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Analects | Book 8 | Summary



Book 8 offers a deeper look into the views of another important teacher in the ongoing Confucian tradition, Master Zeng. Zeng Can (Tsang Shang) was originally a follower of the Master but later apparently became a teacher with his own followers. The first chapter to focus on him shows his interest in filial duty by quoting lines from the Book of Songs about a son's fear of not having fulfilled that duty. Master Zeng is pleased he has preserved his body, considered part of filial duty because it is passed onto a child by its parents (8.3).

A couple of chapters also explore Master Zeng's views on the gentleman. In Chapter 4 he focuses more on a gentleman's outward conduct, advising things like "composing his expression" and managing the "style of his utterances," which "banishes violence and rudeness" and "keeps close to sincerity." He then says in Chapter 6 a man is a gentleman if he can be trusted with certain responsibilities. These seem to reflect a definition of a gentleman that is more focused on actions and accomplishments than the Master's usual focus on internal attitudes.

In Chapter 2 a statement from the Master also shows the importance of ritual in the Confucian view. He warns that good qualities such as caution, boldness, and forthrightness can and will result in undesirable qualities like timidity, recklessness, and rudeness without ritual to guide them. Even in cultures without strictly structured social rituals, it is a valid point that too much honesty could easily become rudeness.


Although considered one of the more authentic books in The Analects, Book 8 was probably recorded later than the books that immediately precede it. It also features a noticeable shift in style and language, and its focus on Master Zeng suggests it may have been compiled by his students. In earlier books the Master tends to speak of being "fond of learning," but here he is recorded as instructing students to "love learning," a somewhat less moderate wording.

Other statements attributed to the Master in this book seem more negatively focused, telling what not to do rather than what to try to achieve. For example, Chapter 16 seems to mostly complain about people who don't exhibit expected traits, calling them "simple-minded and yet not sincere, guileless and yet not true to their word."

A significant number of chapters in The Analects make statements about "the people," generally seeming to mean the common people under a ruler or government. As stated in Chapter 9's "people may be made to follow something, but may not be made to understand it," the people often seem to be the collective equivalent of the small man. Little of higher virtue can be expected of them as a group unless they are led and inspired by a government that follows The Way.

Master Zeng's comments on filial piety in Chapter 3 feature a number of lines from a poem in the Book of Songs that are difficult to fully interpret since they are presented out of context. The Master's students were expected to know the original context of such excerpts—Songs being one of the ancient classics—to interpret the Master's words. Editions with supplemental notes can greatly assist the modern reader in understanding these as well.

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