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Scholar Interprets Confucius’ Role as ‘Seer' Through the Analects

Scholar Interprets Confucius’ Role as ‘Seer' Through the Analects

Yang Peng, a scholar of Chinese culture Yang Peng, a scholar of Chinese culture
ByLi Shiguang September 29, 2021
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A scholar of Chinese culture said that Chinese Christians had restored the relationship with Heaven before establishing any human relationship 

On August 24, Peng Yang, a scholar of Chinese culture delivered a lecture online titled “The Prophetic Wisdom in the Analects: from the Six Convictions of Confucius”, interpreting a series of Confucius’ thoughts from an uncommon perspective.

The scholar in the comparative study of Chinese traditional culture, Judaism, and Christianity. centered his lecture on two questions: "why should Christians read the Analects?" and "what are the main misunderstandings of the Analects among modern readers?"

In his lecture, he argued that Confucius’ identity as a "seer" had often been neglected. From this perspective, he propounded the value of the Analects for Christians. He also put forward that Confucius attached great emphasis to "heaven" (天) in the book, which was often overlooked by modern readers.

Yang introduced that Confucius could be considered as a seer, a junzi (gentleman), or an imperial teacher, where the latter two had been the mainstream way of interpreting Confucius. However, his studies have been focusing on understanding Confucius as a seer, and how Confucius viewed the world as a seer.

In Chinese, the idea of "prophet" and "seer" could both be "先知", yet he chose the term "seer" rather than "prophet" to define Confucius. He argued that compared to a "prophet" who speaks on behalf of God like Moses in the Old Testament, the term "seer” as in "one who sees” could be an appropriate description for Confucius: "A seer can see more than the appearance, but the reality.”

He further illustrated that Confucius should not be called a prophet as there was no evidence showing that he understood God's will in this way. Yet, he suggested the Chinese saga can be called a "seer”, as he saw a transcending sovereign power behind many things, which Confucius articulated as “Tian” (天, Heaven).

"Confucius saw the order of the Creator and publicized it. In this sense, we can identify Confucius as a seer,” emphasized Yang.

He continued, "The biggest misunderstanding of the Analects is that people neglect the idea of Tian.”

Yang took an example of the verse “A gentleman should be slow to speak but quick in action”, which was widely taken as a moral rule which values action more than speech. Yet behind this moral rule wasm Confucius' knowledge about heaven. He believed “speech” was divine and people should not “speak” recklessly. He quoted Confucius from the Analects, “Does Heaven speak? The four seasons pursue their courses, and all things are continually being produced, but does Heaven say anything?”, where Confucius was saying “Heaven hasn”t said anything, how could we speak?”. Therefore, a gentleman should be “slow to speak”.

The scholar further elaborated that, many of the teachings from the Analects were based on Confucius' understanding of Heaven, though they seemed to be about interpersonal relationships.

“Nowadays people too often simplify the Analects into a success guideline about interpersonal relationships: how we can establish and maintain relationships or how we can do things smoothly. In doing this, readers only see people but not Tian.” Yang added, “Yet this was not the original intention of Confucius. He did not only say that we should follow these interpersonal rules but tried to say that all of the interpersonal relationships were built on a Tian-human relationship.”

“From a perspective of Chinese traditional culture, Christians are people whose relationship with Heaven has been mended. People need to first establish a relationship with their Creator, then other humans”, concluded Yang.

This piece is intended as a faithful representation of the views and opinions expressed in the lecture described, but these views do not necessarily reflect those of the author or the editors of CCD.

- Translated by Grace Song

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