Translate This!

I’m sure many of us have this practice: You see a new translation of a text that is near and dear to you, and the first thing you do is pick it up and flip to those handful of passages that you think are crucial in understanding the text to see how the translator has parsed them.  (I can’t be the only one, right?)

One such passage (for me, anyway) is 1.12 in the Analects.  Here it is:


Here are two ways of understanding the first part of this passage.

  1. The ‘social coordination’ reading.  According to this reading, what’s most valued in practicing ritual propriety is that it enables individuals to harmonize with one another.  No great difficulty in this reading.  After all, the rituals governed human interactions and allowed for structured, predictable exchanges between them.  This seems to be the reading of D.C. Lau in his translation: “‘Of the things brought about by the rites, harmony is the most valuable.”
  2. The ‘intrapersonal harmony’ reading.  According to this reading, what’s most valued in practicing ritual propriety is that it harmonizes the intrapersonal life of the individual.  The li serve to foster one’s emotional development, suppressing certain tendencies while strengthening others, until one eventually becomes so versed that one can ‘follow one’s immediate inclinations without transgressing norms’ (as it were).  This seems to be the reading of Ted Slingerland:  “When it comes to the practice of ritual, it is harmonious ease that is to be valued.”

It doesn’t seem that the remainder of the passage itself does much to settle things one way or another.  (I think it slightly favors the first reading.)  So, I’m curious as to how the readers of this blog would parse that passage.  Translate!  🙂

P.S.  I don’t think the readings are mutually exclusive.

39 replies on “Translate This!”

  1. A certain approach to this passage, which is not by Confucius, is the heart of Kupperman’s very influential piece “Why Western Philosophers Should Study Confucius.”

    Here’s how I translate 1.12:

    o 有子曰 Youzi said:
    A 禮之用 In the value of ritual,
    B 和為貴 harmony is the great thing.
    C 先王之道 In the way of the ancient kings
    D 斯為美 This is the beauty.
    E 小大由之 Small and great follow it.

    F 有所不行 There is something that will not work:
    G 知和而和 To practice harmony by an understanding of harmony,
    H 不以禮節之 without regulating it by ritual:
    I 亦不可行也 this will indeed not work.

    It seems to me that the natural reading of ‘harmony’ in this English passage just as it is, like the natural reading of he 和 in the Chinese passage, is as referring to social harmony.

    Two other basic issues about the passage are:

    1. How to translate E 小大由之. The most popular translation is one or another form of: “small and big things done in accord with it (sc. ritual).”

    2. How to parse EF. A popular parsing that differs from mine is more or less thus:

    E If it (ritual) is simply followed in every detail, great and small,
    F something will not work.

  2. I should add that I’m reading yong 用 in A as ‘use’, as in the English “What’s the use of ritual?”

  3. Here are two passages from earlyish Confucian texts that indicate how Youzi’s lines were understood back then.

    First, a passage in the燕義 section of the Book of Ritual:

    “The ruler must illustrate the path of rectitude in his conduct of the people; and when the people follow that path and do good service (for the state), then he may take from them a tenth part (of their revenues). In this way he has enough, and his subjects do not suffer want. Thus harmony and affection prevail between high and low, and they have no mutual dissatisfactions. Such harmony and rest are the result of the ceremonial usages. This is the great idea in the relation between ruler and subject, between high and low – hence it is said that the object of the banquet was to illustrate the idea of justice between ruler and subject.”

    (N.B. Youzi defends the 10% tax in Analects 12.9.)

    Second, the opening of the Classic of Filial Piety:

    “(Once), when Zhong Ni was unoccupied, and his disciple Zeng was sitting by in attendance on him, the Master said, ‘The ancient kings had a perfect virtue and all-embracing rule of conduct, through which they were in accord with all under heaven. By the practice of it the people were brought to live in peace and harmony, and there was no ill-will between superiors and inferiors. Do you know what it was?’
    Zeng rose from his mat and said, ‘How should I, Shen, who am so devoid of intelligence, be able to know this?’ The Master said, ‘(It was filial piety.) Now filial piety is the root of (all) virtue, and (the stem) out of which grows (all moral) teaching.’”

    (N.B. in this last bit the Master is more or less quoting Youzi’s line at Analects 1.2.)

    I’ve taken both passages and both Legge translations from Donald Sturgeon’s web site.

  4. Here is Slingerland’s translation and why I think his whole approach cannot be right.

    o- Master You said,

    A- When it comes to the practice of ritual
    B- it is harmonious ease (he 和) that is to be valued.
    CD- It is precisely such harmony that makes the Way of the Former Kings so beautiful.

    E- If you merely stick rigidly to ritual in all matters, great and small,
    F- there will remain that which you cannot accomplish.

    G- Yet if you know enough to value harmonious ease
    H- but try to attain it without being regulated by the rites,
    I- this will not work either.

    That’s the translation; now here’s my argument against it.

    One part of the argument is the fact that the texts I quoted in comment 3 above seem to read Youzi as talking about social harmony. Slingerland’s parsing of E-I doesn’t make much sense on that reading of ‘harmony’.

    The rest of the argument centers on line E: 小大由之.

    1. On my reading, 之 (‘it’)in E refers to ritual, the ritual whose great feature is the harmony that comes with it. On Slingerland’s reading, 之 is ritual in pointed contradistinction from harmony. But the original text resists that reading. The antecedent ‘ritual’ is pretty far back from 之. The noun closest to 之 is a 斯 (‘this’) that refers to harmony. How does Slingerland get the reader to think 之 refers to ritual in pointed contradistinction from harmony? He translates 之 as “ritual” AND adds a ‘merely’. Either one of those moves by itself would not succeed in getting his point across. But there is nothing like a ‘merely’ in the original text, and the character 之 is not the character 禮 (‘ritual’).

