Communication in the Analects of Confucius

by Francisco García Marcos (Author)
©2022 Prompt XII, 92 Pages


This work offers a new perspective on the work of Confucius, the great reference of classical Chinese thought. In general, relatively little work has been done on Confucius' linguistic concerns, which nevertheless did have an impact in his time and afterwards. The author starts from a sociolinguistic approach, based mainly on the ethnography of communication, to analyze the role played by language in Confucius' texts and its links with the ethical program proposed therein. It is, therefore, a considerably novel perspective which, moreover, allows us to cover a very relevant number of interests. The pages of this work concern sociolinguists, but also historians of linguistics, philosophers, and cultural scientists in general. In short, it provides a different vision of one of the great cultural references of humanity.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • List of Figures and Tables
  • Introduction
  • References
  • 1 The Analects: Their Time, Their Environment and Their Projection
  • 1.1 The Rújiā
  • 1.2 Background to Chinese Thought and History
  • References
  • 2 Confucius, Historical Figure and Cultural Myth
  • 2.1 Confucius and His Time
  • 2.2 The Doctrines of Confucius
  • 2.2.1 Conceptual Framework
  • 2.2.2 The Alleged Religiosity of the Analects
  • 2.3 Confucian Ethics
  • 2.4 Life as a Path: The “junzi”
  • 2.5 Education
  • 2.6 Ritual
  • 2.7 The Organisation of Society
  • 2.8 Language as an Instrument of Civilisation
  • References
  • 3 Confucian Man’s Ways of Communicating
  • 3.1 The Quantitative Weight of Communication
  • 3.2 Harmful Communication
  • 3.2.1 Rhetoric and Grandiloquence
  • 3.2.2 Other Vices Stemming from Rhetoric
  • 3.2.3 Lies, Falsehoods, Slander
  • 3.2.4 Nuances and Mitigating Factors for Harmful Verbal Habits
  • 3.3 The Contribution of Communication to the Development of Ethics’ Virtue
  • 3.3.1 Verbal Prudence and Restraint
  • 3.3.2 From Verbal Economy to Absolute Silence
  • 3.4 Verbal Politeness as an Ethical Foundation
  • 3.5 Exemplarity and Correctness in Leading Groups
  • 3.6 Fame Caution
  • 3.7 Verbal Exponents of Inner Ethics
  • References
  • 4 Verbal Behavioural Patterns
  • 4.1 Rectitude
  • 4.2 Equanimity
  • 4.3 Sincerity
  • 4.4 Names
  • 4.5 Harmful Linguistic Behaviours
  • 4.6 Attention to Writing
  • 4.7 Instruction
  • 5 The Contemporary Potential of the Analects: A Complex Reading from the Perspective of the Communicative Event
  • 5.1 Setting and Scene
  • 5.2 Participants
  • 5.3 Ends
  • 5.4 Sequence of Acts
  • 5.5 Keys
  • 5.6 Instruments
  • 5.7 Standards
  • 5.8 Genres
  • 5.9 Event
  • References
  • 6 Communication as an Ethical Instrument
  • References
  • Terminology Notes
  • Series Index

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The thought of approaching the work of Confucius (; Kǒngfuzǐ) is both a thrill and a challenge. It is a thrill because the reader is approaching one of the great references of thinking in human history. For this very reason, it is also a challenge for the writer, as he or she must try to make the most of such a profound wealth of reflection and human knowledge. Therefore, considering writing about any aspect of this work implies an enormous responsibility by all means. For centuries, Confucius received continuous attention from scholars all over the world. At times, one feels the legitimate vertigo of not finding anything substantial to contribute to such a vast and intense legacy.

To do so in a little-trodden subject, as is the case with communication, is perhaps daring. In any case, my approach comes from a deep admiration for a system of thinking which, with all the precautions and nuances that distance in time demands, is one of the pinnacles of human knowledge. I also write from the honesty of being sincerely convinced that communication is one of the facets worth exploring within the Confucian universe. That is my purpose in the pages that follow.

The presence of a certain communicative component in the Analects and in the overall Confucian perspective has had its fluctuations in the specialised bibliography, always within the very modest quotas of attention. Although it has ←1 | 2→been relatively common to refer to some passages linked to the use of languages, this has not prevented the emergence of objections of varying magnitude. For Guoxi (2009) this is neither an easy nor an immediate task. He warns about the polysemy of the term “speak” in the ancient classical tradition of Chinese thinking, not always directly equivalent to its current uses, even less so within the Western tradition. So much so that he distinguishes at least five semantic levels in traditional Chinese “speaking”, which would correspond to the contents of “fact”, “knowledge”, “truth”, “sense” or “thing”. For Gouxi, the verbal activity (speaking) in Confucius unfolds on the first three levels. This is only partially true. As it will be further discussed, Lu’s teacher incorporates other dimensions of communicative activity, directly related to the social activity of the exemplary individual.

Chang (1997) seems even less convinced that Confucius’ work has an intrinsic interest in language and communication. The presence of such issues in the literature would not be due to the core of the Confucian contribution, but to what he considers to be an insistence on extracting social readings from Confucius. Therefore, he advocates a relatively limited list of concerns, concentrating on the word as a referent of morality, the censorship of verbal ornamentation, the rules governing verbal decorum and the preponderance of acts over their linguistic manifestations. It is true that Chang (1997) seems more interested in criticising the communication of what he calls “Confucian societies” than really getting into the communicative question within the Confucian conceptual universe.

However, this has not always been the case, especially since 2000. The bibliography also includes more specific approaches to language and communication in Confucian texts. These studies have at least provided a general framework on which to build more specific future research. Kejian (2002) and Jiaqian (2005) make a general approach to the linguistic issue in Confucius. Zhiping and Yanyun (2004), on the other hand, address the issue of the ownership of language use from the Confucian perspective. Yongkai (2001) and Lei (2007) deal with the rectification of names, one of the central themes in Chinese philosophy at the time. Quiao and Min (2009) take a more specific approach to the projection of language within Confucius’ philosophical scheme. They distinguish three main functions. At the base, it would act as a transmitter of communication, on which the other two, its ethical and political functions, are based.

Of course, I respectfully but firmly disagree with these perspectives. I have approached the Analects on several occasions, although I have only now finished giving it a systematic format. During this time, my conviction that language occupies a nuclear place in the ethical system developed in the work has been ←2 | 3→reaffirmed. By using the word “nuclear”, I do not mean the key to explaining the whole of Confucius’ intellectual legacy. I do mean that, in any case, it is associated with the major issues addressed therein, playing a determining role, both in its delimitation and in its projection towards social dynamics.


XII, 92
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2022 (July)
Confucius History of linguistics History of culture Ethnography of speech Sociolinguistics Chinese philosophy Communication Ethics
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2022. XII, 92 pp., 2 color ill., 2 tables.

Biographical notes

Francisco García Marcos (Author)

Francisco García Marcos, PhD in philosophy (University of Granada, Spain), is a specialist in sociolinguistics, applied linguistics, and history of linguistics. He is Professor of Linguistics at the University of Almería (Spain), and he has also taught at UNED (Madrid), Kiel (Germany), and Granada (Spain).


Title: Communication in the Analects of Confucius