on 15 December 2009
I purchased this having often enjoyed reading asserted Confucius quotes on sites such as wikiquote, and others. When I discovered I could purchase them in this form, I ordered it. About half a year later I started to read it, having purchased many classics at once.
I am not a stranger to reading philosophy: odd, perhaps, considering my age (19). I had read Nietzsche, Milton Friedman's monograph Capitalism and Freedom, much of Max Stirner's The Ego and Its Own, numerous political essays and opinion pieces, Machiavelli's The Prince...all those were much more 'cynical' than Confucius, who has a wonderful, if cautious outlook on life. Nietzsche, too, has this property, although it takes a reader to understand the underlying celebration, and to reach the joyful regions of his arguments.
Confucius, known here generally as 'The Master', can be summed simply: he promotes 'wisdom' and 'benevolence' as the chief sources of happiness in life. To Confucius, what follows this is loyalty, social cohesion (if we strive for benevolence, then we are bound to please others, and thus have them seek to please us). In other words, Confucius believes that these elements help the reproduction of society, and the reproduction of man. Confucius refreshingly believes that men can improve themselves, and can become Gentlemen whether they are poor, or are rich. Becoming a gentle man (to twist the translation to show its etymological implications) is, therefore, a wonderful cause, and something which is rewarding.
The early chapters are less interesting than the later, but I picked up and read this over a long period of time (a large break), so I may be wrong. I would read a chapter or a half every day or two, and would on the rest of my journey throughout the hours muse on them, internalise them, think on their wisdom. The less helpful passages are ones which are not as applicable to a secular, Western reader, such as about ancestor worship, and perhaps too the rigorousness of 'filial piety': obeying of one's parents, and the writings based around tea and rice (although we can substitute this and simply take the wisdom behind it).
However, the principles Confucius founds these ideas on are sound and are rigorously applied: for example, Confucius writes that "If a man sets his heart on benevolence, he will be free from evil"- the same is true of Kings, Dukes, Lords, all of whom should lead by example- Confucius believed, having served in government himself in his younger years, that if their leaders were good and kind, so too would be their people.
D.C. Lau's edition is thoughtful, and its footnotes are often helpful, particularly on corruption. Something I did not note until I was near the end of the book was the very helpful glossary of names after the main text, which I would recommend to use- The Analects were written down by Confucius' followers and friends, thus the majority of the sayings are based around dialogue between those individuals and The Master.
Confucius' humility, wisdom and sticking to his principles are refreshing. Most importantly to this review, this book helped stabilise me at a time when I was uncertain and thinking a lot- Nietzsche may have turned me into a man of dynamite ("I am not a man, I am Dynamite", Ecce Homo), I feel Confucius helped turn me into a wiser man.
Lightweight and easy to pick up, I'd recommend The Analects to anyone who perhaps wants to immerse themselves in one of the significant roots of China's culture, and to immerse themselves in their own mind and thoughts. Often the most favourable interpretation of a saying is best- be open and respectful (to be Confucian) and these sayings will help you as they certainly did with me. I only wish I had the volume here at university, something I will rectify when I return home.