    2. On my reading, E 小大由之 says that small and great follow harmonious ritual. That is, I read 小大 (‘small and great’) as meaning “everyone, high and low.” That matches the references in the Book of Ritual and the Classic of Filial Piety to “high and low” 上下 (quoted in comment #3 above). By contrast, Slingerland reads 小大 as referring to all matters that might be governed by ritual. In this, Slingerland is in agreement with most translators.

    But here’s why my reading of 小大 is more likely to be correct. First, 小大 appears in only one other place in the Analects, at 20.2, where wu xiao da 無小大 means “not differentiating by status.” 小大 seems to be rather a formal phrase by the time of the Analects. It appears eleven times in the Book of History (nine in the so-called New Text, which is the early stuff), always meaning “all parties” unless it is near a noun ‘N’, in which case it means “all Ns.” It appears only twice in the Zuo Zhuan, once meaning “all Ns” and once meaning size. It appears once in the Mencius, in a sense that fits Slingerland’s reading (6A14: the body has noble and base parts, great and small parts).

    小大 appears just twice in the Book of Odes. In Ode 255 it probably means ‘everyone’. But the more interesting case is Ode 209, which narrates a sacrificial feast. Benjamin Schwartz has said that this ode presents “a beatific vision of sacramental social harmony.” Here 小大 appears in the line that marks the climactic moment in the ceremony. Before that line the ode has been describing the different roles that different parties, from small to great, play in the ceremony. The line itself is 小大稽首, “Small and great bow heads” or “Small and great: Bow heads!” – the announcement that it is time for the prayer, which follows and completes the ode and the ceremony. This line marks a kind of transformation of role differentiation to unison. The first half of the line calls upon people as different, and the second half stresses unity. Since Ode 209 is one of only a very few in the Book that is usable to close ceremonies without specifying a rank, I think it may have been widely used, in which case the line 小大稽首 would have been widely recognized because it would have served as a cue to stop chatting and bow heads. So I think it is likely that Youzi was alluding to this ode.

    I argue that my reading of 1.12 makes 1.12 harmonize well with Youzi’s other sayings, in my paper “The Purloined Philosopher,” PEW 58:4.

  5. Bill,

    This is very, very helpful. I, too, find Slingerland’s way of parsing the passage to be incorrect, and this certainly provides a lot of evidence to favor the ‘social coordination’ reading. In particular, I like how you work out the 小大 reading. I really look forward to reading your Youzi paper.

    I’m now starting to wonder how many translators opt for the “intrapersonal harmony” reading. Maybe it’s more of a minority than I had assumed.

  6. Hi Hagop,

    Here is my incomplete collection of published translations (other than Slingerland’s), organized by readings of 和 so far as one can tell from the translation itself and my notes on the translators’ comments (my notes don’t distinguish clearly between exact quote and paraphrase). Arguably it is wrong to build any interpretation of ‘harmony’ right into the translation.

    The translations in the first set take 和 to mean naturalness, as in “Those Trekkies speak Klingon so naturally! They must have been practicing for years,” But I don’t see any sign that these translators think of such naturalness in terms of harmony among parts or aspects of a person. I’m also unaware of any early use of 和 that seems to have any such meaning, but I didn’t look into it very hard, as that reading has always seemed to me simply a non-starter. It seems to come from Zhu Xi, whom Soothill quotes: “和,從容不迫之意,Ho has the meaning of a natural not forced manner. 蓋禮之為體雖嚴,然皆出於自然之理, For though Li as formulated is stringent, yet it entirely arises from natural principles.”


    “In practising the rules of propriety, a natural ease is to be prized. In the ways prescribed by the ancient kings, this is the excellent quality, and in things small and great we follow them. Yet it is not to be observed in all cases. If one, knowing how such ease should be prized, manifests it, without regulating it by the rules of propriety, this likewise is not to be done.”

    “Gentleness (easiness) is to be prized in ceremony, that was the antient kings’ way, that was beautiful and the source of small actions and great. But it won’t always do. If one knows how to be easy and is, without following the details of ceremony, that won’t do.”

    “In the usages of Decorum it is naturalness that is of value. In the regulations of the ancient kings this was the admirable feature, both small and great arising therefrom. But there is a naturalness that is not permissible; for to know to be natural, and yet to be so beyond the restraints of Decorum, is also not permissible.”


    “In the application of the rituals, harmony(1) is most valuable. Of the Way of the former kings, this is the most beautiful part. However, if matters small and great all follow them(2), sometimes it will not work. But if you keep pursuing harmony just because you know harmony, and do not use the rituals to regulate it, it will not work either.”
    Huang’s notes:
    (1) Being the effect of music, harmony stands for music here.
    (2) ritual. Ritual without music would seem too rigid.


    “In the practice of the rites harmony is regarded as the most valuable thing, and in the ways of the ancient kings this is regarded as the most beautiful thing. It is adopted in all matters, both small and great. But sometimes it does not work. If you behave harmoniously because you understand harmony, but do not regulate your conduct with ritual, surely that cannot be made to work.”
    Dawson’s note:
    “ritual: the purpose of ritual (li) is to bring about harmony between man and nature, but it is no use seeking such harmony if you do not do so in conformity with the proper ritual.”

    “In the usages of ritual it is harmony(1) that is prized; the Way of the Former Kings from this got its beauty. Both small matters and great depend upon it. If things go amiss, he who knows the harmony(2) will be able to attune them. But if harmony itself is not modulated by ritual, things will still go amiss.” (3)
    Waley’s notes:
    (1) Harmony between man and nature; playing the musical mode that harmonizes with the season; wearing seasonable clothes, eating seasonable food, and the like.

