The title of the Analects, Lun-yü, , of Confucius, we can translate as something like "Discourses and Dialogues" -- Analects, , would be "Digest" or "Collection" from Greek. Here we have sayings and stories from or about Confucius, or sometimes just about his students.
This page is not a commentary on the Analects. It merely identifies passages that are famous, often quoted, discussed in books about Chinese Philosophy, or that I consider to be especially expressive for the principles of the thought of Confucius. The translation referred to is usually that of Arthur Waley, and there are the occasional complaints about it [The Analects of Confucius, 1938, Vintage Books, 1989]. Other translations consulted have been those of James Legge [Confucius, Confucian Analects, The Great Learning & The Doctrine of the Mean, from Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1893, Dover, 1971], D.C. Lau [Confucius, The Analects (Lun yü), Penguin, 1979, 1988], and Joanna C. Lee & Ken Smith [The Pocket Confucius, Museworks, Hong Kong, 2010]. The Chinese text used is that of Legge. Passages are often referred to without being quoted because this was compiled for use in my Ethics class, where students had the text at hand. Full quotations, often with the text in Chinese, are gradually being added. The translations of Lee & Smith, which, as here, do not include the whole Analects (not even, surprisingly, the famous II:4), are modern, accurate, and succinct, with Chinese text and, uniquely, a valuable transcription in Pinyin.
Wade-Giles and Pinyin writings are both used here a little carelessly, which may be a confusing -- the way to identify each is discussed elsewhere. A full exposition of the Chinese terminology of Confucius may be found at the Confucius page. It is hard to know the proper term for the subdivisions of the Books of the Analects. "Chapters" seems like too much for passages that may be only a sentence long, while "verses" implies too little for those that are substantial paragraphs, while "aphorisms" does not always apply to what is given. Perhaps "paragraph" itself would be the right word.
The next phrase, , begins without as much trouble, since min de is clearly, the "virtue of the people"; but for this and the next three characters, gui hou yi, the translators again display considerable variety. James Legge has, "then the virtue of the people will resume its proper excellence." Waley has, "the moral force (tê) of a people has reached its highest point." And Lau has, "and the virtue of the common people will incline towards fullness." I haven't found a version of this in Mathews'. Gui means "return" or "restore," which implies that the virtue of the people is returned to some previous ideal. But none of the translators use that view of the matter; and, indeed, if we have been observing the rites all along, then the virtue ought to have always been there, not something to be restored. Yi can be translated "perfect," as the translators seem to have "proper" and "highest." So the real trick is with hou, which can mean "profound," "magnanimous," "large," "sincere," and some other things. Legge's "resume proper excellence" may come the closest to a literal reading, with the noted paradox of "resume," although hou does not otherwise seem to precisely mean "excellence," "point," or "fullness," as the translators have it. I have supplied "culminates" to incompass both "large" and "perfect." In the end, we may gather that Tseng Tzu wants us to care for the dead, and not just the recent ones, and that the benefit of this will be to preserve, protect, or restore the virtue of the people. This means taking the rites, , seriously, as we are otherwise urged in the Analects, despite a couple of indications that Confucius was ambivalent, as we shall see, about the value of tending to the dead.
The Master continued, , "Poverty and obscurity are what everyone hates," , "but if there is no right way to do so," , "they cannot be avoided." The preceding statement is put in terms of its opposites, to the same effect.
In this passage, the use of is of interest. The sense we find of the word in the Analects is of being the Way of Confucius, i.e. his whole moral teaching. I wondered if here it simply meant the "way" of conducting the affairs of the , the Prince. Apparently not. The last two, four character segments of this aphorism are independently cited and translated in Mathews' Chinese-English Dictionary [Harvard, 1943, 1972]. Thus, is read as, "served their prince with right prinicples," under I (yi), character #2932.25; and is read as, "when he finds he cannot do so, he retires," under Tsê (zé), character #6746.a15. Zé, which can mean "lawful," and that I thought might carry for the moral weight of the saying, here only means "consequently" or "immediately," indicating the result of the circumstances, which is to retire, resign, or stop from serving the Prince.
Duke Ai is the ruler of , Lu, the home state of Confucius himself. However, here we have the Duke talking to one of Confucius's students, You Ruo [Wade-Giles Yu Jo -- although D.C. Lau gives a version as Yu Juo]. The Duke complains that it is a year of , "dearth" or "scarcity, famine," and the tax revenues, which consequently have fallen, are not enough to cover his expenses. You Rou asks if he is taxing a tenth of income, the "tithe," the rate established by the Chou Dynasty, and the Duke replies that even two tenths are not enough for him. Then we have a variety of translations for You's comment. For the whole passage, James Legge  says:
The duke Âi inquired of Yû Zo, saying, 'The year is one of scarcity, and the returns for expenditure are not sufficient; -- what is to be done?'
