Recently I noticed that the way I have always read Analects 5.22 is out of line with the wide consensus. So maybe I’m just missing something.
子在陳曰：「歸與！歸與！吾黨之小子狂簡，斐然成章，不知所以裁之。」(thanks to ctext.org)
When the Master was in Chen, he said, “Let me return! Let me return! The little children of my school are ambitious and too hasty. They are accomplished and complete so far, but they do not know how to restrict and shape themselves.”
The Master was in Chen. He said: “Let us go home, let us go home! Our young people are full of fire, they have brilliant talents, but they do not know yet how to use them.”
The remark here is almost always read as referring to the disciples Confucius had left behind in Lu; he has to return because their training is suffering in his absence. That is how it is understood by Dasan, Soothill, Ware, Waley, Lau, Leys, Huang, Ames+Rosemont, the Brookses, Slingerland, Eno, Ni. But to me the remark seems to express an observation about the disciples that are with him in Chen: he has decided that they are not, after all, ready for this foreign project.
I have read the remark that way because it seems to express a surprised observation. It seems to express a major change of plans based on a recent observation. Also the intermixing of praise in the observation suggests to me that its objects were expected to hear the remark, or hear of the remark.
Confucius says at 11.2, on a probable reading, that none of the disciples with him in Chen achieved good relations with officials there; and Zigong says at 1.10 that what success Confucius had outside Lu was due mainly to virtues of humility.
Here are four points that might argue for the consensus reading:
1. The remark seems to speak of the problematic disciples in the third person.
(But it could have been spoken in the presence of a Chen bigwig or his representative as well as the disciples.)
2. The term “歸” has perhaps a positive flavor, suggesting going toward something rather than retreating.
3. The term “黨” might be taken to refer to a place rather than a party.
(So read, could it be a humble way of saying to a Chen bigwig, “My Lu folk here”?)
4. The term “小子” might be taken to refer to very young followers, hence those who were not with him in Chen.
(But on this last point: how would Confucius in Chen hear of the brilliance and poor judgment of disciples in Lu, except by hearing of some major political stumbles? The term “小子” could simply mean disciples, and it might be chosen here to express consoling affection, or as a kind of apology to officials of Chen who might have been offended or disappointed.)
After a limited search of translations and their notes, I’ve found only one where the translator seems to share my view: Harbsmeier at TLS.
When the Master was in Chén he said: “One should go home! One should go home! These little ones in our group are wanton and thoughtless. Bombastically they create their elegant public image, but they do not know how to tailor this.”
How should the passage be read?