Analects of Confucius Book 3: new English Translation

Read this new English translation of the Analects of Confucius Book 3 to learn more about the teachings of China’s most famous philosopher. Its main themes include ritual, music, and leadership.

Chapter 1
When he heard that the head of the Ji Family used eight rows of dancers to perform in the ceremonies at his ancestral temple, Confucius commented: “If he is capable of that, what isn’t he capable of?”

Chapter 2
When the Three Families had the Yong ode performed while the ceremonial vessels were being removed at the end of their ancestral sacrifices, Confucius said: “‘The lords are in attendance, the son of heaven sits solemnly on his throne.’ How can such words be used in the halls of the Three Families?”

Chapter 3
Confucius said: “If someone has no goodness, what can they have to do with ritual? If someone has no goodness, what can they have to do with music?”

Chapter 4
Lin Fang asked: “What is the essence of ritual?” Confucius said: “That’s a big question! For festive ceremonies, simplicity is better than extravagance; for funerals, genuine grief is better than excessive formality.”

Chapter 5
Confucius said: “Even the Yi and Di tribes that have chieftains can’t match the various states in our land that don’t have rulers.”

Chapter 6
The Ji Family was setting off to carry out a sacrifice on Mount Tai. Confucius said to Ran Qiu: “Can you not stop this?” Ran Qiu replied: “I cannot.” Confucius said: “This is outrageous! Can it really be true that the spirit of Mount Tai has even less knowledge of ritual than Lin Fang?”

Chapter 7
Confucius said: “A leader does not engage in competition. But if you can’t avoid it, you should practice archery. You bow and exchange courtesies with your opponent before entering the range and enjoy drinks with him after leaving it. Even when engaged in competition, you remain a leader.”

Chapter 8
Zixia asked: “What do these verses mean: ‘Ah, the lovely dimples of her artful smile! Ah, the black and white of her beautiful eyes! It’s on plain white silk that colors sparkle.’” Confucius said: “Painting comes after plain white silk.” Zixia said: “Is ritual also something that comes afterwards?” Confucius said: “You’ve opened up my eyes to the true meaning of these verses! It’s only with a man like you that I can discuss the Book of Songs!”

Chapter 9
Confucius said: “I could talk about Xia Dynasty ritual, but the state of Qi hasn’t preserved sufficient evidence. I could talk about Yin Dynasty ritual, but the state of Song hasn’t preserved sufficient evidence. There aren’t enough written records and learned men; if there were, I could obtain evidence from them.”

Chapter 10
Confucius said: “Once the first libation has been performed at the sacrifice to the great imperial ancestor, I don’t want to watch the rest of the ceremony.”

Chapter 11
When someone asked Confucius to explain the meaning of the sacrifice to the great imperial ancestor, he replied: “Whoever knows that would rule the world as easily as I can place this here.” Then he pointed his finger towards the palm of his hand.

Chapter 12
Sacrifice requires presence: you should sacrifice to the spirits as if they are there. Confucius said: “If I’m not fully present at the sacrifice, it’s as if I didn’t attend the sacrifice at all.”

Chapter 13
Wangsun Jia asked: “What does this saying mean: ‘Better pray to the kitchen god rather than the household gods’?” Confucius said: “This is nonsense. If you sin against heaven, you have no god you can pray to.”

Chapter 14
Confucius said: “The Zhou dynasty modeled itself upon the two previous dynasties. What a great civilization! I follow the Zhou!”

Chapter 15
Whenever Confucius visited the Grand Ancestral Temple, he asked about everything that was happening there. Someone said: “Who said this son of a man from Zou is an expert on ritual? When he visits the Grand Ancestral Temple, he has to ask about everything that’s happening.” Hearing this, Confucius said: “Exactly, this is ritual.”

Chapter 16
Confucius said: “In archery, it doesn’t matter whether you pierce the covering of the target, because some archers are stronger than others. This is the way of the ancients.”

Chapter 17
Zigong wished to do away with the sacrifice of a live sheep for the ceremony welcoming the new moon. Confucius said: “You love the sheep; I love ritual.”

Chapter 18
Confucius said: “When you serve your lord in full accordance with ritual, people regard you as a sycophant.”

Chapter 19
Duke Ding asked: “How should a lord treat his ministers? How should ministers serve their lord?” Confucius replied: “A lord should treat his ministers in accordance with ritual; ministers should serve their lord with loyalty.”

Chapter 20
Confucius said: “The Cry of the Ospreys is joyful without being wanton and sad without being distressing.”

Chapter 21
Duke Ai asked which wood should be used for the altar pole of the land god. Zai Yu replied: “The Xia used pine; the Yin used cypress; the Zhou used chestnut. It’s said that they wanted it to make people tremble with fear.” When Confucius heard of this, he said: “What’s done is done; no need to dredge up the past; let bygones be bygones.”

Chapter 22
Confucius said: “Guan Zhong had his limitations.” Someone objected: “Do you mean that Guan Zhong wasn’t frugal?” Confucius replied: “Guan Zhong had three households, each one staffed by a huge retinue. How could he be called frugal?” “But didn’t he know ritual?” “Even though only the ruler of a state can place a screen to mask the view of his gate, he also had one installed. Even though only the ruler of a state can use a special stand to place his inverted cup on when meeting with another ruler, Guan Zhong had one too. If you say Guan Zhong knew ritual, then who doesn’t know it?”

Chapter 23
Confucius was talking about music with the music master of Lu. He said: “We can know this much about music: It begins with everyone trying to play together; when it gets in full swing it flows in perfect harmony, melody, and purity of tone until it reaches the end.”

Chapter 24
A border official at the town of Yi requested a meeting with Confucius. He said: “Whenever a distinguished man comes to these parts, I never fail to meet him.” The followers arranged for him to meet Confucius. After coming out of it the official said: “Sirs, why worry about his dismissal? The world has been without the way for a long while. Heaven is going to use your master like a wooden bell clapper.”

Chapter 25
Confucius described Shao music as being perfectly beautiful and perfectly good and Wu music as being perfectly beautiful but not perfectly good.

Chapter 26
Confucius said: “How can I bear to even contemplate someone who lacks tolerance when in high office, reverence when performing ritual, and grief when in mourning?”



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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.