Although three of four of these books are traditionally attributed to
K'ung-tzu, 551-479 B.C. it has been established that he did
not write a single word of them; they were written down by his students
after his death. The Analects come closest to an actual exposition of
his philosophy. These works were put into their present form by Chu Hsi
in the late twelfth century A.D. These four books were required reading
in order to pass the civil service exminations, started in 1315, which
were the gateway to employment in the Imperial bureaucracy. The
translations are by James Legge, from his 'Chinese Classics' series.
Lun Yü. The Analects were a collection of sayings written down by
Confucius' students in the period approximately seventy years after his
Legge, tr. 1895. The second book
in the Confucian canon, the Meng-tzu, is named after its author, also
known as Meng K'o or Mencius 371-289 B.C..
The Great Learning
Ta Hsüeh. The actual
translation of the title of this work is 'Education for Adults'. The
text was written between 500 and 200 B.C.
The Doctrine Of The Mean
This work, which is more mystical than the other Confucian classics, is
of unknown date.
A Brief Note On Confucius 1
According to tradition, Confucius was born in 551 BC. Spring and Autumn Period, at the beginning of the Hundred Schools of Thought
philosophical movement. Confucius was born in or near the city of Qufu,
in the Chinese State of Lu now part of Shandong Province. Early accounts
say that he was born into a poor but noble family that had fallen on
The Records of the Grand Historian, compiled some four centuries
later, indicate that the marriage of Confucius' parents did not conform
to Li and therefore was a yehe, or "illicit union", for when
they got married, his father was a very old man and past proper age for
marriage but his mother was only in her late teens. His father died when
he was three, and he was brought up in poverty by his mother. His social
ascendancy linked him to the growing class of shì, a class whose status
lay between that of the old nobility and the common people, that
comprised men who sought social positions on the basis of talents and
skills, rather than heredity.
As a child, Confucius was said to have enjoyed putting ritual vases
on the sacrifice table. He married a young girl named Qi Quan
at nineteen and she had their first child Kong Li when he was twenty.
Confucius is reported to have worked as a shepherd, cowherd, clerk and
book-keeper. When Confucius was twenty-three, his mother died and he
entered three years of mourning.
He is said to have risen to the position of Justice Minister in
Lu at fifty-three. According to the Records of the Grand Historian, the
neighboring state of Qi was worried that Lu was becoming too
powerful. Qi decided to sabotage Lu's reforms by sending one hundred
good horses and eighty beautiful dancing girls to the Duke of Lu. The
Duke indulged himself in pleasure and did not attend to official duties
for three days. Confucius was deeply disappointed and resolved to leave
Lu and seek better opportunities. Yet to leave at once would expose the
misbehavior of the Duke and therefore bring public humiliation to the
ruler Confucius was serving, so Confucius waited for the Duke to make a
lesser mistake. Soon after, the Duke neglected to send to Confucius a
portion of the sacrificial meat that was his due according to custom,
and Confucius seized this pretext to leave both his post and the state
While some early sources picture the state of Lu as well regulated,
due, in part, to the wise administration of Confucius,
many scholars think this is unlikely, and hold that Confucius in fact
never held any major position, either in Lu or anywhere else.
According to tradition, after Confucius's resignation, he began a
long journey or set of journeys around the small kingdoms of northeast
and central China, including the states of Wei , Song , Chen and
Cai . At the courts of these states, he expounded his political
beliefs but did not see them implemented.
According to the Zuo Commentary to the Spring and Autumn Annals, at
sixty-eight Confucius returned home. The Analects pictures him
spending his last years teaching disciples and transmitting the old
wisdom via a set of texts called the Five Classics.
Burdened by the loss of both his son and his favorite disciples, he
died at the age of 72 or 73.
Suggested Further Reading
1. Reproduced from Wikipedia with
modifications under the TGNU Free Documentation License