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Roots of Ru [??] Ethics in shi [??] Status Anxiety.


Among the ethical values and maxims propagated in the Lunyu [phrase omitted], one point stands out as a pervasive concern: a noble man or a worthy follower of Confucius' teachings does not worry about recognition or status. The first of multiple assertions to that effect is placed in a prominent position at the very beginning of the Lunyu, where an unspecified Master (1) professes,
Is it not indeed a pleasure to have learnt something and to practice it
time and again? Is it not indeed a joy to have one's peers come from
afar? Is it not indeed like a noble man not to resent it when others do
not recognize one?
[phrase omitted] (2)

The first chapter closes with another such statement:
The Master said, "One should not feel anxious about others' not
recognizing oneself. One should feel anxious lest one fail to recognize
[phrase omitted] (3)

And in chapter four a "Master" says:
You should not feel anxious about not having a position but rather
about the means by which you position yourself. You should not feel
anxious lest no one recognize you, but seek to become worth recognizing.

[phrase omitted] (4)

These few passages show two things that are of importance for the present discussion: First, they indicate that anxiety (huan [phrase omitted]) about being recognized must have been a sufficiently significant phenomenon to warrant these repeated admonitions and their inclusion in the teachings that were chosen to be transmitted in the Lunyu. Second, these passages--like large parts of the Lunyu and many other early Chinese texts--are pragmatically underdetermined. They do not appear to present a general, broadly applicable moral and political philosophy, if this is what we expect of the Lunyu, nor do they indicate to what specific historical context they refer and what made them significant at the time when they were formulated. This is true for the most part of the Lunyu.

Reading the Lunyu--and many other texts from early China--requires a high degree of interpretive input. In the case of the Lunyu, such input could not be more amply provided: countless commentaries throughout the two millennia of its transmission and reception add specificity to its understanding. They convey an interpretation of this compilation as part of the canon, i.e., its scriptural reading, and thus vividly demonstrate how it has been kept productive as an element of tradition. They are not, however, a reliable source from which to understand the historical significance of the many short texts collected in the Lunyu at the time when they were composed. To be sure, this historical meaning is not recoverable in full, nor with a high degree of precision, but it has been shown in intertextual studies of early Chinese literature that it is to some extent possible to identify historical contexts and specific concerns that motivated these texts. (5) The present article aims to demonstrate that some of what we read today in the Lunyu and similar texts as general principles of self-cultivation and Ru ethics is most likely rooted in something more mundane, namely status anxiety of the lower strata of nobility, brought about by the increased social mobility in the Warring States period (453-221 B.C.E.). Before we can start exploring the texts pertaining to this issue, it is necessary to discuss the rationale behind such an intertextual study. The following examination is based on two crucial insights: First, most early Chinese texts are composite in nature, and second, their constituent parts are often underdetermined.


The Lunyu is a premier example of a pragmatically underdetermined text. Unlike other texts, this compilation does not even attempt to appear continuous and coherent beyond the scope of its mostly very short textual units. Most of the text opens up a vast range of possible interpretations and applications. For example, it is not intuitively clear why a maxim like "one should not converse during meals nor speak when one retires to bed" [phrase omitted], [phrase omitted] was considered important enough to transmit over millennia in one of the foremost texts of the Confucian canon. (6) Or why we should be reminded that it is necessary for a noble man to have a nightgown one and a half times as long as one's body ([phrase omitted]... [phrase omitted], [phrase omitted]). (7) The practicality of this alone has raised questions: some scholars have explained the word qinyi [phrase omitted] as referring to a blanket, while an alternative interpretation understands the length yi shen you ban [phrase omitted] as reaching down to one's knees, thus allowing us to maintain the literal understanding of qinyi as a nightgown. (8)

There are several ways to account for the inclusion of such apparent trivialities in the Lunyu: They may not be trivial at all, but could have been of greater consequence than we are able to recognize now, at a time when the specific reasons and contexts that made them significant are not visible to us anymore. Or they may indeed be mere pieces of advice concerning minor practical issues--useful maxims that happened to be gathered together with more consequential ideological or philosophical statements in a heterogeneous compilation that does not distinguish categories of content or degrees of importance. There are likewise several ways to account for the continued transmission of these pedestrian parts of the Lunyu: They were maintained either for the simple reason that they had become part of a highly esteemed text, and transmitters preserved the unimportant along with the important, so as not to compromise the integrity of a revered compilation. Or these parts of the text had become charged with new significance; deeper meaning had been read into them.

Both questions--what the actual meaning of the passages was at the time of their formulation and for what reasons they were transmitted--we may be unable to answer. But if we fail even to raise these questions we are more likely to treat any part of heterogeneous compilations such as the Lunyu indiscriminately as potentially valid, independently of historical context, and hence as universally applicable. From such a generalizing approach two problematic consequences may arise: First, we might fail to recognize the historically relevant information the texts carry. Second, we might invite ideologically charged interpretations and uses of the text that legitimatize extraneous arguments by ascribing uniformly high status as Confucian ideology to all statements in the Lunyu indiscriminately, considering them all as equally fundamental to a Chinese cultural identity.

As far as the passages cited above are concerned, not much harm is to be expected of ahistorical ideological interpretations of any of these: Surely, if anyone were eccentric enough to condemn business lunches as un-Confucian, based on the injunction against conversations during meals (Lunyu 10.10), we would wave this aside as irrelevant. But we might take it more seriously if someone used Lunyu 17.25 as an argument against gender equality:
The Master said: "It is women and petty people who are difficult to
support. If one allows them to get too close, they will become
insubordinate; and if one keeps them at too great a distance, they will
bear resentment."
[phrase omitted] (9)

In this instance, we would surely insist that the Master's teaching is contingent on a historical reality which we do not aim to restore; we would thus not grant it validity for the present. Unlikely as it may seem that anyone would seriously discuss the above examples as valid guidance for our behavior in contemporary society, to ascribe uniform ideological validity to any part of a canonical text, independently of its historical context, opens up a potential for selective, ahistorical readings that should not be underestimated. In present-day ideological discourses in the USA such practices of reading the Bible play an astonishingly significant role. Some ideologues are notoriously fond of citing the book Leviticus as the authority legitimizing prescriptions for life in modern society. (10) Many of the injunctions compiled in this book are historically specific to a degree that seems to preclude any modern application. For example, no one, to my knowledge, demands our adherence to the ruling in Leviticus 18.21: "do not give any of your children to be sacrificed to Molech." (11) Yet, the very next verse (18.22), "do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman," is in contemporary political discourse frequently cited in all earnestness as a prohibition whose violation is perceived as eroding the cultural identity of the country and, above all, as seriously immoral. The same ideologues are much less protective of the rule "do not ... put tattoo marks on yourselves" (Lev. 19.28), although this phenomenon is hardly less common than male homosexuality.

Some of these ancient rules, such as not to eat rabbit meat or wear clothing woven of two kinds of material (Lev. 11.6 and 19.19), are obviously so closely dependent on the specific historical situation that they have ceased to be taken into account. Nevertheless, rules of this kind may be continued selectively, in order to stabilize a group identity (whether understood culturally or religiously), which was an important part of their function in antiquity as well. Clearly, they are not considered universal ethical standards in our times. Other rules, such as "do not let your hair become unkempt, and do not tear your clothes" (Lev. 10.6), are too general to generate group identity and too insignificant to be of any ideological use. The significance they must have had in their historical context is not obvious any more. Yet other rules have a degree of universal applicability and appeal that ensures their continued existence as recognized ethical values: "do not steal; do not lie ... do not defraud your neighbour ... do not hate your brother in your heart" (Lev. 19.11-17), or "Do not use dishonest standards when measuring length, weight or quantity. Use honest scales and honest weights ..." (Lev. 19.35-36).

In the Lunyu we face the very same spectrum of hermeneutic problems. Some statements are historically specific to a degree that they appear to have lost all relevance for the present:
When the villagers were exorcizing evil spirits, he stood in his court
robes on the eastern steps [the place for a host to stand].
[phrase omitted] (12)

Such parts of the Lunyu tend to be largely ignored. Other, hardly less historically specific pronouncements are applicable in a broader sense:
The Master used a fishing line but not a cable [to which a number of
lines are attached]; he used a corded arrow but not to shoot at
roosting birds.
[phrase omitted] (13)

Independently of the concrete context and technical details, it seems adequate to interpret this passage as advocating, in modern parlance, sustainable hunting and fishing. Such parts of the text lend themselves to generalizing interpretations, thus rendering them relevant for later times. For example, "when eating in the presence of one who had been bereaved, the Master never ate his fill" [phrase omitted], [phrase omitted], or, "on a day when he had wept, the Master did not sing" [phrase omitted], [phrase omitted]. (14) Although it is not difficult to recognize that the many references in the Lunyu to mourning relate to the larger topic of the ancestral cult as a stabilizer of a social hierarchy reliant on hereditary nobility, we can easily ignore the historical specificity and read these passages as expressions of empathy and consistent regulation of one's emotions, or at least of their public display. Such a generalizing reading practice, however, entails the risk of arbitrariness and of diluting meaningful texts to mere commonplaces that have the quaint banality of fortune cookies.

