Yang Chaoming: The Family Sayings of Confucius Pushes for New Progress in Research on History of Chinese Civilization

From:chinakongziAuthor: 2021-10-25 10:05

Editor's note: “The High-level Academic Forum of New Understanding of The Family Sayings of Confucius and Chinese Culture”, supported by China Confucius Foundation, sponsored by the Confucius Research Institute of Nishan World Center for Confucian Studies, and jointly organized by the Analects Research Center of the Chinese Confucius Association, the editorial office of Confucius Studies, and Zhusi Academy, was held in Qufu on October 16. More than 50 experts and scholars from across the country gathered in Qufu to discuss their new understanding of The Family Sayings of Confucius and share their latest research results.

During the forum, Yang Chaoming, Deputy Director of Nishan World Center for Confucian Studies and President of the Confucius Research Institute, received an exclusive interview with CHINAKONGZI.ORG, and elaborated on the academic status, academic value and contemporary significance of The Family Sayings of Confucius.

The Family Sayings of Confucius is the first book to read in the study of Confucius 

CHINAKONGZI.ORG: What kind of book is The Family Sayings of Confucius? What is its relationship with The Analects of Confucius? 

Yang Chaoming: The Family Sayings of Confucius is a very important book, and its value is by no means less than The Analects of Confucius. The classics of Chinese traditional culture are mainly about the "Four Books and Five Classics". The Four Books which offer explanations on the Five Classics are more concise than the Five Classics. The value of The Family Sayings of Confucius is by no means less than the Four Books. It can be regarded as the first book to read in the study of Confucius and Confucian culture. However, because this book has long been considered a fake book, it has not received enough attention. Although some scholars' research touched upon this book, there are still too few people in academic circle who know about its value. The research is far from enough.

The Family Sayings of Confucius is a compilation of Confucius' remarks and related materials. As a historical document, it is exactly the same as The Analects. Confucius engaged in teaching for a long time, and he left a lot of sayings, which were recorded by his disciples. After the death of Confucius, his disciples gathered, edited, and disseminated teachings of Confucius. In order to better express Confucius' thoughts, some sayings were selected and compiled into The Analects, and the remaining materials were included into The Family Sayings of Confucius. The Family Sayings of Confucius and The Analects of Confucius are actually the same in nature, which shows the importance of The Family Sayings of Confucius.

The Analects of Confucius is in the form of quotations, and the compiler of The Analects used Confucius' words to express Confucius' thoughts. The Family Sayings of Confucius recorded many scenes of Confucius' speeches and the recorders. Its large amount of literature can not only correct some errors in the study of Confucius and The Analects, but also add a huge number of important useful materials. It can be said that The Family Sayings of Confucius is a treasure house.

The General Interpretation of The Family Sayings of Confucius is the result of in-depth studies 

CHINAKONGZI.ORG: You are a representative scholar in the research of The Family Sayings of Confucius. The General Interpretation of The Family Sayings of Confucius you compiled is hailed as a milestone in this area. How did you notice such a document that was once labeled as a fake book, and begin to conduct in-depth research?

Yang Chaoming: I heard of The Family Sayings of Confucius a long time ago, because I specialized in the study of Confucius, and I have always paid attention to the literature and materials related to Confucius. In the late 1980s, a batch of Chinese bamboo slips in the Han Dynasty was discovered in Fuyang of Anhui. These Chinese bamboo slips can prove the reliability of The Family Sayings of Confucius. Since then, I have been paying more and more attention to that book.

Later, my teacher, Mr. Li Xueqin, published an article titled Bamboo Slips of The Family Sayings of Confucius and Confucian Studies in the Han and Wei Dynasties on Confucius Studies. He believed that some of the materials in the bamboo slips might be traced back to The Family Sayings of Confucius. This article by Mr. Li once again triggered my interest in The Family Sayings of Confucius. Later, to our surprise and astonishment, The Family Sayings of Confucius was also found in the tomb of the State of Chu in the Warring States Period. Since then, I have started to think about the authenticity of this book, as well as the source of its materials, its compilation, and then its value.  

After the early documents, especially bamboo slips in the Han Dynasty, were discovered, the opinions that The Family Sayings of Confucius was a fake book still persisted. It wasn't until the bamboo books of the Warring States Period were unearthed in the Shanghai Museum that everyone discovered that the documents of the Warring States Period were the same as those of The Family Sayings of Confucius, which was a huge shock to the academic community.

At the beginning of this century, my graduate students and I began to add annotations to this book, and organize reading classes to study The Family Sayings of Confucius. In this process, we found that the value of The Family Sayings of Confucius was getting higher and higher. Therefore, we conducted further systematic research and general interpretations. The so-called general interpretations is to observe it from the big picture of a whole book, to think about one chapter after another, to compare it with related documents, and to study it from different perspectives. This is how The General Interpretation of The Family Sayings of Confucius came into being.

How can ordinary readers better understand The Family Sayings of Confucius

CHINAKONGZI.ORG: How can ordinary readers better understand The Family Sayings of Confucius which is an important document to get to know Confucius?

