In the long history of the Chinese civilization, The Analects of Confucius occupies a position of sacred eminence as it is commonly deemed as the epitome of the cream of Chinese culture. In my translation of the masterpiece, I seeks to transcend the traditional scope of translation by adding new dimensions so as to elaborate Confucius’ notions and doctrines with reference to those of the great minds in the West, with an eye to making Confucius’ work more accessible in the West.
The concept of ren is one of the most important in Chinese thought. It is commonly deemed the backbone of Confucianism.
The very fact that ren has been translated into many English terms — benevolence, love, altruism, kindness, charity, compassion, magnanimity, perfect virtue, goodness, humaneness or humanity — shows that it is an exceedingly complicated concept.
Confucius does not offer a precise definition, but his principal ideas contained in ren are scattered hither and thither throughout the book, and a reader of analytical mind will be able to get a better idea.
The Master says, “If a man is without a kind heart, how can he observe the ritual? If a man is without a kind heart, how can he enjoy music?”
Confucius feels that if a man is without a kind heart, he cannot grasp the essence of rituals. If a man fails to understand the spirit of rituals, he cannot observe the ritual.
He believes that if a man is without a kind heart, he cannot grasp the essence of music. If a man fails to understand the spirit of music, he cannot enjoy music.
One of the essential functions of rituals is to check us when we are on the verge of going too far.
What is music? In Sonnet 8, Shakespeare refers to music as “the true concord of well-tuned sounds.” Melodious music of concord requires that one is willing to adjust oneself for the common good shared by many others, so a kind heart is a considerate soul and thought. Here we see something very similar between a kind heart and the concord of the music.
De, also rich in its contents, is often defined and determined in its particular context and its translations vary from context to context.
However, among the translations, “morality” dominates though it still sounds somewhat abstract.
Cross culture comparisons
The Master says, “He who rules the state by personal and public morality is just like the polestar, which occupies the central position surrounded by a dense cluster of the reverent stars of lesser note.”
What is a great noble mind? According to Confucius, he is the ruler with personal and public morality. Morality is might. Take as a prime example mercy, one of the elements that make up morality, to illustrate my point.
In “The Merchant of Venice,” Shakespeare says, “The quality of mercy is not strained;/It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven/Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest:/It blesseth him that gives and him that takes./’Tis mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes ...”
Here we can see 1) mercy is a double blessing; 2) mercy is seen as the highest degree of might; 3) mercy is even more powerful than the power the kingship grants; and 4) mercy is a divine attribute.
If the arch-ruler is blessed with morality, he is sure to enjoy the support of a multitude of virtuous and capable personages.
Confucius holds that we should not only “vent spleen on anybody,” but also “forget and forgive as regards offences and sins others have committed.”
The Master says, “Boyi and Shuqi forget and forgive as regards offences and sins others have committed, so they rarely bear or provoke anger or resentment.”
Now it is hard for anyone to forget and forgive, as Alexander Pope (1688-1744) observes, “To err is human; to forgive, divine.”
Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804—1864) also believes “There is evil in every human heart, which may remain latent, perhaps, through the whole life; but circumstances may rouse it to activity,” and that a piece of literary work should “show how we are all wronged and wrongers, and avenge one another.”
In “Moby Dick” by Herman Melville (1819-1891) Ahab has an overwhelming obsession to kill the whale, as the latter has crippled him. However, the story also tells us that in his madness to destroy, Ahab is destroyed by his own consuming desire.
Similarly, Robert Frost (1874-1963) writes that “Some say the world will end in fire,/Some say ice./ ... I think I know enough of hate/To say that fore destruction ice/Is also great/And would suffice.”
Confucius regards wisdom, kind heart and bravery as three great positive attributes, and holds that the combination of the three superior qualities in a person could make him a somewhat ideal person.
The Master says, “The intelligent and the wise are never disorientated; the kind and the benevolent are never beset with worries; and the brave and the valiant are never gripped with fears.”
Shakespeare also believes an ideal man is a mixture with a scholar’s complexity, a child’s simplicity and a warrior’s valiance.
The author is a professor of English and Translation at Shanghai International Studies University.