Confucius (551–479 BC)

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-G045-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved August 24, 2019, from

4. The Analects: texts and commentaries

The work known as the Analects is mainly a collection of sayings and conversations of Confucius. In the time of Emperor Wu (140–87 bc) of the Han there were three versions of the work, the Lulun, the Qilun and the Gulun. In the first century bc, Zhang Yu taught a version known as Lunyu according to Marquis Zhang, which incorporated readings from both the Lulun and the Qilun. Zheng Xuan (ad 127–200) further adopted readings from the Gulun. The text that has come down to us is that of He Yan (ad 190–249) in his Lunyu jijie (Collected Commentaries on the Lunyu).

The extant Analects is in twenty books. Of the three early versions, only the Lulun had twenty books; the Qilun and the Gulun both had twenty-two books, though the extra books were not identical. According to the Xinlun of Huan Tan (24 bcad 56) the order of the chapters in the Gulun was different and there were more than four hundred variant readings. Lu Deming (ad 556–637) of the Tang dynasty also remarked that in the Qilun, besides the two extra books, ‘the chapters and verses were considerably more numerous than in the Lulun’. Some of the variant readings were recorded by scholars before the three versions were lost and these have been collected by textual critics over the centuries, but these consist mainly of variant forms of graphs. Only a handful affect the interpretation of the text. For instance, the text of VII.17 in the traditional text reads, ‘Grant me a few more years so that I may continue to study the Yijing at the age of fifty, and I shall be free from major errors.’ According to Lu Deming, the Lulun reads yi (grammatical particle) in place of yi (meaning the Yijing (Book of Changes). This can only be rendered ‘Grant me a few more years so that I may continue to learn at the age of fifty, and I shall, perhaps, be free from major errors.’ Thus the variant reading has a bearing on the substantive point whether Confucius was a keen student of the Yijing. Of the two eclectic versions, the Lunyu according to Marquis Zhang was based on the Lulun while incorporating readings from the Qilun. As for Zheng Xuan’s version, it has been the common view that this was likewise based on the Lulun but incorporating readings from the Gulun. However, this may not be the case, as there is some evidence that Zheng also adopted some readings of the Qilun. On their versions of the Lunyu, both Zhang and Zheng wrote commentaries. Zhang’s commentary was in an independent work known as Lu Anchang hou shuo (Marquis Anchang’s Exegesis of the Lu [lun]). Unfortunately this was lost at a very early age and we do not possess even a single quotation from it.

Zheng’s commentary was attached to his text of the Analects, and although the work is lost, numerous quotations, particularly through He Yan’s Collected Commentaries, have come down to us. In the present century a number of fragments came to light in Dunhuang and Turfan, the most notable of which is a partial manuscript copy done by a twelve-year-old schoolboy in 710 and discovered in 1969. In all, we now possess over half of Zheng’s total commentary, and this has spurred on the study of this commentary. In Bajiaolang in Ding Xian, Hebei province, a copy of the Analects on bamboo slips was unearthed in 1971 in a tomb of the late Western Han, consisting of over half of the whole text. The exciting part of the discovery is that the text antedates the version of Marquis Zhang, and may represent the school of the Qilun. Unfortunately, the publication of this text so far has not revealed any major differences.

Of the numerous commentaries on the Analects, only a few landmarks can be mentioned. The Lunyu zhushu (Subcommentary on the Lunyu) by Xing Bing (932–1010) and Lunyu jizhu (Collected Commentaries on the Lunyu) by the great neo-Confucian thinker Zhu Xi (1130–1200) were authoritative works for the educated reader. In the Qing dynasty, as a reaction against the neo-Confucian approach, there were new commentaries on the classics with greater philological emphasis. On the Analects in particular, we have Liu Baonan’s Lunyu zhengyi (The True Interpretation of the Lunyu).

There is finally the question of the composition of the Analects. First (as noted in §2), the work as we have it was not put into the present form once and for all. The later books were likely to have been added on at a later editing. Second, within a single book, some material must have been taken from existing collections of sayings of Confucius en bloc and some chapters added subsequently. Finally, sayings of disciples must have been incorporated by their own disciples to enhance their standing in the Confucian tradition. This is particularly true of Book I, in which are found sayings by younger disciples such as Youzi and Zengzi who played an important role in the formation of the Confucian tradition.

Citing this article:
Lau, D.C. and Roger T. Ames. The Analects: texts and commentaries. Confucius (551–479 BC), 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-G045-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2019 Routledge.

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