Review by
T C Kline
Pacific Affairs v72 #2 (1999)

The text of this review is taken from Thomas Carlson's web site, where it was included with the premission of the author.

For the past 25 years the Brooks have been engaged in a program of research of which this translation is only one small, but significant, piece. Their overall goal is to reexamine and date the various strata of the entire corpus of pre-Qin Chinese philosophical literature. In the past, many of these texts had been understood as either written or compiled by a single author or editor, or at least coming to their present state during a brief period of composition. Given this belief, most early texts were and generally still are treated as presenting a coherent and relatively consistent philosophical view. Yet, it has become increasingly clear that many of the early texts were not written or compiled by a single author or editor. Often there are conflicting and competing philosophical views present in a single text. Sometimes it is possible to identify these different strata within a text and date them. The main result is that rather than treating each text as a single point on the time line of early Chinese philosophy, they now begin to be seen as extending over stretches of time. In the case of the Analects (Lunyu), the Brooks argue that it was composed over a period of 230 years, from 479-249 BC, and that each book of the text, and in some cases individual sections, can be dated to a specific time period between these two dates. This theory of the composition of the text allows for an "evolutionary" or "accretion" interpretation. Each later addition is understood to represent a later viewpoint building on the previous books such that the evolution of these viewpoints can be traced from the earliest strata of the text to the last. According to the Brooks, the earliest stratum of the Analects, Book 4, then becomes the "original Analects", the portions of the book most representative of Confucius and his time period.

This translation, then, is much more than simply another new translation of a well-known text. Instead of being presented in its extant order, the text has been rearranged according to the Brooks' order of composition. All of Books 1-3 have been placed later in the text, and many individual passages from other books, on the basis of their being interpolations, have been removed from their original positions and also placed later in the text. Furthermore, each passage has extensive notes on the historical context that point toward the Brooks' theory of tracing the evolution of Confucian philosophy within the strata of the text. In addition, a third of the book consists of five substantial appendices outlining and defending the accretion theory of interpretation for the Analects, as well as for early Chinese texts in general. All of this additional commentary and argument is necessary, since very little of the Brooks' research on the dating of early Chinese texts is published elsewhere. The drawback of this thorough commentary is that the translation, unlike most of the works in the Columbia Asian Classics series, is not very accessible to the novice reader. A new romanization scheme, format of writing dates, as well as numerous critical marks indicating form further hamper the novice reader. Yet, the lack of accessibility does not take away from the work's strength. With the publication of this translation, scholars now have a fully developed interpretation of a single text with which to test the Brooks' hypotheses. Undoubtedly we have not heard the last or even the definitive word on dating texts in early China. But the Brooks should be credited with pushing the field one great step further along in its development.

Loyola University of Chicago

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