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The Analects of Confucius [Paperback]

Confucius , Simon Leys
3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Book Description

14 Jan 1998
No other book in the entire history of the world has exerted a greater influence on a larger number of people over a longer period of time than this slim volume. The spiritual cornerstone of the most populous and oldest living civilization on Earth, the "Analects" has inspired the Chinese and all the peoples of East Asia with its affirmation of a humanist ethics. As the Gospels are to Jesus, the "Analects" is the only place where we can encounter the real, living Confucius. In this gem-like translation by Simon Leys, Confucius speaks with clarity and brilliance. He emerges as a man of great passion and many enthusiasms, a man of bold action whose true vocation is politics. Confucius (551-479 B.C.) lived in an age of acute cultural and political crisis. Many of his observations mark a world sinking into violence and barbarity. Unable to obtain the leading political role he sought, he endeavored to reform society and salvage civilization through ethical debate, defining for ages to come the public mission of the intellectual.

Product details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (14 Jan 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393316998
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393316995
  • Product Dimensions: 19.6 x 12.5 x 1.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,152,168 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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1.1. The Master said: To learn something and then to put it into practice at the right time: is this not a joy? Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

3.2 out of 5 stars
3.2 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
6 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An uninspired translation 31 Mar 1998
By A Customer
For reasons that are hard to fathom, this translation of the Analects of Confucius has gotten a lot of good press. In actuality, it is uninspired and derivative. Furthermore, the translator's notes show a cursory knowledge of the secondary literature, and a fairly banal understanding of the text itself.
And isn't it a little precious to be writing a translation under a pseudonym?
Other (equally good or better) translations of this work include those by D.C. Lau (Penguin Books), Arthur Waley (Vintage Books), and James Legge (Dover Books).
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3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Apologies to devotees of Confucius 25 Jun 2009
By Ralph Blumenau TOP 500 REVIEWER
This has been my first encounter with Confucius, and my response to him is doubtlessly shallow. But, despite Simon Leys' beautifully written short introduction and his section of explanatory notes which is longer than the actual work, it escapes me why the Master should have gathered around himself such a band of devoted followers or why this book should have had such an enormous influence. Simon Leys and others claim how modern it is, i.e. how timeless. Much of what he says - that one should be righteous, just and courteous, should not show off, should practice what one preaches, should show self-control, should be aware of one's limitations - is indeed timeless - but that is because it is obvious.

Those of his sayings which are not timeless - for example the huge importance he attributes to ritual (even given the glosses which Leys gives to the word), or the obedience due to the old - do not inspire much respect these days.

Anyone who practices all these things is a gentleman, irrespective of birth. Anyone who does not is vulgar. Being a gentleman also involves a love of learning for its own sake, but Confucius shares the view of the philosophers of Ancient Greece that a gentleman should leave technical knowledge to others.

He had a lot of fairly general things to say about politics (Aristotle is much more specific and analytical). Leys says that politics was `his first and foremost concern' and that he hoped in vain to be called upon to be called upon by a ruler to reform a state, particularly the morality of politics. He had the naive view that if the ruler is virtuous, his people will be virtuous also.

I apologize to the devotees of Confucius for my undoubted presumption in giving this classic only two stars.
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1 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars which translation? 4 Sep 2012
Not really a review, so much as a word of warning to potential buyers who may be concerned about which translation they are buying. The '' paperback version (2005) (currently advertised by Amazon at 5.18) is not in fact the Simon Leys translation (of 1997) (as suggested by the 'View Inside' link) but the version by James Legge (of 1861).

Of the various translators, 4 main ones seem to be currently available:
a) James Legge (1861/1893-5) (reprint - Dover Pubs 1971))
b) Arthur Waley (1938) (Vintage Books, 1989)
c) D.C. Lau (1971) (Penguin Classics)
d) Simon Leys (1997) (Norton)

