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

Here are some responses from the authors to selected passages from the Li Dzv-hou review which is translated on a separate page.

Li Dzv-hou (Li Zehou) in 1999

Li: "Although the Brookses do not use [postmodern] 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)."

Brooks: Dzv-hou is quite right; we do object to being called postmodernists. We are premodernists. Our methods are those of standard historiography. Dzv-hou in the same sentence calls us "traditional," and with this we agree. We are traditional. Specifically, we are in the tradition of Tswei Shu (to whom our book is dedicated) and in the tradition of Gu Jye-gang (whose studies are alluded to in our book's Chinese title). We see no excuse for Dzv-hou's admitting this, and then proceeding to call us the opposite of what we are.

Lionel Jensen's book came out at about the same time as ours. This accident of publishing history has tempted some people to see a linkage between the two. There is no linkage between the two, and there is no common ground between the two. We regard Lionel as a personal friend, but we differ from his methods (which, unlike ours, can validly be related to some version of "postmodernism"), and we disagree with his conclusions. Lionel finds "Confucius" to be a construct of later centuries. We find Confucius to be a real person, buried under an accumulation of later tradition, but capable of rediscovery. Lionel finds that when you eliminate the later traditions, "Confucius" becomes less and less definite. We find that when you strain out the later traditions, Confucius becomes more and more real; more humanly and politically intelligible. These positions cannot be equated. They contrast.

Li: "However, 'going too far is as bad as not going far enough.'

Brooks: We recognize the Analects quotation (LY 11:16). It implies that there is a right amount of progress, somewhere in the middle between a little and a lot. But exactly where should we have stopped in our researches, to avoid offending traditionally minded readers? This comment gives no clue. We suspect that for Dzv-hou, the findings of Tswei Shu were already way over the line.

Li: "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.

Brooks: Of this claim we look for examples. Instead we get a maxim:

Li: 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. . . "

Chinese Hermit, of the Jwangdz Type, Determined to Make Fun of Confucius

Brooks: The general principle is that, unless a given late passage can be shown to be an interpolation, it does indeed implicate the entire chapter. And in many of the Analects chapters, the late signs are not single or subtle, they are multiple and manifest. They swarm up in clusters. For example, can any literate reader doubt that in LY 18:5, the Analects is in direct contact with the Jwangdz, given that JZ 4:7 is virtually identical in wording, save for the ending which, in the Analects, makes Confucius triumph over his Dauist critic? Or that the next two passages, LY 18:6-7, are Confucianized rebuttals of equally recognizable Jwangdz positions?

Also to be somehow explained are the remarkable definition of rvn as the primary Mician virtue ai "love" in LY 12:22, the commonality in wording between many passages in LY 12-13 and the early Gwandz (including the famous saying that "the father should be a father" in LY 12:11 but also, identically, in GZ 2:45-46), and the striking similarity in content between the populist position adopted in these two chapters and the populist position advocated in the interviews of Mencius, beginning in 0320.

The Micians, the Legalists as represented by the Gwandz, the Dauists, and the later Confucians such as Mencius (LY 12-13) and the Sywndz who is satirized in the whole of LY 19, together comprise not some, but all, of the major players on the Warring States intellectual scene. None of these other texts, or these advocacy positions, existed in the time of Confucius. Their presence in the Analects can only indicate later contact, of one sort or another.

But of what sort? It would seem to follow, either (1) that the Analects has been strangely vulnerable to hostile interpolations from every other Warring States advocacy faction, or (2) that its its proprietors have over the years creatively engaged the rival political philosophies which challenged the Confucian position. The hostile interpolation argument has been attempted. Waley managed to shrug off the other linkages (not many people, after all, bother to read the Gwandz), but he did acknowledge the Jwangdz connection in LY 18:5. He could not accept its implication. He suggested instead that these Analects passages were hostile Dauist interpolations. That theory collapses on being inspected. To quote from our p183:

Waley (Analects 21) sees 18:5-7 as from "a world hostile to Confucius." We can follow him, up to a point. We can see the Dàuists sneaking up to Confucian headquarters in the dead of night. We can see them jimmying open a window. We can see them taking the Analects manuscript out of its drawer in the office desk. We can see them writing anti-Confucian anecdotes into it. We can hear them chortling as they vanish into the night. What we can't see is the scene next morning, where Dz-shvn [the head of the Lu school as of this period] comes in, opens the book, finds the Dàuist stories, scratches his head, mumbles, "Well, yeah; I guess I must have," and calls the students in to memorize them. We envision an earthier reaction.

This hostile intrusion theory, to put it as kindly as possible, is not Waley at his most perceptive.

Not to see what is going on, in these passages and in a host of other contact indications located all through the Analects, is to fixate on Confucius and ignore everything else we know about Warring States thought. It is not to recognize intellectual history even when it rears up and bites you in the face.

Li: 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.

Brooks: The multi-disciple theory was how Jvng Sywaen, back in the Han dynasty, explained away some of the more glaring inconsistencies in the Analects. That theory is still popular with those who prefer not to address the complexity of the text. But it has never been developed as a serious account of how the text came to be; that is, it has never been examined as a theory. In effect, Dzv-hou is here suggesting that the inconsistencies in the Analects should be ignored by modern readers. The argument runs this way: (a) We, the scholarly community, already knew there were inconsistencies, so it's no big deal. (b) And we can take up the question of those inconsistencies sometime later on, in the indefinite future. (c) So, for now, the received interpretation will suffice.

