The Analects of Confucius

The Analects of Confucius Summary and Analysis of Book III


Chapter 1 of this book concerns the Chi (or Ji in some translations) family, which had usurped most of the powers of the Duke of Lu. Eight teams of dancers were the most allowable to high-level aristocrats or possibly the Emperor himself. The Chi family's crime was in usurping rites allowed only by members of higher families. This Book of the text deals largely with matters of ritual and family, so this is a fitting start.

In Chapter 2, Confucius mentions the Three Families of Lu. This refers to the Chi, Mang, and Shusun. The Yung Song or ode mentioned refers to the Book of Songs, whose use was originally only appropriate in the Emperor's court and not in the Duke's palace. Some historical context is also important here. In 771 BC, the Zhou Dynasty lost most of its power to regional lords when the royal line was broken. As such, Zhou kings ruled largely in name only. The "Son of Heaven" in the text refers to the Zhou king.

Chapter 5 varies greatly from translation to translation. Most scholars see a direct comparison by Confucius between the peoples of the East and North (believed to be referring to the Mongolians and Koreans) and those of China. In some translations Confucius seems to mourn the state of politics in China and how the centralization of power has been replaced by a more feudal system governed by regional lords, whereas even more tribal cultures have managed to hold on to their traditions. Other translations quote Confucius as making a derogatory comparison between the people of China and the people of the East and North, stating that such tribal peoples, even with their kings, are not equal to the people of China. In keeping with the theme of the Book, the former interpretation seems more likely, although it is unclear which is correct.

Confucius's critique of the Chi family continues in Chapter 6. Again, he argues that the Chi family has abandoned tradition and humility by making offerings at Mount T'ai, a privilege reserved for the Emperor and high aristocracy. Confucius asks Jan Ch'iu, a court minister for the Chi family, if he could not convince them to avoid making such a mistake. Though Jan Ch'iu says he cannot, Confucius states that that Mount T'ai would be aware that an offering made by anyone other than the Duke or Emperor would be ignored. He also comments on disciple Lin Fang's reputation for being slow-witted.

In Chapter 8, Tzu-Hsia inquires about the interpretation of a passage from the Book of Songs, specifically Song 86. The first two lines occur in Song 86, but the third line appears to have been added in The Analects. The discussion between Confucius and Tzu-Hsia indicates that the passage is an analogy for ritual and goodness. A firm groundwork is necessary in matters of tradition and ritual in order for goodness to flourish. Like many passages in the text, there are a number of interpretations of Chapter 8. Some scholars translate Confucius's reply as something akin to "In painting, the plain color is put on last to avoid its being soiled." The plain color is white and can be seen as an analogy to goodness.

Chapters 10, 11, and 12 deal directly with the topic of ancestral sacrifice, sometimes referred to as ti. It is clear that Confucius was not pleased with how this ritual was carried out in Lu, possibly because it too closely resembled Imperial ritual. In Chapter 11 the text hints toward the somewhat mystical or religious aspect of ancestor sacrifice and Confucius himself is quoted as saying he cannot explain it. Anyone who could, he continues, would be able to grasp all things as easily as placing his finger in his own hand. Chapter 12 continues to examine the manner in which ancestor sacrifice should be conducted.

Chapter 13 presents another saying that Confucius remarks upon. This is a common occurrence throughout the text; Confucius refutes or explains the significance of the sayings. In many cases they are reinterpreted for a more modern application, invoking many of the moral tenets that this work espouses. In this passage he examines a common maxim, which states that it is wiser to pay homage to the hearth and profit with the gift of food than it is to pay homage to ancestors by wasting food on them. Confucius flat out disagrees with the sentiment, warning that a break with ritual in this manner is unforgivable and that no amends for it can be made.

Chapter 15 finds Confucius at the Grand Temple, erected in honor of the first Duke of Chou. A stranger remarks that Confucius cannot possibly be an expert on ritual if he asks constantly about every aspect of it. Confucius's upbringing and background seem to form the basis of the prejudice in the remark. Confucius's family was from Tsou (or Zou in some translations), while Lu was considered the seat of cultural authority in the region. Here, his expertise is questioned based on his status as something of an outsider. Consider also that the action of inquiring in detail about all aspects of a ritual speaks to a humility when dealing with such matters. The presumption of authority seems to be a greater transgression.

The concept of a guardian of ritual is touched upon in Chapter 24. In it, the guardsman at the border of the state of Wei, called I in certain translations, tells Confucius's followers that it has been a long time since the Way has been made present in the world. He tells them that he believes Heaven will use Confucius as a "wooden bell" to alert and alert the people of danger. Confucius is presented here not only as an adherent to the Tao, but also as a symbol of hope and a moral compass. Despite this, Confucius failed to find a court in Wei that would accept his teachings. This is an indictment of the State of Wei, which is depicted in the text as having strayed far from its origins.


Some historical context is important here. In 771 BC, the Zhou Dynasty lost most of its power to regional lords when the royal line was broken. As such, Zhou kings ruled largely in name only. The "Son of Heaven" in the text refers to the Zhou king.

Consider the relevance the text places on ti in the culture of Confucius's time. Confucius treats it as a means of understanding all aspects of our existence. In short, the act of paying tribute to one's ancestors also pays tribute not only to the concept of life after death but to all things unknown. Confucius states that ancestor sacrifice should be handled with the utmost attention, as if the ancestor in question is actually present. Without this presence of mind it is as if no tribute was paid. Once again, one's intent is demonstrated to be important. Compare and contrast this with the chapters in Book II discussing filial piety.

Some scholars believe that at this time Confucius was disillusioned with politics in Lu and was traveling to other kingdoms in search of a worthy ruler. Wang-sun Chia was the Commander-in-chief of Wei. His question to Confucius may also be interpreted as a statement by the commander-in-chief asserting his own political importance over that of the Duke of Wei.

Book III, though dealing primarily with ritual, also touches on government. It can be interpreted that Confucian ideals saw rulers and government as possible guardians of such ritual. It is also possible to see government itself as an embodiment of ritual and, as such, inherently instrumental in the maintenance of such customs.

The final rejection of Confucius seems to hint that the state is beyond help. In this we can see the importance of the relationship between governance and ritual that this Book stresses. It is also important to remember that The Analects represent a collection of Confucian ideals as collected by his disciples. Some scholars also see this particular chapter as a means by these disciples to stress the positive attributes of their mentor over the negative outcome of his travels to Wei.