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The Analects (Penguin Classics) Paperback – December 20, 1979

4.2 out of 5 stars 34 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

“For more than two millennia, the teachings of Confucius have served as a guide for a substantial portion of humanity. English-language readers seeking to understand this remarkable body of thought are fortunate to have Annping Chin’s highly readable and judiciously annotated edition of The Analects.” —Henry A. Kissinger

“An astonishingly lucid exposition of The Analects. A kind of serene insight pervades the commentaries.” —Harold Bloom

“An incomparable new volume that combines a fresh and sympathetic translation with a wonderfully readable annotation. It is a joy to use and will unlock a whole new level of meaning for English-language readers.” —Orville Schell, Director of the Center on U.S.-China Relations and co-author of Wealth and Power: China’s Long March to the Twenty-First Century

Language Notes

Text: English, Chinese (translation)
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; 1st edition (September 3, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140443487
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140443486
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.9 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #11,562 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
This is not the translation by Arthur Waley (which is very good) but the one by D.C. Lau. Since Lau's translation was first published, a number of advances have been made in the field of Warring States Period scholarship which render a fair amount of the supporting material obsolete (see "The Original Analects" by Brooks and Brooks for the latest). As for the translation itself, it's rife with awkward and mystifying word choices -- for instance, in a passage in chapter 11 in which the disciple Zilu (Tzu-lu, in Wade-Giles romanization, which Lau uses) gets the better of Confucius in an argument, Waley translates the Master's retort, "It is remarks of that kind that make me hate glib people," and the Brookses and Huang Chichung make similar choices; but Lau renders it, "It is for this reason that I dislike men who are plausible." Similar mishandlings of connotation appear throughout the book. For an old-fashioned translation, Waley's is a hundred times better.
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Format: Paperback
Filled with totally obfuscated phrases like, "The Kuan-chu Ode is lively but not licentious, plaintive but not harrowing," are gems like, "Po I and Shu Ch'i never remembered old injuries, and therefore their enemies were few." The thing about it, is that I read it cover to cover. Clearly, this deep and old wisdom is best taken in small bits for not many words are wasted. Also, the Lionel Giles translation I read was weak on supplemental commentary so I really felt like I needed a more knowledgeable guide as I was reading. Perhaps the Norton version would have better annotations then the beautiful Easton Press version from my library. It is clearly a five star book, but I think I only got about three stars out of it. Most certainly a book to read again, and again and again.
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Format: Paperback
I guess, there is not much point in buying this book for the text of Lunyu itself: it is available in full on the Internet (for example at Wengu: [...] - in the Chinese original, two English - including Lau's - and one French translation) but it is the introduction and adjoining commentaries that are of value. In this respect, I found D.C.Lau's work quite pleasing. He explains the main terms and how they hang together, illustrates his arguments with quotations from the actual Analects and tries his best to relate Confucius' philosophy to suitable analogues in the Western tradition. I am no China-expert, so this helped a lot. The book also has a post-script outlining Kong-zi's life and a short piece on the individual disciples and friends that Confucius converses with in the book. I think there is $9 of value (or whatever the price) in this book.
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Analects, in case you were wondering, are "selected passages from the writings of an author.” I mention this definition here because it seems that the only time we use the term “analects” is when we consider the writings of Confucius. Was there once a larger corpus of writings from Confucius, and is what we have today distilled from some larger body of work? If so, then I wish we had that entire larger body of philosophical work, the same way we have a good many books from classical Greek philosophers like Plato and Aristotle; but that being said, I certainly am glad that we have the Analects as a distillation of Confucius’ philosophy.

His Chinese name was K’ung Fu-tzu, 孔夫子, and the Latinate name that he bears today was probably bestowed by Jesuit missionaries to China in the 16th century. By any name, however, Confucius is a great philosopher who speaks to us today just as clearly as he spoke to the people of Chinese antiquity. He lived a long time ago – when he died in 479 B.C., the Spartan defense of Thermopylae had taken place just one year before – but it is astonishing how current and relevant his words and ideas remain.

“Analects” is, of course, a Latin- and Greek-derived term; in Chinese, the book is 論語,the "Lun Yü." It is divided into 20 books, and contains a total of 512 Confucian sayings, most of them quite short. On this re-reading of "The Analects," I encountered some sayings that were already familiar to me: e.g., “To say you know when you know, and to say you do not when you do not, that is knowledge” (II.17, p. 65). Yet on this reading, I learned many things that I found new.
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The Analects touches on the most important and deepest problems of life: self-mastery, social relations, government, family, and much more. Confucius urges us to follow "the way," to study, and to observe "the rites" as a worthy way of life. He doesn't promise that one who follows this way will be wealthy or happy or enlightened or "saved," but rather that such a life is still the best one can live as it is decorous and ennobling. I hear in the Analects a precursor to Aristotle's Nichomachean Ethics, which advocates a life pursuing virtue, with its attendant Golden Mean.

Yet this is a very difficult book to follow because it presents no clear narrative and no obvious structure in our normal Western mode of Aristotelian definition, division, and classification. Rather, it is almost a stream-of-consciousness collection of gnomic utterances from a variety of characters (mostly Confucius) presented with little in the way of context or chronology. It works more by recursive themes, juxtaposition, and unexpected free association.

So it's kind of like the way we experience the reception of insight in real life, which is one of the things that makes this a masterwork worthy of repeated study. Indeed, I think this book is only profitable if reread and reread (I would say the same of Lao Tzu and the Bible).

I find this Penguin edition to be a great choice for the first reading experience: D.C. Lau's introduction and notes give the first-time reader enough context and background to read this work with some understanding and admiration, but not so much as to impose an interpretation. Please note that I do not read Chinese so I cannot judge the quality of the translation.

I look forward to revisiting this little book again and again.
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