    (2) i.e. the act that harmonizes with the moment.
    (3) from introduction p. 66: “The idea that human institutions should be harmonized (ho) with the operations of Nature, should for example be arranged in categories, corresponding to the seasons, the planets, the points of the compass, thought it is referred to by Master Yu in one entirely isolated passage, does not belong to the teaching of Confucius in the Analects.”

    “In carrying out the rites it is fittingness that is prized. That is what is so fine in the ways of our early kings; in all affairs, whether great or small, they followed this principle. But there is one thing which may not be allowed. To practice the principle of fittingness without subjecting it to the restraints of the rites is not allowed.”


    Li, David
    “In applying Conduct, moderation is valued. Past kings, in their direction, appreciated moderation and applied it for occasions minor and major. Where proceedings are at an impasse, consider modulating with moderation. Moderation is impossible where constrained by Conduct.”


    Ames & Rosemont
    “Achieving harmony is the most valuable function of observing ritual propriety. In the ways of the Former Kings, this achievement of harmony made them elegant, and was a guiding standard in all things large and small. But when things are not going well, to realize harmony just for its own sake without regulating the situation through observing ritual propriety will not work.”
    A&R’s note:
    “Master You is making an important distinction here between simply enforcing order and achieving harmony.”
    On p.30 of their introduction they show they take 和 to be social harmony.

    Graham (in Debaters)
    “In the employment of ceremony it is harmony which is most to be valued. In the Way of the former kings it is this which is most beautiful, follow it in small things and great. Where things are not on course, if you harmonize by the knowledge of harmony without regulating it by ceremony, they still cannot be put on course.”
    Graham comments: “The effect of ceremonial forms in the social hierarchy is, as this last passage [13/4] implies, that instead of actions being merely fitted to each other as right (the people obeying the ruler) attitudes become harmonious (the people revering the ruler).”


    Brooks & Brooks
    “In the practice of ritual, harmony is to be esteemed. The Way of the Former Kings was beautiful in this: in small things and great they followed it. If there is something that does not go right, one should recognize the principle of harmony, and then it will become harmonious. But if it is not moderated by ritual itself, it still won’t go right.”
    B&B’s comment:
    [BB think this was interpolated from Book 19!]
    “ ‘Way of the Former Kings’ is Sywndzian (SZ4:10, Knoblock Xunzi 1/192f). SZ 2:2 (Xunzi 1/152f) unites harmony and ritual. *1.12 accepts the ‘harmony’ insight as showing the end which a given observance is ‘trying to reach to’ (we do not follow Mao Suggestions 283, who punctuates differently, requiring an elucidation of the square-bracket type). But it also insists (compare 19:12) that ritual precedent itself exerts a necessary limiting effect on its application.”

    “In the role of rituals, the harmony is most valuable. The way of ancient Kings was wonderful because of this. The big and little things all were following this way. IF something is not practiced, it is because that someone knows the harmony and harmonizes something, but could not restrict something with the rituals, so could not practice something too.”

    Chai & Chai
    “In the usages of ceremonies, harmony is to be stressed. In the regulations of ancient kings, this was the admirable feature, the one which should prevail in all occasions. If things go amiss and one who knows the significance of harmony does not regulate them by ceremonies, they likewise will go amiss.”

    “Among the functions of propriety the most valuable is that it establishes harmony. The excellence of the ways of ancient kings consists of this. It is the guiding principle of all things great and small. If things go amiss, and you, understanding harmony, try to achieve it without regulating it by the rules of propriety, they will still go amiss.”

    “In the observance of due measure, a spirit of unforced harmony is to be prized. This was an admirable element in the conduct of our ancient kings, which they adopted in things great and small. But it will not do in all cases. The spirit of harmony may be realized and applied, yet if unregulated by the principle of self-control it will not work.”

    “The most precious fruit of Ritual is harmony. The Way of the ancient Emperors found its beauty in this, and all matters great and small depend upon it. Still, things go wrong. You may understand this harmony and even instill things with it, but if you fail to shape harmony with Ritual, you’ll never make things right.”

    “Of the things brought about by the rites, harmony is the most valuable. Of the ways of the Former Kings, this is the most beautiful, and is followed alike in matters great and small, yet this will not always work: to aim always at harmony without regulating it by the rites simply because one knows only about harmony will not, in fact, work.”

    “When practicing the ritual, what matters most is harmony. This is what made the beauty of the way of the ancient kings; it inspired their every move, great or small. Yet they knew where to stop: harmony cannot be sought for its own sake, it must always be subordinated to the ritual; otherwise it would not do.”
    Leys comments that Augustine X.33 worried about the power v. the distraction of church music.

    “What ritual values most is harmony. The Way of the former kings was truly admirable in this respect. But if in matters great and small one proceeds in this manner, the results may not always be satisfactory. You may understand the ideal of harmony and work for it, but if you do not employ ritual to regulate the proceedings, things will not go well.”

    • Very generous of you to take the time to post these various translations, Bill. Thanks!

      Looking over this list I find it interesting that the ‘natural ease’ reading can be found in Legge, Pound, and Soothill, but not in the others.

      I had forgotten that Huang parses the paragraph by alluding to music. I really like his translation in many ways.

      “But I don’t see any sign that these translators think of such naturalness in terms of harmony among parts or aspects of a person. I’m also unaware of any early use of 和 that seems to have any such meaning, but I didn’t look into it very hard, as that reading has always seemed to me simply a non-starter.”

      I had in mind passages (such as 6.18, 12.8, 15.18) that suggest we strike a balance between natural dispositions and high culture, and that part of the function of participating in rituals is to foster a proper balance of feeling with disposition and aesthetic considerations (perhaps by constraining some of our natural dispositions and shaping their expression in socially amenable ways; parsing this out in terms of harmonizing various aspects of oneself was just one way of stating this theme in the text.)

      The ‘man and nature’ readings seem most odd.

