Book Review: The Life And Teachings of Confucius by James Legge

Book Review: The Life And Teachings of Confucius by James Legge

James Legge covers Confucius’s teachings in great detail, but there is a glaring omission. All the same, it’s worth picking up if you’re an admirer of Confucius.



Doesn’t Really Do Justice To The True Brilliance of Confucius

This book wasn’t terrible or lacking in substance, but the author really misses out on some of the classic wisdom Confucius shared with his people that has been handed down through generations and cultures everywhere. I agree that Confucius was a very wise and powerful sage when it came to issues like political structure regarding Asian nations, and to his credit James Legge documents this very well. But what about all of the more commonplace, apt and lighthearted axioms that the brilliant Chinese philosopher brought us?

Amazingly, the book omits scrutiny of some of Confucius’s best known observations, such as “Man who fly upside down have crack up”, “Wise man never play leapfrog with unicorn”, and “Woman who put husband in doghouse soon find him in cathouse”. How could these long-enduring philosophical tenets have been missed, especially as they remain so relevant in modern society? Not only are those quotes funny, but the humor of them is genuinely rooted in a truth and wisdom at a level that only someone of Confucius’s outstanding mental acuity could have achieved.

To be sure, Legge does cover in detail some of Confucius’s great philosophical moments, such as the meeting in Ts’oo with the Duke. I don’t wish to downplay his work in that regard. Legge is obviously a great admirer of Confucius and perhaps this effort was an attempt to avoid rehashing the manifestly obvious aspects of Confucius’s legacy. One can only speculate.

But again, even an in-depth look at the teachings of Confucius should not pass over the more mainstream, popular adages contained in his teachings. I don’t understand the omission of maxims like “Man who stand on toilet high on pot”, “Man who fight with wife all day get no piece at night”, and the rarely overlooked and timeless classic, “It is better to be p—ed off than on”. Whatever the deeper implications of Confucius’s impact, it’s hardly questionable whether some of his most memorable gems of wisdom should be included in the discussion. That’s just my opinion.


Photo credit: Gary Soup on Best Running / CC BY

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