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Monday, 27 February 2012

The Analects, Confucius, Reviewed


Disappointing. That's a bald statement and perhaps not the most expected, considering the reputation of this Chinese man of…wisdom? I didn't find that, to be honest. From several hundred short passages of supposed erudition I listed ten I thought worthy of spreading to the wider world.

All the Confucianists will, of course be screaming abuse and possibly foaming at the mouth, because Confucius, rather like other famed wise men, has taken a role close to that of a god for many.

I found him conservative, unimaginative, intolerant and a man who seemed to express a singular self-preservationist philosophy, no doubt intended to keep him alive in what was a very violent society. I gleaned this, by the way, from this book, not from a reading of history.

It's clear that his insistence on the 'Way' is a plea to men (he has no time for women, who were clearly no more than playthings and servants in his time) to be of good character. By which he appears to mean, obey those set above you socially and politically. That a man so revered could be such a supporter of the tyranny of his time and yet accrue disciples merely serves to underline my own impression that there are those in society who'll accept leadership and direction regardless of its merit or otherwise. Faith, in general, is an illustration of this.

It's likely that, in common with Buddha, Jesus and Mohammed, his actual words have been usurped and deliberately distorted to suit the ends of those who wished to make capital from his aura of celebrity. I found little to admire in the words I was offered here. Much, rather like the Qur'an, is banal, repetitive and uninspiring. There is a deal of meaningless, to the modern western mind, ceremonial and social reportage that would require a deep knowledge of Chinese history to appreciate. I felt disinclined to spend the time and effort necessary to extract any worthwhile meaning from these passages, since the rest of the supposed words of wisdom were, in fact, anything but.

So, it was, for me, a disappointing read. I can't recommend it. There are, however, a round ten short sayings that carry some resonance in the modern world and I'll happily spread those, in the hope that the reputation of the originator will, at least, lend some authority to these aphorisms for those who might otherwise discount them out of hand.

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