    • I think the “man and nature” idea is strongly suggested by the Li Ji’s concrete accounts of rituals. But I agree: if Youzi had meant that, he would have signaled it more clearly.

      I’m glad to hear you speak for Huang’s translation. Like you, I flip first to certain passages, and I was badly put off by his reading of Youzi. I didn’t look much farther.

    • Yes, there are parts of Huang that are less satisfactory than others, but it’s one of the better translations to bring to the surface historical and biographical bits that may be helpful in parsing certain passages. I’m thinking of using it next time I teach Chinese philosophy.

    • Glad to see the Huang translation getting some love. I’ve always thought it was unfairly neglected. It’s actually one of my favorite translations. I’m going to use it (along with some other stuff) when I teach a seminar on Confucianism in the fall. I generally don’t use it, just because I cover lots of the Chinese material and so use the Ivanhoe/Van Norden collection because many of the relevant texts are there and I don’t want the students to have to buy 5 different books. Though I’ve got some major issues with the Slingerland translation, and keep having to tell the students “well–I don’t really think that’s the right way to understand what’s going on here, but…”

  7. Hmm. I’m the farthest thing from a Zhu Xi scholar. I wonder whether Zhu Xi was thinking of Li as an alternative to a penal code, so that by 從容不迫 he meant to be describing social harmony.

  8. The Brookses and Waley (and Li, sort of) parse F-I in a different way, more or less as follows:

    F- If something does not work,
    G- practice harmony by an understanding of harmony.

    H- But if you don’t regulate it by ritual,
    I- it still won’t work.

    I think that’s not very plausible, and not just because it adds Ifs and a But that aren’t signaled in the original. On this reading the passage offers some advice to apply when you observe that “something is not working.” What kind of observation might that be? What sort of observed failure does the text have in mind? On this reading the text is very obscure (or: Youzi means ANY failed effort, and his advice is radically implausible). Also, on this reading there doesn’t seem to be much of a connection between F-I and A-E.

  9. I’m 100 percent with Lau on this one. Thanks for this, by the way–I’m in the middle of revising a paper surrounding the “social coordination” goal of the Analects, and 1.12 is a key passage I’m dealing with. I vehemently disagree with Slingerland’s reading of this–also I tend to think that the issue of value is detached from the issue of function, so that the 貴 in the passage is referring to value, while 用 is referring to something like the function of ritual. Thus I translate that bit: “Of the functions of ritual, it is (social) harmony that should be valued.” Of all the things we can use ritual to do, promotion of social harmony is most valuable. This reading is gets you the “social coordination” view, but takes a slightly different line on 用–although depending on what you mean by “value” as “use” for 用, (that is, how normatively loaded you take it to be–I take it here as completely instrumental, and the 貴 doing all the normative work) I suppose my reading of it is pretty close to Bill’s.

    • RE Lau: I think it’s easier to read Lau as ‘social coordination’ rather than ‘natural ease’ (or even the other possibilities found in Bill’s list, above), but I see that Bill has left Lau in his ‘indeterminate’ list, and perhaps there’s some reason to that.

    • I left him “indeterminate” simply because, like the others there, he’s not explicit. But he does say harmony is “brought about” by the rites, and maybe that is enough to make social harmony the only live candidate. In that case, the translators who should be moved out of “intedeterminate” into the “social harmony” group are Chan, Hinton, and Lau. The rest of the “indeterminates” probably do not mean social harmony.

    • There’s still the possibility, I guess, that a kind of ease could be brought about by practice of the rites (although I don’t think that’s the right way to understand it). Slingerland, in his explanation of his translation, calls the “harmonious ease” action in a 無為 manner. We might think that performance of the rites could lead to this in the same way constant practice in playing trumpet leads to skill–I’m thinking of Aristotle’s stuff on potentiality-actuality. By constantly practicing the rites, although it may be forced and unnatural at first, we will gain a skill and natural ease, acting in such ways almost spontaneously, just like the virtuoso plays his instrument without even thinking about the basic movements to play certain notes. Of course, I think this is a completely wrong way to read 1.12 (if I remember correctly, Joel Kupperman seems to have endorsed a view kind of like this), and I don’t think this is how Lau understands it, but it’s available I guess given the “brought about” reading (which I do accept).

    • That’s interesting, Alexus. If I remember, Kupperman has in mind natural ease in the performance of the rites, and I think it would be strange to say that what’s noble 貴 about ritual is that it trains one to do ritual more easily, so Youzi would have to mean that ritual trains one to do the rest of living more easily.

      Still, through all this, reading 和 in any context as natural ease strikes me as already too strange. I don’t know what linguistic justification there might be for that.

  10. Hi Alex,

    So you disagree with me about 小大? I’d like to know why!

    I think “function” is a value term, though like ‘good’ it admits of extended uses (the function of a good getaway car is to facilitate impunity).

    It kind of amazes me how much of an influence Youzi (and Youzi misread) has had on people’s readings of Confucius. People often use this passage to summarize Confucius’ views or the Analects (e.g. on most of the following pages – I don’t have my books handy – Schwartz, World of Thought, 70, 99; Ames&Rosemont’s Analects, 30; Ivanhoe’s small survey, p.5.

    Graham (Debaters, p. 15) and Hansen (A Daoist Theory, p. 88) have slipped so far as to say that these important lines were Confucius’ own. Leading commentators very often do that with Youzi’s contributions to the Analects.

    I think much of the reason for all that is that the sayings in the Analects are mostly brief, cryptic, and unorganized, so that to understand any of what is going on one has to read the whole collection many times; Youzi’s contributions by contrast are discursive and explanatory, and they’re near the beginning of the book so one encounters them early on each reading; one reads the book many many times before one begins to sort out the minor characters such as Youzi, and one notices first the ones who appear as recurring dramatic characters (Zilu, Yan Yuan, Zaiwo, then Zengzi and Zigong), which Youzi doesn’t. One hardly notices Youzi at all until one’s reading of the Analects has crystallized around his contributions. (Also I think he designed Book 1 to help produce that effect.) And then one can’t afford to notice the distinction between Youzi and Confucius.

