translation of Zhu Xi commentary on the annalects of Confucius

Today we are looking at a section from the first chapter of Zhu xi’s commentary on the analects of Confucius. Zhu Xi was a Song Dynasty Confucian who believed in the idea of combining Confucian and Daoist philosophy to create a new self cultivation school which was steeped in both Confucian ideas about social propriety and Daoist ideas about self development through meditation and cosmological philosophy.

We will now review a comment on a piece of original text from the Confucian analects.

original text:

You zi said: “those who have the quality of being filial and fraternal and loves to become angry and aggressive are few.
Those who do not like to express anger and aggression and like to commit themselves to wildness do not exist!

Zhu Xi comment:

“di” and “hao” are pronounced with a leaving tone. “Xian” and “Shang” have a falling tone. You Zi is the disciple of Confucius, his name was Ruo.

善事父母为孝,善 事兄长为弟。犯上,谓干犯在上之人。鲜,少也。

Those who commit good acts for their parents are called filial, those who commit good acts for their siblings are called fraternal.
Anger and aggression is committed by people who find it easy to become angry.
They are few, as to be considered very fresh.


“committing wild acts” refers to being malicious, going against, fighting and quarreling.


This refers to people who are able to be filial and fraternal must be harmonious of heart and smooth in action, so few of them can become aggressive, and they cannot, as such, engage in wildness.

original text:
君子务本,本立而道生。孝 弟也者,其为仁之本与!”

“the gentleman takes on work as his basic,
when the basic is set upright, the way can be born. Filial and fraternal, this can be considered to be the root of humanity.

Zhu xi comment:


“yu” has a flat tone. “work” refers to using strength.
“basic” refers to a root.
“humanity” refers to the principle of love and the virtue of the heart. To engage in humanity also refers to going forth in a humane fashion.

与者,疑辞,谦退不敢质言也。言君子凡事专用力于 根本,根本既立,则其道自生。

The person meeting with this, if questioning the edict (of parents and senior siblings) should humbly step back and not be so brave as to speak about the essence of the subject. The gentleman always uses his power to establish the basic (the basic needs of the family) and when the basic is set upright, the correct way will be born of its own accord.


The above article about filial and fraternal piety is actually the root of humanity. He who studies this must take it as his work and then the way of being humane will emerge of this.


Cheng Zi said: “filial and fraternal is the virtue of smoothing, thus it isn’t easy to beome annoyed so who could return to going against the principle (of virtue) and engage in any wild action on a regular basis?

德 有本,本立则其道充大。孝弟行于家,而后仁爱及于物,所谓亲亲而仁民也。

Virtue has its root, its root is made upright and thus the Dao becomes vast and connected. The filial and fraternal child acts for his family and then achieved humane love for all beings. Thus he becomes a fatherly figure and acts humanely toward all people.

故为仁以孝弟为本。论性,则以仁为孝弟之本。”或问:“孝弟为仁之本,此是由孝弟 可以至仁否?”曰:“非也。

So people who act humanely take filiality and fraternity as their core principle. Speaking of its nature, humanity must take filial and fraternal piety as its root.
So it is asked: “if the root of humanity is found in filial and fraternal piety, does it mean that if one is filial and fraternal, they have achieved humanity?”
The answer no.


If someone acts humanely, they take filial and fraternal piety as the beginning. Filial and fraternal piety are one activity of humanity. So in order to act with humanity, they should have this as their basic. They cannot expect that this will automatically make them rooted in humanity.

盖仁是性也,孝弟是用也,性中只有个仁、义、礼、智四 者而已,曷尝有孝弟来。然仁主于爱,爱莫大于爱亲,故曰孝弟也者,其为仁之本与!”

if they have humanity as their true nature, then filial and fraternal piety is how they manifest it. From the centre of their nature they have humanity, law, courtesy, and wisdom, all four together. They can experience how this works through being filial and fraternal. The work of humanity is controlled by love, and there is no love as great as that of the family. Thus it is said that one who is filial and fraternal has the root of humanity.

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