Monday, 28 November 2011

Analects - Confucius 7

We start the second chapter of Analects. This chapter is also on learning.

子夏 was Confucius student. After Confucius's death, he was teaching Confucius ideas to people and had huge influence at his time.

The first 賢 in 賢賢易色 is used as a verb meaning "getting close to 賢". The second 賢 is used as a noun meaning "people of good character and quality". 易 is "change" and 色 is "colour". That this sentence means is that when one get close to a person with good character and quality, one will recognize and change one's attitude towards that person.

父 is "father" and 母 is "mother". Together, 父母 means "parents".

When serving one parents, one would use all the energy

君 is used as "friend" here - a friend who you know well.

When helping a friend, one would commit oneself completely.

When with friends, one's words are trustworthy.

Anyone, who can do the above three things, although you may say s/he has not gone to school, I would say s/he is a learnt person.

Again, this paragraph shows what Confucius considered as learning - to learn to become a good person.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Analects - Confucius 6


弟子 usually means students. However, in China, ancient China at least, students were treated as if one's children. Here 弟子 refers to the younger generation. 入 means "enter" and 出 means "exist" or "go out". 入則孝 means when inside the house, one should behave with filial piety. 出則弟 means when outside with peers, behave like a younger brother towards the elder brothers.

謹 is cautious (謹慎), 而 means "and". 信 is "trustworthy".

泛愛 is "general love" - like the "love thy neighbor". 眾 is many people. 泛愛眾 is Confucius' "love thy neighbor" spoken at least 400 years before Jesus.

親仁 is "get close to 仁". This is the concept of getting one close to gentlemen, those with wisdom.

行有餘力,則以學文 Practice all these. If there are still energy left, learn the literature. This reinforces the idea that to Confucius, learning is more about building one's character then mere studying literature or text.

All these behavioral suggestions sound abstract. However, we must remember that at Confucius time, there was a very well established set of behavioral rituals (禮) and Confucius was a big supporter of re-establishing the rituals as he saw the ills of the society of his time.

This ends the first chapter of Analects. The next chapter is also on learning.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Analects - Confucius 5


This paragraph is about leadership and political leader in particular.

國 means "country". However at Confucius time, 國 is more like an estate with a ruler, appointed by the emperor. 千 is "thousand". I wrote about the first ten digits in the last post. For you to be able to express number, you will need to learn these as well. 零,十,百,千,萬,億. 零 is zero. 十,百,千,萬,億 are units representing ten, hundred, thousand and ten thousand. Note that unlike western system where the number of places are grouped in three, in Chinese, the number of places are grouped in ten thousand. So 123,456,789 which is one hundred twenty three million four hundred fifty six thousand seven hundred eighty nine should be regrouped as 1,2345,6789 and expressed as 一億二千三百四十五萬六千七百八十九. I hope you get the idea.

千乘之國 is the largest estate. The Emperor's own is referred by the largest unit - 萬.

Nowadays, 道 has five different meanings: nature's law as is 天道, or 道理; moral as in 道德; the way as used in LaoZi's Tao Te Ching; path as in "road" and finally as an alternate for "say". The last meaning attached to 道 much later than Confucius. So 道 here means "the way". Confucius was talking about how to govern, be a good leader. He listed three important points.

敬事而信, respect the job and establish trust.

Confucius was very aware that a leader could not be an expert in every area. When there is a job, do it with respect 敬事. When delegating a job, do it seriously. I have explained the character 信 means trust. So when a leader delegate a job, the leader has to trust that the person has the ability and integrity to carry out the job. When doing a job, do it with trust and integrity.

節用而愛人, save and love the people.

使民以時, when asking people to work for you, pick the right time.

Putting it together
Confucius said, "To be a good leader, respect the work and establish trust, save and love the people, timing is everything."

Analects - Confucius 4


Note there are two very similar Chinese characters here. 曰 and 日. The first is wide and the second is narrow and long. They are two different characters. The first 曰 is seldom used today and means "say" as explained earlier. The second one means "day".

Here is the first ten digits in Chinese, starting from one. 一二三四五六七八九十.

吾 is the old character for "me".

曾子 was another student of Confucius. 曾 was his family name, his given name was 參. He was 46 years younger than Confucius - one of Confucius young student. Here 曾參 reflected on how he learnt.

I reflect upon myself three times every day.

The three questions 曾參 asked himself everyday are:
When I work for other, did I do my job faithfully?

Here the key word is 忠 which is made up of 中 and 心. 中 means "middle" and 心 means "heart". When combined, 忠 means the faithful attribute towards doing a job so that one would not regret - peace to the mind.

Am I not trustworthy to my friends?

信 is made up of 人 and 言. 言 means "words". The words from an honorable man is "trust"-worthy.

Do I practice what I have learnt?

習 appeared right at the beginning of Analects - "子曰:學而時習之,不亦說乎?". 習 means "practice". The character 朋 in 朋友 also appeared at the beginning - "有朋自遠方來,不亦樂乎?" These were the words of Confucius explaining the attitude towards learning. Here 曾參 explained the 'how' of putting 學問 into everyday practice. As noted before, to Confucius, learning is not about knowledge or career path, it is more about building a good personal character.