    • Above and in my “Purloined” paper I falsely claim that Angus Graham misattributed 1.12 to Confucius on p. 15 of Disputers of the Tao. I don’t now see any place where Graham makes any misattribution.

  11. Bill-
    no, I agree with you on 小大! I just take the 之 as referring more narrowly–the particular function of ritual, rather than ritual itself. I might render it “The great and small both strive for social harmony”. I think our views on this are pretty similar for the most part–just a scope difference.

    By the way-your PEW paper on Youzi was very helpful for my own work-I cite you a couple of times when going over 1.12 in this article I’m revising now and which I hope will appear in print soon.

  12. speaking of central books for interpretations of Confucius–my own interpretation of much of what’s going on in the Analects centers around Book 4, which emphasizes “social coordination” (as Hagop puts it) kind of stuff. 1.12 helps me out as it seems to echo much of what’s said in Book 4. You might imagine then that I’m kind of pumped about the Brooks’ claim that Book 4 is the earliest book and represents a kind of “Confucian catechism”. Not sure I buy all the stuff about the dating, but I do read Book 4 as the doctrinal heart of the Analects.

    • Sorry Alexus!

      I share your sense that Bk 4 is as authentic as any.

      I don’t see Bk 4 as specially emphasizing “social coordination,” but maybe I’m just not getting how you understand that phrase. To me it suggests having people play different roles that mesh productively or at least innocuously.

      It would be great if you’d tell us more about your paper.

  13. On my reading, E 小大由之 says that small and great follow harmonious ritual. That is, I read 小大 (‘small and great’) as meaning “everyone, high and low.”

    There’s a relevant passage in the Liqi chapter of the Liji (#5-16 on the Sturgeon website). It’s lengthy so I won’t quote the whole thing here, but it lists out the different variations of ritual, and how these variations are valued (為貴). Two of those are large (大) and small (小). Other categories include 多,少,高,下,文,and 素.

    Passage 5 begins with 禮,有以多為貴者…

    Here are passages 7 & 8 (with the Legge translation):


    In others, greatness of size formed the mark. The dimensions of palaces and apartments; the measurements of dishes and (other) articles; the thickness of the inner and outer coffins; the greatness of eminences and mounds – these were cases in which the greatness of size was the mark.


    In others, smallness of size formed the mark. At the sacrifices of the ancestral temple, the highest in rank presented a cup (of spirits to the representative of the dead), and the low, a san (containing five times as much): (at some other sacrifices), the honourable took a zhi (containing 3 cups), and the low a horn (containing 4). (At the feasts of viscounts and barons), when the vase went round 5 times, outside the door was the earthenware fou (of supply), and inside, the hu; while the ruler’s vase was an earthenware wu – these were cases in which the smallness of size was the mark of distinction.

    In this sense line E (小大由之) might be a claim that the values of 小 and 大 variations of ritual in some sense come from the notion of harmony (i.e., the value of harmony is most essential).

    It’s also interesting to note that the idea of cheng 稱 plays the central role in the Liqi passages: 是故先生之制禮也,不可多也,不可寡也,唯其稱也。Cheng in this context, which may or may not be related to harmony 和, is neither explicitly about social coordination nor intrapersonal harmony. Rather it seems to be about ensuring that the implements for ritual are appropriate to the context (no surprise, I imagine, coming from a chapter named “The Implements of Ritual”).

  14. Wow. Good eye, Ronggui. I’d completely missed that, I think; and I shouldn’t have. It’s very interesting, and certainly deserves extended consideration in connection with 1.12.

    Upon unextended consideration, I don’t think Youzi’s 1.12 is talking about that sort of thing. I’m curious to know what other people think. Here are my reasons:

    On my reading 1.12 is a tight composition on an important matter, and its meaning fits what it seems on the surface to say (IMHO). But on the reading suggested by this LiQi passage it’s a poorer composition on a less important matter. If the LiQi passage had discussed only 小 and 大, not a much longer list of distinctions, then arguably this particular relative merit of my reading wouldn’t be as great.

    All of Youzi’s contributions to Book 1 strike me as tight and fairly clear compositions, though my sense that they are clear doesn’t really fit the fact that my readings seem pretty idiosyncratic. I believe they are writings, not remarks.

    I think that on my reading, but not the LiQi reading, the message of 1.12 neatly fits Youzi’s other contributions to Book 1, and the themes of Book 1 as a whole. (In brief: that the form of people’s overall interaction with society at large strongly tends to follow the forms of their face-to-face interactions with particular people, so that the way to pursue the grand virtues for public life is to pursue the recognized humble virtues of more personal or local life.)

    There’s nothing else in Book 1 about details of ritual, and nothing else in Youzi’s other contributions. Roger Ames says (in his article on Confucius’ disciples in the Cua encyclopedia) that as Confucians go, Youzi was a stickler for fine points of ritual (and a sourpuss to boot), but he doesn’t give evidence, and I couldn’t find any. I think the mentions of Youzi in the Book of Ritual suggest the opposite. On the other hand, Youzi certainly was a Ru whom the Duke of Lu consulted on matters of ritual.

  15. Fascinated to read the discussion on this interesting passage.

    As a belated comment, I’d like to add my two cents on the passage from my interpretation of Zhu Xi’s annotation – though I am no good translator at all:

    1) yong 用: I think it probably means “performance” here. The passage relates that in the performance of ritual, the most important matter is to maintain an attitude and manner of easiness and grace – what Zhu Xi interprets as 從容不迫 – neither pushy nor tardy, but some kind of middle way in between.

