The Authentic Confucius: A Life of Thought and Politics

The Authentic Confucius: A Life of Thought and Politics

by Annping Chin

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For more than two thousand years, Confucius has been an inseparable part of China's history. Yet despite this fame,Confucius the man has been elusive. Now, in The Authentic Confucius, Annping Chin has worked through the most reliable Chinese texts in her quest to sort out what is really known about Confucius from the reconstructions and the guesswork that


For more than two thousand years, Confucius has been an inseparable part of China's history. Yet despite this fame,Confucius the man has been elusive. Now, in The Authentic Confucius, Annping Chin has worked through the most reliable Chinese texts in her quest to sort out what is really known about Confucius from the reconstructions and the guesswork that muddled his memory.

Chin skillfully illuminates the political and social climate in which Confucius lived. She explains how Confucius made the transition from court advisor to wanderer, and how he reluctantly became a professional teacher as he refined his judgment of human character and composed his vision of a moral political order. The result is an absorbing and original book that shows how Confucius lived and thought: his habits and inclinations, his relation to the people of the time, his work as a teacher and as a counselor, his worries about the world and the generations to come.

In this book, Chin brings the historical Confucius within our reach, so that he can lead us into his idea of the moral and to his teachings on family and politics, culture and learning. The Authentic Confucius is a masterful account of the life and intellectual development of a thinker whose presence remains a powerful force today.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal

Confucius set out to save the world from degeneration through politics and teaching. As a "common gentleman" whose rank in society depended exclusively on what he did with his life, how he spent his time, and how he applied his skills and knowledge, Confucius became known as the most notable and talented gentleman. Highly regarded scholar Chin (history, Yale) gives us an expertly researched and eloquently written account of Confucius's life, ideas, and work, turning, as Confucius and his responsible associates did, to old documents for information. Along with an international team of archaeologists, philologists, historians, and philosophers interested in the revival of traditional Chinese scholarship, Chin has been studying bamboo-slip manuscripts in China since 1998. One set, dated to 300 B.C.E., represents the earliest manuscripts we have of Confucius either discussing an even earlier text or conferring with his adherents about moral development or government strategy. This may not be the only book about Confucius, but Chin's simple, elegant writing style, combined with her erudition, distinguishes it from the rest. Highly recommended.
—Jennifer H. Pollock

Kirkus Reviews
A wonderfully streamlined, agenda-free biography of China's greatest intellectual. Chin (Four Sisters of Hofei, 2002, etc.) corrects centuries of misquoting, projection, over-analysis and general wrongheadedness about the words and thoughts of Confucius (551-479 BCE). Exerting to this day an indescribable influence on China, he is so intertwined with its state and society that it seems impossible to see the man anymore, much less understand what he was trying to say. "We give him credit for all that has gone right and wrong in China because we do not really know him," Chin writes. Few facts are available about his life, and the gaps have often, at times fancifully, been filled by disciples writing centuries later. Chin eschews this temptation, concentrating instead on what is known-or what she at least thinks she knows-about his life and teachings. Born as a common gentleman-meaning that he could be educated but otherwise would have to make his own way in the world-Confucius seems to have spent a good deal of his life in service to various courts. He moved frequently, not always for clear reasons, and often had around him a group of students willing to act as foils for his philosophical wit. A true scholar, Confucius had a few core beliefs but no overarching set of ideas to which he tried to force all situations to bend. (Chin approves.) Revered for his wisdom and humility, he nevertheless had a pragmatic side: "I have never refused to teach anyone who approaches me on his own with a bundle of dried meat."Confucius finally gets his due. Chin sticks to the facts as she can discern them and lets the master speak for himself. Agent: Andrew Wylie/Wylie Agency
From the Publisher
"Confucius even now remains the mind of China, and always returns again, whatever the regime. But he can be difficult for Westerners to apprehend, because our cultures and his are so different. It is one of the strengths of Annping Chin's The Authentic Confucius that she clears away most of the difficulties, and allows us to approach an understanding of the sage's life, work, and sayings. Like Socrates and Jesus, Confucius relied upon the spoken word, with all its nuances of enigmatic wisdom. Annping Chin helps us to recover those nuances, as no one else has." — Harold Bloom

"The life of Confucius, China's 'Sage for Ten-Thousand Generations,' began like all others — in a particular time and place. Although Annping Chin is clearly impressed with the timeless quality of Confucius' teaching, she strives to show us Confucius as he traveled through his life. As she says of his teaching, so too might we say of this book: 'it mirrors a life unfolding, and it is natural.' This may not be 'the' authentic Confucius forever and always, but it is an authentic one — of his time and place, and for ours." — Edward L. Shaughnessy, professor of Early Chinese Studies, The University of Chicago

"The teachings of Confucius have survived through periods of political upheaval and brutal suppression for some twenty-five hundred years. Gleaned from her years of study of fragments of ancient texts, Annping Chin has sketched a highly readable and thought-provoking portrait of the life and times of Confucius." — Henry A. Kissinger

"Meticulously researched and finely judged, Annping Chin's The Authentic Confucius is a perfect companion to the Analects and a wonderful introduction to early Chinese Confucianism." — Sarah Allan, 1107 professor of Asian Studies, Dartmouth College

"This is a passionate biography of a man who, as Annping Chin puts it, strove 'to keep the idea of the moral within human reach.' It is a fascinating attempt to recover the actual historical figure who did so much to shape one of the world's great civilizations; but it is also a gripping portrait of that rare person who both faced up to 'human form and fate' — and lovingly embraced what he saw." — Jonathan Lear, Committee on Social Thought, The University of Chicago

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Meet the Author

Annping Chin studied mathematics at Michigan State University and received her PhD in Chinese Thought from Columbia University. She was on the faculty at Wesleyan University and currently teaches in the History Department at Yale University, where her fields of study include Confucianism, Taoism, and the Chinese intellectual tradition. She is the author of three previous books: Children of China: Voices from Recent Years, Tai Chen on Mencius, and Four Sisters of Hofei. She has also coauthored, with Jonathan Spence, The Chinese Century: A Photographic History of the Last Hundred Years.

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