When we are doing a job, we put all our effort in with all our heart. When interacting with friends, we keep our promise. We reflect on all these good character daily and aim to practice them. That's Confucius concept of a gentleman. His moral system starts with self. The next entry will be extending this concept into society.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Analects - Confucius 3

有子 introduced the first key concept of Confucius' moral system - 孝弟. Next Confucius said

Here Confucius introduces the second key element of his moral system - 仁.

The character 仁 is made up of two parts: 人 and 二. 人 is human and 二 is two. So 仁 represents the highest moral concept of how two human should behave to each other. Another interpretation of the character is "man connecting heaven and earth" [source]. I prefer the first interpretation. The concept of 仁 dates back a long time, well before the Confucius' time. Before Confucius, it generally refers to kinship, kindness and love between people. In Analects, this concept is explored widely. This is the first entry.

Here Confucius points out two acts which are not considered as 仁. 巧言 is "clever/sweet words" - the act of flattering. 令色 is acting in ingratiating manners. In other words, Confucius considers using sweet words, acting to favour others not a good moral behaviour among people. The flip side is that we should be honest and practical towards each other.
Confucius said, "sweet words and ingratiating manners can hardly be 仁."

Analects - Confucius 2


This part deals with one of the most difficult concept in Confucianism and has been a central moral teaching for Chinese in the last 2500 years. 有子 was one of Confucius's pupil and he was one of the best.

孝 can be rougly translated as filial piety - the respect and behaviour towards one's parents. Being the central concept in Confucius's moral system, there are a lot to be said about it in the rest of Dialect. 弟 is younger brother. In Chinese, elder brother is 哥, or in formal or older text as 兄. 兄弟 becomes "brotherhood". The corresponding words for sisters are 姊 and 妹. 兄弟姊妹 together becomes "siblings". Here, 孝弟 refers to the respect and behaviour between parents and children as well as respect and behaviour among siblings.

上 is "up". Down is 下. Chinese characters are pictograms. These two words are good example of how concept is expressed. The horizontal line represents the reference. 上 indicates something is "above" the reference line. That is "up". Here 上 means superiors. The character 好 is made up of two parts, 女 and 子. 女 is daughter and 子 is son. When you have both a boy and a girl, that is "good". So 好 when used as an adjective means "good". Here 好 is used as a verb, meaning "like" or "fond of".

Note, previously, I wrote 子 means "master" as in 孔子 (Master Kung). This is part of the difficulties of learning Chinese. Characters have multiple meaning, just like any language. Context is the key.

者 refers to person. 好犯上者 means those who would commit crimes (violate the instruction from above - which is the government). Note, 犯上者 is criminal - has already committed crime. 好犯上者 refers to those with a tendency to commit crime. 鮮矣 means "few".

Putting them together, 其為人也孝弟,而好犯上者鮮矣; can be translated as
其為人也孝弟,而好犯上者鮮矣;Those who respect their parent and kind to their siblings, the likelihood of being a criminal is small.

不好犯上而好作亂者,未之有也。 Those who do not commit crime, but revolt against the government, never heard of.

君子務本,本立而道生;孝弟也者,其為人之本與? A gentleman focuses on basic. If the basic is correct, behaviour is on the right path. The meaning of 孝弟 is the basic of being human.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Analects - Confucius 1

Dialect 論語 is a collection of conversations between Confucius and his pupils. It was written about 2500 years ago when China was in a warring stage. Nations were fighting each other and Confucius was fully aware of the suffering of the people due to these wars. At that time, the career path of studying was mainly to secure work in the government. However, Confucius's teaching is more than just knowledge.

The first chapter is about learning. In Chinese learn is 學. However, learning usually is referred to as 學問. The second word 問 is "ask". So to Chinese, learning consists of "learn" and "ask".


子 refers to Confucius. Strictly, it means "master". 子曰 is "master said".

學而時習之,不亦說乎? as translated directly is "to learn and revise often, is it not a joy?" The question is learn what. If it were knowledge, revising a piece of text often isn't much joy, right? As I have pointed out, to Confucius, 學問 is not about career path nor knowledge. It is about one's character (attitude and behaviour) and potential - when translated into modern concepts. As one builds up a character (學) and keep on practicing such attitude and behaviour is definitely a joy. Here the modern meaning of 說 is "say". But in Confucius days, it was equivalent to 悅 which means "joy".

有朋自遠方來,不亦樂乎? When a friend comes from far away, is it not happiness? Again, the meaning really becomes clear when we understand that "朋 friend" means someone who share the same character and attributes. When someone who possesses good character is visiting, the chance of learning from this person is the source of happiness.

人不知而不慍,不亦君子乎? This sentence contains 不 three times. 不 means "not". People does not know and you do not feel angry, is it not gentleman? Does not know what? Again, Confucius was emphasizing if people does not know or understand his teaching - his philosophy - that's not a cause of wrath nor anger.

Friday, 18 November 2011


I found myself reading Chinese Classics after my 60th birthday, kind of a change from my usual science-based reading. May be 60 years of life experience has changed my point of view and my taste.

As I read the text, I am going to translate them into English. May be someone will find my translation useful.