Good books about Confucianism?
December 17, 2009 7:15 PM   Subscribe

I want to learn more about Confucianism. Do you have any book recommendations?

I've recently become interested in Confucianism and would like to learn more about it. I started by reading the Analects of Confucius. I'm aware that there's some other texts associated with Confucianism, so I was wondering if anyone had recommendations on any of those?

Original text aside, I'm also looking for a book for a generally intelligent layperson on the subject. Ideally I'd like a book that's a good mixture of...

- original text by Confucius, translated into English
- and annotation/explanation/philosophical musing on the original text.

I've looked through the previous threads on this topic, just wondering if you had any personal recommendations or any other pertinent thoughts? Thanks!
posted by oracle bone to Religion & Philosophy (9 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I took a chinese history class and Mountain of Fame was one of the textbooks. Basically profiles several well known historical figures (including Confucius, of course) and it really shows how Confucianism influenced the history of China -- although I suppose I might have blended the memory of reading it with the other textbook, which I can't remember.

Anyway, Confucianism had a huge impact, obviously. So if you want to learn more about it I think learning about Chinese history would be a good idea.
posted by delmoi at 7:48 PM on December 17, 2009

Thinking Through Confucius, Hall and Ames. Sinologist and philosopher working in tandem, which means both aspects of the work texts the serious consideration they deserve.
Confucius, the Secular as Sacred Herbert Fingarette.
You might also enjoy reading the discussion on this group blog about Chinese philosophy; I bet there's recommendations there for more recent works I'll not have read.
posted by Abiezer at 7:57 PM on December 17, 2009

Oops, cack-handed editing above, meant to write: "both aspects of the texts are given the serious consideration they deserve" i.e. both the philosophical content and the issues of interpretation and translation.
posted by Abiezer at 8:01 PM on December 17, 2009

Definitely read the four books, and the Xunzi.
posted by kickingtheground at 11:29 PM on December 17, 2009

For a really pleasant way to learn about Confucianism and related topics check out the Alan Watts' podcasts available on iTunes.
posted by ecorrocio at 9:02 AM on December 18, 2009

Read up on Mencious as well, he was a preeminent scholar and commenter on Confucious in antiquity.
posted by BobbyDigital at 9:23 AM on December 18, 2009

Confucious Lives Next Door by T.R. Reid is more a book about Japan, but it was good introduction to Confucianism for me.
posted by Rash at 12:09 PM on December 18, 2009

Best answer: The Original Analects by E. Bruce Brooks and Taeko Brooks is a very valuable look at the Analects that provides crucial background information on the context in which Confucius taught and the subsequent periods in which the text developed. It should probably be read as reference alongside a more traditional version of the text (I like D.C. Lau's), since it heavily edits and reorders the Analects based on textual evidence. Mencius (again, I like Lau's version) is sort of the second half of early Confucian thought.
You may also want to look at the much later Neo-Confucian thinkers, especially Zhu Xi (also romanized as Chu Hsi); I haven't read any English translations of these so can't make any recommendations.
posted by bokane at 3:59 PM on December 19, 2009

Best answer: Coming late to the question here, but if you're really wanting to dig into Confucianism specifically and/or Chinese Philosophy in general, I'd recommend "A Source Book in Chinese Philosophy" by Wing-Tsit Chan as a compendium-type work on the subject that's both seriously heavy duty and yet still accessible and nice to have sitting on your bookshelf. It was a textbook for a Chinese philosophy class I took, but I've picked it up many, many times since on my own for pleasure reading or reference. On top of an apparently respected translation of the original analects of Confucius, plus philosophical commentary/dissection of them, it has a history of what's known about the man himself and includes an overview of the sociopolitical aspects of the time period, chronologies of philosophers, dynasties, and philosophical movements... you name it, it's probaby covered somewhere in this book.

It also has sections on 'Idealistic Confucianism' which will walk you right into to the works of Mencius, and 'Naturalistic Confucianism' which gets into Hsun Tzu. It also covers the Confucian revival period, blends of Taoism and Confucianism, something called "Yin-Yang Confucianism" (dunno, haven't read that section)... And then you can also dig into Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu, which are both lovely to read and ponder. It's all included, as well as sections on Buddhism as it infiltrated China and washed up against Confucianism and Taoism, and how all of these things have played out or developed under Communist China. It's a serious tome, but again, I'm glad I have it.

I like the book specifically because I vastly prefer reading translations of original texts and being able to have my own interpretation before someone else tries to tell me how to interpret it, but I also do want the additional commentary and background info, etc. I also appreciated that it walked me from one philosopher to the next since I started with minimal knowledge of Chinese philosophers and their similarities or differences. Anyway, I've found it a good (if slightly daunting) one-stop-shopping book for Chinese philosophy that includes both translations of the original texts, plus commentary, plus background, plus... well, just about everything.
posted by involution at 11:59 PM on January 3, 2010

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