I have only read a) and c) so far (Legge and Lau), and my impression is that the first is much more engagingly written, if a little 'antique' now, while the second is scholastically very precise if not so entertaining (though it has an excellent introduction). Arthur Waley was both a scholar as well as a fine writer, so I suspect his version will combine the benefits of both. I haven't yet read the Leys version, but other reviewers seem to suggest it is not particularly engaging and maybe doesn't add anything particularly new. It is the version, though, used in an interesting recent short biography/history of Confucius by Meher McArthur, (Quercus, 2011), and reviewers say it has a good introduction, which is crucial if one is going to understand this work in its social and historical context, rather than according to some decontextualised notion of 'timelessness'.
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1 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars what a great read! 29 Dec 1998
By A Customer
asia is in crisis. confucius will show us how to get out of it... i gave it as a gift to a friend (a university professor). another friend, a business tycoon, was with us. he browsed through the book, loved what he saw, and offered to buy it on the spot. i promised to get another one for him, so i'm buying a second one. this shows that confucius is for university professors and business tycoons. read it, you'll love it.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 3.3 out of 5 stars  21 reviews
17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars I'm not a Confucius nor a China expert, but ... 25 Aug 2000
By Charles E. Stevens - Published on
I enjoyed this book quite a bit. Granted, I haven't read other translations of the Analects, so my rating is for the book itself more than as a comparison to other translations.

The fact that Confucius lived thousands of years ago is amazing to me ... the things he says apply to people throughout the ages, and they're full of wisdom. Having read the book, I find myself trying to be a bit more of a Confucian gentleman than I did before reading it. Confucius' teachings about humanity and being a gentleman span across the ages.

I'm very glad I read this book. The only reason I didn't give the book 5 stars is because I can't compare it to other translations, and it seems a little improper to rate a translated book without comparing it to other translations. But I personally found Leys' lines to be easily understandable and interesting, even if I have no way of ascertaining their accuracy with the original text.

**7/31/09 UPDATE** I was looking to buy a copy of the Analects for a friend when I came across my own review when trying to decide between versions ... which is a somewhat strange feeling! I'm still not an "expert", but having read several more Chinese classics in the meantime, including a few versions of the Analects, I thought I would update this review. I think the Leys translation is a very good introduction to the Analects for someone who is looking for a starting point in Confucian thought. The translation is a little bit loose but flows well in English, the introduction gives a good amount of context without going overboard, and the notes are nicely situated at the end to prevent clutter. This makes it a good version for the Confucius novice, a comment I mean in earnest and not a backhanded compliment. That said, I have yet to find a translation that surpasses Waley's in its rigor and thoroughness; the copious notes and detailed introduction are excellent as well. However, Waley is likely to be a little more difficult for the newcomer to Confucius and Confucianism ... so he might not be the best starting point. As always, different translations work best for different people. Read the first couple of pages of a few versions and you'll quickly have an idea of what suits you. No matter which version you end up with, the Analects is a wonderful work, worthy of the praise it receives!
13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An anthology 2 Sep 2009
By Christopher Tricarick - Published on
This book is delightful, irritating, and utterly sui generis; the personality of its author is on every page. As a translation it is sometimes inspired--Leys has a knack for avoiding the very un-Chinese verbiage with which Lau and, sometimes, the generally superior Dawson clutter their lines. But it cannot be relied upon as a translation. In the first book the words "Rich but loving ritual" become "Rich but considerate." Ritual (li) is one of the great themes of the Analects and it is either dishonest or shockingly clumsy to conceal its key presence in this important passage. At other times we descend from translation to mere paraphrase: "a state of a thousand chariots" becomes "a medium-sized state". I often found myself wishing that Leys had taken to heart Dawson's words: "I do feel that one should get as close to the original as possible....I do not think that it is entirely virtuous to produce a version which reads as if it were written at the end of the twentieth century."

The notes, to the degree that they comment on the text itself or on the translation choices, are illuminating only for someone who has read other translations and has something to compare them to. But what quickly becomes apparent is that, under the guise of a translation with notes, what we have here is something like an anthology. Borges, Pascal, Stendhal, C. S. Lewis, Marcus Aurelius, Nietzsche, even Pancho Villa and many others are given long and full quotes. Sometimes they shed light on the original. Sometimes there is only a tangential relationship; one gets the impression that Leys was simply reminded of something and decided to share it, as in a conversation. They are always very interesting: this is the delight of the book. It is as if a select dinner-party full of eccentrics and geniuses were having the Analects read aloud to them and invited to comment freely. Clearly we cannot recommend this version for someone new to Confucius! If you've never read Confucius before, you want to get into the China of the fifth century B.C. and stay there for a while, not constantly get pulled back into modern Europe. There is some danger that these quotes will shed too much of their own kind of "light" back onto the Analects--which is a very elliptical, minimal, suggestive text--and that the new reader's mind will come permanently to associate some of the ideas of, say, Pascal with those of Confucius. But if you are already familiar with Confucius (preferably through at least two or three other translations) and if you have a healthy interest in and knowledge of Western civilization, this book, taken for what it is, will be a delight.

