Wednesday, September 20, 2006

“Xue” in the Analects of Confucius

“Xue” is one of the central themes of the Analects of Confucius. To understand what is study we must first look at Confucius’ teaching. It can give us an idea about what he thought of as important.

Confucius, also known as the Great Teacher, is said to have taught altogether three thousand students, seventy of whom truly mastered his arts. Confucius was willing to teach anyone, whatever their social standing, as long as they were eager and tireless. “In instruction, there is no such thing as social classes.” (The Analects of Confucius 15.39) At his time, education was an extravagance not everyone could afford. Confucius did not just accept students from various social status, he accepted them with no regard of tuition: “I have never failed to instruct students who, using their own resources, could only afford a gift of dried meat.”

He taught his students morality, proper speech, government, and the refined arts. While he also emphasized the “Six Arts” -- ritual, music, archery, chariot-riding, calligraphy, and computation -- it is clear that he regarded morality the most important subject. It is not only one of the most-discussed subjects in the Analects of Confucius, it also appears as an evaluation standard as to whether someone is well educated or not: “ As for persons who care for character much more than beauty, who in serving their parents are able to exert themselves utterly, who give their whole person in the serve of their ruler, and who, in interactions with colleagues and friends, make good on their word – even if it were said of such persons that they are unschooled, I would insist that they are well educated indeed.” (1.7)

Besides Confucius’ broad content of teaching, his teaching methods are also one of a kind. He never discoursed at length on a subject. Instead he posed questions, cited passages from the classics, or used apt analogies, and waited for his students to arrive at the right answers. “I do not open the way for students who are not driven with eagerness; I do not supply a vocabulary for students who are not trying desperately to find the language for their ideas. If on showing students one corner they do not come back to me with the other three, I will not repeat myself.” (The Analects of Confucius 7.8).

From above, we could see Confucius’ teaching was broad: a large and mixed student body, a wide range of subjects, and individualized teaching method. We can further deduce that “xue” in the Analects of Confucius is for everybody, yet deferent from individual to individual; it should cover a wide range of knowledge, especially the general moral code. That include the how to deal with relationships with parents, siblings, teachers, and others, how to face hardship and difficulties in life, how to find The Way, and how to achieve Authoritative Conduct. Therefore, Confucius saw “xue” an essential path to a person’s development.

Confucius accentuated the importance of learning by saying without learning, even the desirable qualities in a person would have flaws. “The flaw in being fond of acting authoritatively without equal regard for learning is that you will be easily duped; the flaw in being fond of acting wisely without equal regard for learning is that it leads to self-indulgence; the flaw in being fond of making good on one’s word without equal regard for learning is that it leads one into harm’s way; the flaw in being fond of candor without equal regard for learning is that it leads to rudeness; the flaw in being fond of boldness without equal regard for learning is that it leads to unruliness; the flaw in being fond of firmness without equal regard for learning is that it leads to rashness.” (17.8) It means that to form a well-rounded virtuous person, learning is indispensable, and only through learning can one “promote their way” (19.7).

Another thing Confucius emphasized is the zeal for learning and the commitment one must make to truly love learning. He was very proud of his own love for learning saying most people “can’t compare with me in the love of learning” (5.28). Love for learning is also one of the most important if not the single criteria for a student if they wish to study under Confucius, as he said “I do not open the way for students who are not driven with eagerness; I do not supply a vocabulary for students who are not trying desperately to find the language for their ideas.” (7.8)

Only if the students have the love for learning can they get closer to being well educated, but that’s just a beginning. According to Confucius, a well educated person is one who “care for character much more than beauty, who in serving their parents are able to exert themselves utterly, who give their whole person in the serve of their ruler, and who, in interactions with colleagues and friends, make good on their word” (1.7). This means learning is not just on technical levels, but goes onto moral levels. Learning perfects a person’s inner self, and since the perfection of human moralities is infinite, learning is also infinite. It’s a life-span process.

In conclusion, “xue”, according to the Analects of Confucius, is the essential and individualized access to The Way that includes learning of concrete knowledge as well as moral codes, acquires one’s devotion and commitment, and should be available to anyone.


First assignment of the Chinese Classics, I haven't read a more disorganized piece before;) Anyway, to pull this out is already amazing... Fortunately, it's not graded. But the next time will be... That's scary...

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