Contact FutureLearn for Support
Skip main navigation
We use cookies to give you a better experience, if that’s ok you can close this message and carry on browsing. For more info read our cookies policy.
We use cookies to give you a better experience. Carry on browsing if you're happy with this, or read our cookies policy for more information.

Skip to 0 minutes and 4 seconds“The Master said, ‘At fifteen, I had my mind bent on learning. At thirty, I stood firm. At forty, I had no doubts.’” This is a famous passage from the Analects, our theme for this week. These are the words of Confucius, a philosopher of ancient China, in which he describes his own life. The Analects are a book of conversations between Confucius and his disciples. It was compiled by Confucius’ disciples after his death. Why do we still read and study the Analects?

Skip to 0 minutes and 38 secondsHere are a few reasons: Because the Analects are the source of Chinese written culture which Japan imported through Korea. Because the Analects are a fundamental text to know the culture of China and its people. Because the Analects have exerted an incalculable influence on Japanese culture for the last 1,500 years. Because the wisdom they contain has been used to change the course of history. Because no book is more familiar to Japanese people than the Analects. We could list countless such reasons for studying the Analects. Its importance for understanding Japanese culture is also hard to overstate. However, in today’s world, scientific progress and economic growth are considered the priorities, so even the Analects have come to be seen by some as obsolete.

Skip to 1 minute and 39 secondsBut Confucius once stated: “Study the old if you would know the new”; so perhaps we should to take another look at this little book which for so long has been considered indispensable reading by so many. For those of you who have never read the Analects, I hope that by looking at some rare versions of the book from different periods, you will get a good sense of the way this book has been read and interpreted through Japanese history. But first of all, I hope that through the ink, paper, and brushwork of these ancient books you can feel the energy that ancient cultures have passed down to us.

What are the Analects?

Have you ever heard of the Analects of Confucius (Ch. Lun yu; J. Rongo)? Do you know what they are? And why should studying the Analects help you to understand Japanese culture?

Below is the text of a famous passage from the Analects that Prof. Takahashi introduces in the video. This quote still frequently pops up in everyday conversation in Japan. What do you think about this quote? Is there a similar saying in your country?

Original Chinese text

子曰、吾十有五而志乎学、三十而立、四十而不惑、五十而知天命、六十而耳順、七十而従心所欲不踰矩。

Japanese reading:

子(し)曰(いわ)く、吾十有五(われじゅうゆうご)にして学(がく)に志(こころざ)す。三十(さんじゅう)にして立(た)つ。四十(しじゅう)にして惑(まど)わず。五十(ごじゅう)にして天命(てんめい)を知(し)る。六十(ろくじゅう)にして耳順(みみしたが)う。七十(しちじゅう)にして心(こころ)の欲(ほっ)する所(ところ)に従(したが)えども、矩(のり)を踰(こ)えず。

Modern Japanese translation:

孔子が言った。私は十五歳で学問に志し、三十歳で、思想も、見識も確立した。四十歳で心の惑いもなくなり、五十歳で、天から与えられた使命を自覚した。六十歳で、何を聞いても耳にさからうことがなくなり、七十歳になると、自分の欲望のままに振舞っても、その行動が道徳からはずれることはなかった。(『論語抄』足利教育委員会(史跡足利学校事務所)編集・発行より)

English Translation

The Master said, “At fifteen, I had my mind bent on learning. At thirty, I stood firm. At forty, I had no doubts. At fifty, I knew the decrees of Heaven. At sixty, my ear was an obedient organ for the reception of truth. At seventy, I could follow what my heart desired, without transgressing what was right.” (Analects, II: 4; trans. James Legge)

Share this video:

This video is from the free online course:

Sino-Japanese Interactions Through Rare Books

Keio University