A couple of reviewers have commented on the anti-gay prejudice which comes up, I believe, twice in the notes. These passages really do vitiate the work. It is not only the prejudice itself; after all a good dish needs some spice and Leys is entitled to his opinion. But the whole issue is so obviously foreign to the Analects, the passages in which it comes up strike so discordant a note, that one wonders what they were doing here. And they are not, even in themselves, good or interesting: the ideas are banal and the tone verges on the mean-spirited. Leys constantly writes as if he were taking a friend into his confidence, and assumes that the intelligent friend will feel the same way he does. He gets away with this because his views are generally intelligent and because usually there is some fig-leaf of connection to the Analects to support it. But in these and a few other passages we are suddenly pulled up short by the realization that it is not wisdom but mere cantankerousness that we have on display. It is bad style, bad taste.

I am giving this three stars because it is being sold as a translation of the Analects and that is what, as a translation, it deserves. As an anthology of quotes suggested by the Analects it might get five stars, with perhaps one taken out for the fault mentioned above.

If you have never read Confucius and are looking for a good introductory translation, I recommend Raymond Dawson's.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A look at Confucius 10 Dec 2009
By Walter Zapotoczny - Published on
Confucius was born in approximately 551 B.C. Considered by many as a master; he was a teacher and political advisor in pre-imperial China. He lived in a time of transition. He saw his world sinking into violent behavior and barbarity. Confucius believed that he was chosen by Heaven to become the spiritual heir to the Duke of Zhou who had established a universal feudal order five hundred years before him, unifying the civilized world. In addition to his interest in politics, Confucius was also skilled at outdoor activities, such as handling horses and archery and was fond of hunting and fishing. While he is best known as a teacher, Confucius' true occupation was politics. He advised government officials on foreign affairs, diplomacy, finances, administration, and defense.

In his introduction to the book, Simon Leys writes, "The Analects is the only place where we can actually encounter the real, living Confucius. In this sense, the Analects is to Confucius what the Gospels are to Jesus." Confucius promoted humanist ethics and the universal brotherhood of man, inspiring many nations. Chinese emperors have promoted the official cult of Confucius for more than two thousand years. It became a sort of state religion. The Analects became the spiritual foundation of the Chinese world. This classic book gives the reader an understanding and appreciation of a philosophy that has survived throughout the ages and is just as pertinent today as it was when it was written.

The word analects is defined as a collection of excerpts from a literary work. The Analects of Confucius are a collage of short dialogues, anecdotes and brief statements, mostly attributed to Confucius. Some of the statements are attributed to his disciples or rulers of the time. They were compiled around 400 B.C., about seventy years after Confucius' death, by two consecutive generations of his disciples and became what is considered the teachings of Confucius. The general intent of the text is to aid the reader in self-improvement so that the one might become a moral example for others. One might find the proper way to live and behave by practicing various virtues, thereby becoming a humane person or a gentleman. Confucius says that humanity is an accomplishment; one is not born humane, but one must learn to become so. Another definition of humanity is to love others. The practice of ritual action is the best way to express one's human kindness. Ritual action is not limited to state and religious functions, but covers the spectrum of human behavior. The book is organized into two parts. The first part contains the quotes of Confucius and others. The second part contains notes written by Simon Leys that explain words and concepts presented.

Perhaps the true strengths of The Analects of Confucius are evident in the examination of the Confucian themes. The ideas of ethical behavior, moral conviction, self-improvement through education have stood the test of time and are evident in many other religions. As one reads the dialogues and anecdotes of this master, one gets the impression that he is speaking about the very problems of our day. The Analects are intended for an audience seeking, what Confucius called, "the supreme virtue of humanity." In that sense, the book is intended for all of us.

Walter S. Zapotoczny Jr.
Freelance Writer
Author of For the Fatherland
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Servant Leadership Chinese Style! 15 Dec 2005
By Keith E. Webb - Published on
The importance of the historical use and misuse of the teaching of Confucius throughout the centuries in China can hardly be understated. While Confucian thought was on the outs with Communist intellectuals, others such as Lee Kwan Yew of Singapore point to Confucius' principles as the secret to the Asian economic tigers' success. Leys, the translator of this volume, notes that Chinese familiarity and historical misuse of Confucius prejudices many, but taken without these prejudices, Confucius is thoroughly modern in his application today.

Confucius is known for being a great teacher, but it was politics and government that was his passion. Today, Confucius is a good source for leadership philosophy. Far from promoting authoritarian despotism, the teachings of Confucius point to a higher calling of leadership through service, character development, and self-abandonment - all sorely lacking in Chinese leadership today.

