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I recently assigned this book for my undergraduate course on the history of religion in China, and can recommend it enthusiastically without reservation. The co-authors have managed to incorporate the most current and exciting historiographical revelations about Confucius, while at the same time presenting an accessible and compelling narrative of the historical transformations of the sage that builds successfully from chapter to chapter. At the same time, the chapters are also structured in such a way that they could effectively be read and assigned independently. Just a couple of the many innovative highlights that make this book a unique treasure are the choice of Sima Qian's humanizing biography of Kongzi (rather than the conventional choice of the _Analects_) as the primary lens through which to introduce the life of the sage; and the creatively narrativized reconstructions of Qing-era performances of the sacrifices to Confucius and his descendents in Qufu. There is also a consistent effort on the part of the authors to offer a high level of transparency in their use of primary sources, allowing the reader to access the voices of the past without having to directly decode complex canonical texts on her own. This feature of the book empowered my students to not only absorb information in the manner of a textbook, but also to sink their teeth into a discussion of those very voices of the past. For my course, I did pair some of the chapters with selections from relevant historical documents (such as the _Analects_ and chapters from the _Record of Rites_), and plan to do more of this the next time I teach it.Read more ›
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During my time at KU I took a class on Confucius (from here on, Kongzi). While it’s focus was the great sage’s teachings, it was through the lens of others, his followers in later times as well as some contemporaries. It was taught by a young man who the students called Scott, who was making his life’s academic work consist of Chinese Philosophy. The class was during a spring semester. This time a year became a perfect metaphor for how my mind opened up when studying these ancient texts. Going from a dormant cold remembrance of spring to a more visceral understanding of it’s joys. This class was not the first time I explored Kongzi’s teachings, but it had been years before. At this point, I was older, I had learned more about Chinese history and culture. I found my old copy of D.C. Lau’s translation of The Analects to be out dated.
The class introduced me to the debates surrounding the Sage. I was unfamiliar with the finer points of the different positions of arguing intellectuals. Their arguments were based in their interpretations, not unlike many religious scholars. However, interpretation was everything when trying to gauge what kind of impact Kongzi had on China, for different interpretations held sway at different times in history. The class’s goal was just to cover the ancient Chinese texts concerned with Kongzi and introduced the fundamental paradigms surrounding this field of study. So, when I found the book Lives of Confucius: Civilization’s Greatest Sage Through the Ages by Michael Nylan and Thomas Wilson, that claimed to adequately discuss these warring paradigms of Kongzi, I was skeptical. Kongzi is no small topic of inquiry. Could one little book take on such a large topic as his legacy and still leave enough meat to digest?Read more ›
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