Introduction to the Analects of Confucius

Master Kong, or the latinized version of his name “Confucius”, is a figure that looms large over Chinese thought. He is said to have lived during the ‘Warring States’ period in ancient China, during the Zhou dynasty, also referred to as the Spring and Autumn period. Much of his subsequent doctrine was influenced by the need to overcome chaos and preserve order. Indeed, a rigid ‘Confucian’ system arose and lasted for over 2,000 years in China.

Although various biographies exist of Confucius, such as Sima Qian’s Shiji, they survive only with dubious claims. He is said to have been a mid-level statesman from the Lu state and a former soldier. During his lifetime, he is credited with editing many lines of the Five Classics of China. He was exiled for a brief period but traveled to the Eastern kingdoms to learn. In his later years, Kongzi, or Master Kong, returned to the Lu State of Zhou and this is said to be the setting of the Analects, an elder Confucius engaged in Socratic discussion with peers and students.

The text is composed of twenty books and was probably scribed long after his own death. We must acknowledge the changing form of the Analects as Mencius, a second generation student of Master Kong’s, inherited a wholly different version of the Analects than we moderns are in possession of today. In ancient times, the text was thought to be a commentary on the Five Classics, but due to political chance, the Analects rose to prominence under the reign of Han Wudi. Like a central religious text, the Analects were frequently cited as the supreme dogmatic authority.

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