To learn was Confucius' calling. He said he did not have much innate knowledge and studied literature and history to learn (6.27). The responsibility of learning was on the learner not the teacher: "I enlighten only the enthusiastic; I guide only the fervent. After I have lifted up one corner of a question, if the student cannot discover the other three, I do not repeat" (7.8). While that may sound harsh, Confucius practiced what he preached. "Put me in the company of any two people at random-they will invariably have something to teach me. I can take their qualities as a model and their defects as a warning" (7.22).

Learning was to be put into practice; this showed integrity. The first verse of the Analects says, "To learn something new and then to put it into practice at the right time: is this not a joy?" (1.1). Again, "Learning is like a chase in which, as you fail to catch up, you fear to lose what you have already gained" (8.17). Here we see the high value of action resulting from learning and not only study. He valued doing what you say. "There was a time when I used to listen to what people said and trusted that they would act accordingly, but now I listen to what they say and watch what they do" (5.10). Doing what you say is the heart of personal integrity. "A gentleman would be ashamed should his deeds not match his words" (14.27).

Learning was his way of improving himself in order to govern well. Three major themes surface in Confucius' teaching regarding those who govern: be a gentleman, keep the rites and maintain your humanity. A gentleman was a moral superior, someone worthy of leading. A person becomes a gentleman not through birthright but through learning and right actions. These actions are called ritual, which is similar to courteous behavior, and maintaining humanity which is treating people with respect, dignity, fairness, justice and generosity to name a few of the qualities that Confucius praises. Ritual and humanity develop character in a person, and a person with character is the one whom Confucius calls a gentleman.

Confucius and his contemporary political and intellectual leaders wanted to make a name for themselves. In a way, they could live on through that reputation. "The Master said: `A gentleman worries lest he might disappear from this world without having made a name for himself'" (15.20). However, in making a name a leader must not do evil or act without virtue.

Official position was an obvious choice for ruling and making a name. Today, position is the most highly regarded form of authority all over Asia. Hear Confucius: "Do not worry if you are without a position; worry lest you do not deserve a position" (4.14). Again, "It is not your obscurity that should distress you, but your incompetence" (14.30). This is a powerful lesson for Chinese leaders to hear. Today too much emphasis is placed on leadership position, and not enough placed on competence and character. The results are personal empires, corruption, and incompetence that oppress those without power (position). "Before he gets his position, his only fear is that he might not get it, and once he gets it, his only fear is that he might lose it. And when he fears to lose it, he becomes capable of anything" (17.15).

The wisdom available to contemporary readers goes on and on. I found this book extremely helpful for finding ancient Chinese cultural leadership principles that back up the principles of transformational leadership theory and servant leadership theory. I would like to read and reflect deeper to find Confucian principles that are not yet apart of contemporary models of leadership, but are consistent with it. This is a deeper task.

Recently I have begun quoting Confucius during my leadership seminars. Although, a feel a bit dubious doing so - proof texting largely Western leadership principles with Confucius - the reaction from the participants has been enthusiastic. While many leaders are attracted to Western leadership theories, many also feel these theories are foreign. Many theories based on egalitarian social structure are foreign and are not appropriate for most cultures in Asia. However, some theories, working inside hierarchical social structures, are helpful but still smack of American "one, two, three" optimism. We are sometimes too brash and not mysterious enough, too left brained, in our presentations. Confucius has helped my audiences to embrace the principles I try to get across.

I was surprised how readable, useful and contemporary the writing of Confucius is to me as a leadership consultant. He had a good grasp of humankind, and set the bar very high regarding how leaders should govern from character and justice. He encouraged people to higher traits of humanity, that if followed would make the world a much better place. We would do well to study and apply the teachings of Confucius.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Readable, useful, rewarding 1 Oct 2007
By D. Adams - Published on
Those who complain about this translation being "uninspired" are missing the forest for the trees. Ley's rendition of the Analects is a modern, useful, and enjoyable read. The translation flows well and makes sense, and the authors comments are interesting and avoid being scholarly tripe.

Confucius himself would agree that the purpose of his teaching was not to inspire linguistic debate, but to lead the recipient to right action. This book does the latter and avoids the former, and thereby gets my unqualified recommendation. No matter your religious leanings, if you read this book and put it into practice, you'll grow into a more *human* person. As this was the Masters entire point, I'd say this translation is a success.
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