Lunyu 論語 (pronounced Lúnyǔ!), commonly translated as "Confucian Analects", is a collection of sayings by Confucius and dialogues with his disciples. It is the authoritative source for the philosophical theories of Confucius, although great many of his sayings are also to be found in other books compiled during the Warring States 戰國 (5th cent.-221 BCE) and Former Han 前漢 (206 BCE-8 CE) periods.
The time of the compilation of the Lunyu can be found out in the following way: For some persons mentioned in the Lunyu having died after Confucius, the posthumous title is used, like that of Duke Ai of Lu 魯哀公 (r. 494-467), or the nobleman Ji Kangzi 季康子 (d. 468 BCE). There are also some sayings included in the Lunyu which are attributed to Confucius' disciple Zeng Shen 曾參 (505-436), who died half a century after him. The compilation must thus have taken place in the early 4th century BC. The Lunyu was only elevated to the status of a Confucian Classic during the Song period 宋 (960-1279), when it was made part of the canon of the Sishu 四書 "Four Books".
During the Former Han period three versions of the Lunyu were available: A 20-chapter version from the region of Lu 魯 (the Lu version 魯本); a 22-chapter version from the region of Qi 齊 (the Qi version 齊本), whose two additional chapters bear the titles Wenwang 問王 "Asking about rulership" and Zhidao 知道 "Knowing the way"; the third version is the old-text version Gu Lunyu 古論語, which is said to have survived the literary "inquisition" under the First Emperor of Qin 秦始皇 (r. 246/221-210 BCE) hidden in a wall of Confucius' mansion in Qufu 曲阜. It had 21 chapters, of which the one called Zizhang 子張 "(Disciple) Zizhang" consists of two parts and shares some passages with the chapter Yao yue 堯曰 "Emperor Yao said". As in these three versions neither the sequence of the chapters nor the wording of a number of sentences were identical, they were interpreted in a different way.
During the reign of Emperor Cheng 漢成帝 (r. 33-7 BCE) of the Han dynasty, Zhang Yu 張禹, Marquis of Anchang 安昌侯, was "professor" (boshi 博士 "erudite") for the Lu version, later for the Qi version. The version he preferred was therefore also called the Zhang Hou Lun 張侯論 "Marquis Zhang's Lunyu". The chapter titles of the Lunyu consist in almost all cases of two characters that correspond to the beginning of the first sentence.
|2.||為政||Wei zheng||"Exercising government"|
|3.||八佾||Ba yi||"Eight pantomimes"|
|4.||里仁||Li ren||"Virtuous manners in neighbourhood"|
|5.||公冶長||Gongye Zhang||"Gongye Zhang [name of a person]"|
|6.||雍也||Yong ye||"There is Yong"|
|8.||泰伯||Taibo||"The Grand Earl"|
|9.||子罕||Zi han||"[What the] Master seldom [speaks of]"|
|10.||鄉黨||Xiangdang||"In the village"|
|11.||先進||Xian jin||"Men of former times"|
|12.||顏淵||Yan Yuan||"Yan Yuan [a disciple of Confucius]"|
|13.||子路||Zilu||"Zilu [a disciple of Confucius]"|
|14.||憲問||Xian wen||"Xian asked"|
|15.||衛靈公||Wei Linggong||"Duke Ling of Wei"|
|16.||季氏||Ji shi||"[The head of] the Ji clan"|
|17.||陽貨||Yang Huo||"Yang Huo [name of a person]"|
|18.||衛子||Wei zi||"The Viscount of Wei"|
|19.||子張||Zizhang||"Zizhang [a disciple of Confucius]"|
|20.||堯曰||Yao yue||"Yao said"|
During the Later Han period 後漢 (25-220 CE) the scholar Zheng Xuan 鄭玄 (127-200) wrote a comparative commentary on all three versions. The Three Empires period 三國 (220-280) master He Yan 何晏 (190-249) collected all commentaries written up to date in a compilation called Lunyu jijie 論語集解. The basic text of the Lunyu he selected is that which has been transmitted to the present day, while the other versions are lost. Huang Kan 皇侃 (488-545) collected commentaries on He Yan's compilation which he presented in his Lunyu jijie yishu 論語集解義疏.
