The Analects – A Reflection of Traditional Chinese Principles

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The Analects contains the teachings of the eminent Chinese philosopher, Confucius. Although the philosopher never wrote anything down, his disciples have collected his teachings and preserved it. More than just a book of his teachings, Confucius’ Analects is really a capsule of Chinese society, containing the rudiments of social fabric that hold their community together amidst the strife and instability that was becoming progressively rampant in those days. As such, it becomes more than a piece of literature that shares Confucius’ thoughts and beliefs, but is actually an historical artifact that lends understanding to his time.

To understand the significance of the Analects, it is important to understand the political and social conditions that gave birth to it. Confucius started promoting his teachings of morals and values around 700 B.C., when the king of the Zhou Dynasty became more of a figurehead than a recognized ruler. The rulers of the smaller states started fighting for political and military supremacy and dominance. China’s traditional values of ethics and politics were slowly giving way under the pressure of political ambition. Whereas before, meritocracy was held the premium, Confucius saw that people started to use their position to grant favors just to get more power and build alliances. Confucius sought to remind the people the important traditions that they hold dear, the very reasons why Chinese civilization achieved efficiency and grandeur. The moral fabric that held Chinese society together was the relationships between people – of utmost importance was respect, and from this stemmed concern and a sense of responsibility and duty. Children ought to respect and obey their parents and in turn parents ought to take care of their children, wives ought to submit to their husbands and the husbands ought to provide for their wives, servants ought to serve their masters or superiors with loyalty and their masters ought to recognize their servants’ skills and reward them justly. It was important to keep these traditions alive, because it promotes a sense of duty, and a sense of duty instills a sense of shame, an important factor that curbs evil tendencies in society.

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Further, Confucius saw that a system based on personality will not work, and although they believed in the mandate of heaven, he sought to promote self-development, and the honing one’s skills and talents. If people solely acted based on personality politics, then society and social order will easily crumble and succumb to the warring forces vying for the throne. He believed that success and fortune were not just mandates from heaven – it was achieved through hard work and discipline, hard work and discipline fueled by duty, the role that the individual plays in the society.

Thus, Confucius has shown that an individual is important – he is the basic unit of any community, his actions are significant. And from this, Confucius harps on his ethical maxim, the famous negative form of the Golden Rule: Do not do unto others what you do not want done to yourself. Confucius was saying that a man would always look out for himself and his interests, and he should look out for others and their interests as well. After all, if all men looked after himself and each other, then there would not be any strife or discord. He urged the people to be responsible not because of the presence of laws or the consequences of punishment, but because of what is morally right, what is called for by duty.

In this same vein, Confucius asserted that man will act accordingly if he had a notion of shame. For him, shame was a strong disciplining factor. He said that if people were merely ruled by laws and proper behavior sought because otherwise they will be meted with punishment, then they will try to avoid the punishment but will have no sense of shame. In this, was indirectly saying that having no sense of shame, nothing stops them from going against the law as long as they can find a way of circumventing its corresponding punishment. Confucius argued that the best government would be one that governed by rites and a natural sense of morality rather than by external punishment, a kind of bribery for people to follow laws, and coercion. If the people were instilled with a sense of propriety, bounded by duty, led by virtue, then they will have a sense of shame. They will think twice before breaking any laws, because what stops them is their own dearly held values rather than fear punishment. Further, this will make the people good – because it develops in them an innate sense of morality, a discipline to stand by their principles.

Hence, the Analects of Confucius sought to address the moral problems that were prevalent during his time, by reminding the people of the tradition of values that they have been practicing but was slowly being replaced by corruption. Confucius wanted to preserve the old ways where they are effective, and to break them where they prohibit growth. He was in a way preserving the past, and at the same time setting off to put the future generation on the right path where he saw progress was not good.

The distinction between Eastern and Western cultures surfaces reading the Analects. Confucius was calling for a government that will take advantage of what was important to the people – their families, their relationships, their places and roles in the society. His government appealed to psychology and emotions, appealed to the moral sensibilities of the people as fueled by their sense of duty. In contrast, Western foundation of social order rests on the social contract – an impersonal agreement between members of the same society, with the law as the binding device. Having read the Analects, it seems that Confucius made more sense in his assertions that morals and justice would be more effectively instilled if it started within the individual because he had an innate sense of shame that motivates him to behave well and do his duty to society out of love for his personal relationships.

Then again, perhaps it worked for them because theirs was a more socially-intricate culture, valuing the family more than the individual. It is also because of this culture aspect that the Analects of Confucius continue to be an integral philosophy, especially in East Asia. After all, it is a piece of history, and it carries on tradition as well.

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The Analects – A Reflection of Traditional Chinese Principles. (2016, Jun 15). Retrieved from

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