Yang Chaoming: Many friends now ask me about what books to read if they want to learn Confucianism. Besides The Great Learning, Doctrine of the Mean and The Analects of Confucius, I would always recommend The Family Sayings of Confucius. There are many vivid scenes in The Family Sayings of Confucius, with detailed and thorough depictions. For example, a sentence in The Analects can be interpreted in different ways by later generations, with no conclusions. But if you put this sentence back into a specific background and context, its meaning can be defined more accurately. The significance of The Family Sayings of Confucius is to provide the specific scene of the dialogue which was recorded in a more vivid, specific and comprehensive manner. 

The disciples of Confucius have the habit of recording Confucius' remarks at any time. The sayings of Confucius that have been passed down till today were all recorded by his disciples in the process of Confucius' long-term education. According to The Family Sayings of Confucius, Zi Zhang and Zi Xia once asked Confucius questions. Confucius answered so brilliantly that the disciples "jumped up and stood beside the wall", "the disciples dare not leave out any words", "go back and memorize it."  These stories are very vivid. They not only recorded the content of Confucius' speech and show Confucius' thoughts, but more importantly, they recorded the scene and background of this sentence. It reads as if we were also on site. .

The Family Sayings of Confucius drives studies on the history of the Chinese civilization 

CHINAKONGZI.ORG: On November 26, 2013, General Secretary Xi Jinping had an inspection tour to the Confucius Research Institute and saw the Annotations to The Analects and The General Interpretation of The Family Sayings of Confucius among the books published by the Confucius Research Institute. He said that he would also carefully read these two books. 8 years have passed, what new achievements have been made by the Confucius Research Institute and the academic community in the study of The Family Sayings of Confucius?

Yang Chaoming: The Confucius Research Institute has done a lot of work on the study of The Family Sayings of Confucius, and published many books on The Family Sayings of Confucius. I myself have published several books suitable for the general public and teachers, and collection of academic papers on The Family Sayings of Confucius. The Confucius Research Institute has now become a hot land for the study of The Family Sayings of Confucius.

The academic community is also paying more and more attention to the study of The Family Sayings of Confucius. It is becoming obvious that studies in this area are increasingly popular, with the emerging of large amount of research papers. There are at least 20 or 30 doctoral and master's theses from Qufu Normal University, and the researches are very in-depth, representing great potential in the study of The Family Sayings of Confucius.

In fact, with the unearthing of underground documents and the increasing attention of the academic community, the study of The Family Sayings of Confucius has been greatly promoted. The Family Sayings of Confucius has opened up a new world for our mind, allowing us to re-understand ancient civilizations. This is a great impact to the understanding of ancient civilizations, which will be of great significance to the study of Chinese culture, the study of Confucianism in its early stage, and even the study of the entire history of Chinese civilization. It can be said that the study of The Family Sayings of Confucius is of great value to the current efforts to build China into a cultural powerhouse, to the creative development and innovative transformation of the fine traditional Chinese culture, and to our cultural self-confidence.

News link: Get to know The Family Sayings of Confucius in one minute 

The Family Sayings of Confucius, also known as The Kong Family Sayings or Family Sayings for short, is a book that records the thoughts, words and deeds of Confucius and his disciples. The current version of The Family Sayings of Confucius contains 10 volumes and 44 articles, with annotations from Wang Su in the Wei dynasty, attached with a preface by Wang Su and an Epilogue. 

The Family Sayings of Confucius was first recorded in Book of Han·Yiwenzhi, with 27 volumes written by disciples of Confucius. The Family Sayings of Confucius was lost early in history. There has always been a lot of controversy about The Family Sayings of Confucius. Research of the Family Sayings by Wang Bai in the Song dynasty, Ancient and Contemporary Fake Books by Yao Jiheng in the Qing dynasty and Falsification of the Family Sayings by Fan Jiaxiang and Annotation to the Family Sayings by Sun Zhizu all considered it a fake book. Sayings of Zhu Xi by Zhu Xi in the Song dynasty, preface and postscript in Annotation to The Family Sayings of Confucius by Chen Shike and Qian Fu in the Qing dynasty and Huang Daily Recording by Huang Zhen considered otherwise. However, for more than a thousand years, the book has been widely circulated.

In 1973, the bamboo slips of Confucian Sayings unearthed from a tomb of Western Han dynasty in Bajiaolang, Dingxian County of Hebei Province, were similar in content to the current version of The Family Sayings of Confucius. In 1977, in a tomb of Western Han Dynasty unearthed in Shuanggudui, Fuyang of Anhui, bamboo slips similar to Confucian Sayings, and related to the Family Sayings in content were also discovered. These archaeological discoveries show that the current edition of The Family Sayings of Confucius has reliable origins. It can be dated back to as early as the Western Han Dynasty and it is not a fake book. It came into shape in the hands of Confucian scholars such as Kong Anguo and Kong Meng, who lived in the same time as Wang Su. It has gone through a long process of compilation, modification, and supplementation, and it is the product of Confucian studies. It has important value in the study of Confucius, Confucian disciples and ancient Confucianism.

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