Confucian shi, Official Service, and the Confucian analects

Author: Chan, Shirley
The Confucian Lunyu (The Analects) is perhaps the most important text in the Confucian canon. Scholars have studied it and written about it for two millennia but little careful historical analysis has been done on the text, especially from the perspective of a particular social group. In this work the Lunyu is interpreted from the perspective of the social group known as shi (officers or potential officers). Confucius and his disciples, all living between the late Chunqiu or Spring and Autumn period (770--481 B.C.) and the Zhanguo or Warring States period (481-221 B.C.), were members of the shi class and the Lunyu records anecdotes about them as well as their conversations and statements said to have originated with them. The contribution of this study to the field of scholarship is two-fold. It clarifies the meaning of the term shi (variously translated as "scholar," "man of service," "man of excellence," and "officer") that has been rendered ambiguous in Chinese classical literature because its terms of reference have changed over time. More importantly, the study increases our understanding of this Confucian text by providing a historical context from the perspective of the shi as a social group and allows us to explain some of the inconsistencies in the text. This work also addresses some controversial claims presented in the work of Robert Eno and Bruce and Taeko Brooks. Given the central canonical status of the Lunyu, this new analysis of the text will be of interest to scholars concerned with the history of Chinese thought.


“The strata of traditional Chinese society known as the shi (with the same term used to refer to individuals members of that strata) exerted a lasting impact on the development of elite Chinese culture. The term shi has been variously translated in English-scholar, scholar-official, man of service, scholar-gentry, officer, knight-but due to the changing role played by the shi class throughout Chinese history, none of these temlS is ideal. For much of Chinese history, shi refers broadly to a class of men of education and social standing. In Han (206 B.C.-220 A.D.) and post-Han society, the term referred to a men who were eligible to participate in official service, even if they chose not to do so or were unable to pass the examinations that would open up an official career for them. This class of men formed a social elite, from the village level to the national level and was distinguished from the shu or commoner class. Today, Chinese scholars widely regard the shi as the antecedent of the modem intellectual class. In English-language studies, the origins and formative history of the shi class has not been adequately researched. Drawing on a detailed analysis of early texts and epigraphical sources, and studying the changing social and political roles of the shi over an a five hundred year period (seventh to third centuries B. C.), Dr Chan' s monograph is the most thorough study of the early shi in any language. Her efforts to draw on these changes so as to date a number of passages in the Analects is a novel contribution to scholarship on that seminal if still elusive text. Equally deserving of our attention is the thesis Dr Chan develops about the political involvement of early Confucians (followers of Confucius' teachings) of the shi class and the possibilities this opens up for new ways to read” – (from the Foreword) John Makeham, Reader in Chinese Studies, Centre for Asian Studies, The University of Adelaide, Australia

“The Lunyu (Analects) records the conversations and sayings of Confucius and his disciples. Often, the contexts of these conversations and sayings are missing, and one is left guessing about their import. It is not surprising, therefore, that the Lunyu has lent itself to much hermeneutical interpretation down the ages up to the present. Dr Shirley Chan is well aware of the hermeneutical and commentarial traditions, but believes that more sensitive attention to the socio-historical background of the text can help to provide a much needed context to the Lunyu. This is her signal contribution-she supplies a historical account of the evolving social and administrative functions of the shi, a group of people that lived between the late Chunqiu and the Zhanguo periods … Dr Chan does us a service by distinguishing the Confucian shi from the shi class in general (which could include the yinshi or those who had isolated themselves, hermitlike, some of whom appear in the Analects). She traces their evolving administrative roles from the late Chunqiu to the Zhanguo periods through a study of the texts such as the Shangshu, Maoshi, Chunqiu zuozhuan, Guoyu, and the Zhanguo ceo By comparing these with the uses of the term shi in the Lunyu, Dr Chan is able to come to some conclusions about the earlier and later compositions of certain passages in the text. Based on these studies, the book tests itself against contemporary accounts of the Lunyu. Dr Chan takes issue, for instance, with the work of Robert Eno (The Confucian Creation of Heaven) who interprets the shi to be a purely ritualistic group with no interest or ambitions in government. Her analysis of the different meanings of the term shi according to various datable sources also enables her to engage with the findings of Bruce Brooks and Taeko Brooks' The Original Analects. In this respect, Dr Chan's book provides more than the usual brief reference to this well-known work of the Brooks', and is an original contribution to the discussion on the layered compositions of the Lunyu. In sum, by illuminating the functions of the shi, Dr Shirley Chan gives a context to the understanding of the Lunyu. This leads to an engagement with contemporary work, helping the reader to reflect upon issues of the intelligibility and compositional history of the text. In these respects, this book is a refreshing scholarly contribution to the ongoing discussion.” – (from the Commendatory Preface) Kim-Chong Chong, Associate Professor, Division of Humanities, The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology

"This monograph is an important contribution to the study of the rise and the early history of the shi class, and, indeed, the most detailed in any language. It is a study of the Lunyu with particular emphasis on the group known as shi, a term that has been variously translated but possibly the most helpful would be officer or potential officer. Dr Chan traces the changes in the concept of shi in response to changes in the society they served, and on the basis of her findings she is able to identify the various layers of the Lunyu. Dr Chan compares the usage of the term shi in early texts, such as the Book of History, the Book of Poetry and the Zuozhuan, with the usage in the Lunyu, and examines the changes it underwent from the seventh to the third centuries B.C. in response to the evolution of administrative practices, political thought, social mobility and society. The period under consideration was one of widespread conflict in China, which culminated in the unification of the country. The responses to these conflicts were diverse. The Confucian response was to promote ideal values. The Lunyu extended key concepts of the Western Zhou tradition and turned them into moral concepts, emphasising the importance of virtue, righteousness, benevolence, disregard for profit and learning. One example is the concept of junzi (the son of a prince), which was transformed by Confucius to reflect his ideal of a morally superior man. So though the Confucian shi were interested in government position and served as officials in various capacities in the Chunqiu period and as advisors or strategists in the Zhanguo period, in this case too the term was adapted to mirror the ideal values of the Confucian school. The Confucian Shi, Official Service, and the Confucian Analects, is an innovative approach to the study of the Lunyu and its dating; and demonstrates how the ideas and values expressed in a text has resonates beyond its pages." - A. D. Syrokomla-Stefanowska, Honorary Associate, Department of Chinese and Southeast Asian Studies,School of Languages and Cultures, The University of Sydney

Table of Contents

List of Tables
List of Narrative Illustrations
Foreword by John Makeham
Preface by Kim-Chong Chong
Introduction: Past Studies of the Lunyu, The Problem of Historicism, Focus of the Present Investigation, More on Methodology
1.Shi before the Chunqiu and Zhanguo Periods
2. Shi during the Chunqiu and Zhanguo Periods
3. The Shi in the Lunyu
4. Reading the Lunyu from the Perspective of a Confucian Shi
5. A Brief Discussion of the Chronology of the Lunyu