The Northern Song 北宋 (960-1126) scholar Xing Bing 邢昺 (932-1010) wrote another commentary on He Yan's book, Lunyu zhushu 論語注疏. The collection of commentaries most representative for Song period Confucianism is Zhu Xi's 朱熹 (1130-1200) Lunyu jizhu 論語集注, for which Zhao Shunsun 趙順孫 (1215-1277) wrote a commentary called Lunyu zuanshu 論語纂疏. All commentary traditions were unified in the 24-juan long commentary Lunyu zhengyi 論語正義 by the Qing 清 (1644-1911) scholar Liu Baonan 劉寳楠 (1791-1855). The modern scholar Cheng Shude 程樹德 (1877-1944) wrote a 40-juan long commentary called Lunyu jishi 論語集釋. In 1980 Yang Bojun 楊伯峻 (1909-1992) published his commentary Lunyu yizhu 論語譯注.
In the "Analects" Confucius' thoughts about society, politics, philosophy and human relationships are explained. There are also some few historical accounts of Confucius' life and his travels to the courts of the various regional rulers. Confucius talked about offerings, but refused to say anything about souls and spirits of the ancestors. He even declined to define or describe Heaven, which under Mengzi became an important part of the Confucian world view, especially in the concept of the Heavenly Mandate (tianming 天命), which is only bestowed on rulers of irreproachably virtuous conduct.
Man's lifespan, Confucius said, is defined by fate, but wealth and status were influenced by Heaven. Confucius made some statements about cognition, especially about a kind of innate knowledge that was given to man without him having learnt it. Yet Confucius preferred to hear and select what is good and to follow it because he did not rate himself as one who was born with the possession of knowledge.
He said that he was fond of antiquity and that he earnestly was seeking knowledge there. Confucius instructed his disciple Zizhang 子張 in the method of learning: "Hear much and put aside the points of which you stand in doubt, while you speak cautiously at the same time of the others; then you will afford few occasions for blame." He is described as a man who had no foregone conclusions, no arbitrary predeterminations, no obstinacy, and no egoism. From these statements it can be seen that constant learning and objective rationality was of the greatest importance for Confucius. "Learning without thought", he ascertained, "is labour lost; thought without learning is perilous." Confucius' most famous statement is that he understood himself as a "transmitter and not a maker" (shu er bu zuo 述而不作). There were many ways of learning, for instance, silently treasuring up knowledge, to learn insatiably, or, as Confucius did, instructing others without being weary. Confucius was also willing to learn from others, as he said in another famous statement: "When I walk along with two others, they may serve me as my teachers." (San ren xing, bi you wo shi yan 三人行，必有我師焉。)
Very enlightening indeed is Confucius' constant attempt to adapt definitions to the situation and the context. Important terms like filial piety (xiao 孝), kindheartedness (ren 仁), or the art of ruling (zheng 政) are in the Lunyu differently explained to questioners of various backgrounds. He explains this approach as follows: "When a man may be spoken with, not to speak to him is to err in reference to the man. When a man may not be spoken with, to speak to him is to err in reference to our words."
Behaviour in human society was Confucius' most important content of teaching. He said that the practical expressions of kindheartedness (ren) were truthfulness (zhong 忠) and benevolence (shu 恕). Propriety (li禮) was an instrument to express kindheartedness in a ritual context. This doctrine was, in Confucius' words, of an "all-pervading unity". Asked about kindheartedness, he replied that it meant "to subdue one's self and return to propriety" (ke ji fu li wei ren 克己復禮為仁). This meant not to look at what was not propriety, not listen to what was contrary to propriety, not to speak about what was contrary to propriety, and to make no movement which was contrary to propriety. In the field of government, propriety was fulfilled when the ruler was a ruler, the minister a minister, the father a father, and a son like a son (Jun jun, chen chen, fu fu, zi zi 君君，臣臣，父父，子子。). In this way state and society would be stable. The people would trust that ruler who fed and defended them.
Concerning one's own kindheartedness, Confucius said that every man had to consider virtue as what devolved of himself; he may not yield the execution of it even to his teacher. This strong will to perform well was also stressed in another statement where the Master said that the commander of an army might be carried off, but the will of even a common man could not be taken from him.
Compared to older classical texts like the Shangshu 尚書, the language in the Lunyu is much more vivid. It is characterised by the intensive use of modal particles, reiterative sentences, parallelisms, antithetic sentences, and a language of emotions and moods. In one instance, Confucius even said angrily: "He (Ran Qiu 冉求) is no disciple of mine (because he collected imposts from the usurpatory family Jisun 季孫). My little children, beat the drum and assail him." On another occasion, the disappointed Master sighed desperately: "It passes on just like the waters of a river, not ceasing day or night." He did not shy away from calling his disciple Zilu 子路 uncultivated. Yan Hui 顏回 (521-481 BCE), his most beloved disciple, enthusiastically said that as long as the Master lived, how would he dare die!
Yet in many places, the Lunyu is only very sparing in describing the historical context of the situation in which the Master and his disciples found themselves.