Book Review – 論語注疏(논어주소) 정태현 이성민 역


論語注疏(논어주소) — 鄭太鉉(정태현)-李聖敏(이성민) 譯
Analects Annotated by He Yan and Xing Bing
Translated by Jeong Taehyeon and Yi Seongmin

Bibliographic Summary

  • Title: 論語注疏(논어주소) (Analects of Confucius Annotated by He Yan and Xin Bing)
  • Authors: Jeong Taehyeon (鄭太鉉, 정태현), Board of Directors Member and Vice President of the Institute of Traditional Culture; Yi Seongmin (李聖敏, 이성민), Classical Chinese Professor at Sungkyunkwan University
  • Publisher: Institute of Traditional Culture (傳統文化硏究院, 전통문화연구원), 2013.
  • ISBN: 9-788991-720947
  • Price: 25,000 Won
  • Language: Korean (Mixed Script)
  • Pages: 404


I am not too familiar with the Chinese Classics academic scene in East Asia, but there seems to be some sort of race to see which country can come up with the largest or first of everything. For instance, it is not Japan, China, or Taiwan, but Korea that claims title to the largest Chinese characters and word dictionary. Last December, the Institute of Traditional Culture claimed another victory for Korea. This time, the first vernacular translation of the Analects Annotated by He Yan and Xing Bing, or Lunyu Zhushu (論語注疏, 논어주소, Non’eo Juso). (Note that the vast majority of Mandarin readers today, although they are exposed to it, do not have a firm understanding of Classical Chinese). As someone fairly interested in Confucianism, I obtained the book. Although I have not yet finished the book and am unsure when I will get to finish it, I have decided to write my initial impressions of it.

Contents of the Book

As is expected, the book’s format comprises of the Classical Chinese original text, original annotations, Korean translation of both, and Korean translator’s additional annotations. Historically, there have been several annotations of the Confucian Classics. The four most well known are by He Yan (何晏, 하안, Ha An, 193?-249), Xing Bing (刑昺, 형병, Hyeong Byeong, 932-1010), Huang Ken (皇侃, 황간, Hwang Gan, 488-545), and Zhu Xi (朱熹, 주희, Ju Heui, 1130-1200). Out of these, the most influential annotation in Korea was — and still is today — Zhu Xi’s. Korean Confucian scholars, however, were familiar with the other three. The authors hypothesize that He Yan’s might have been the first annotated version of the Analects that was brought to Korea during the Three Kingdoms Period (三國時代, 삼국시대, 57-448). In addition, they mention a debate during the reign of King Sukjong (肅宗, 숙종, 1661-1720, r. 1674-1720), in which court scholars discussed the historicity of one of Confucius’ disciples and references to He Yan and Xing Bing’s annotations proved key in resolving the issue. He Yan was a scholar of the Wei Dynasty (魏, 위, Wi,  220-265), very much liked by Cao Cao (曹操, 조조, Jo Jo, 115-220), and made annotations for Taoist and Confucian classics. Xing Bing was a scholar during the Song Dynasty (宋, 송, Song, 960-1279) and was commissioned to make annotations of Confucian classics with a group of other scholars. He Yan’s annotations (集解, 집해, Jiphae) are called Zhu (注, 주, Ju); Xing Bing’s (正義, 정의, Jeong’eui) are called Shu (疏, 소, So), and are not only direct annotations of the original text but also of He Yan’s annotations. Collectively, their annotations are called Lunyu Zhushu. According to the authors, Zhu Xi largely follows He Yan and Xing Bing, but there are several differences, many crucial. Take for instance, this famous passage from the Analects:


Morning • to hear • the Way • evening • to die • to be able / to be alright • grammar particle

The conventional translation seen in most Korean books is: “If in the morning I hear the Way, then at the night I will be alright with dying.” (James Legge’s English translation is also similar). This follows Zhu Xi’s annotation, which says:

道者, 事物當然之理. 苟得聞之, 則生順死安, 無復遺恨矣.
도자, 사물당연지리. 구득문지, 즉생순사안, 무부유한의.

The Way is naturally the principle force (理, 리) of [all] things. If one can hear it, then one has made [his] life meek and [can] die in peace, without again leaving [any] regret.

Compare Zhu Xi’s to Xing Bing’s annotation:

此章疾世無道也. 設若早朝聞世有道, 暮夕而死, 可無恨矣. 言將至死不聞世之有道也.
차장질세무도야. 설약조조문세유도, 모석이사, 가문한의. 언장지사불문세지유도야.

This passage hates (laments) that the world does not have the Way. Suppose if early in the morning [you] heard that the world has the Way, then if late in the evening [you] die [you] may have no regrets. This is to say that [you lament that as you] approach [your] death, [you] do not hear the existence of the Way in the world.

A translation that follows Xing Bing’s annotation would be: “If in the morning I hear that the Way [is being followed through in the world], then at night I will be alright with dying.” Although the difference in translation might seem minute, the disparity in philosophical meaning is apparently large. The authors opine that what Zhu Xi’s annotation suggests is very similar to the Buddhist concept of the Way (道, 도) and achieving nirvana (成佛, 성불). Xing Bing’s annotation, on the other hand, is said to be more faithful to the fundamental Confucian concept of self-cultivating oneself in the present world. That is, it would not make sense for a Confucian to be alright with dying after having grasped the Way without having applied it in the world. One of the reasons for these differences in interpretations is that Zhu Xi as the spearhead of Neo-Confucianism is more concerned with more philosophical concepts such as metaphysics and cosmology.

There were also other translators’ notes in the book that caught my attention. For instance, I was rather surprised that the text of another famous line “If a friend comes from afar, should [you] not be joyed?” (有朋自遠方來, 不亦說乎 / 유붕장원방래, 불역열호) was originally “friends and companions” (朋友,붕우), not simply “a friend” (有朋,유붕). The authors based this on He Yan’s and Xing Bing’s annotations and on other editions of the Analects. Their annotation interprets “friends” (朋,붕) as “students from the same school” (同門, 동문) and “companions” (友,우) as “like-minded people” (同志, 동지) . Zhu Xi’s annotation is not too different and interprets “a friend” (有朋, 유붕) as those of the same kind or same group (同類, 동류).


When I read Confucian classics, I am not too interested in how I should interpret it directly from the text by myself. Considering how far chronologically removed I am from those times and more importantly my lack of expertise, I find myself inadequate to do so. The passages and the annotations above are prime examples of that. For this reason, I am somewhat skeptical at modern academics’ efforts, albeit not historically unprecedented, to “reconstruct” Confucianism by “going back” to Confucius himself. This book represents a fresh, new way of looking at the Analects. Once my schedule frees up, I look forward to reading more of it.

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