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The Analects of Confucius Summary

The Analects of Confucius is an anthology of brief passages that present

the words of Confucius and his disciples, describe Confucius as a man, and
recount some of the events of his life. The Analects includes twenty books,
each generally featuring a series of chapters that encompass quotes from
Confucius, which were compiled by his disciples after his death.
Book I serves as a general introduction to the various disciples in the work.
Book II deals largely with issues of governance. Books III and IV are seen as
the core texts, outlining Confucius's ideology. Much of the work concerns
itself with the concept of the Tao or the Way, the chun-tzu or the
gentleman, Li or ritual, Te or virtue, and Jen or goodness. There are
additional terms in the work, but these comprise the core concepts. Taken
together they form the backbone of Confucian ideals.
The Tao, or the Way, refers to a literal path or road. In the context of the
work it refers to the manner in which anything is done; a method or doctrine.
Confucius speaks often about the Tao under Heaven, meaning a good way or
path to achieving morally superior ends. This could include self-conduct or
how a kingdom is ruled.

Jen is most often translated as "goodness" or "humanity". The gentleman,

or chunt-tzu, possesses this quality. Its translation is a bit difficult to represent
exactly in English, but the text provides a good deal of context when discussing
the gentleman and goodness. It is helpful not to simply think of the term as
meaning "goodness" but also to see how its juxtaposition with the other terms
forms a greater picture of how Confucius defined goodness and other positive
human qualities. For example, words like "altruistic" or "humane" are useful in
understanding this term.
Te corresponds most closely to the word "virtue", although you may encounter
some disagreement among scholars regarding this translation. A better definition,
some scholars say, is to think of it as "character" or "prestige", an attribute that
would have been desirable in a human being.
The gentleman or chun-tzu is the central term in The Analects and the other
terms are generally used in reference to this persona. For this reason it is difficult
to summarize the gentleman easily, but considering the term in the light of the
other ideas in the text is helpful. The gentleman is one who follows the Way and
acts according to a system of morals and beliefs that are not common amongst

other individuals. The use of the term "gentleman" to describe the chun-tzu is
itself problematic, as it can conjure images related to an aristocratic existence.
Some scholars see a similarity between the term and Nietzsche's concept of
the Ubermensch, although there is dispute over this idea as well. A "superior
man" is another suggested translation of the term. Taken in consideration with
the other terms presented, a more complete concept of thechun-tzu emerges.
Li, or ritual, is another core concept in the text. Although the work does not go
into great detail on what ritual traditions actually entailed, their importance is
presented as paramount in the cultivation of te and an understanding of the Tao.
The general principles of conduct comprise much of what this term
encompasses. Here, moral initiatives outweigh pure historical knowledge. In
other words, practicing what we might call good manners and conducting oneself
in a moral and fair affectation were considered characteristic of a gentleman. An
appropriate attitude was also necessary: one of reverence and respect for one's
elders and for rites and cultural norms that had been handed down by past
Also important to consider in reading The Analects is the historical context in
which Confucius lived and the events that surrounded his struggle to spread his
doctrine. During the Sixth century, powerful warlords and families gained control
of the state of Lu, gradually undermining and marginalizing the ducal house.
Consequently, the normal structure and function of government and social rituals
were altered, much to the dismay of Confucius. Confucius sought a revival of the
Chou traditions that once had been the norm in Lu. He saw these ways as
legitimately bettering society. The term li fits best in understanding the Chou
traditions that Confucius so eagerly wished to reinstate.
Eventually, Confucius and his disciples sought an audience with various leaders
in Lu to help bring these traditions back. Confucius's plan failed, however, and he
left Lu after becoming convinced that the sort of rulers he needed to enlist to his
side were not present there. So began a long period of traveling around to
neighboring states seeking out such a ruler. Some of this period is captured in
the text. Confucius eventually returned to Lu upon the invitation of Jan Ch'iu and
lived out his days teaching young men about the Chou traditions. However, he
was not able to set up a state based on the teachings he held so dear.

The structure of The Analects can make it a difficult work to comprehend. On first
reading, the passages can appear to be quite haphazard in their arrangement.
From an academic standpoint there is more disagreement than agreement over
how best to translate and represent the text for a modern reading audience