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on 7 May 2009
Confucius from the Heart: Ancient Wisdom for Today's World, Yu Dan

This short volume is a delightful book to read. It has been excellently designed, illustrated and printed, and is therefore a pleasure to hold to and read. The work expounds a simple, and therefore immediately comprehensible, exposition of the principles, which define Confucian philosophy and practice. In this system of thought, which has been described as ethico-religious, action essentially takes precedence over words: `Confucius's strength is forever the strength of action, and not the strength of words.'

Following a short introduction the author traces and explains the development of Confucian thought and practice through six chapters with the following headings, The Way of Heaven and Earth, the Way of Heart and Soul, The Way of the World, The Way of Friendship, The Way of Ambition and The Way of Being. The school of philosophy, which this book so eloquently expounds, initially seems to emphasise the contemplative life, over the active life, although it is certainly the latter which Confucius actually advocates. The Confucian mode of thought essentially advocates a way of life - an active life primarily intended for the ancient world - which places cardinal importance on the continuous expression of the virtues: humaneness or benevolence, loyalty, filial piety, good faith or trustworthiness, rightness, reciprocity, deference, courage...

The book is primarily intended for the untutored reader: the reader who is unfamiliar with philosophical concepts. Those who fall into this category will undoubtedly derive significant benefit from careful study of its content. The text contains numerous anecdotes, which serve to illuminate the essential content of Confucian thought, which has a distinctive Aristotelian flavour, in its expression of the virtues and its search for excellence.

My favourite anecdote concerns a group of porcupines who live in a cave and during winter huddle together in order to keep warm. If they become too close, then they prick each other, and if they remain too far apart, then they fail to keep warm. This fable advises us that we should maintain an optimum space between our ourselves and our familiars, to ensure that we do not become excessively intimate with them or limit their privacy. Because undue intimacy, even between our immediate familiars, can lead to friction, and can therefore be disrespectful of their privacy and integrity. Each individual requires a private 'space' which, if infringed, causes tension and disharmony, and is therefore inimical to the maintenance of sound relationships with others. The lessons of this book need to be studied and understood, within the modern world, and it is therefore worthy of careful consideration on that score alone.

The strength and clarity of this book is to be found in the manner in which it interprets the ancient wisdom of the Sage, and then relates that interpretation to modern existence. The book was primarily intended for Chinese readers, but has since been translated into elegant English. Some of the ideas expressed in this book may not immediately appeal to modern Western sensibilities and sentiments. Its content, which is essentially idealistic in character, identifies obvious tensions between the ancient, Confucian ethos and the realism, which motivates the modern Western way of life and thought: a way of life and thought which places emphasis on pluralism, secularism and individualism. However, this volume and the philosophy which it expounds has much to tell us that is of contemporary relevance and will appeal to the reader who has, perhaps, become disenchanted with our way of life, and who is unfamiliar with Eastern philosophical thought in general, and Confucian philosophy in particular. The text is exceptionally clear and elegantly expresses Confucian philosophy and practice for the benefit of those who are new to the subject. It constitutes a simple introduction and guide to the Analects for the reader who has not encountered the subject before. I can certainly recommend this book as an elementary, but comprehensive, guide to the philosophical thought of Confucius and the modes of action that derive from it. Stuart Hopkins
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on 10 June 2011
What Yu Dan has produced here is not a book telling the reader what Confucius taught, rather a self-help book based loosely on Confucius's teachings. It is an excellent translation, but as with many Chinese to English translations, it works far better in Chinese, where the concepts are less alien.

This book is far too anecdotal for my taste, and many of her stories are unsubstantiated and don't seem to exist anywhere other than in this book, which is suspicious. Yu Dan has certainly managed to reawaken an interest in Confucius in China, for which she is to be applauded, but scholars of Confucius will bury their head in their hands when they read her interpretation of his teachings. What is obvious is that Yu Dan is a skilled media operator, not a scholar.
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on 15 October 2015
The book is a very easy-reading book for those who do not know anything about the Chinese thinker Confucius, but it is also weak in its elaboration. When you read a chapter and want to come closer to the examples and maybe learn the technique it leaves you with an empty Amercian slogan like "If you achieve this skill you will become a true junzi", but it is not described how.

Overall it is an entertaining book.
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on 23 February 2012
Yu Dan is the finest thing to hit Confucianism since the 1911 Revolution. She represents a whole generation looking with fresh eyes at the tradition's original face. Jeffrey Wasserstrom called her interpretation a populist, compassionate sort of Chicken Soup for the Soul. Some critics say she is "castrating" Confucianism. But maybe the Confucianists should have started long ago to let the mothers teach directly, not just through their sons.

--author of A Galaxy of Immortal Women: The Yin Side of Chinese Civilization
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on 15 December 2010
China's book market is inundated with freewheeling "interpretations" of Confucius like this one, most of which, thankfully, will stay inside the country and will be trucked off to the nearest waste recycling station within three months of sales. This title was particularly popular within the country because the author received an opportunity to deliver a series of lectures on China's national TV, something few others can compete with. Even the English translation was touted in national media as a sterling example of solid scholarship (out of the mouth of the publicity people). The timing of its publication was also important in that it coincides with the Chinese public's recent urge to "rediscover" their traditional culture.
What the reading public discovered was the fact that they spent good money on a piece of shoddy writing. Some of the most glaring misinterpretations in Yu's opus magnum can be picked up even by a Chinese high school student. Given her unprecedented notoriety, the public setback against her book was pronounced: there is even a book penned by outraged readers which enumerates the mind-boggling errors. (Will this book get translated too?) The author's qualifications were also called into question. It turns out she received no systematic training in the Confucian classics; her doctorate was in audiovisual production. As if this doesn't sound bad enough, it also has been revealed that her father was a senior director at the publishing firm for her book.
If you want to impress your chums with one memorable anecdote or two, while showcasing your mental acuity, this is the book for you. You can pick it up the night before, spend a couple of minutes on a random page, and you are ready to go.
If you are a real reader, i.e. someone who reads for fun AND for knowledge, this book will do little more than mislead you. If you are a student of Confucian philosophy, you definitely have to stay away from this pitiable distraction.
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on 11 September 2014
Heart warming and a great introduction to Confucian philosophy.
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on 1 November 2015
One of the books everyone should have in the bookshelf.
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on 20 February 2011
This little book has changed my life, changed the way I look and see people, how we all effect each other in this crazy world we live in. It has helped me forgive and forget when someone does us wrong and tries to hurt us. I must for anyone, a must for our society!
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on 9 April 2010
This is an excellent, thought provoking book, which I really enjoyed reading.
Definately a good buy, if you enjoy self development...
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on 6 March 2010
Certainly gives some insight into Confucian philosophy, it's not meant to be a philosophy textbook so the populist tone and writing style don't really matter as long as you're not expecting an academic analysis. Liked the idea of the junzi, it's yet another older version of the common aspiration of that happy, balanced person who inhabits so much of the self help literature. Was less comfortable with the book's innate social conservatism (with a small c), in places it reads like a paean to an older lost order. There was a song by a punk band called Stiff Little Fingers (forgotten which) which featured the lyric "Just be good and know your station", which is pretty much the message here. Not sure that's real wisdom.
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