Review by
Li Dzv-hou
Appendix 2 in Lun Yw Jin Du / Reading the Analects Today. Anhwei Wvn-yi 1998

It is unusual for a Chinese book to take note of a non-Chinese book. Here, however, is a comment on The Original Analects, appended to a modern Chinese translation of the Analects.
Our response follows.

Li Dzv-hou (Li Zehou) in 1999

"Reading E Bruce Brooks and A Taeko Brooks's new work, The Original Analects (Columbia, 1998), recently, I feel that it is an unprecedented achievement, a masterpiece in the tradition of Tswei Shu and Arthur Waley, of a kind rarely seen in recent decades. It has already been praised as an 'astonishing achievement' that 'shatters traditional theories' and will compel the history of ancient Chinese thought to be 'rewritten.'"

"The first part of the book is a translation of the Analects, citing recent scholarship and adding their own comments and interpretations. The second part is an analysis of the Analects, not only the process of its expansion, but also a study of Confucius's family background, lineage, and disciples. The authors hold that the first 17 sayings of Chapter 4 (they take 4:15 as a later interpolation) are an actual record of Confucius's teachings, compiled soon after his death. The remaining chapters, in the traditional text order (except that Chapter 1 follows Chapter 15, Chapter 2 follows Chapter 13, and Chapter 3 follows Chapter 11) were added by his disciples, their schools, and especially the Kung family of Lu, in a long process of textual expansion. In all, this took 230 years (from 0479 to 0249), with the final version of the text compiled after the destruction of the state of Lu."

"Because of the great changes that occurred during this time - the collapse of feudalism, for example - there is a wide range of ideas present in the work, and thus many discrepancies and conflicts between individual sayings. In addition, there are interpolations of Mician, Dauist, and Legalist ideas, as well as arguments against those positions, along with debates between competing factions of the Confucian school itself. As an example we may take LY 9:1: "The Master seldom spoke of profit and fate and rvn" (p76), a famously problematic saying. The authors consider this to be an interpolation by members of the later li-based tradition directed against the earlier rvn-based Confucianism. Another example is LY 17:11: "The Master said, 'Ritual, ritual' - does it mean no more than bells and drums?" (p163). These are usually thought to be the words of Confucius. The Brookses see it as an attack by Lu Confucians on Sywndz. Many similar examples could be taken from this richly illustrated and carefully argued work."

"In this way, since the words of Confucius and his disciples are seen largely as the creation of later tradition, 'Confucius' himself no longer really exists - though we may be certain of his dates and ancestry, 'Confucius' is only a cipher. Isn't the statement that the Analects is the record of Confucius's talks with his students, then, just an invention? Isn't my project of reading it today, then, ridiculous?"

"Perhaps. Of course, traditional theories do acknowledge that the Analects is not entirely a contemporary record, but was compiled from the memories of various of his disciples, especially those of the second generation, and is not without later interpolation, expansion, and emendation. They also recognize that points in quite a few chapters are contradictory, inconsistent, or otherwise difficult to understand. These facts are of course worthy of our continued consideration and study, which in turn will no doubt be of great benefit to our understanding of the formation of the Analects and of classical Confucianism itself."

"However, 'going too far is as bad as not going far enough.' As for the Brookses' claim that they are able, in their book, to work out correctly the sequence of dating, attribution to schools and authors, and authorial intent, chapter by chapter from beginning to end, in a textual tradition that is over two thousand years old: what appears, on a superficial reading, to be an overwhelmingly persuasive argument is in fact weakly supported by evidence and arbitrary in its conclusions."

"If one can infer from one saying the date of an entire chapter, and show that many chapters were directed against Mwodz, Mencius, Sywndz, Jwangdz, etc, then this is indeed the case. On the other hand, if one reads the Analects in its entirely with an unprejudiced eye, then, though it is not hard to find many areas of contradiction, on the whole, whether in its thought, content, language, style, ambience, or setting, the similarities outweigh the differences. With the exception of a few areas, the work can be seen as a seamless whole, a nearly true portrait of the words and deeds of Confucius. When compared with other works, especially those of the Warring States period (the Brookses see the Analects to be, in its entirety, a text of that period), it is quite exceptional. As a result, it is as I said in my Introduction: 'To try to determine which chapters may be attributed to Confucius and which may not is an extremely difficult, and even impossible task (though one that would be aided by the discovery of earlier versions of the text). What is important is that, ever since Jang Hou's Analects, this is the version of the Analects and of Confucius that has been passed down.' This is the starting point of Reading the Analects Today."

"Reading The Analects Today and The Original Analects both have translations, notes, and commentary. The two texts also make similar points from different directions. Each is concerned to show that Confucius emphasized participation in politics and not the individual cultivation of an interior sagehood; each demonstrates the religious bent of Dzvngdz's school. However, their differences are greater. For example, Reading emphasizes that Confucius used rvn 'otherness' to explain li 'propriety,' gave the two terms equal weight, and linked them with syau 'filiality.' The Original Analects emphasizes that Confucius himself only discusses rvn, and that li and syau arose later and were not in Confucius's original program. The main thrust of the two works is also different. The Original Analects focuses on the actual milieu of the teachings; Reading the Analects Today focuses on their universality. One is a philological analysis; the other is a philosophical explication. One, in line with recent scholarly trends, thoroughly deconstructs the Analects and does away with the image of Confucius as a Chinese cultural symbol.

(n1) Although the Brookses do not use such language in their work, and indeed never use terms such as 'deconstruct' or 'essentialism' - their methodology is traditional and not postmodern, and I expect they would object to this inference - still, I think that, objectively speaking, this is the case. Their work bears a great similarity to the recent, painstakingly postmodernist work on Confucianism, Manufacturing Confucianism by Lionel Jensen (Duke University Press, 1997).

The other, in keeping with an older tradition, seeks to give a new interpretation in order to re-establish it. Indeed, their objectives contrast, their methods diverge, and their directions differ. They should be able to exist without conflict - but how, I do not know. 'Postmodernism' is currently all the rage. Perhaps the Analects can indeed be broken into pieces. Yes? No? I raise these issues in this appendix so the reader may ponder them."

April 1998, at Swarthmore College  

Translation by Pamela Tuffley and Paul Copp (1998)
With corrections by Di Aiying and Alice Cheang (2007)

To Response

22 March 2000 / Contact The Project / Exit to Reception Page