This hermeneutic dilemma leaves us a choice between two entirely unsatisfactory positions and two acceptable compromises. The former two are either that of the intellectual fundamentalist, who throws up his hands and declares it entirely impossible to understand the text, because we will never have the necessary information that will grant us certainty as to how the text was meant at the time; or that of the intellectual libertine, who feels free to propose any arbitrary interpretation, either based on a literal reading of the text or on a high degree of abstraction. This will in some cases of literal reading create an exotic sense of stiff ceremony (for example, since we do not really know what the gesture of standing in court robes on the eastern steps communicated) or in cases of high abstraction leave us with a lukewarm sense of general goodness (such as, the Master showing empathy with the bereaved), but at least both the literal and the generalizing abstract readings yield clear interpretations. The two acceptable compromises are situated on a scale of hermeneutic approaches, whose opposite ends John Makeham identifies as one aiming to recover a "historical meaning" and one that follows the "scriptural meaning." The former he defines as "the meaning of a text as composed by its original author/s and/or its original audience" and the latter as "the meaning realized in the process of the subsequent historical trajectory of that text." (15) Makeham masterfully discusses the necessity of compromise between these extremes:
What is needed is a strategy that will neither be overpowered by the
Scylla of retrospection nor be engulfed by the Charybdis of
prospection. Retrospection is concerned with a hermeneutics of
recovery: an archaeology of the historical context in which the text
was created. Prospection is concerned with the ongoing reception of a
text by its readers, the unfolding and elaboration of its scriptural
meaning. Unless one is keen to open the floodgates to potentially
unlimited semiosis by placing undue emphasis on the reader as the sole
determinant of textual meaning, then historical context must be
addressed. (16)

He convincingly argues for the case of the Lunyu that
given our poor knowledge of the historical context of the text's
genesis, historical context will generally be of modest use [... and]
greater emphasis should be given to understanding the scriptural
meanings of the text, [... not] simply because they exist or were the
fashion at some time [... but] to reflect on the preconditions (and
preconceptions) of our own understanding. (17)

One might add, however, that the various scriptural readings provided us by the many exegetes of the text in its long history are either prospective creative interpretations or retrospective historical readings at a particular time in history, albeit possibly (not necessarily) based on better knowledge of the original contexts from which the text arose. To stay with the case of the Lunyu for a moment, it is certainly impossible, as Makeham argues, ever to determine when exactly a particular part of the text entered the compilation and for what reasons it was included and what exactly its meaning was at the time. (18) It is possible, however, even if only for parts of texts, to narrow down historical contexts from which the textual material that was to become part of the Lunyu probably arose and where certain ideas expressed in the Lunyu first developed. If we are interested in the potential of the Lunyu and other early Chinese texts as a source of history, rather than as a productive generator of philosophy for later ages, even an approximate historical context will help us to limit the "excess of interpretation" the texts accumulated, owing to their importance in later periods. (19) We may thus better distinguish between such later meanings and the often more mundane practical significance of the text in early China.

At this point we need to address a broader problem that sets the conditions for our study of pre-imperial China. Aside from recently discovered manuscripts, all our textual sources of that time were reconstructed, often recontextualized and therefore potentially reinterpreted in the vastly different environment of the late first century B.C.E. and even more so in later periods. The recent manuscript finds seem to confirm what we would intuitively suspect, namely that ideas about the identity of texts, textual hierarchies, written representations of texts and their uses (in particular reading practices) changed considerably during the several centuries from the Warring States period to the end of the early Han.


It has become increasingly recognized in recent years that many, if not most, early Chinese texts were composed using pre-formed textual units of different extension. These, in William Boltz's words, "building blocks" usually come from sources that have not been transmitted to us. (20) These originally independent short textual units often show characteristics of didactic texts intended for memorization, i.e., parallelism, regular meter, rhyme. Such texts must have been used in a social setting ("Sitz im Leben") that determined their practical application and therefore specified their meaning. (21) The precise purport and application of these texts are not sufficiently indicated in the texts themselves. Either the situational context in which they were used implicitly specified how they were to be understood, or a teacher, being part of this context, explicitly provided this semantic determination. In the case of ancient Egyptian literature, Jan Assmann has compared this determining element with the determinatives in the writing system--a comparison that, by happy coincidence, works for Chinese as well. Since the form of pragmatic texts is determined by their function in the particular social setting in which they were composed and used, this form has a semantic value of its own. (22) Whenever such a text was used as a component element of a literary text, the semantic value of its form was in all likelihood at least initially still recognized. Yet, the further the text became removed from its original context, the more it became underdetermined, and the missing part of its determination needed to be supplied in other ways. (23) This could be done either within the text or outside it.

2.1 Internal determination

Intratextual determination is provided when an originally independent textual unit is used as a component element in a greater text that derives consistency from its narrative nature or from an argument that exhibits sustained logical consistency. These two types are not mutually exclusive but rather tendencies which are developed to different extents in a text. Predominantly narrative texts often contain a heavy load of politico-philosophical argument, sometimes only thinly clad in dialogue between figures acting in the narrative. (24) In turn, argumentative philosophical texts can be couched in dialogue as well and thus to some extent develop narrative qualities. While the dialogue (or monologue, if we count the simple prefaced "[phrase omitted]") is the most reduced form of a narrative framing, the most reduced forms of embedding didactic texts in an argument are the titles of numbered or unnumbered catalogues of didactic items or the summarizing conclusions of such catalogues in the form of sentences like "[phrase omitted]" or "[phrase omitted]." The originally short didactic texts, once they have become components of an argumentative text and thus undergone a process of intratextual determination, are often so well integrated in the resulting text that they can hardly be recognized as originally independent. That they must have existed outside their textual environment becomes apparent only to the analytical reader who pays close attention to formal features of texts and notices the countless parallel passages across vastly different texts from early China. (25)

2.2 External determination

External determination may lie in the mere attribution of the text to a patron or author figure, who may be legendary or historical. The semantic determination of the text is then largely based on an established emblematic value of this figure, which can either narrowly refer to a specific ideological value (e.g., Taigong [phrase omitted] or Guan Zhong [phrase omitted] stand for meritocracy, Zengzi [phrase omitted] for filial piety), or it can be more broadly based on historical narratives clustering around this figure--narratives that are not present in the text but known to its users. Sometimes texts even rubricate these emblematic values, for example:
Virtuous conduct: Yan Yuan, Min Ziqian, Ran Boniu, and Zhonggong;
speech and conversation: Zai Wo and Zigong;
government service: Ran You and Jilu;
culture and learning: Ziyou and Zixia.
[phrase omitted] (26)

Such emblematic categorizations of historical figures can be remarkably consistent within closely related ideological traditions. In Mengzi, Gongsun Chou [phrase omitted] distinguishes qualifications of Confucius' disciples in a pattern that is consistent with the above Lunyu passage: "Zai Wo and Zigong excelled in performing expository speech; Ran Niu, Minzi, and Yan Yuan excelled in speaking about virtuous conduct" [phrase omitted], [phrase omitted] [phrase omitted]. (27)

External determination need not narrowly lie in the attribution of a text to a legendary or historical figure, however. It can also be provided by integrating it, without explicit reference to a specific figure, in a teaching tradition that may differ from the pragmatic origin of the didactic text but is usually a more general, ideological tradition. The text then becomes part of a doctrinal context or a broader ideological discourse; either of these narrows the range of possible interpretations. These means of determination can remain entirely external. A text that was originally embedded in one particular social setting has merely moved to a different one. The appropriation by this new context, whether by attribution to a figure or by commentarial activity, need not surface in the text itself at all. It can accompany the text and--regardless of whether oral or written--remain separate from it, rather than merging with it to become part of the appropriated text. (This seems to be the case especially with texts like Laozi [phrase omitted]and large parts of the Lunyu.) Nonetheless, it frequently happens that commentarial language does become part of the text. The areas of external and internal determination are permeable and interact.

To use the Lunyu as an example again, most of the text is anchored in a historical setting. This is usually achieved by the shortest possible form of narrative framing, namely a dialogue between Confucius and one or several of his disciples. It is here that we find by far the most instances in which Confucius is referred to as Kongzi [phrase omitted]. In the monological parts, the narrative element is even further reduced to the mere incipit "X yue [phrase omitted]." Here, the speaker is rarely identified as Confucius. Except for the very last subchapter (20.3) of the compilation, all "Kongzi yue" incipits occur in chapter 16, where ten of fourteen subchapters begin with these words. Incipits naming disciples are yet rarer. (28) The vast majority of the incipits of monological utterances, well over two hundred, refer to an unnamed Master (zi yue [phrase omitted]), for example:
The Master said, "At fifteen I aspired to learning; at thirty I had
established myself; at forty I was free from confusion; at fifty I
understood the Decree of Heaven; at sixty my ear was attuned; at
seventy I could follow my heart's desires without overstepping the
[phrase omitted] (29)

It is the one word wu [phrase omitted] ('I') that renders these statements descriptive and autobiographical. One might argue that there is no reason to assume that the Master who speaks these words is Confucius. But the general notion that it is none other can be justified on grounds of the parallelism with another passage only a little later in the same chapter: "The Master said, 'I can speak with Hui all day long ...'"[phrase omitted]: [??][phrase omitted]...[??]. (30) Here the fact that the Master's interlocutor is Yan Hui and that the logic of the text suggests a teacher-disciple relationship makes it certain that the Master is indeed Confucius. Still, the general resemblance of Confucius' alleged autobiography with catalogues in other texts naming accomplishments expected of certain age groups invites the speculation that the first person pronoun and later also the incipit "the Master said" (as a rhetorical "weapon," in Jin Lingke's parlance) may simply have been added to such a generally applicable, prescriptive catalogue, to appropriate it for Confucius' followers. (31)

While passages like the above can justifiably be read as utterances of Confucius, even if the Master mentioned in them is not explicitly specified, the same interpretive practice stretches even further: many passages that do not mention a Master or any other person are usually also understood to be either utterances of Confucius or descriptive of his life. In Modern Chinese translations this does not become so obvious, since the syntax of the language does not require an explicit subject, but in English translations we invariably find a third person subject ("he"), rendering these statements descriptive of the past. For instance, D. C. Lau renders the above-cited Lunyu 10.10 as "He did not converse at meals; nor did he talk in bed." (32) Edward G. Slingerland puts an even stronger interpretation on these words. He understands yu [phrase omitted]" ('to converse') specifically as 'to instruct', apparently conferring instructive character on all of Confucius' conversations. (33) The underlying logic seems to be that every part of the Lunyu that is not explicitly marked as coming from someone else must be an utterance of Confucius.

