were fragmented bamboo strips, most of which had already been broken and burned by grave robbers long ago. The legible parts of these bamboo strips were incorporated into existing versions of The Analects by aligning intact character sequences with existing copies. New text, and new versions of the text, were discovered.

Co-author Roger Ames is an excellent lecturer; I’ve attended his lecture course at PKU (Beijing University). You can watch a concise introduction to Chinese philosophy on YouTube here. For an introduction to ancient China, Roger Ames is a great place to start. ★★★★★

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