The Analects (ca 500 BCE) by Confucius is a collection of “Selected Sayings” by the ancient Chinese philosopher. “Analects” literally means “a collection of short literary or philosophical extracts.”
This particular version (2014) of The Analects was translated by Annping Chin, Taiwanese author and scholar of Children of China: Voices from Recent Years (1988), The Chinese Century: A Photographic History (1996), Four Sisters of Hofei (2002), Confucius: A Life of Thought and Politics (2007), and Analects of Confucius: A Biography (2020).
Below you’re going to find some of the more interesting and insightful sayings that you might find far more relevant to today’s world than ancient China. Enjoy!
Points of Personal Examination
Master Zeng said, “Every day I examine myself on three points. When I worked to benefit someone else, did I do my best? In my relationship with my friends, did I fail to be trustworthy? Did I pass on any knowledge I myself had not put into practice?” (p 4)
The Master said, “Be hard on yourself and be sparing when criticizing others — this way you will keep resentment at bay” (p 305).
Zizhang asked, “What are the five beautiful traits?”
The Master said, “A gentleman is generous but is not wasteful. He works the people hard but does not incur their resentment. He has desires but is not covetous. He has breadth of character but is not arrogant. He is dignified but is not fierce.”
Zizhang asked, “What are the four abhorrent traits?”
The Master said, “To execute people without first instructing them — this is cruelty. Not to give people warning and then suddenly expect results — this is tyranny. To be slow in issuing orders and then to be inflexible about the deadline — this is being harmful. Knowing that you have to give something to a person, but in the process of handing it over, behaving parsimoniously — this is like being a petty clerk” (pgs 393-394).
Confucius said, “There are nine things the gentleman gives thought to: he aims to be clear in vision, keen in hearing, amicable in his expression, courteous in his manners, conscientious in carrying out his words, and respectful in attending to his responsibilities; and when he is in doubt, he asks questions; when he is angry, he reflects on the unwanted consequences this could cause; when he sees a chance for gain, he asks whether it is right” (p 331).
Zixia said, “Learn broadly and be constant in your effort. [With the knowledge you have gained,] ask questions that are pressing to you, and reflect on things close at hand — humaneness is found in this” (p 375).
The Master said, “If a man of position does not have integrity, he will not inspire awe. And when he tries to learn, he will not persevere to the end. Such a man should stay close to those who do their best and are trustworthy. He should not befriend those who are not his equals. And when he makes a mistake, he should not be afraid to correct it” (pgs 6-7).
Zixia said, “To be aware each day of what you still don’t know and to remember after a month what you were able to absorb — this is proof of your love for learning” (p 374).
The Master said, “The gentleman is troubled to think that after he is gone from this world, his name will vanish unnoticed” (p 307).
The Master said, “At fifteen, I set my heart on learning. At thirty, I found my balance through the rites. At forty, I was free from doubts [about myself]. At fifty, I understood what Heaven intended me to do. At sixty, I was attuned to what I heard. At seventy, I followed what my heart desired without overstepping the line” (p 17).
Zizhang said, “[I would think that] a man is good enough to join the official ranks if he is ready to lay down his life when faced with danger, is mindful of what is right when he sees a chance for gain, and turns his thoughts to respectfulness during a sacrifice and to sorrow when in mourning” (p 371).
In Chen, when their provisions ran out, [Confucius’] followers had become so weak that none of them could rise to their feet. Zilu, with a resentful look, said, “Does a gentleman find himself in circumstances as bleak as this?”
The Master said, “Of course the gentleman would find himself in circumstances as bleak as this. It is the petty man who would not be able to withstand it” (p 296).
Points of External Examination
The Master said, “I wish not to speak anymore.” Zigong said, “If you do not speak, what will there be for your disciples to transmit?”
The Master said, “What does Heaven ever say? Yet the four seasons move in order, and the hundred things come to life. What does Heaven ever say?” (p 349)
The Master said, “You, do you know what I have been trying to teach you? To say that you know something when you know it and to say that you do not know something when you do not know it — this is true knowing” (p 24).
The Master said, “I have never met a person who loved virtue as much as he loved physical beauty” (p 163).
The Master said, “I should give up hope! I have never met a person who loved virtue as much as he loved physical beauty” (p 304).
The Master said, “Do not worry that other people do not know you. Be concerned about your own lack of ability” (p 284).
Confucius said, “There are three types of friendship that can benefit you and three types of friendship that can harm you. It would be to your benefit to be friends with those who are upright, those whom you can trust, and those of broad learning. It would do you harm to be friends with those with practiced manners, an affected sweetness, a glib tongue” (p 327).
“The gentleman makes friends by way of his interest and his education in the arts and in culture. He finds support from his friends of his humanity” (p 234).
The Master said, “To hear something on the road and then right away to launch into a disquisition — this is to forsake virtue” (p 346).
“The Master taught these four things: culture, conduct, doing one’s best, and trustworthiness” (p 125).
Confucius said, “The gentleman stands in awe of three things. He is in awe of Heaven’s mandate, of great men, and of the words of sages. The petty man is unaware of the presence of Heaven’s mandate; he belittles great men; and he regards the words of sages with mockery” (p 329).
The Master said, “It is difficult to be poor and not resentful, and easier to be rich and not arrogant” (p 268).
The Master said, “To know something is not as good as to have a love for it. To have a love for something is not as good as to find joy in it” (p 103).