2.3 The figure of Zengzi as a semantic determinative

As the fountainhead of the Ru tradition, Confucius himself has not acquired an emblematic value as narrowly defined as those of some of his disciples. The force of semantic determination exerted by the mere attribution of an utterance to a certain figure can be better demonstrated by an example involving Zengzi, whose appearance in a text regularly evokes the topic of filial piety. Lunyu 1.9, "[phrase omitted]," (34) is generally interpreted strongly, in exactly the sense that D. C. Lau's translation represents:
Zengzi said, "Conduct the funeral of your parents with meticulous care
and let not sacrifices to your remote ancestors be forgotten, and the
virtue of the common people will incline towards fullness." (35)

While Slingerland phrases the translation as strongly as Lau ("Master Zeng said, 'Take great care in seeing off the deceased and sedulously maintain the sacrifices to your distant ancestors, and the common people will sincerely return to Virtue.'"), in Brooks and Brooks' translation Zengzi's words read: "When concern for the departed continues until they are far away, the virtue of the people will have become substantial." (36) This rendering at least appears to be closer to the Chinese text, but it is still strained and relies on the premise that a Zengzi utterance must, in one way or another, refer to filial piety. Although zhong [phrase omitted] ('end') can of course narrowly refer to death, there is no indication in the text itself of this narrow meaning, let alone that of "sacrifice," other than the force that Zengzi's emblematic value as a paragon of filial piety exerts as a semantic determinative. Interestingly, Brooks and Brooks observe that the role of Zengzi as "a spokesman for filial piety" is at odds with how Zengzi is generally depicted in the Lunyu, especially in chapter eight, but that it accords with later Zengzi legend. That they see Lunyu 1.9 therefore as "a stage in his evolving myth" is based on a logic that takes the reference of this text to filial piety for granted and then explains why it is untypical of the Zengzi in the Lunyu. (37)

Notwithstanding the long history of this interpretation, the actual text of Lunyu 1.9 suggests no such thing. (38) If we ignore the attribution of the statement to Zengzi, or even if we merely consider it possible that Zengzi may have talked about something other than filial piety, we arrive at the opposite conclusion: Lunyu 1.9 does not mention sacrifice or anything related to filial piety at all. It thus by no means marks a stage in the evolving emblematic value of Zengzi as an icon of filial piety. Rather, this emblematic value of the figure Zengzi has generated the ideologically loaded and narrow interpretation of what once must have been a much plainer, but nonetheless meaningful, maxim: "Be mindful of the end, pursue things a long way [rather than minding only what is in your immediate vicinity], and the people's virtue/power will return to bounteousness." The warning "be mindful of the end" (shen zhong [phrase omitted]) is indeed rather frequent in early Chinese texts, the best known instantiation of it occurring in Laozi 64: "Be mindful of the end as of the beginning; then you will not fail in your undertakings" [phrase omitted][lh[??]?] [phrase omitted][*s-r[??]?]. (39) In this case, the rejection of a scriptural reading--such as interpreting shen zhong as "conducting the funeral of one's parents with meticulous care" or, in He Yan's [phrase omitted] (190-249) words, "to grieve thoroughly in mourning"--is not a vain attempt at restoring a historical or even original reading. (40) It merely relieves the text of an artificial interpretive restriction, superimposed by a narrowly defined emblematic value of Zengzi that, familiar as it is from later tradition, is not even confirmed by the general portrayal of this figure elsewhere in the Lunyu.


In addition to the great contribution that studies of newly discovered manuscripts can make toward recovering how Warring States literature may have looked before it was reconstructed centuries later in the Imperial Library, (41) it also seems desirable to revive earlier efforts to adapt to early Chinese literature the methods of form criticism and redaction criticism, which made an appearance on the stage of Sinology decades ago but have not yet had a great general impact. (42) Increased attention to the countless parallel passages and patterns across all genres of texts in early Chinese literature promises a better understanding of the complex processes of the formation and redaction of early Chinese texts. Moreover, an examination of both the textual features of such parallels and of the ways in which they are now embedded in the transmitted literature may allow us, at least in some cases, to glean information about their original social setting. This information in turn provides a chance to better understand the interpretive acts and ideological interests involved in the appropriation of such textual material by the larger texts that have come down to us through centuries of transmission.

The text "Zengzi li shi" [phrase omitted], one of ten chapters in the compilation Da Dai Liji [phrase omitted] that are attributed to Zengzi, is an interesting instance of a reinterpretation similar to the case of the alleged Zengzi dictum in Lunyu 1.9. "Zengzi li shi" is clearly a compilation of disjointed small textual units. Their arrangement is not entirely random, but it reflects at best a loose associative order, and a common theme throughout the chapter is not immediately apparent. To establish a connection with Zengzi is even more difficult. This chapter is by far the longest of the Zengzi chapters in Da Dai Liji; it comprises almost half the text of all ten chapters combined. While in the other nine chapters a strong semantic connection is established either via content (filial piety and sacrifice) or by framing the text as a dialogue in which Zengzi figures as the main interlocutor, there is no recognizable connection with Zengzi in "Zengzi li shi" beyond the attribution expressed in the title and the single instance of "Zengzi yue" at the very beginning of the text.

Nevertheless, the reception of the text has been so strongly dominated by the attribution to Zengzi that even the descriptive, programmatic part of the title, li shi [phrase omitted], was, if not entirely ignored, interpreted in a strained way to fit the attribution to Zengzi. The tone was set in the early nineteenth century by Wang Pinzhen [phrase omitted], who described the text as about "matters of broad learning, penetrating investigation, careful thinking, clear discernment, and sincere conduct" and explained the title as referring to "how the gentleman establishes himself and practices the Way" (li shen xing dao [phrase omitted]). (43) Later scholars have repeated this explanation more or less verbatim. (44) It is easy to see that this unusual interpretation of the words li shi is motivated solely by the emblematic value of this text's alleged author Zengzi as a paragon of filial piety. The phrase li shen xing dao must have been recognizable to any scholar in Imperial China as an allusion to one of the first sentences of the Canon of Filial Piety (Xiaojing [phrase omitted]), another text attributed to Zengzi: "To establish oneself, practice the Way, and make one's name known to posterity in honor of one's parents is the ultimate goal of filial piety" [phrase omitted]. (45) In keeping with this interpretation, Ruan Yuan [phrase omitted] (1764-1849) declares that "Zengzi li shi" deals exclusively with self-cultivation. (46)

At its very beginning, the text is indeed compatible with the broad rubric of self-cultivation. (47)
1   [phrase omitted]  The gentleman shall tackle his faults,
2   [phrase omitted]  redress his mistakes,
3   [phrase omitted]  fortify himself where he is incapable,
4   [phrase omitted]  discard selfishness and desires,
5   [phrase omitted]  and perform his office within the range of
6   [phrase omitted]  This may well be called "learning."
7   [phrase omitted]  The gentleman shall be sparing of time in order
                      to learn,
8   [phrase omitted]  and act when the time has come.
9   [phrase omitted]  He shall not shirk hardship,
10  [phrase omitted]  nor shall he pursue the easy way.
11  [phrase omitted]  It is this wherein propriety lies.
12  [phrase omitted]  At daybreak he shall take up his work,
13  [phrase omitted]  and at night he shall examine himself.
14  [phrase omitted]  Of this he shall be mindful to the end of his
15  [phrase omitted]  This may indeed be called adhering to one's task.
16  [phrase omitted]  The gentleman shall approach learning from the
                      demands of his work.
17  [phrase omitted]  He shall inquire according to his rank.
18  [phrase omitted]  If an inquiry is not answered satisfactorily,
19  [phrase omitted]  he shall wait for an opportunity, observing
                      [his master's] countenance, to repeat the inquiry.
20  [phrase omitted]  Even if he be not pleased he shall not force an
21  [phrase omitted]  When the gentleman has learnt something, he shall
                      be concerned whether it may not be comprehensive
22  [phrase omitted]  If he has made it comprehensive, he shall be
                      concerned whether he has not practiced it enough.
23  [phrase omitted]  If he has practiced it, he shall be concerned
                      whether he lacks understanding of it.
24  [phrase omitted]  If he understands it, he shall be concerned
                      whether he may be unable to carry it out.
25  [phrase omitted]  If he is able to carry it out, he shall value his
                      ability to give way.
26  [phrase omitted]  The learning of a gentleman
27  [phrase omitted]  is indeed accomplished if it has attained these
                      five [things].
28  [phrase omitted]  The gentleman shall learn broadly and observe
                      punctiliously what he has learned.
29  [phrase omitted]  He shall be modest in his words and earnest in
                      living up to them.
30  [phrase omitted]  He shall be ahead of others in his deeds,
31  [phrase omitted]  and stay behind others with his words.
32  [phrase omitted]  The gentleman shall forever persevere in this
33  [phrase omitted]  He shall act without seeking quick fame,
34  [phrase omitted]  in service he shall not seek quick success,
35  [phrase omitted]  What one says oneself, posterity will praise.
36  [phrase omitted]  What one does oneself, posterity will hold on to.
37  [phrase omitted]  The gentleman shall forever persevere in this
38  [phrase omitted]  The gentleman shall not break with those who are
                      small ones nor annihilate the insignificant ones.
39  [phrase omitted]  He shall practice self-effacement and not efface
40  [phrase omitted]  To be recognized by others is surely desirable,
41  [phrase omitted]  but if others do not recognize one, one will make
                      do with recognizing oneself.
42  [phrase omitted]  The gentleman shall forever persevere in this
43  [phrase omitted]  The gentleman shall worry about calamities,
44  [phrase omitted]  but disgrace is what he shall fear.
45  [phrase omitted]  When encountering someone excellent he fears that
                      he may not get to be associated with them,
46  [phrase omitted]  when he encounters someone who is not excellent,
                      he fears to be tainted by association.
47  [phrase omitted]  For this reason, the gentleman shall forever be
                      wary. (48)

