The Life and Mentorship of Confucius
E Bruce Brooks
Sino-Platonic Papers #72 (May 1996)
This is an extended review of several questions concerning the dates, social position, and early influence of Confucius; a somewhat abridged version is included as Appendix 4 in The Original Analects. Some key findings are the following:
1. Symbolic pressure on the reported number of Confucius's disciples seems to have been first from the number 70 (reported by Mencius) as the standard size of the infantry complement of one chariot, and later from 72 as somehow connected with the Yi Jing.
2. The size of the Confucian circle according to the reconstructed earliest form of an independent document taken into the Shr Ji and later appended to the Kungdz Jya-yw, was 70. This version was compiled by the Kung family in c0360. It already reflects mythologizing expansions, and from Analects evidence can be further purified to a likely genuine core of 63 names.
3. Most of these are not plausible as future officials (the "disciples" proper), and probably represent Confucius's client circle. Several surnames suggest non-Lu origins, and may represent obligations going back to Confucius's father, who was himself descended from an immigrant from Sung.
4. The false eclipses in our present Chun/Chyou text, which has passed through Kung family hands, were interpolated to create "double eclipse" omens for the birth of Confucius and several of his Lu ancestors. There are signs that Confucius's own birth was later shifted in that Kung copy to give him an age at death close to the magic number 72. The real date of his birth was 0549, and his life span was 0549-0479. He died before reaching his birthday in the latter year, and thus at the age of 70. The early tradition of 70 disciples was probably an upgrading of the client circle to a teaching circle, and was intended to be symmetrical with Confucius's age at death.
5. On the assumption that there was a relatively constant age at which aspirants to office associated themselves with a mentor, the probably earlier forms of the variant statements for the difference in age between Confucius and some disciples suggest the ages in his life at which he attracted such protégés. The pattern shows peaks at plausible points in the reigns of Ding-gung and Ai-gung. Guarded inferences about Confucius's career in those years seem possible.
6. The lineal Kung succession to Confucius, reflected in the list of descendants in Shr Ji 47, was not direct, but was preceded by a disciple succession. The early Analects layers derive from the disciple heads of his school in Lu. Dz-sz was not the grandson of Confucius, but a later descendant, who wrested the school leadership from the disciples. The enmity of Analects 11 toward many disciples, and its revaluation of nearly all the early disciples, reflects that polarization.
A more general conclusion is that the Warring States and early Han source texts are nearly all in need of scrutiny and sometimes of reconstruction, but that enough material exists in some cases for philology to operate on, and that the task of working through the late revisions to get at the earlier states of the evidence is not necessarily a forlorn one.
30 March 2000 / Contact The Project / Exit to Publications Page