The future, by definition, never comes. After two thousand years of such postponements, it is surely time that the admitted irregularities in this "seamless" document were given serious attention. No?

Li: 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.

Brooks: Having conceded, in general terms, the many inconsistencies in the text, Dzv-hou is now arguing that the Analects is after all essentially consistent. The idea that consistencies in a text can analytically outweigh its inconsistencies is often applied to sacred texts like the books of the New Testament, or to culturally central texts like the Chinese classics. But however common, such assertions seem to us dubious. If there are inconsistencies, they must somehow be explained. It's surely not required that a text should be inconsistent at all points before that text will count, for the analyst, as inconsistent. And additions to a text are very often made in the original spirit of the text, by its original author or his successors in proprietorship, to extend and not to refute its previous content. They are not meant to obtrude; they are meant to blend in. Such sympathetic additions, in effect extensions, whether by the first author or by the later followers of a school founder, will tend as a matter of course to adopt the style of the previous text. Nor should we ignore the probable wish of a school of thought to make its new ideas seem at least reasonably compatible with its previous ideas. The consistencies in a text thus find a ready explanation, whether that text was written by one person, or took shape over time as the pronouncements of an ongoing school of thought. The consistencies therefore do not eliminate the inconsistencies, and the inconsistencies continue to require explanation. We have tried to be sensitive to that requirement, in studying the Analects.

Li: [The Original Analects], in line with recent scholarly trends, thoroughly deconstructs the Analects and does away with the image of Confucius as a Chinese cultural symbol.

Brooks: Cries of "You're taking Confucius away from us" have echoed in our ears since the first WSWG Conference, back in October 1993. We are not taking Confucius away from anybody. What people these days think of as "Confucius" is an overstuffed historical construct; an emblem; what Dzv-hou calls a cultural symbol. That symbol has been constructed by collapsing two centuries of Confucian philosophical evolution onto the historical figure of its founder, and then by letting that already unreal result float free, at the disposal of Imperial and later agendas. However cogent that "Confucius" symbol may now be, it has only a tenuous relation with the historical figure; the later tradition has long since ceased to possess the historical Confucius. What we have done, Dzv-hou, is to dig the real figure out from under all that later later piety and distortion, and give him back to you. And of this you complain?

Apparently, as witness the next comment:

Li: 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.

Brooks: The real Confucius, as revealed by our work, stands at the head of a long line of Confucian ideological evolution and development. But he himself is not at all a "cipher." He is a forceful man, and not less so for being also a disappointed one. He was able to impart so strong a momentum to his tiny group of none too prominent followers that the movement thus begun continued for centuries to be a major part of the intellectual life of the period, before it was finally distorted and co-opted by other ideological currents under the Empire. That long persistence is a tremendous achievement. Think about it.

No, really. Think about it.

We invite Dzv-hou and others not to hurry past page 19 of our book. Linger. Get a sense of the Confucius who comes vividly to life in the sayings of LY 4, before the Analects and its readers go on to engage other, and later, issues and problems. Here is an excerpt from that page:


"The chapter seems to hint, tantalizingly but vividly, at Confucius's early experiences. There are what look like echoes of early hardship (4:5, 4:9), career opposition (4:3), and unrewarded loyalty (4:8). At the end of that life, we feel in LY 4 the final Confucius: sonorous, steadfast, consistent in his values, but unconcerned for logical rigor. He is himself a locus of authority, and never cites texts, traditions, or models ancient or modern. As is said of Jesus in Mark 1:22, the Confucius of LY 4 invariably speaks in his own voice. His influence over his protégés thus derived from his personal authority, not from his mastery of earlier traditions. The Confucius we meet in LY 4 is above all immediate: here and now."

A brave man, an original man, a man for the ages in his own time. There's your universality.

Confucius, the real guy, has been thoroughly trivialized by later ages' idea of him. Even the Confucius of the later Analects is an increasingly cardboard figure; a dithering schoolmaster who fusses over the length of his nightshirt (LY 10:5b) and blushes at the spicier Shr poems (LY 17:15). His advice to his disciples (LY 17:8a) or even to his own son (LY 16:13) has nothing of the character, the principle, the steadfastness, the dedication, the inspirational quality, of the real Confucius. That advice begins and ends with the suggestion that people should memorize a lot of supposedly ancient writings.

And that is the "Confucius" you want? Get real, Dzv-hou.

Postscript 2007

Confucius existed in the past as a real and consequential person. That's important. The name "Confucius" exists today as a pawn of cultural propaganda; virtually a synonym of "Chineseness." That's important too, but as a separate fact, about a later age. Pushing the pawn as part of cultural propaganda is the standard device of anyone who wants to bend an ancient text into a sermon for the modern world. The rediscovery of the historical Confucius, and his restoration to the modern consciousness, which is what our book seeks to accomplish, does indeed somewhat undermine the practice of people who are operating with the modern symbol as it has evolved. It's the old conflict between what Waley called the "historical" and the "scriptural" ways of looking at the same text. To that extent, Dzv-houj's feeling that our work threatens his work is not without some foundation.

This we cannot help. It is in the nature of things that the most pious of descendants should be disconcerted when, at the ancestral sacrifice, the ancestor himself suddenly appears out of the mists of the remote past, in his own guise and in his own voice, denouncing opponents whose names posterity has all but forgotten, and preaching virtues which posterity has long since lost.

Back to Responses Index Page

4 May 2007 / Contact The Project / Exit to Publications Page