So far, the text is obviously a compilation of short catalogues, each of which defines a certain quality required of a junzi [phrase omitted]--a noble person, a gentleman--by describing behavior that indicates such a quality. Such descriptions of personality types are characteristic of an important genre of pragmatic texts in the Warring States period: texts concerned with the diagnosis and evaluation of personalities for the purpose of recruiting officials. This group of texts reflects the increasing role of social mobility and meritocracy that had set in after the end of the Chunqiu period. (49) I have named this group of texts "guan ren texts," since its major examples have been called guan ren [phrase omitted] 'appointing people to offices' (after their application, i.e., the recruitment of officials) or guan ren [phrase omitted] 'observing people' (after the applied method of evaluating candidates by a diagnosis of their personalities). (50) Alternatively, the expression lun ren [phrase omitted] 'evaluating people' has also been used--most frequently in Lushi chunqiu [phrase omitted]--to refer to the same thematic complex and type of texts.

Apart from the two parallel texts "Guan ren jie" [phrase omitted] (Yi Zhoushu [phrase omitted] 58) and "Wen wang guan ren" [phrase omitted] (Da Dai Liji 72), which collect and to some extent systematize such pragmatic texts, most of the material survives only in the form of short textual units that are built into literary, mostly politico-philosophical texts in a manner that makes their origin more difficult to recognize. The surest signs of these origins are certain textual forms, e.g., catalogues that follow certain syntactic patterns, formulae that conclude and categorize short paragraphs, as well as technical terms.

Guan ren texts feature three typical textual forms: first, statements about the correspondence of the external and internal, often listing external symptoms of inner conditions; second, catalogues of instructions for examining particular qualities of a potential candidate for office; and third, descriptions of personality types, which list a number of characteristics, followed by a definitory concluding sentence. Not only does the beginning of "Zengzi li shi" closely resemble the last textual form; the other two forms occur later in the text as well. In an earlier study, I discussed the roots of "Zengzi li shi" in the context of meritocratic recruitment of officials and how this explains the title li shi in its literal sense of "establishing services" as a reference to the recruitment of (probably low-ranking) officials. (51)

Considering this meaning of shi as the actual title of the text, since "Zengzi" functions as an umbrella title for all ten Zengzi chapters much like a modern book title, it seems reasonable to assume that the parts of the text that refer to the recruitment of officials in the most obvious and immediate manner formed the core of the compilation that we now know as "Zengzi li shi."
218  [phrase omitted]  Therefore, it is the eyes wherein the heart
     emerges; (52)
219  [phrase omitted]  and it is words that indicate deeds.
220  [phrase omitted]  Whatever arises within makes itself known
221  [phrase omitted]  Therefore it is said: From the visible
222  [phrase omitted]  infer what is hidden.
223  [phrase omitted]  Therefore it is said: It is by listening to his
224  [phrase omitted]  that you can recognize his inclinations;
225  [phrase omitted]  and by observing his fluency in expounding
226  [phrase omitted]  you can recognize his (rhetorical) technique.
227  [phrase omitted]  By repeating [what he has said] after a long time
228  [phrase omitted]  you can recognize his trustworthiness,
229  [phrase omitted]  and by observing how he cares for those near him
230  [phrase omitted]  you can recognize his personality.
231  [phrase omitted]  Terrify him and observe whether he does not
                       become afraid.
232  [phrase omitted]  Infuriate him and observe whether he does not
                       lose his countenance.
233  [phrase omitted]  Delight him and observe whether he does not
                       become insincere.
234  [phrase omitted]  Put him in reach of sensual pleasures and
                       observe whether he
                       does not transgress.
235  [phrase omitted]  Wine and dine him and observe whether he has
236  [phrase omitted]  Procure him benefits and observe whether he can
                       renounce them.
237  [phrase omitted]  When he suffers bereavement, observe his probity.
238  [phrase omitted]  When he is in straits, observe whether he is not
                       dazzled (by tempting benefits). (53)
239  [phrase omitted]  Let him exert himself and observe whether he
                       does not cause disturbance to others. (54)

It would be absurd to assert that "Zengzi li shi" in its entirety and in its present form is a text about the recruitment of officials. But in consideration of the social context from which at least part of the text arose, it becomes easier to read the text with greater historical specificity. Instructions for the recruitment of officials are by definition formulated for someone who applies them to potential subordinates. They are not concerned with reflections on oneself or one's peers. Not so in "Zengzi li shi"--here, the various short catalogues with normative statements that define a certain quality are all marked as referring to the "gentleman," which is hardly how a text would refer to subordinates. However, the word junzi appears to be a secondary attachment to these catalogues that otherwise are exactly as those we encounter in guan ren texts.

Without the added "junzi" at the beginning, these catalogues read as descriptions of a certain quality rather than its bearer. Take the very first catalogue of the text:
1   [phrase omitted]   To tackle one's faults,
2   [phrase omitted]   redress one's mistakes,
3   [phrase omitted]   fortify oneself where one is incapable,
4   [phrase omitted]   discard selfishness and desires,
5   [phrase omitted]   and perform one's office within the range of
6   [phrase omitted]   this may well be called "learning."

The following passage demonstrates clearly that "junzi" is not an organic part of the language. It cannot be integrated in the syntax of the first sentences that all have exposed objects in topical position at the front of the sentences.
70   [phrase omitted]   The gentleman: Remove disasters and hardship;
71   [phrase omitted]   stay away from material wealth and sensual
72   [phrase omitted]   eliminate rumors.
73   [phrase omitted]   The causes from which calamities arise
74   [phrase omitted]   are exceedingly small.
75   [phrase omitted]   For this reason, the gentleman shall put an
                        early end to all these. (55)

Without the elements that apply the short catalogue to the "junzi," the text reads entirely smoothly:
70  [phrase omitted]  Remove disasters and hardship;
71  [phrase omitted]  stay away from material wealth and sensual
72  [phrase omitted]  eliminate rumors.
73  [phrase omitted]  The causes from which calamities arise
74  [phrase omitted]  are exceedingly small:
75  [phrase omitted]  put an early end to them.

The addition of the introductory "junzi" lends the heterogeneous text, which consists of catalogues of different syntactic patterns, a greater internal consistency. Its primary function, however, is the semantic determination it adds to these short catalogues. The definitions of desirable qualities are now socially positioned by marking them as properties of the gentleman.