    2) he 和: if Zhu Xi is right, then the word “he” in this context has nothing to do with social harmony. It describes solely the latitude, elegance, and easy manner through which one should perform the ritual.

    Overall, I think Legge’s translation gets the grammar and correct punctuation of the original text most nicely.

  16. Hi Bill,

    This is in response to your comment on this thread:

    I was especially curious to see whether Michael talks about LY 1.12 (an extremely influential passage in anglophone Confucius studies, which says either that the function of ritual is to promote harmony or (according to Zhu Xi, Kupperman and Slingerland) that ritual should be performed with the ease of second nature — as discussed in and under Hagop Sarkissian’s 2/6/10 post). Apparently the book doesn’t touch on that passage, as the book is mainly about the Liji; though I gather that the book’s general view fits the first reading, broadly understood so as to encompass some of the general vision reflected in the second reading.

    I figured I’d respond to this part of the comment on this thread since it’s more relevant here. I think you’ve got it right. In the book, I tend to focus on the “social coordination” reading of li, although I also account for an “intrapersonal harmony” reading of li as well (particularly in chapter one). In the LIji, li is often spoken of in terms of zhi 治; and 治 often occurs as 治國,治政,治天下, etc. in the social coordination sense, and as 治人情,治躬,and 治心 in the intrapersonal sense.

    As far as Lunyu 1.12 is concerned, the Zhengyi commentators seem to want to read it in conjunction with a passage like this from the Yueji (and I should note that Huang’s translation is pretty much based on the Zhengyi commentary):


    Legge’s translation from ctext:
    Similarity and union are the aim of music; difference and distinction, that of ceremony. From union comes mutual affection; from difference, mutual respect. Where music prevails, we find a weak coalescence; where ceremony prevails, a tendency to separation. It is the business of the two to blend people’s feelings and give elegance to their outward manifestations. Through the perception of right produced by ceremony, came the degrees of the noble and the mean; through the union of culture arising from music, harmony between high and low. By the exhibition of what was to be liked and what was to be disliked, a distinction was made between the worthy and unworthy. When violence was prevented by punishments, and the worthy were raised to rank, the operation of government was made impartial. Then came benevolence in the love (of the people), and righteousness in the correction (of their errors); and in this way good government held its course.

    Lunyu 1.12, in this light, is about the proper harmonization of music and ritual. Yue and li serve complementary functions of uniting the people, but also in making sure that they remain in distinct social roles. Admittedly, this doesn’t solve all of the complexities of 1.12; and I’m not sure how such a reading fits in with Youzi’s other comments (which reminds me that I need to spend some time with your article that I’ve had in my “to-read” list for a while). Lastly, I’m also “Ronggui” in comment 13. That passage from the Liqi chapter also provides a little more insight into the way a reading of the Liji might suggest alternative readings of the Lunyu (for good or bad).

  17. Erin Cline’s new book Families of Virtue offers a new reading of 1.12, on p.6 (Amazon shows ample context):

    o 有子曰 [not supplied]

    A 禮之用 [below]
    B 和為貴 What ritual values most is harmony.
    C 先王之道 The way of the former kings
    D 斯為美 was truly admirable in this respect.

    E 小大由之 But if in matters great and small one proceeds in this manner,
    F 有所不行 the results may not always be satisfactory.
    G 知和而和 You may understand the ideal of harmony and work for it,
    H 不以禮節之 but if you do not employ ritual to regulate the proceedings,
    I 亦不可行也 things will not go well.

    If I understand Cline’s translation correctly, the message she finds in EFGHI is this:

    “But if every detail of ritual follows harmony, follows valuing harmony most; that is, if harmony is our prime standard in designing even the finest points of ritual—then things won’t be quite right. We must also make ritual restrain our pursuit of harmony somewhat; we must design ritual in a way that limits the preference we give to harmony.”

    This message differs in a couple of interesting ways from the message I find in the passage.

    On my reading, lines FGHI argue that we should not depart from ritual in pursuit of harmony. The point is that the most effective path to harmony involves sticking to ritual, even where you might not think so.

    But (1) on Cline’s reading, the issue is not whether to stick to ritual or depart from it; the issue rather is what values should determine the features of ritual, what values should determine the rules of ritual about what to do when.

    (Or maybe instead she takes the picture to be that ritual can be used in different ways, without different rules, and小大 refers to large and small uses of it that one might or might not make, as determined by the ends one is pursuing由? But then we might expect her to translate A differently?)

    And (2) on Cline’s reading, the concern of EFGHI is to push for more attention to values the passage does not name, which compete with harmony.

    It seems to me odd to argue for attention to other values without giving any hint what they might be (even if one hasn’t just been grandly extolling that which one is pushing against). So it seems to me that if Youzi meant what Cline says the exposition means, this is not the exposition he would have written.

    • But hmm, maybe I’ve misunderstood her. I was taking her

      E 小大由之 But if in matters great and small one proceeds in this manner,

      to mean roughly “If … one proceeds in the manner of the former kings.”

      But if she just meant “if in matters great and small one pursues harmony”—pursues it in the large and small things of life, not just in ritual—then my comments above are off-target, and I should comment instead:

      I think it’s highly unnatural to take the 之 of line E (小大由之) to refer simply to harmony crucially in contradistinction from the whole way of the former kings, harmony through ritual. (I think the same point applies to Cline’s English, which is why I didn’t read her that way.)