2. Yû Zo replied to him, 'Why not simply tithe the people?'
3. 'With two-tenths,' said the duke, 'I find them not enough; -- how could I do with that system of one-tenth?'
4. Yû Zo answered, 'If the people have plenty, their prince will not be left to want alone. If the people are in want, their prince cannot enjoy plenty alone.'
Arthur Waley  says:
Duke Ai enquired of Master Yu, saying, It is a year of dearth, and the State has not enough for its needs. What am I do do? Master Yu replied, saying, Have you not got your tithes? The Duke said, Even with two-tenths instead of one, I still should not have enough. What is the use of talking to me about tithes? Master Yu said, When the Hundred Families enjoy plenty, the prince necessarily shares in that plenty. But when the Hundred Families have not enough for their needs, the prince cannot expect to have enough for his needs.
Finally, D.C. Lau  says:
Duke Ai asked Yu Juo, 'The harvest is bad, and I have not sufficient to cover expenditure. What should I do?'
Yu Juo answered, 'What about taxing the people one part in ten?'
'I do not have sufficient as it is when I tax them two parts in ten. How could I possibly tax them one part in ten?
'When the people have sufficient, who is there to share your insufficiency? When the people have insufficient, who is there to share your sufficiency?'
The greatest challenge to translation here seems to be You Ruo's final answer, especially the parts about the prince. Each parallel statemen is about the "Hundred Names," i.e. the Chinese People, and then the "Prince." But D.C Lau leaves the prince out of his translation. At the same time, only Lau translates the phrases as questions, despite being an interrogative, "Who? Which? What?"
Then we have the problem of the character . The basic meaning of this, in the 3rd tone, is just, "with, by, to, and, or to give" [Mathews' Chinese Dictionary, character #7615, p.1141]. It is hard to know how that fits the case. Lau translates it "share," which is the meaning of the character in the 4th tone, [p.1142, "(e)" -- the small circle, which I have put in red, is used by both Mathews' and Legge to indicate an altered tone]. It is hard to understand how Legge and Waley use this term, which can also mean "doubt," with the 2nd tone, , and "appearance of dignity," with the 1st tone, . This is a very curious business. In the text, Legge does not indicate, as he usually does, a non-standard tone. In his "Index VII," he discusses the use of three different tones (putting the 1st tone usage under the 2nd tone -- with Mathews' curiously not showing a small circle to mark the 1st tone, but using much the same language as Legge for the meaning of the 2nd tone); but he cites the passage at XII:9 with none of them, which seems odd. It is as though Legge is not really certain how the character should be read or interpreted. In his commentary, Legge gives a different translation for , , saying, "the people not having plenty, with whom can the prince have plenty?" Now he has made it a question, but rendering the interrogative as "with whom" and as "have." This is an improvement, but still seems like a bit of a reach. My suggestion for the latter -- "what prince is there to share enough?" -- may be a little awkward and obscure, but it links the interrogative, which I think Lau gets right, with the prince, whom he drops, while sticking to the probable literal meaning of all the characters. But we get the point. In poor times, the Duke must accept, like the people, some deprivation. But a lot of princes are not like that.
This sort of question about taxation is still something lost on those in politics who love power and who think that government comes first. If the economy falters, the wise course is to cut taxes, not raise them as have several Presidents when faced with an economic downturn and, consequently, a drop in tax revenues. Raising taxes was the ill advised action of Herbert Hoover, Franklin Roosevelt, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama. By cutting taxes, as did Calvin Coolidge, Lyndon Johnson, Ronald Reagan, and George W. Bush, the improving economy also increased tax revenues, even on reduced rates. This was the paradox of Supply Side Economics and Say's Law, whose rejection by modern Democrats and other Statists seems to have less to do with the reality of the effect than with the implied loss of control by the Government, whose paramount status is what really counts, regardless of the consequences either for the economy or for actual tax revenue. A theoretical justification for this has been cooked up, of course, on the principle of Keynesian economics that spending is all that really counts, especially the spending of the government (and not always even consumer spending, unless consumers get their money from the government). Supposedly that will help business, but then business is crushed by both taxes and the rhetorical, political, legal, and regulatory attacks that such leaders -- particularly Roosevelt and Obama -- generally engage in.
An expression of the doctrine of the "rectification of names," i.e. living up to the ideal of being a prince, minister, father, or son. So the "name," , is normative; and if you are supposed to be one of these things, you must be it in the right way. If people don't do this, Duke Ching of , Ch'i (547-490 BC) says, you might not live to finish your dinner. In our day, when stray bullets from gang shootings sometimes literally kill children at their meals, the Duke's example has a vivid application.