Keeping in mind how firmly this compilation of Ru ethical values under the patronage of Zengzi is rooted in the context of meritocracy, we will also notice that the values discussed in the text are not features of the junzi as an ideal of goodness in general. Rather, most of these normative descriptions specifically address the junzi in his professional function: He is exhorted to "perform his office within the range of propriety" [phrase omitted] (1. 5); "adhere to his task" [phrase omitted] (1. 15); "approach learning from the demands of his work" [phrase omitted] (1. 16). Clearly, the qualities of a junzi are here not conceived as abstract and applicable to humans as such; they are related to concerns of employment and social status. The focus of the text soon shifts from the junzi himself to his social relations. The junzi is reminded "when encountering someone excellent, to fear that he may not get to be associated with them, and when encountering someone who is not excellent, that he may be tainted by association" [phrase omitted] (11. 45-46). The text is obviously not concerned with people on a lower rung of the social ladder and with appointing them as one's subordinates. "Zengzi li shi" is a text whose authors address their equals. This shift of focus from critical

self-examination to examining others, especially one's peers, becomes yet clearer later in the text:
87  [phrase omitted]  The gentleman shall not place himself before
                      others on grounds of dislike.
88  [phrase omitted]  He shall not be wary of them on grounds of
89  [phrase omitted]  he shall not discuss the mistakes of others,
90  [phrase omitted]  but rather help perfect their good qualities.
91  [phrase omitted]  Let past affairs rest
92  [phrase omitted]  and pay attention to what is coming.
93  [phrase omitted]  One who makes a mistake in the morning and
                      corrects it by that eve-
    [phrase omitted]  ning--with him you may associate.
94  [phrase omitted]  One who makes a mistake in the evening and
                      corrects it by the next morn-
    [phrase omitted]  ing--with him you may associate. (56)

More importantly, the junzi is warned not to associate with a certain type of people:
141  [phrase omitted]  Those who know about much but lack personal
                       experience with it,
142  [phrase omitted]  who learn broadly but without method,
143  [phrase omitted]  who have multiple inclinations but lack
144  [phrase omitted]  the gentleman shall not associate with those.
145  [phrase omitted]  The gentleman shall know much but in a selective
146  [phrase omitted]  he shall learn broadly but in a calculated
147  [phrase omitted]  he shall speak much but in a cautious manner.
148  [phrase omitted]  Those who learn broadly but do not practice what
                       they have learnt,
149  [phrase omitted]  who have good repartee but are also unyielding
                       in an argument, (57)
150  [phrase omitted]  who are inclined to be direct but also obstinate,
151  [phrase omitted]  who are frugal but also inclined to be stingy--
152  [phrase omitted]  the gentleman shall not associate with those.
153  [phrase omitted]  Those who are boastful and shameless,
154  [phrase omitted]  who are violent and reckless,
155  [phrase omitted]  who like to be bold and ruthless--
156  [phrase omitted]  the gentleman shall not associate with those.
157  [phrase omitted]  Those who attain their goals quickly but cannot
                       keep them,
158  [phrase omitted]  who like fame but do not live up to it,
159  [phrase omitted]  who act despicably out of anger and rage,
160  [phrase omitted]  who move politely and speak wisely
161  [phrase omitted]  but have no constant position,
162  [phrase omitted]  the gentleman shall not associate with those.
163  [phrase omitted]  Clever talk and imposing countenance,
164  [phrase omitted]  knowing how to move humbly and deferentially,
165  [phrase omitted]  this ill beseems benevolence!
166  [phrase omitted]  Someone who has a taste for purchased wine,
167  [phrase omitted]  who likes to roam the streets singing songs
168  [phrase omitted]  and dwells in the country--
169  [phrase omitted]  of such a person one simply cannot expect
                       anything. (58)

The text shows a considerable attention to specific aspects of behavior. While in the guan ren texts these features of a person's behavior are understood as symptoms of a certain personality type and the diagnosis of these types is geared toward the purpose of assigning offices, in "Zengzi li shi" these symptoms are in most cases enumerated as criteria by which to decide whether one should associate with the kind of person described in the text. Surely this implies also that one should not develop the same character flaws oneself. But the fact that so much attention is devoted to the question of whom one associates with shows that the primary interest does not lie in setting moral standards in a general way. Rather, the focus is on the public appearance of a person and on securing one's social status.

We have no means of identifying the precise social position of the people who authored such texts and the audience they address, nor are we able to date precisely either "Zengzi li shi" as a whole or the material used in its composition. The connection with the guan ren texts, however, allows us to narrow down the historical context to the time after these pragmatic texts had been devised in response to the needs of an emerging meritocracy, beginning with the late fifth century and probably implemented first in military circles in newly conquered areas, before meritocratic practices could also take hold in the heartland of the reform states--most notably Wei [phrase omitted], which seems to have played a major role in this process. (59)

The target group of meritocracy is by definition anyone whose social status is not irrevocably fixed. And it is precisely the people who experience social mobility who have a vested interest in propagating meritocracy. The designation shi seems appropriate for this group precisely because that term is never defined except with the vague literal meaning of "someone in service" or "an officer." (60) Shi could have risen from the ranks of commoners or could have sunk into this lowest stratum of nobility from families who had previously ruled their own territory or had served in high offices in former states. It is this group of people who were subject to the greatest social mobility and hence prone to experience status anxiety. (61) In order to be able to pursue their education, develop their skills, and propagate their competence, and hence worthiness of office, they also needed to secure their social standing as members of at least the lowest rank of nobility, and this surely required certain standards of social behavior and deportment in public. In the words of Yuri Pines:
The rise of the shi was one of the most important developments of the
pre-imperial period, not only socially, but also ideologically, for it
brought about a reconceptualization of the nature of elite status.
Intellectually active shi, of whom Confucius is the first known
spokesman, promoted new concepts of elite membership that largely
dissociated it from pedigree. Their views had a long-term revolutionary
impact on the composition of the upper classes in Chinese society.
Although a person's birth remained forever significant for his career,
his abilities were supposed to play a far more prominent role; and this
understanding influenced elite behavior enormously throughout the
imperial millennia. (62)

Pines does show, of course, that the rise of meritocracy was brought about primarily by changes in the distribution of power, so the statement cited above should not be misunderstood to mean that the shi political thinkers were the originators of meritocracy. Rather, they helped implement and successfully organize a development connected with processes of state formation. Surely, the elevated importance of the successful members of the shi social stratum was a reason for pride and self-confidence, as Pines repeatedly emphasizes when he speaks of the "lofty self-image of the shi'' or of "the strong sense of self-respect of members of the newly rising stratum, who accepted their mission to improve governance above and public mores below, and who considered themselves spiritual leaders of the society." (63) He characterizes the shi as "identifying themselves as 'possessors of the Way'"--the Way having become "an exclusive asset of the shi, enabling them not only to preserve their autonomy vis-a-vis power-holders, but even at times to claim moral superiority over the rulers." (64)

In order to play precisely this role, to advise and admonish rulers, to develop the ethical concepts with which later Chinese tradition would identify to the present day, the shi needed first to secure their status as members of the upper stratum of society. They needed to demonstrate convincingly their usefulness to those who would provide their sustenance by employing them. They depended on this employment to propagate their ideas. Pines recognizes the essentially weak position of the shi, their insecure social standing, when he points out that "Shi, who lacked an independent power base, were less threatening than the potentially unruly nobles, while their expertise in military and administrative issues was much needed in an age of profound sociopolitical change." (65) This lack of an independent power base and economic footing must have been reason enough for considerable insecurity and status anxiety on the part of shi.

The obsession with decorum, with defining ethical and more general behavioral standards, is an important part of developing a group-identity for this social class. They needed to construct a self-image within their own class and to manifest their social status to others, especially to their potential employers whom they hoped to convince of their moral and intellectual superiority. If the shi wanted to be accepted in the circles of power-holders on the grounds of these qualifications, it was necessary for them not only to adhere to upper-class behavioral standards in their own individual self-representation; they also could not afford to be disgraced by their equals. Hence, they needed to establish behavioral standards for their peers and develop a self-image as a social class. I propose to read large portions of "Zengzi li shi" and of similar texts, most notably the Lunyu, from this perspective.

"Zengzi li shi" gives considerable room to describing people with whom one should not associate. Among the deeds that disqualify one from membership in their circles are not just deficiencies in learning and in critical self-reflection (11. 141-43), lack of moderation or even recklessness (11. 153-54), and other relatively grave shortcomings, which could all be interpreted in more general moral terms. The text even names the "drinking of purchased wine and roaming the streets singing" or "living in the country" (11. 166-68) as disqualifying behavior. Clearly, these are purely status-related requirements without any convincing claim to ethical relevance. Shame and disgrace play an important role, and the gentleman is implicitly advised to stay away from those who are "not good," lest he be tainted by association.

Among the qualifications for office that we find emphasized both in catalogues with instructions for the recruitment of officials and in narratives touching upon the same topic, the question of what company the candidate keeps, and most particularly whom he has recommended for office, plays an especially prominent role.


Revisiting from this perspective the conspicuous repeated assertions that a gentleman is not anxious about his position or about not being recognized, these parts of the text leave the ahistorical area of nebulous idealism and gain historical relevance. We can also understand some of the terms used in these passages in a more narrowly defined manner. The ubiquitous phrase zhi ren [phrase omitted], for example, does not just mean "knowing someone" in the most general sense of "understanding others." It specifically means "recognizing someone" in the sense of appreciating a person's qualities, skills, or at least his potential of developing useful qualities. (66) Since the recognition of one's qualities determined one's chances of employment and consequently the social status dependent on such employment, the repeated warnings against anxiety about one's recognition by others probably indicate that, in the circles which Lunyu passages like 1.1, 1.16, and 4.14 address, such anxieties had a negative impact on other, more desirable qualities, one of which, the quoted passages suggest, is the ability to recognize others.

Early Chinese texts concerned with meritocratic principles for the recruitment of officials repeatedly mention someone's ability to recommend worthy persons as one of the most powerful indicators of his eligibility for an office. Hence, the admonitions in Lunyu could as well be read as useful advice on how to find employment. (67) In this light, I read Lunyu 1.16--"one should not feel anxious about others' not recognizing oneself but about failing to recognize others"--not as a purely altruistic principle but at the same time as useful advice for those anxious to secure their status. The text obviously addresses members of the shi class, warning them against an unhealthy preoccupation with seeking recognition--an attitude that might lead to blind injudicious behavior and be a disruptive influence for the circles in which the Lunyu's teachings were used. Rather, the addressee of Lunyu 1.14 is advised, one should direct one's energies toward recognizing others, which in the end will also be more helpful to secure an office for oneself. Lunyu 4.14 seems to say exactly this in yet more direct language: "You should not feel anxious about not having a position but rather about the means by which you position yourself. You should not feel anxious lest no one recognize you, but seek to become worth recognizing."