The Master said, “No one understands me.” Zigong said, “Why is it that no one understands you?” The Master said, “I blame neither Heaven nor men [for my not being understood]. I begin my learning on the ground and travel up to reach a higher knowledge. It is, I believe, only Heaven that understands me” (p 286).
Points of Leadership
Duke Ai asked, “What should I do to make the common people come under my sway?”
Confucius replied, “Promote the upright and place them above the crooked, and the people will be in awe of you and come under your sway. The opposite will happen if you promote the crooked and place them above the upright” (p 26).
The Master said, “Only the most intelligent and the most stupid are not inclined to change” (p 337).
Someone said, “What do you think of the expression ‘Repay a wrong with kindness’?”
The Master said, “How, then, would you repay kindness? Repay a wrong with uprightness. Repay kindness with kindness” (p 286).
The Master said, “Do not worry that you have no official position. Worry about not having the qualifications to deserve a position. Do not worry that others do not know you. Seek to be worthy of being known” (p 59).
The Master said, “People are similar by nature; they become distinct through practice” (p 336).
The Master said, “You can speak about higher matters to those who are above the middle in intelligence but not to those who are below the middle in intelligence” (pgs 103-104).
The Master said, “The gentleman makes demands on himself. The petty man makes demands on others” (p 308).
The Master said, “People in ancient times did not speak carelessly, for they knew to feel ashamed if their action did not measure up to their words” (p 64).
Confucius said, “This being the case, when people from a distance are unwilling to yield to your influence and rule, improve your ways and cultivate your virtue in order to attract them” (p 323).
The Master said, “Zang Wenzhong betrayed the integrity of his office. He knew Liuxia Hui to be worthy, yet he did not recommend him for a position equal to his” (p 304).
The Master said, “Faced with what is right yet doing nothing about it shows a lack of courage” (p 30).
The Master said, “Not to speak to a man who is capable of absorbing what you say is to let the man go to waste. To speak to a man who is incapable of absorbing what you say is to let your words go to waste. A person of wisdom does not let either men or words go to waste” (pgs 300-301).
Points of the Moral Way
Confucius said, “ ‘Seeing goodness, he acts as if [it is running ahead of him and] he is not able to catch up. Seeing what is not good, he acts as if he is recoiling from the touch of hot water.’ I have known people like this, and I have heard such an expression. ‘He lives in reclusion in order to pursue his purpose. He practices what is right in order to attain the moral way.’ I have heard such an expression but have not yet known someone like this” (pgs 331-332).
The Master said, “If in your action you think only of profit, then you will incur much unhappiness [with yourself and with the world]” (p 58).
The Master said, “When encountering matters that involve the question of humaneness, do not yield even to your teacher” (p 316).
The Master said, “The wise are never perplexed. The humane never suffer from vexation. The brave are never afraid” (p 169).
The Master said, “The gentleman understands what is morally right. The petty man understands what is profitable” (p 61).
Confucius said, “When the moral way prevails in the world, the common people do not find themselves joining in the discussion and the planning [of their government’s policies]” (p 325).
The Master said, “Ning Wuzi was wise when the moral way prevailed in his state and acted like a fool when the moral way did not prevail in his state. He could be equaled in being wise but unequalled in being a fool” (p 84).
The Master said, “A gentleman helps others to realize what is good in them. He does not help others to realize what is reprehensible about them. A petty man is just the opposite” (p 226).
The Master said, “The gentleman broadens his learning in literature and holds himself back with the practice of the rites. And so he is able not to go beyond the bounds of the moral way” (p 107).
Master Zeng said, “A man of education and aspiration must be big and strong [in spirit and mind], and he must be resolute. His burden is heavy, and his road is long. He takes [fulfillment of] humaneness as his burden. Is it not heavy? And his road ends only with death. Is it not long?” (p 140).
The American novelist CG FEWSTON has been a Visiting Scholar at the American Academy in Rome (Italy), a Visiting Fellow at Hong Kong’s CityU, & he’s a member of the Hemingway Society, Club Med, and the Royal Society of Literature. He’s also a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) based in London.
He’s the author of several short stories and novels. His works include A Father’s Son (2005), The New America: A Collection (2007), The Mystic’s Smile ~ A Play in 3 Acts (2007), Vanity of Vanities (2011), A Time to Love in Tehran (2015), Little Hometown, America: A Look Back (2020); and forthcoming: Conquergood & the Center of the Intelligible Mystery of Being; A Time to Forget in East Berlin; and, The Endless Endeavor of Excellence.
He has a B.A. in English, an M.Ed. in Higher Education Leadership (honors), an M.A. in Literature (honors), and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing & Fiction. He was born in Texas in 1979.
You can follow the author on Facebook @ cg.fewston – where he has 450,000+ followers
“The American novelist CG FEWSTON tells a satisfying tale, bolstered by psychology and far-ranging philosophy, calling upon Joseph Campbell, J. D. Salinger, the King James Bible, and Othello.”
“In this way, the author lends intellectual heft to a family story, exploring the ‘purity’ of art, the ‘corrupting’ influences of publishing, the solitary artist, and the messy interconnectedness of human relationships.”
GOLD Winner in the 2020 Human Relations Indie Book Awards for Contemporary Realistic Fiction
FINALIST in the SOUTHWEST REGIONAL FICTION category of the 14th Annual National Indie Excellence 2020 Awards (NIEA)
American Novelist CG FEWSTON
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