Tomorrow I get to teach Confucius to my Rice Paddies class. This used to be a fairly easy thing to do, until the unspeakably annoying E. Bruce and A. Taeko Brooks published The Original Analects It is a very good book, but unfortunately it is based on the (correct) view that Analects as we have it is not the words of Confucius, a man who died in 479 BC, but rather the ideas of a school of thought that were written down over a long period of time and attributed to a semi-mythical founder.
This is to some extent not news. It has long been accepted that at least some bits of Analects are much later than Confucius, and that some classical texts were created through accretion over a period of time (Guanzi, the outer chapters of Zhuangzi, etc.) Applying this model to the Analects is of course going to ruffle feathers, but there is nothing revolutionary about the idea itself. It does present problems, however, for those who want to teach the period. While we are in the process of deconstructing and reconstructing Confucius what do you do in class? There are two poles to this debate. One is the E. Bruce Brooks position, which seems to be that until you have the philology 100% down you don’t say anything Another pole is the Charles Hayford position. Long ago, after reading Luke Kwong’s Mosaic of the Hundred Days in a graduate seminar I asked him how the book would change his teaching of 1898. He said in effect that at least for this semester he would not change anything, since he was not sure what to make of things.
I tend towards the later pole. Part of teaching is presenting (in various ways) a somewhat coherent narrative, and if you really wanted to you could immobilize yourself as a teacher by pointing out all the problems with your views and the general fraudulence of your existence. On some topics and in some types of classes that is what you should do, but then in other circumstances you have to come up with something.1 Just ignoring recent work is a fine solution for a while, but it becomes increasingly embarrassing. When you buy a new house you can blame awful interior decorating decisions on the previous owners for a couple of years, but after a while you need to make some changes or admit this is the best you can do.
In the case of Confucius the accretion theory actually helps. You need to get into Confucius somehow, and one of the few lines that Brooks and Brooks identify as being from Hillock himself is Analects 4.1
The Master said. It is best to dwell in ren. If he choose not to abide in ren how will he get to be known? 子曰：「里仁為美。擇不處仁，焉得知？」
Others translate this differently, but I like the Brooks translation best one because it seems to be a better reading of the text (quaint, I know) but also because it works well to tie Confucius to the earlier, supposedly simpler age of the Western Zhou that he was trying to revive. Here the early, ‘real’ Confucius finds the meaning of ren2 unproblematic. You either abide in it or you don’t, all the later Mozi stuff on proving things to be true is later, as is all the Mencius and Xunzi stuff on human nature (where you start from). He also has a pretty straightforward idea -why- you should do this. If you behave well this will be noted by those around you and be rewarded. Heaven and man have not yet parted ways, and virtue will be rewarded. This will very much not be the position of the later Confucius, who will go on at some length about how you should be ren even if (as you should expect) people hate you for it. 4.1 is Confucius at the opening of the age of philosophers.
I’m hoping this will make a good intro. We have a nice little quote (Confucius works well for putting quotes on the wall and reading them together) and our first untranslated term in a context that encourages us to dive into what ren is. That will lead us into ideas about self-cultivation and what sort of person Confucius thinks you should make yourself into. Questions about your life’s course and what sort of person you should become are interesting to a certain type of 19 year old. Then, finally, some politics, which should be the most alien part of it for them, but might make more sense if it is grounded first in personal behavior, which is, as Brooks points out, more or less the way the school developed, only coming to be concerned with state policy and cosmology and such much later. In the long run the accretion approach may make teaching easier.
Further updates if events warrant. If nothing else I can bring up the first part of 5.10
Zai Yu slept in the daytime. The Master said: Rotten wood cannot be carved; a wall of dung cannot be decorated. What is there in Yu for me to reprove.? 宰予晝寢。子曰：「朽木不可雕也，糞土之牆，不可杇也；於予與何誅！」
Frankly if some students come away with anything that is fine. If some of them leave my class thinking that the Dong Zhongshu or Zhuxi version of Confucius is the timeless truth of the Sage, well, that is something. I can use a pretty broad brush when I want to. ↩