  18. Two camps on Analects 1.12, and how to read “禮之用”

    The three main interpretive controversies about the first half of Youzi’s little treatise in 1.12 should fall into two camps, A and B:

    A. In the performance of ritual
    —————B. Among the uses of ritual

    A. Natural ease (or music, or coordination with nature)
    —————B. Social harmony

    A. (in) great and small matters or aspects
    —————B. All people, high and low

    Regarding “小大由之”: The case (mostly detailed above) for the B reading seems to me conclusive. Brief recap:

    • All or almost all contemporary and earlier uses of the phrase “小大” use it to mean all parties, parties of every rank or status; the only other occurrence in the Analects refers to high and low status.

    • One passage in the Liji and one passage in the Xiaojing seem to be loose paraphrases of 1.12 (in each case adjoining a paraphrase of another Youzi statement). These paraphrases don’t use “小大”; rather they use “上下”, referring to high and low people in harmony. Neither paraphrase says anything about great and small matters or respects.

    • The B reading of “小大” distinctively fits a plausible interpretation of 1.12 as alluding to Mao 209, an interpretation that makes 1.12 neatly fit the pattern of Youzi’s other statements in the Analects.

    • People great and small following something, doing something together (such as ritual)—that’s what social harmony is. So the B reading of “小大” is a very nice fit with the B reading of “和”. As for the A reading, (in) great and small aspects or matters—that’s hardly more than a throwaway line, a bit of emphasis you could put anywhere.

    Even in English, “great and small” (by itself in the subject position) is naturally read as meaning great and small parties, not great and small aspects or actions.

    So I ask myself why anyone prefers the reading “in matters great and small.” Maybe it’s the commentarial tradition, which is often plausible.

    Maybe it’s that people want 1.12 to be about natural ease, and the B reading of “小大” interferes with that by strongly suggesting the B reading of “和”—as it does.

    Or maybe it’s that people want 1.12 to be about the importance of the little things, of everyday life, to fit some idea of a contrast between Confucianism and Western philosophy (however little interested Youzi may have been in pointing to that contrast). Ivanhoe’s new book has a chapter titled, “Social Practices Great and Small.”


    Maybe part of what moves people is the feeling that the opening phrase “禮之用” has to mean “in the conduct of ritual” rather than “the function/value/utility of ritual.”

    In a review of Li Chenyang’s recent book The Confucian Philosophy of Harmony, Kai Marchal writes,

    Sinologists might worry that [the book holds] … a far too ahistoric and monolithic picture of harmony (see, for example, his rather misleading translation of the famous first phrase in Analects 1.12 on page 57; compare 61, 89, 140, passim).
    [Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, Vol. 77 No. 2, June 2014, p. 424]

    The partial translation Li gives on p. 57 is:

    “Of the things brought about by ritual propriety, the most important is harmony. It is precisely such harmony that makes the ancient sage-kings’ way so beautiful.”

    It seems that Kai’s objection is to the translation of “X之用,…” as “Of the things brought about by X,…”. In this, Li Chenyang follows D. C. Lau. But most translators stand with Kai:


    Brookses — In the practice of ritual
    Chai & Chai — In the usages of ceremonies
    Dawson — In the practice of the rites
    Eno — In the practice of li
    Giles — In the observance of due measure
    Graham — In the employment of ceremony
    Huang — In the application of the rituals
    Ivanhoe — In practicing the rituals
    Legge — In practising the rules of propriety
    Leys — When practicing the ritual
    Li, David — In applying Conduct
    Slingerland, Sarkissian — When it comes to the practice of ritual
    Soothill — In the usages of Decorum
    Waley — In the usages of ritual
    Ware — In carrying out the rites


    Cai — In the role of rituals
    Chan — Among the functions of propriety
    Haines — In the value of ritual
    Hinton — The most precious fruit of Ritual
    Lau — Of the things brought about by the Rites
    Li Chenyang — Of the things brought about by ritual propriety


    Ames & Rosemont — Achieving harmony is the most valuable function of observing ritual propriety
    Watson — What ritual values most

    (Legge should perhaps be counted on both sides of this question, since in the Liji paraphrase of 1.12, he translates “禮之用” as “the result of the ceremonial usages” — see above in boldface.)

    I want to offer here a few points in favor of the minority B reading of “禮之用”, and one rebuttal of a reason against.


    The A reading of “禮之用” tends to cast “和” in a (substantively) adverbial role, as the name of a manner of performing ritual, praised only as a manner of performing ritual. So when Youzi later tells us to use ritual to limit/regulate our use of that manner, the reader may and perhaps should stumble. Use ritual to limit a manner of performing ritual? Of course, this is only a small problem if we’re reading “和” as interpersonal harmony, peaceable cooperation. It’s a major problem if we’re reading “和” as natural ease, which is already quite adverbial on its own, if you will.


    In English, while one or two noun forms of the verb ‘use’ means “using” (viz. ‘using’ and maybe ‘use’), several noun forms or cognates of that verb can and normally do mean something like valued result or outcome.

    What’s the use of crying?
    Maximize utility.
    Her usefulness to us is limited.

    So it seems rather natural that the noun form of a verb that means roughly ‘to use,’ can mean not just the using or carrying-out but also the utility, the value end of that activity. A bunch of other words are ambiguous in the same way: What is this thing’s functioning or its function, what are its workings and its work, how is it done and what does it do, what is its action?

    Some natural conceptual dynamic seems to be involved here.


    I looked at some old texts where CTP gives an English translation to help me. (Here in quoting from translations I don’t mean to be appealing to their authority; I just quote whatever translation CTP gives.)

    Of course there are passages in old texts where “X之用” means the doing or using of X, not the use of X or what X does.

    Some passages seem to me to go the B way, or at least to bring out the naturalness of the flexibility I mentioned above, where “the use of X” can mean either the using of X or the usefulness of X:

    One of the Mozi’s three tests for doctrines is whether they have 用—whether they are applicable, serviceable, useful, beneficial. For example, from Against Fatalism I:

    What are the three tests? Mozi said: Its basis, its verifiability, and its applicability. How is it to be based? It should be based on the deeds of the ancient sage-kings. How is it to be verified? It is to be verified by the senses of hearing and sight of the common people. How is it to be applied? It is to be applied by adopting it in government and observing its benefits to the country and the people. This is what is meant by the three tests of every doctrine.

