The Wisdom of the Confucians

Compo Zhou Xun with T. H. Barrett
Oxford: One World, 2001. Hardback, 200 pages.

An article in Newsweek magazine (May 27, 2002, p. 51) reports the revival of Confucian studies in China-among children. The West likewise has had a renewal of interest in the Master Teacher of the Orient, who is more than of only historical interest because his view of human beings and their role in community has some lessons that can benefit twenty-first-century Westerners. These four books published over the past six years are straws in the wind indicating new interest in an old wisdom.

The Wisdom of Confucius is a reprint of an older work, a compilation of Confucian sayings, apparently all from the Analects (but unfortunately without source identification), organized according to the subjects they treat.

The Way of Virtue is also basically a compilation of sayings, apparently from the Analects butt likewise without attribution. They are set in a narrative biographical account with some imaginative embellishments.

The Wisdom of the Confucians  is another but more recent compilation, handsomely produced and illustrated, drawn primarily from the Confucian Four Books, but also from some of the older Classics and from, later Confucian works as well, including some Japanese sources. Its short selections are organized under the broad heads of family, society, individuals, and education. Because of the wider scope of its sources, it gives a fuller account of Confucian thought.

Confucianism: A Short Introduction is, as its title promises, a concise overview of Confucian teachings, values, practices, history, and significance. In part, the book accomplishes its mission by describing the life of a fictional seventeenth-century Confucian couple, Dr. and Mrs. Li. The value of this approach is that it shows Confucianism, not merely as a body of ideas, but as a way of life during one of the high points in its history. The book thus aims at showing the human face of Confucianism.

These four books are all popular presentations of Confucianism and thus accessible introductions to their subject. The two One World publications are especially useful for their breadth and innovative presentations.