Even the three oddly disconnected statements at the very beginning of the Lunyu gain more consistency, if we consider the anxiety about securing one's social status as a major concern among those for whose benefit the teachings in the Lunyu were intended. The crucial word peng < *b[??][??] [phrase omitted] in the second sentence ([phrase omitted]) is most frequently translated with the noncommittal word "friend." But the word is socially more specific; it originally refers to things lined up side by side and connected in some way; most narrowly it denotes strands of cowries, which is incidentally clearly visible in the old forms of the character. Peng can stand for a unit of currency, for 'someone's equal' (e.g., in the Mao ode no. 117 "Jiao liao" [phrase omitted]), (68) 'to bond with someone' (potentially in a negative sense), and, of course, someone with whom one bonds, most likely someone of a similar social standing, a peer. (69) In the Lunyu, the word peng occurs alone only this once; in all other instances it is paired with the other word that is most frequently rendered as "friend," i.e., you < *w[??]? [phrase omitted]. This other word for "friend" derives its meaning from the related word you < *w[??]h [phrase omitted] "to help, assist." It is used in the Lunyu much more frequently than peng. The use of the words peng and you in the Lunyu and the different notions of friendship involved deserve a study of their own. (70) What we can confidently say at this point is that the idea of "someone of the same kind" or "peer" is clearly the one that underlies the use in Lunyu 1.1.

This narrower and more socially specific understanding of peng in Lunyu 1.1 gives this prominent first Master's statement of the book sharper contours and some consistency: professional training, (71) bonding with one's peers, and recognition are surely the three most decisive components for securing one's career:
Is it not indeed a pleasure to have learnt something and to practice it
time and again? Is it not indeed a joy to have one's peers come from
afar? Is it not indeed like a noble man not to resent it when others do
not recognize one?
[phrase omitted] (72)

But it is not only the importance of recognition and associating with the right people that Lunyu shares with "Zengzi li shi"; both texts abound with instructions about how to demonstrate one's noble status. The reservations against purchased wine occur in both texts ("Zengzi li shi" 1. 166; Lunyu 10.8), but in combination with different injunctions. "Zengzi li shi" (11. 167-68) disqualifies someone who roams the streets singing or who lives in the country; Lunyu 10.8 advises not to eat spoilt or improperly prepared food, nor food that is not properly cut up or not adequately seasoned ([phrase omitted], [phrase omitted], [phrase omitted], [phrase omitted], [phrase omitted], [phrase omitted], [phrase omitted], [phrase omitted], [phrase omitted], [phrase omitted], [phrase omitted]). (73) Oliver Weingarten has shown in an intertextual study that in a number of other early Chinese texts the latter injunction is regularly paired with Lunyu 10.12 "if the mat is not straight, do not sit on it." (74) He understands these as prescriptions of ritual behavior, and identifies the two injunctions against improperly placed mats or improperly cut food in particular as rooted in the tradition of fetal instruction. I am inclined to consider these instructions, just like the warnings against singing in the streets or conversing during meals (Lunyu 10.10) and numerous similar instructions, especially in book ten of the Lunyu, as not necessarily related to ritual but more broadly as elements of decorum that distinguished members of nobility from commoners. (Fetal instruction is of course an especially relevant and elevated case of such noble behavior.) The shi, forming the lowest stratum of nobility, had the most reason to constantly demonstrate that they met these behavioral standards, in order to secure their social status.

Most probably, many of the teachings of the self-cultivation and ethical standards in other Ru texts (whether with Confucius lore, as in Kongzi jiayu [phrase omitted], or without, as often in Liji or Da Dai Liji) were likewise generated by the need of the shi to secure their social status. Such precepts formulated with a view to creating standards for a group of people who needed to reposition themselves in a changing social order do have the potential to be made more broadly applicable. Once the original concern with manifesting one's noble status had become a matter of the past, the same standards were transmitted in later history as general ethical standards independently of their original pragmatic function.

The dichotomy of historical vs. scriptural reading that Makeham discusses does not need to be understood as a choice between mutually exclusive alternatives. To identify an original pragmatic purpose behind a text does not invalidate later scriptural readings that interpret the text in more abstract ethical terms. Rather, how we read the same text will depend on our purpose in reading it. Surely, a translation of a text like the Lunyu should adequately reflect the existence of this canonical text in the Chinese tradition. For this purpose, a scriptural reading will be more appropriate. But whenever we are using early Chinese texts as sources for the history of the period, we would do well to try to rediscover to what ends these texts were applied and for what reasons they were considered important before they were elevated to a level of general applicability that is largely independent of specific historical contexts.



The author wishes to thank Paul Goldin, Martin Kern, and Yuri Pines for valuable critical responses to an earlier version of this paper, as well as an anonymous reviewer for comments on this version.

(1.) In the many instances where the speaker is not mentioned by name but referred to by the generic term 'master' ([phrase omitted]), the most common assumption is that this master must be Confucius. There are enough instances in the text, however, in which another named master is speaking (e.g., Zengzi [phrase omitted], Youzi [phrase omitted], or Ji Kangzi [phrase omitted]) or in which the speaker is another disciple of Confucius (e.g., Zizhang [phrase omitted], Zilu [phrase omitted], or Yanyuan [phrase omitted]), whom the text justifiably could call a master just as well. If the title of the compilation were Kongzi [phrase omitted] (Master Kong), rather than Lunyu (Analects), there would arguably be more reason to assume that any unnamed master has to be Confucius, but considering the circumstance that the Lunyu presents many different named speakers, as well as pronouncements for whom no speaker is mentioned, the speakers referred to by the generic designation of 'master' may be either Confucius or any other person who could be considered a master by the compilers of the text. For a brief discussion of the technical nature of the generic zi yue [phrase omitted] incipit as a rhetorical device, see Jin Lingke [phrase omitted], "'Zi yue' shi yi zhong chuangzao" "[phrase omitted]"[phrase omitted]," Wei shi [phrase omitted] 2006.4:8-9.

(2.) Lunyu 1.1; Lunyu jishi [phrase omitted], comp. Cheng Shude [phrase omitted] (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1990), 1-9.

(3.) Lunyu 1.16; Lunyu jishi, 58-60.

(4.) Lunyu 4.14; Lunyu jishi, 256-57.

(5.) For a study of several Lunyu passages that follows such an approach, see Oliver Weingarten, "Confucius and Pregnant Women: An Investigation into the Intertextuality of the Lunyu" JAOS 129 (2009): 587-618. Michael Hunter's recent monograph Confucius beyond the "Analects" (Leiden: Brill, 2017) discusses textual parallels between the Lunyu and other early Chinese texts more broadly. For an earlier comprehensive collection of Lunyu parallels, see Yang Shuda's [phrase omitted]; Lunyu shuzheng [phrase omitted], first published in 1955 (Shanghai: Guji chubanshe, 1986).

(6.) Lunyu 10.10; Lunyu jishi, 699-700.

(7.) Lunyu 10.6; Lunyu jishi, 673-74.

(8.) D. C. Lau translates: "He invariably had a night shirt which came down to his knees." Lau, Confucius: The Analects (Lun-yu) (Hong Kong: Chinese Univ. Press, 1992), 89. The alternative, apparently dominant, interpretation as a blanket measuring one and a half times the length of the sleeper's body is based on a gloss ("[phrase omitted]") by Kong Anguo [phrase omitted] (d. 100 B.C.E.)--an opinion shared by Xu Shen [phrase omitted] (ca. 55-ca. 149 c.E.) in his Shuowen [phrase omitted] gloss of qinyi. See Lunyu jishi, 673.

(9.) Lunyu jishi, 1244.

(10.) After finishing this article, I was delighted to discover that an explicit comparison between Lunyu and Leviticus had also been made by Ralph Weber and Garrett Barden. They conclude from rhetorical analyses of both texts that "the rhetorics of authority [of these two texts] are radically different and, if noticed, cannot but lead to assertions of different content." Weber and Barden, "Rhetorics of Authority: Leviticus and the Analects Compared," Asiatische Studien/Etudes Asiatiques 64.1 (2010): 235. This does not alter, but rather reaffirms, the commonality considered in the present article: either text can be cited selectively, disregarding its historical context, in order to legitimize a particular stance in current ideological controversies.

(11.) Here and in the following, the Bible is quoted from The Holy Bible, New International Version (New York: International Bible Society, 1978).

(12.) Lunyu 10.14, Lunyu jishi, 706-9. Translation by D. C. Lau, Confucius, 91.

(13.) Lunyu 7.27; Lunyu jishi, 489-90. Translation by D. C. Lau, Confucius, 63.

(14.) Lunyu 7.9 and 7.10; Lunyu jishi, 449-50. Translation by D. C. Lau, Confucius, 59.

(15.) John Makeham, "A New Hermeneutical Approach to Early Chinese Texts: The Case of the Analects," Journal of Chinese Philosophy 33.1 (2006): 96. The tendency of a widening hermeneutic horizon over time has been discussed not only with regard to texts from antiquity or specifically from China, but more broadly as a general phenomenon. See, for example Paul Ricoeur's Hermeneutics and the Human Sciences: Essays on Language, Action and Interpretation, tr. John B. Thompson (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1981), in particular "The task of hermeneutics" and "Hermeneutics and the critique of ideology."

