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A General Overview of the Analects of Confucius

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Confucius was a philosopher, teacher and political advisor in pre-imperial China, who lived in a time of transition and violence. He believed that he was chosen by heaven to become a spiritual guide to people and rulers. He advised government officials on administration, defense, finance and foreign policy. The Analects of Confucius are the most vital and influential work in the Confucian school of thought. From the Southern Song dynasty (1127-1279), to the Qing dynasty (1644-1911), Analects were essential reading for scholars who took the civil services exam (Yin,
Missionaries who travelled to China in the 16th century introduced Analects to Europe. Ban Gu in A Standard History of the Han Dynasty said that Analects is “a record of Confucius’ answers and his conversations with his disciples and his contemporaries.” (Yin,  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.”(qtd. in Zapotoczny, The word analects are defined as a collection of excerpts from a literary work. The Analects is a collection of sayings, moral and ethical principles and wisdom imparted by Confucius about every aspect of life. There are a total of twenty books, written by his disciples after his death in the form of stories, conversations and dialogues. (Zapotoczny,  The Analects of Confucius has molded the thought and customs of China and neighboring countries over many centuries (Watson, 1). One central themes of Analects is that learning is more of actual behavior than just theoretical knowledge. This paper examines some more principles, teachings and philosophies of the religion of Confucianism.
Confucius lived during the time of the Zhou dynasty (770-476 B.C.). The power of the Zhou dynasty was on the decline and war, and anarchy was rife everywhere. It was a chaotic time when regulations and rituals were disregarded.  Confucius advocated the idea of benevolent governance to bring about political and social settlement. Confucius believed in moral training of individuals in his political philosophy. He encouraged everyone to be benevolent and encourage others to do the same. In Analects, he said, “Love your fellow men.” He believed that if ruler and masses were benevolent, it would result in peace and harmony in the country and society. The idea of benevolence is the central idea in Confucius’ teachings. Analects philosophize about many aspects of life, including politics, society, morality, education, literature and arts. (Yin,
Analects became the spiritual foundation of the Chinese world. They promote humanist ethics and universal brotherhood of man. The philosophy of Analects has survived through ages and is as applicable to today’s society, as it was then written. They aim to aid self-improvement in an individual, so that he may be morally upright and an example to others. According to Confucius, humanity is an accomplishment; one is not born humane, but one must learn to become so. Confucius teaches ideas of ethical behavior, moral conviction and self-improvement through education. These ideas still stand strong and are evident in many other religions, as well (Zapotoczny,

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Specific teachings by Analects (Confucius 1-18, Slingerland 1-5)

The golden rule is the notion of reversibility. Do not do to others what one does not want done to one.
Ordinary people actively seek external goods, but the sage focuses on his inner virtue and external goods come to him naturally.
A young person should be filial when at home, and respectful of his elders when in public.
A superior man acts before he speaks, and afterwards speaks according to his actions.
Learning without thought is a loss of effort and thought without learning is dangerous.

Men desire riches and honors, but if these cannot be obtained in the proper way, they should not be held. Riches acquired by unrighteousness are unwelcome. 
To see what is right and not do it is a lack of courage.   
Benevolence is to love all men; knowledge is to know all men.  
There should be no distinction of classes in teaching.      
Men are nearly alike by nature; but by their habits, they get to be wide apart. Here he takes the view that humans are inherently imperfect in nature, but they have the capacity to reform themselves in order to achieve harmony with society and social order.
Virtue is not always rewarded immediately with external goods, and the individual should focus solely on his inner virtue and leave consequences to fate.
It is impossible to know men without knowing the force of words.          
The mind of a superior man knows righteousness, whereas the mind of a mean man knows only gain.
The wise do not have any perplexities, the virtuous do not have any anxiety and the bold do not have any fear.   
It is a pleasure to learn, and then practice from time to time what has been learnt (Confucius 1-18, Slingerland 1-5).

A dexterous tongue and good-looking appearance are rarely signs of goodness. The wise person is sparing of speech.


Instead of just being a collection of political, moral, social and religious teachings, Confucianism was a way of life for the people of China for many centuries. It served as a guide for moral living and observing ‘propriety’, the rules, ceremonies and customs of the society. The relevance of Analects of Confucius in modern society is in its moral and spiritual values, and among these values, its emphasis on moral responsibility, being humane and virtuous.  The beliefs and values recorded in Analects are a guide to ethical and virtuous life. These values can help modern societies and individuals in their quest for the meaning of life.

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