Analects of Confucius Book 2: new English translation

Richard Brown
5 min readOct 25, 2021

Read this new English translation of the Analects of Confucius Book 2 to learn more about the teachings of China’s most famous philosopher. Its main themes include leadership, filial devotion, learning, thinking, and trust.

Chapter 1
Confucius said: “Governing by the power of virtue can be compared to the Pole Star, which remains fixed in place while all the other stars orbit respectfully around it.”

Chapter 2
Confucius said: “There are three hundred poems in the Book of Songs, but the meaning of them can be summed up in a single phrase: ‘Don’t stray from the right path.’”

Chapter 3
Confucius said: “If you govern through laws and regulations and maintain order through punishments, people will avoid them but won’t develop a sense of shame. If you govern through virtue and keep them in line with ritual, they will develop a sense of shame and unite behind you.”

Chapter 4
Confucius said: “At fifteen, I applied myself to learning. At thirty, I stood on my own two feet. At forty, I had no more doubts. At fifty, I understood the will of heaven. At sixty my ear was attuned. At seventy, I followed all my heart’s desires without overstepping the line.”

Chapter 5
Meng Yizi asked Confucius about filial devotion. Confucius said: “Never disobey.” While Fan Chi was driving him in his chariot, Confucius told him: “Meng Yizi asked me about filial devotion and I replied: ‘Never disobey.’” Fan Chi asked: “What does that mean?” Confucius replied: “When your parents are alive, serve them according to ritual. When they die, bury them according to ritual and make sacrifices to them according to ritual.”

Chapter 6
Meng Wubo asked about filial devotion. Confucius said: “The only time a son should make his parents worried is when he is sick.”

Chapter 7
When Ziyou asked about filial devotion, Confucius said: “These days filial devotion simply means keeping your parents fed. But that’s also how dogs and horses are looked after. Unless you treat your parents respectfully, what’s the difference?”

Chapter 8
When Zixia asked about filial devotion, Confucius said: “It’s the attitude that counts. If young people just offer their help when there’s a job to do or serve their elders wine and food when they need to drink and eat, how could this ever be considered as filial devotion?”

Chapter 9
Confucius said: “I can talk to Yan Hui all day without him ever arguing with me, as if he is slow. But when I observe how he behaves in private after he’s retired from my presence, I can see that he’s learned everything I’ve taught him. Indeed, Hui isn’t slow at all.”

Chapter 10
Confucius said: “Watch what they do, observe how they do it, and examine what makes them feel content. How then can they conceal their true self? How then can they conceal their true self?”

Chapter 11
Confucius said: “Bringing new meaning to the old to understand the new makes you fit to be a teacher.”

Chapter 12
Confucius said: “A leader isn’t a vessel.”

Chapter 13
When Zigong asked about leadership, Confucius said: “First accomplish what you want to say and then say it.”

Chapter 14
Confucius said: “A leader creates unity without taking sides. A petty person takes sides without creating unity.”

Chapter 15
Confucius said: “Learning without thinking leads to perplexity. Thinking without learning leads to trouble.”

Chapter 16
Confucius said: “Focusing your attention only on the extremes will lead to nothing but harm.”

Chapter 17
Confucius said: “Zilu, let me tell you what knowledge means. Knowing what you know and what you don’t know. That is what knowledge means.”

Chapter 18
Zizhang was studying with the aim of securing an official position. Confucius said: “Listen for as much information as possible, ignore anything that is suspect, and be cautious when talking about the rest; that way you will only rarely say anything out of place. Observe as much as possible, ignore anything that is dangerous, and carefully apply the rest to your actions; that way you will rarely have reason for regret. By speaking cautiously to avoid mistakes and acting carefully to avoid regrets, your career is set.”

Chapter 19
Duke Ai asked: “What should I do to win the support of the people?” Confucius replied: “Promote the upright and place them above the crooked, and the people will support you. Promote the crooked and place them above the upright, and the people will not support you.”

Chapter 20
Ji Kangzi asked: “What should I do to make the people respectful, loyal, and diligent? Confucius said: “Treat them with dignity, and they will be respectful. Be filial to your parents and kind to the young, and they will be loyal. Promote those who are capable and teach those who are not, and they will be diligent.”

Chapter 21
Someone asked Confucius: “Sir, why don’t you take part in government?” Confucius replied: “In the Book of Documents it says: ‘By being filial to your parents and being kind to your brothers, you’re already contributing to the smooth running of the government.’ Since I’m already doing this, why do I need to take part in government?”

Chapter 22
Confucius said: “I wouldn’t know what to do with someone whose word cannot be trusted. How would you drive a wagon without a yoke or a chariot without a crossbar?”

Chapter 23
Zizhang asked: “Can we predict the future ten generations from now?” Confucius said: “The Yin Dynasty adopted the ritual of the Xia Dynasty; we know what was dropped and what was added. The Zhou Dynasty borrowed from the ritual of the Yin Dynasty: we know what was dropped and what was added. If the Zhou Dynasty has successors, we know what they will be like, even a hundred generations from now.”

Chapter 24
Confucius said: “Sacrificing to spirits that don’t belong to your ancestors is presumptuous. Doing nothing when rightness demands action is cowardice.”



Richard Brown

I live in Taiwan and am interested in exploring what ancient Chinese philosophy can tell us about technology and the rise of modern China.