(16.) Makeham, "A New Hermeneutical Approach to Early Chinese Texts," 101.

(17.) Ibid., 105.

(18.) For a recent, comprehensive study of the formation of the Lunyu, see Hunter, Confucius beyond the "Analects."

(19.) See Umberto Eco's succinct expression: "As soon as a text becomes 'sacred' for a certain culture, it becomes subject to the process of suspicious reading and therefore to what is undoubtedly an excess of interpretation." Eco et al., Interpretation and Overinterpretation, ed. Stefan Collini (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1992), 52.

(20.) "The Composite Nature of Early Chinese Texts," in Text and Ritual in Early China, ed. Martin Kern (Seattle: Univ. of Washington Press, 2005), 50-78.

(21.) The term "Sitz im Leben" comes from the context of early twentieth-century biblical scholarship and has since been widely accepted also in the study of ancient literature in general. It was coined by Hermann Gunkel (1862-1932) and remained important especially in the discipline of form criticism (named after Martin Dibelius' [1883-1947] book Die Formgeschichte des Evangeliums, 1919). For a concise introduction to form criticism, see Edgar McKnight, What Is Form Criticism? (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1969).

(22.) Assmann, "Kulturelle und literarische Texte," in Ancient Egyptian Literature: History and Forms, ed. Antonio Loprieno (Leiden: Brill, 1996), 62-63.

(23.) One aspect of the potential deficiency of any written text as compared with an oral one, which always provides a context, is described by David Olson as: "writing readily represents the locutionary act, leaving illocutionary force underspecified." Olson, The World on Paper: The Conceptual and Cognitive Implications of Writing and Reading (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1994), 93.

(24.) As foremost examples of this kind of text we can certainly name Zuozhuan [phrase omitted], Guoyu [phrase omitted], and Zhanguo ce [phrase omitted].

(25.) For an example, see Matthias Richter, "Self-Cultivation or Evaluation of Others? A Form Critical Approach to Zengzi li shi," Asiatische Studien/Etudes Asiatiques 56.4 (2002): 879-917.

(26.) Lunyu 11.3; Lunyu jishi, 742-46. Translation adapted from D. C. Lau, Confucius, 97.

(27.) Mengzi 2A2; Mengzi zheng yi [phrase omitted], comp. Jiao Xun [phrase omitted] (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1991), 213. Yang Shuda (Lunyu shuzheng, 248-55) provides further evidence of how these assessments of Confucius' disciples remain stable over time. Interestingly, in Mengzi the evaluations are made in a broader context of recognition of talents.

(28.) Ten refer to Zixia [phrase omitted], nine to Zengzi [phrase omitted], five to Zigong [phrase omitted], three to Ziyou [phrase omitted], two to Zizhang [phrase omitted], and one to Youzi [phrase omitted]. A rather special case is Lunyu 9.7, where an obscure person named Lao quotes an unnamed Master "[phrase omitted]..." Lunyu jishi, 583-85. For a concise summary of the various assumption of Lao's identity, see Li Ling [phrase omitted], Sang jia gou: Wo du "Lunyu" [phrase omitted] << [phrase omitted] >> (Taiyuan: Shanxi renmin chubanshe, 2007), 2: 94.

(29.) Lunyu 2.4; Lunyu jishi, 70-79. The translation of "[phrase omitted]" is from D. C. Lau, Confucius, 11.

(30.) Lunyu 2.9; Lunyu jishi, 91-92.

(31.) Jin Lingke, "'Zi yue' shi yi zhong chuangzao," 128. If Confucius indeed made this statement, it must have been at the very end of his life. According to the traditional dates of his life (551-479), he only lived to the age of seventy-two, and according to another theory only to seventy. (Brooks and Brooks date his birth to the gengzi [phrase omitted] day in the eighth month of 549 B.C.E. See E. Bruce Brooks and A. Taeko Brooks, The Original Analects: Sayings of Confucius and His Successors, 0479-0249 [New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1998], 266.) For similar catalogues, see, for example, Da Dai Liji [phrase omitted] 49 ("Zengzi li shi" [phrase omitted]): "If someone between thirty and forty has not yet acquired any expertise [in anything], this is being without expertise. If someone by the age of fifty has not become known for excellence at anything, this is not having made a name for oneself. If someone has not acquired any virtue by the age of seventy, it is certainly acceptable to forgive him small transgressions. Those who do not recite and memorize in their youth, who do not practice debate and interpretation in their adulthood, who do not teach and instruct when they are old can certainly be called people of no learning. If one is found not to be deferential to one's elders, this is shameful. If one is found to be without virtue as an adult, this is a disgrace. If in old age one is found to be lacking proper behavior, this is an offense" [phrase omitted], [phrase omitted] [phrase omitted]; [phrase omitted], [phrase omitted], [phrase omitted], [phrase omitted], [phrase omitted] [phrase omitted], [phrase omitted]; [phrase omitted], [phrase omitted], [phrase omitted]. Da Dai Liji zhuzi suoyin [phrase omitted] [phrase omitted], comp. Chinese Univ. of Hong Kong, ICS Ancient Chinese Texts Concordance Series (Hong Kong: Commercial Press, 1992), 27.1-5.

(32.) Lau, Confucius, 91. For a discussion of this hermeneutic problem, see Weber and Barden, "Rhetorics of Authority," 221-23.

(33.) "He would not instruct while eating, nor continue to converse once he had retired to bed." Slingerland, Confucius, The Essential Analects: Selected Passages with Traditional Commentary (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 2006), 29.

(34.) Lunyu jishi, 37-38.

(35.) Lau, Confucius, 5.

(36.) Slingerland, Confucius, The Essential Analects, 2; Brooks and Brooks, The Original Analects, 147.

(37.) Brooks and Brooks, The Original Analects, 147.

(38.) Zheng Xuan [phrase omitted] (127-200 C.E.) points out the obvious fact that zhong can mean 'to die/death' and then cites several unrelated Liji [phrase omitted] passages, in one of which Zengzi expresses concern about death and funeral; He Yan [phrase omitted] (190-249) is even more specific in his interpretation of the Lunyu passage in the sense represented in the above translations. See Lunyu jishi, 37.

(39.) Reconstructed Old Chinese pronunciations are Axel Schuessler's (Minimal Old Chinese and Later Han Chinese: A Companion to "Grammata Serica Recensa" [Honolulu: Univ. of Hawai'i Press, 2009]); See Shuoyuan [phrase omitted] 16 ("Tan cong" [phrase omitted]): "Be mindful of the end just like of the beginning. Let this be your constant warning" [phrase omitted] [lh[??]?] [phrase omitted][kr[??]h]and Shuoyuan 10 ("Jing shen" [phrase omitted]): "Be mindful of the end just like of the beginning. Thus you will be able to last long" [phrase omitted][lh[??]?][phrase omitted][*kw[??]?]. Shuoyuan zhuzi suoyin [phrase omitted], comp. Chinese Univ. of Hong Kong, ICS Ancient Chinese Texts Concordance Series (Hong Kong: Commercial Press, 1992), 129.25 and 84.15. A shorter form occurs in Shangshu [phrase omitted] 16 ("Tai jia xia" [phrase omitted]): "Be mindful of the end [already] in the beginning" [phrase omitted]. Shangshu zhuzi suoyin [phrase omitted], comp. Chinese Univ. of Hong Kong, ICS Ancient Chinese Texts Concordance Series (Hong Kong: Commercial Press, 1995), 16.24. When Zuozhuan Xiang 25 cites the Shangshu, the order of beginning and end are evidently reversed for the sake of the rhyme: "Have respect for the end by being careful from the very beginning, and there will be no distress until the very end" [phrase omitted][*tun], [phrase omitted][*khuns]. Chunqiu Zuozhuan zhuzi suoyin [phrase omitted], comp. Chinese Univ. of Hong Kong, ICS Ancient Chinese Texts Concordance Series (Hong Kong: Commercial Press, 1995), 286.12. This latter version seems to have inspired Liji 32 ("Biao ji" [phrase omitted]): "The master said: In serving your lord, have respect for the end by being careful from the very beginning" [phrase omitted] and Liji 8 ("Wen wang shi zi" [phrase omitted]): "Whenever the noble men of antiquity undertook something of great import, they were mindful of its beginning and end" 1[phrase omitted]. Liji zhuzi suoyin [phrase omitted], comp. Chinese Univ. of Hong Kong, ICS Ancient Chinese Texts Concordance Series (Hong Kong: Commercial Press, 1992), 151.2 and 59.12. All these forms seem to go back to a short apophthegm "[phrase omitted]" or "[phrase omitted]." Of the several passages, the pair of verses in Laozi 64 has the clearest rhyme, which makes it a likely candidate for the original proverb from which the other variants derive, but there is no reason to assume that the text Laozi, or even a person Laozi, is the source from which other texts quote, as annotations to these other texts sometimes assert. More likely, Laozi merely uses a popular saying, just like the several other texts, which may or may not have been composed in an awareness of or even as a conscious allusion to the pair of verses in the Laozi.

