Primary sources for Eastern Philosophy
February 17, 2006 11:14 AM   Subscribe

Help me learn Chinese philosophies through primary sources.

I've already read many translations of the Tao Te Ching as well as some Chuang Tzu. I'd like to read some primary sources now from different traditions, such as Confucianism, Buddhism, Legalism, and Moism. I understand that these traditions may not have keystone texts or bibles, but I'd prefer reading original sources to contemporary analysis, at least at first. All texts will also have to be English translations. What should I have on my reading list?
posted by selfnoise to Religion & Philosophy (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Maybe start not withe primary sources, but with comparative philosophy books, like AC Graham's Reason within Unreason and Disputers of the Tao and Hall and Ames's Anticipating China? What's your goal in this?
posted by kensanway at 11:32 AM on February 17, 2006

obviously these will interest you different depending on what your goals are. Like if your goal is "to learn about chinese experiments in formal logic" then you might be interested in the mohists, but not much else. Or if your goals was "to become wise," then it's not clear if much of confucianism (which is common-sensical) or legalism, etc., would interest you, especially since these have an outward, role-oriented social purpose.
posted by kensanway at 11:39 AM on February 17, 2006

I just read a fascinating dialogue about human nature by Mencius, the second sage of Confucianism. I'll see if I can get a source for you (I was provided with a photocopy of a page out of a book.
posted by charmston at 11:44 AM on February 17, 2006

Best answer: Chan, Wing-tsit, translated and compiled, A Source Book in Chinese Philosophy, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1969.

Comprehensive in terms of covering all of the topics you've raised and having really quality excerpts of original text in translation, and tons of references if you figure out what you want to learn more about.
posted by margaretlam at 11:47 AM on February 17, 2006

Ames and Hall


check out the links on those sites as well
posted by kensanway at 11:49 AM on February 17, 2006

There was a new anthology that just came out (in the last few yrs) that some amazon reviewers like better than the Chan Wing-tsit one. Has anyone read it?
posted by kensanway at 11:50 AM on February 17, 2006

Best answer: This anthology looks like it might be a good place to start, in that it seems to pull together excerpts from a lot of noteworthy sources. I don't know enough to say how good the translations are or anything, but the Amazon reviews seem uniformly positive, for whatever that's worth. (I just picked up a copy of it at a library sale a few years ago when I was in college.) (With you!) (Reading primary sources!)
posted by moss at 11:53 AM on February 17, 2006

Best answer: Knowledge Painfully Acquired is good. It's by Lo Ch'in-shun and translated by Irene Bloom. Lo was a very sharp, very thoughtful layperson writing in the 15-16th centuries.
posted by everichon at 12:15 PM on February 17, 2006

Response by poster: Moss - Fancy meeting you here! :) Thanks for the recommendation... I think I'll have to order that one.

Kensanway - This is essentially reading for enjoyment. No big goals. I don't know enough about other schools at this point to know how deeply I'll want to delve into each one.

I should further clarify that I don't care to read longer works on a computer monitor, so dead-tree versions are the bestest.

Thanks for all the comments and suggestions so far.
posted by selfnoise at 12:15 PM on February 17, 2006

margaretlan's recommendation is superb. Really. It's widely available. Check out the Look Inside! page on amazon; there's over 800 pages of original source for your reading enjoyment. If you were in Denver, I'd let you borrow my copy. Simply a great source.
posted by boo_radley at 1:16 PM on February 17, 2006

Best answer: The Lotus Sutra is a fun buddhist text
and The Analects of Confucius is a good starting place for Confucianism.
Read them both while taking Irene Bloom's Colloquium on East Asian Texts course at Columbia, you might try just emailing her or other faculty there and asking them to send you copy of the course syllabus. (you can find their email addresses by doing a people search at
posted by jrb223 at 1:28 PM on February 17, 2006

(ps. Prof. Bloom would bring tea and cookies to each class, I highly recommend making tea and cookies a part of your study of Asian philosophy)
posted by jrb223 at 1:29 PM on February 17, 2006

Three Kingdoms for some in novel form?
posted by bargex at 4:38 PM on February 17, 2006

Two things of potential interest:


2)I recently ran across an excellent book on buddhism that I'd read a number of years ago. It is now available for free on the internet archive. Though not a primary text, I highly recommend it.

posted by bim at 9:41 PM on February 17, 2006

Let me try those links again:

posted by bim at 9:43 PM on February 17, 2006

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