    Daodejing 11:

    “… but it is on the empty space (for the axle), that the use of the wheel depends.
    …but it is on their empty hollowness, that their use depends.
    …but it is on the empty space (within), that its use depends.
    Therefore, what has a (positive) existence serves for profitable adaptation, and what has not that for (actual) usefulness.”

    (When it says the following, is DDJ 40 setting up a contrast or a parallel? “反者道之動;弱者道之用” )

    Zhuangzi, 人間世:

    Legge: “All men know the advantage of being useful, but no one knows the advantage of being useless.” (etc.)

    Yangzi Fayan, tr. J. Bullock:

    3. Cultivating the Self, 24:
    “或問「仁、義、禮、智、信之用」。” – Bullock translates, “Someone asked about the function of ren, yi, …” – and the answers seem to fit.

    12. The Junzi, 9:
    “淮南說之用,不如太史公之用也。” Bullock translates, “The Huainanzi’s teaching is not as useful as the Shiji.” (But could we just as well say, “Using the Huainanzi is not as good as using the Shiji”?)

    13. The Priority of Filial Devotion, 31:
    “致帝者之用” – Bullock gives “As for the emperor’s role”.

    This last item suggests that the the phrase “X之用”, referring to the function performed by X, need not imply a narrowly instrumental picture.

    ( This non-sinologist is a little intrigued by the following passage from the Liji, Li Qi 32, in light of the second phrase in 1.12: “割刀之用,而鸞刀之貴,貴其義也。” especially if Legge is right to translate it as “An ordinary knife might be employed (to kill the victim), but that fitted with bells is preferred, giving honour to the idea thereby indicated.” Perhaps this bit from Li Qi 24 should be read as parallel to the above: “醴酒之用,玄酒之尚” ? Legge has, “the use of sweet spirits, and the value set on water.” (In my linguistic ignorance I wonder whether “用” in these two passages might better be read as “庸”.) If this were how 1.12 is to be read, should the phrasing of 1.12 be rather “禮之用, 和之貴” ?? I’m way out of my depth throughout this parenthesis. )

    • An old translation that agrees approximately with my reading of “小大由之” is by William Jennings.

      emphasis added:

      “For the practice of the Rules of Propriety, one excellent way is to be natural. This naturalness became a great grace in the practice of kings of former times; let everyone, small or great, follow their example.
      It is not, however, always practicable; and it is not so in the case of a person who does things naturally, knowing that he should act so, and yet who neglects to regulate his actions according to the Rules.”

  19. Here’s an argument against my reading of “小大由之”, an argument that occurred to me only a few days ago, when I came across a claim about 1.12 that I couldn’t otherwise make sense of (specifically, the claim that 1.12 asserts or strongly suggests that virtue is highly contagious).

    One might take “先王之道” to refer to the way of the kings not in the sense of the way they approved and instituted for society, but rather the way for the kings’ own doings. I believe that is one pole of the range of import the phrase could have. (I believe all our other records of the phrase are from long after Youzi, and I think 1.12 is by Youzi, so I think the use of the phrase in other passages is of limited value as evidence of Youzi’s meaning.)

    And if we take this way to include ways of ruling and hence ruling itself, then only rulers can walk that road, so we can’t say “great and small” do it. And if we take the kings’ way to include forms of ritual that mark their rank, then none but kings should walk that road (though I gather it was thought that different ancient kings used different ritual forms).

    On this reading of “先王之道”, we might take “小大由之” to mean that the small and great were loyal to those kings—drawn by the beauty of their harmony or natural ease.

    Or we may take “小大由之” to speak of punctiliousness by kings themselves—not reporting tautologically that the ancient kings followed their own way, but rather addressing current kings and enjoining them to follow that way in detail. This reading would seem to require us to read the rest of 1.12 as literally addressing current kings specifically—unless we read the closing lines with Harbsmeier at TLS (his Lunyu there is always worth consulting): “but there were things they would not do. Understanding harmony, then to go on to be (simply) harmonious without tempering harmony with ritual propriety: that is still something one should not undertake to do.”

    Or if we suppose that “先王之道” to refer to their moral virtue as individuals, sans details of ritual or position, we could take “小大由之” to claim that small and great followed the kings’ lead by adopting similar virtues.

    Any thoughts?

    • I would love to reply right now, but I’m scrambling with end of semester stuff. I’ll try to chime in sometime later this week / early next week. (I’d want to revisit the stuff that came before). But thanks for keeping the discussion going, Bill!

    • Clarifications in bold —

      By this:
      “One might take “先王之道” to refer to the way of the kings not in the sense of the way they approved and instituted for society, but rather the way for the kings’ own doings”

      I meant this:
      “One might take “先王之道” to refer to the way of the kings not in the sense of the way they approved and instituted for society and acted one role in, but rather the way for the kings’ own doings only.”

  20. A new translation of 1.12 from Chris Wen-Chao Li:

    Hubert @EubieSays
    Laws are there to keep the peace. That is the wisdom of our founding fathers. Nothing escapes the reach of the law. While it is tempting to strike deals outside the letter of the law, such shady dealings rarely ever see happy endings.

  21. Today the incarcerated tweeter called “Secrets from a Prison Cell” (also his book title) posted:

    “We had a chess tournament in my prison unit. There were gang leaders, nerds, LGBTQ & elderly folks playing & talking to each other. It was a great community building day. When ppl look into each other’s eyes & really see them, they’re less likely to do each other harm. A good day.”

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