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Skip to 0 minutes and 4 secondsThe Analects contain the teachings of Confucius, but as time passed, they were appreciated more for the insight they provided on politics, the economy, and literature than as a philosophical text, eventually coming to be seen as a sort of manual for virtuous conduct. We noted earlier that the warlords of the Warring States period deeply cherished the Analects. It may be that since the Analects were written at a time of social instability, their influence was especially felt at times of social unrest. The text I have here is a late-Muromachi manuscript of the Analects [1]. It was originally a book, but it was rebound as a scroll to make it easier to carry.

Skip to 1 minute and 13 secondsWe can imagine some hardened medieval warrior taking it with him everywhere he went. And then, after many generations, the book eventually came to be owned by Katsu Kaishū (*), a statesman and one of the architects of modern Japan in the Meiji period (#) Kaishū’s other name was Yasuyoshi, as the stamp at the beginning of this book, “Katsu Yasuyoshi”, shows. As a government official, he is famous for conducting negotiations between governmental forces and foreign powers and for engineering the peaceful surrender of Edo castle by holding a meeting with the famous Saigo Takamori (*). The meeting was held at the Satsuma estate in Tamachi, right next to Keio University here.

Skip to 2 minutes and 12 secondsKaishū traveled to the United States on the Kanrin-maru as part of Japan’s first diplomatic mission in centuries. As a senior official of the Navy, he was among a handful of men who shaped the destiny of modern Japan in both domestic affairs and international diplomacy. Keio’s founder, Fukuzawa Yukichi (*), was his fellow traveller on the Kanrin-maru. Knowledgeable about foreign countries, well-read in the classics, and blessed with a brave spirit and inexhaustible energy, one may suppose that Kaishū succeeded in politics through sheer force and craftiness. As his motto, “The key to achievement is one word--sincerity,” shows, however, his political thought and attitude to life were deeply influenced by Confucius’ ideas.

Skip to 3 minutes and 9 secondsThere is a saying in the Analects that goes: “The way of the Master is loyalty and devotion to others, nothing else.” We can assume that by “sincerity” Kaishū meant honest commitment to others. Like Confucius, he travelled the world and taught how to govern a country well. And from the Analects, he learned how one ought to conduct oneself in times of social upheaval.

Skip to 3 minutes and 37 secondsHe wrote: “To govern, learning and knowledge come second; sincerity and devotion to office are the most important thing.”

Skip to 3 minutes and 50 secondsThe Analects contain passages like the following: “The Master said, "When a prince's personal conduct is correct, his government is effective without the issuing of orders. If his personal conduct is not correct, he may issue orders, but they will not be followed." It is easy to see how indebted to Confucian ideas Kaishū’s politics was. Another of Kaishū’s ideals was ”Honest poverty and nobility of character”, which is also close to the Confucian attitude to material wealth.

Skip to 4 minutes and 36 secondsIt is said in the Analects: “The Master said, "Extravagance leads to insubordination, and parsimony to meanness. It is better to be mean than to be insubordinate." Thus, through such figures as Kaishū, the influence of the Analects extended to the sphere of politics and the economy, in Japan and in the rest of East Asia.

The Analects change history

At times, the influence of the Analects was such that they affected the fate of an entire nation. One of the main architects of the Meiji restoration, one of the most dramatic turning points in modern Japanese history, was deeply influenced by Analects. Watch Prof. Takahashi introduce the topic in this video.

A scroll introduced in the video

Old Scroll Katsu Kaishu’s copy of the Analects 『論語』勝海舟旧蔵
Click to take a close look

Many Analects

In the video, Prof. Takashi introduces two famous passages from the Analects relating to politics and the economy. But there are more. Here are some additional examples:

Original Chinese Text and Japanese text

「子曰、其身正、不令而行、其身不正、雖令不從。」
「其の身正しければ、令せずとも行われ、其の身正しからざれば、令すと雖も従わず」子路篇6

English translation:

The Master said, “When a prince’s personal conduct is correct, his government is effective without the issuing of orders. If his personal conduct is not correct, he may issue orders, but they will not be followed.” (Analects, XIII: 6; trans. James Legge)

Original Chinese Text and Japanese text

「子曰、奢則不孫、儉則固、與其不孫也寧固。」
「奢るときは不遜なり、倹なるときは固なり、其の不遜よりは倹なれ」述而篇35

English translation:

“The Master said, “Extravagance leads to insubordination, and parsimony to meanness. It is better to be mean than to be insubordinate.” (Analects, VII.35; trans. James Legge)

Original Chinese Text and Japanese text

「子曰、為政以徳、譬如北辰居其所、而衆星共之。」
「政を為すに徳を以てすれば、譬えば北辰の其の所に居りて衆星のこれを共(めぐ)るがごとし」為政篇1

English translation:

The Master said, “He who exercises government by means of his virtue may be compared to the north polar star, which keeps its place and all the stars turn towards it.” (Analects, II.1; trans. James Legge)

(Note: a natural approach to politics in which the leader sits at the center of things just as the North Star (or Pole Star) sits at the center of the northern sky)

Original Chinese Text and Japanese text

「子曰、君子不器。」
「君子は器ならず」為政篇2

English translation:

The Master said, “The superior man is not a utensil.” (Analects, II: 2)

(Note: A good politician should not be a professional specialized in only one area but be knowledgeable in many areas.)

Original Chinese Text and Japanese text

「子曰、先行其言、而後従之」
「先ず其の言を行うと、而して後にこれに従う」為政篇13

English translation:

The Master said, “He acts before he speaks, and afterwards speaks according to his actions.” (Analects, II: 13; trans. James Legge)

Original Chinese Text and Japanese text

「子曰、君子周而不比、小人比而不周」
「君子は周して比せず、小人は比して周せず」為政篇14

English translation:

The Master said, “The superior man listens to all and is not partisan. The mean man is partisan and does not listen to all.” (Analects, II: 14)
(Note: Politicians should not engage in petty factionalism)

Share your favorite quotes

What do you make of these quotes? Do you agree with them? The full text of the Analects is readily available on the internet. Try to find your favorite quotes and share them with other learners here.

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This video is from the free online course:

Sino-Japanese Interactions Through Rare Books

Keio University