This is a key passage for understanding the philosophy of government of Confucius; and it ends with a vivid and famous image to illustrate it. It is also subject to some editorial interpretations. The translation of James Legge is, "Chî K'ang asked Confucius about government, saying, 'What do you say to killing the unprincipled for the good of the principled?' Confucius replied, 'Sir, in carrying on your government, why should you use killing at all? Let your evinced desires be for what is good, and the people will be good. The relation between superiors and inferiors is like that between the wind and the grass. The grass must bend, when the wind blows across it'." Arthur Waley's translation is, "Chi K'ang-tzu asked Master K'ung about government, saying, Suppose I were to slay those who have not the Way in order to help on those who have the Way, what would you think of it? Master K'ung replied saying, You are there to rule, not to slay. If you desire what is good, the people will at once be good. The essence of the gentleman is that of wind; the essence of small people is that of grass. And when a wind passes over the grass, it cannot choose but bend." Finally, D.C. Lau says, "Chi K'ang Tzu asked Confucius about government, saying, 'What would you think if, in order to move closer to those who possess the Way, I were to kill those who do not follow the Way?' Confucius answered, 'In administering your govenment, what need to there for you to kill? Just desire the good yourself and the common people will be good. The virtue of the gentleman is like wind; the virtue of the small man is like grass. Let the wind blow over the grass and it is sure to bend'."
Why don't we just kill the bad people? This seems like an obvious question, and one that Josef Stalin, for instance, answered strongly in the affirmative. All we need do is kill the ones not with the program, or, in the terms of Confucius, those who do not follow the Way, . But Confucius says that good government does not need killing. Rule by setting a good example. We can just see the ears of Mohandas Gandhi perk up. And then he ends with a vivid image: The way the winds blow, that is the way the grass bends. Of course, in Chinese, , it just says that, with the wind over the grass, it must bend. Of course, the whole point of the passage is that the goodness of the "superior man" results in the goodness of the people, or of "lesser persons." So the grass does not just bend any old way. Under "grass," Mathews' Chinese Dictionary (Ts'ao, character #6739) cites this very phrase, with the translation, "the grass will certainly bend before the wind," which is literally accurate but leaves undetermined how or for what the grass is bending, opening the interpretation to misuse. Indeed, the grass bent before Stalin, and was all but trampled into the ground. But that is very far from what Confucius has in mind, as we can tell from the context. The wind, outside of tornadoes and hurricanes, can exert a mild but persistent influence, and the grass yields () easily, as Taoism would put it, without harm.
The term for moral goodness here is , which I have discussed elsewhere for its specifically moral range, unlike "good" as . We also get an interesting use of , which has an extended meaning for "virtue" like that of English or Greek () for more of a power or essence, which is how Waley translates it.
Family, as a matter of filial piety, , occasionally overrides what would otherwise be moral goodness, , in Confucius. So here the specific virtue is , "upright." A father covers up for a son, and a son for a father. Confucius finishes with an extra comment endorsing this principle, perhaps defensively. But we also find such a sentiment expressed by Socrates in the Euthyphro, where Euthyphro thinks that it is pious to prosecute his father for murder. Socrates expresses astonishment. The issue also turns up in the review of "The Impiety of Socrates." The point is an important one. Children informing on their parents, especially for political crimes, as in Nazi German, the Soviet Union, or the War on Drugs, strikes most people as outrageous. But there are also limits. Parents who cannot believe that their little darlings might be bullies or murdering monsters make people wonder if the parents were always of similar inclinations. Families of criminals are not unusual; and most people become furious when the parents of violent and thieving bullies indignantly defend them, or threaten the parents of their victims. Confucius doesn't get into these dimensions, but they arise for the rest of us.
In his translation, James Legge does not think the Duke of She is referring to a specific individual. He says, "Among us here there are those who may be styled upright in their conduct." But D.C. Lau agrees with Waley that this is an actual person, saying, "In our village there is a man nicknamed 'Straight Body'." The Duke seems to be proud of a child who informs on a parent. Whether the case is a number of people or only one, Confucius doesn't like it.
The "She" of which we have the duke here, was not one of the major states of the Eastern Chou; and "duke," , here was not the full rank of the Chinese feudal hierarchy, but a courtesy rank (perhaps postumous) for an official, as we see used with Judge Dee. Thus, D.C. Lau translates the expression "Governor of She." There is also the complication that the basic reading of is yè (Wade-Giles yeh). Mathews' glosses a reading of shê4.5 as "used in names of places" [character #7319]. But we find a page at Wikipedia for the "Duke of Ye."
Psychological Types, Typology of Chinese Virtues
Confucius [K'ung-fu-tzu or Kongfuzi]
The Six Relationships and the Mandate of Heaven
The Confucian Chinese Classics
History of Philosophy, Chinese Philosophy
History of Philosophy