(40.) He Yan presents this interpretation as a commentary by the second-century B.CE. scholar Kong Anguo: "Kong [Anguo] says, 'be mindful of the end' means to exhaust one's grief in mourning, and 'pursue afar' means to exhaust one's reverence in sacrifice; if the lord is able to practice these two, the people will transform their virtue [to the better] and they will all return to bounteousness" [phrase omitted] : [??] [phrase omitted], [phrase omitted], [phrase omitted], [phrase omitted], [phrase omitted][??]. Lunyu jishi, 37.

(41.) I have recently published a study of this issue in The Embodied Text: Establishing Textual Identity in Early Chinese Manuscripts (Leiden: Brill, 2013).

(42.) Among the scholars who have made explicit reference to these methods in their work on Laozi, Guanzi [phrase omitted], and the so-called Huang-Lao [phrase omitted] texts from Mawangdui [phrase omitted] are Michael LaFargue (Tao and Method: A Reasoned Approach to the Tao Te Ching [Albany: State Univ. of New York Press, 1994), Harold Roth ("Redaction Criticism and the Early History of Taoism," Early China 19 [1994]: 1-46; Original Tao: Inward Training (Nei-yeh) and the Foundations of Taoist Mysticism [New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1999]), Edmund Ryden (The Yellow Emperor's Four Canons: A Literary Study and Edition of the Text from Mawangdui [Taibei: Guangqi, 1997]), myself ("Self-Cultivation or Evaluation of Others?" Guan ren: Texte der altchinesischen Literatur zur Charakterkunde und Beamtenrekrutierung [Bern: Peter Lang, 2005]), and more recently Weingarten, "Confucius and Pregnant Women."

(43.) "[phrase omitted], [phrase omitted]." Da Dai Liji jiegu

[phrase omitted] (1807), comp. Wang Pinzhen [phrase omitted] (18th-19th c.) (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1983), mulu [phrase omitted], 3.

(44.) See Huang Huaixin [phrase omitted], Kong Deli [phrase omitted], and Zhou Haisheng [phrase omitted], Da Dai Liji huijiao jizhu [phrase omitted] (Xi'an: San Qin chubanshe, 2004), ti jie [phrase omitted], 11-12.

(45.) Shisan jing zhushu [phrase omitted] (1816), comp. Ruan Yuan (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1980), 2545b.

(46.) "[phrase omitted]." Huang Qing jingjie [phrase omitted] (1829), comp. Ruan Yuan (Shanghai: Hongbao zhai [phrase omitted], 1891), j. 111, mulu [phrase omitted].

(47.) To make the structure of the text more obvious, it is here presented in a verse-like pattern. The line numbers are provided to give the reader an orientation as to where in the rather extensive text of ca. 300 such lines the quoted passages are located.

(48.) Da Dai Liji zhuzi suoyin 24.27-25.16.

(49.) The broadest study to date of social mobility and the rise of meritocracy in early China is Hsu Cho-yun, Ancient China in Transition: An Analysis of Social Mobility, 722-222 BC (Stanford: Stanford Univ. Press, 1965). For a more recent study with a strong focus on the social stratum of shi [phrase omitted], see Yuri Pines, "Between Merit and Pedigree: Evolution of the Concept of 'Elevating the Worthy' in Pre-imperial China," in The East Asian Challenge for Democracy: Political Meritocracy in Comparative Perspective, ed. Daniel Bell and Li Chenyang (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2013), 161-202.

(50.) For a comprehensive study of this group of texts, see Richter, Guan ren.

(51.) See Richter, "Self-Cultivation or Evaluation of Others?" Kong Yingda [phrase omitted] (574-648) explains the phrase li zheng li shi [phrase omitted] in the Shangshu chapter "Li zheng" [phrase omitted] as "Our king's 'li zheng' refers to bestowing great offices and 'li shi' to bestowing smaller offices" [phrase omitted]. Shisan jing zhushu 232b. Wang Yinzhi [phrase omitted]. (1766-1834) glosses the same as "'Li zheng' refers to establishing senior offices and 'li shi' to establishing the various smaller posts" [phrase omitted]. Jingyi shuwen [phrase omitted] (1797), comp. Wang Yinzhi, Sibu beiyao [phrase omitted] edn.

(52.) For the various parallels of this passage, e.g., in Han shi waizhuan [phrase omitted]. Guoyu, and the so-called Huanglao texts from Mawangdui, see Richter, "Self-Cultivation or Evaluation of Others?" 890-91 n. 33.

(53.) It is here read as ying {[phrase omitted]}.

(54.) Da Dai Liji zhuzi suoyin 27.14-20.

(55.) Da Dai Liji zhuzi suoyin 25.25.

(56.) Da Dai Liji zhuzi suoyin 25.31-32.

(57.) I follow Sun Yirang [phrase omitted] (1848-1908) in reading [phrase omitted] as a graphic error for [phrase omitted]. Both jieji < *dzap-k[??]p [phrase omitted] and jieji < *tsap-k[??]p [phrase omitted] are conventionally used for "good repartee." See Da Dai Liji jiaobu [phrase omitted] (1899), comm. Sun Yirang [phrase omitted] (Jinan: Qi Lu shushe, 1988), 201 and Richter, Guan ren, 151-52.

(58.) Da Dai Liji zhuzi suoyin 26.15-24.

(59.) See Yang Kuan [phrase omitted], Zhanguo shi: Zengding ben [phrase omitted]: [phrase omitted] (Taipei: Commercial Press, 1997), 191-215; Richter, "Self-Cultivation or Evaluation of Others?" 906-9; and Richter, Guan ren, 320-32.

(60.) The word shi < *s-r[??]? [phrase omitted] is probably identical (and certainly homophonous) with the one written as [phrase omitted] (shi < *s-r[??]?). Although almost impossible to recognize in modern character forms, [phrase omitted]: is the phonophoric component in [phrase omitted]. Orthography distinguishes between the task and the person who is to perform it: the service ([phrase omitted]) and the servant ([phrase omitted]), the office ([phrase omitted]) and the officer ([phrase omitted]).

(61.) For an overview of the role of shi in Chinese history, see Yu Yingshi [phrase omitted], Shiyu Zhongguo wenhua [phrase omitted] [phrase omitted] (Shanghai: Renmin chubanshe, 1987); for a more recent work on the pre-imperial period, see Liu Zehua [phrase omitted], Xian Qin shi ren yu shehui [phrase omitted] (Tianjin: Tianjin renmin chubanshe, 2004).

(62.) Pines, Yuri, Envisioning Eternal Empire: Chinese Political Thought of the Warring States Era (Honolulu: Univ. of Hawai'i Press, 2009), 119.

(63.) Ibid., 116-21.

(64.) Ibid., 123.

(65.) Ibid., 122-23.

(66.) Eric Henry defines the meaning of zhi in such contexts as "to perceive, to recognize, to appreciate, to discern, to grasp, to pierce through disguises." He adds that this verb "may have begun to acquire the peculiar significance and emotional weight... at the end of the Spring and Autumn period or shortly thereafter, and that by the middle of the Warring States period ... it was widely and regularly used in that sense." Henry, "The Motif of Recognition in Early China," Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 47A (1987): 8 and 14.

(67.) This is consistent with Dorothee Schaab-Hanke's discussion of the content of Confucius's teachings as reflected in various early Chinese texts, including the Lunyu. She argues convincingly that placement in administrative positions was an important goal in the training that Confucius offered his disciples. Schaab-Hanke, "Die 'Manager-Schmiede' in Lu: Zum Praxisbezug der Lehre des Meisters Kong," Bochumer Jahrbuch zur Ostasien-forschung 30 (2006): 233-45.

(68.) James Legge's translation of "[phrase omitted]"as "That hero there / Is large and peerless" brings this out very well. See Legge, The Chinese Classics. Vol. IV: The She King (London: Oxford Univ. Press, 1871; rpt. Taipei: SMC, 1994), 179.

(69.) Axel Schuessler points out the cognate beng < *pr[??][??] [phrase omitted] 'to bind round' and notes that Bodman related this Chinese word family to Tibetan words for a "string on which things are filed, strung" and "to love, be fond of, greatly attached to." Schuessler, ABC Etymological Dictionary of Old Chinese (Honolulu: Univ. of Hawai'i Press, 2007), 410. Zhu Fenghan [phrase omitted] explains that in Western Zhou inscriptions the term you [phrase omitted] (also in the collocation peng you [phrase omitted]) refers to male blood relations within a lineage, and that the word peng here denotes belonging to the same "kind" in the sense of generation or social group. Zhu Fenghan, Shang Zhou jiazu xingtai yanjiu [phrase omitted] [phrase omitted] (Tianjin: Guji chubanshe, 1990), 292-97.

(70.) Aat Vervoorn describes the semantic difference between you and peng in a very similar way. His study of friendship as reflected in early Chinese literature, however, emphasizes the participation of these words in a shared discourse about this broader concept of friendship, rather than exploring the ways in which these concepts were differentiated. See Vervoorn, "Friendship in Ancient China," East Asian History 27 (2004): 1-32.

(71.) The text names both aspects of this training: the acquisition of knowledge and competence (xue [phrase omitted]) in a process of instruction and the consolidation of the acquired skills through practice (xi [phrase omitted]).

(72.) Lunyu jishi, 1-9.

(73.) Lunyu 10.8; Lunyu jishi, 690-98.

(74.) Weingarten, "Confucius and Pregnant Women."

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Author:Richter, Matthias L.
Publication:The Journal of the American Oriental Society
Article Type:Critical essay
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Date:Jul 1, 2017
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