Reading the "Analects" in China Now

Sunday, January 6, 2019: 10:00 AM
Spire Parlor (Palmer House Hilton)
Ann-ping Chin, Yale University
Ever since its formation as a text in the second century BCE, the Analects of Confucius has had a long and constant presence in China’s political and social history and in the intellectual and moral lives of people. The book evolved through the ages, as it tried to adjust to social changes and to the shifting political demands. It also grew with the readings of scholars and thinkers, and over time, it had become difficult to find the book in the amassed weight. Yet much was also gained from the cumulative knowledge of speculation and exegesis, argument and counter-argument, which, in turn, helped to shape a distinctive Chinese perception of the self and of the world.

Twentieth-century China posed another kind of challenge to the book. Critics could be so fierce and unrelenting that it looked as if the Analects was going to lose all its relevance. Still, it survived not only the political revolutions but also wars waged by scholars and writers of all varieties and from nearly every discipline. Just how was this possible? And what does the life of the Analects look like now in China? Who has control over that life, and how much of it is left to those who want to read it for itself and for self-discovery? The paper explores these questions with knowledge gathered from recently published books and articles, and conversations with scholars and students and people I happened to meet.

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