Proverbs and LunYu of Confucius

It is interesting and useful to compare wisdom literature of various cultures.  It no longer surprised me that there are much similarities in Chinese Wisdom Literature as represented by the Chinese Classics and the Bible. See Chinese Classics & The Bible - Table of Content for list of postings on it.

Proverb 1 Summary
Here is a mind map of Proverb 1 ...

The key teachings of Proverb 1 is:
  1. Get Wisdom 1:2-6,20-22
  2. Fear God 1:7
  3. Listen to Parents 1:8-9
  4. Stay Away from Evil 1:10-19
  5. Learning is Self-motivating 1:23
The first 5 verses of Lun Yu of Confucius is:
Chapter 1 学而 Learning

1 子曰 Confucius says:
  • 1a“学而时习之,不亦说乎?Learning and practicing, is it not a joy?
  • 1b 有朋自远方来,不亦乐乎?Having friends from far away, is it not joyful?
  • 1c 人不知而不愠,不亦君子乎? Not feeling angry when others don't know about or acknowledge you, it not this a gentleman (wise superior man)?
2 有子曰 YouZi says:
  • 其为人也孝弟,而好犯上者,鲜矣;不好犯上,而好作乱者,未之有也。
    Those that respect parents and friends, they are seldom disrespectful to their superiors. Those that are not disrespectful to their superior and at the same time create troubles, cannot be found.
  • 君子务本,本立而道生。孝弟也者,其为仁之本与!
    Wise men (frequently translated as Superior Men) focus on the development of  basics first. When the basic foundations are strong, moral virtuous character is birthed. Respecting our elders and friends is the basic of love and compassion.
3 子曰 Confucius says:“巧言令色,鲜矣仁!” "smooth, flowery and tricky speech, tempting appearances, are seldom associated with true love and compassion.

4 曾子曰:“吾日三省吾身:为人谋而不忠乎?与朋友交而不信乎?传不习乎?”
Zeng Zi says: "I examine my life daily on three things. Am I faithful in my work? Am I trustworthy with my friends? Am I doing what I am teaching?

5 子曰:“道千乘之国:敬事而信,节用而爱人,使民以时。”
Confucius says: "The ways to govern a big country are: faithful in work and be trustworthy. Controlling my spending(be not wasteful) and loving the people, using the people at the right time (i.e. use them when they are free and not to disturb their farming or other productive activities)

The Similarities

1. The Joy of Learning. Both starts with the call to learning and acquiring wisdom. Confucius stressed on the Joy from learning and enjoying to learn more. This is reflected in Prov 1:23, point 5 above, that learning, once acquired, is self-motivating. Some how, our society, schools and churches have proclaim and make learning a burden. People has acquired the attitude that learning is difficult, stressing and boring. It is something you do as the last resort. So why do we wonder that people don't read the Bible or don't study? If you want to create a learning environment, an organization or a family, we have to change the perception about learning. Learning is fun and joy. Bring the joy and fun back into learning. There are many ways to make learning easy and fun. Even the tough part of problem solving can become a adventure to find the treasures. We must talk about making 'Quiet Time' a joyful time.

Confucius told us a secret of making learning joyful. It is in practicing what we have learned. By putting what we learned into practice, we discover its usefulness and are motivated to learn more. Hence, usefulness, is a good motivator for making learning joyful. Students may not know the usefulness of certain topics. It is the teacher that must show and tell. Once we have the motivation to learn, learning is not difficult but fun.

Joy of learning comes from our relationships with friends, even from those that come from afar just to have fellowship with us.

To summarize, learning itself is fun. We can also make it fun by showing its usefulness, applying it and learning together with friends of same interests.

2. Respects for the Elders
Proverb teaches us to 'fear' God and obey our parents. Confucius uses the filial piety for our parents and respect towards our friends. It include much more than being obedience. It includes taking good care of them and not to bring shame on to them by our behavior. (Other parts of Proverbs talk about not shaming the family too). The basics of love is respect.

3. Stay Away from Evils
Confucius told us to be watchful of tempting speeches and appearances, reflecting the warning of Prov 1:10-15 not to participate in evil doing though such evil acts seems attractive.

Confucius also stressed on love and the foundation of love, as described above, is respect. Within the family, respect should be shown for the elders, besides our parents. Outside of the family, respect should be given to our friends and our colleagues.  We should be faithful in our work, trustworthy to our friends, and to ourselves by making sure we practice what we teach.

4. Keeping of Quiet Time
1:4 Zeng Zi encouraged us to reflect on our life daily. This is like the encouragement for believers to have quiet time daily.

The Differences

It is quite obvious that in the Confucius saying above, there is no mention of God. Did Confucius believe in a God? To answer this, we need to find out his saying in other part of Lun Yu.  Here is one:

Confucius says:" Did the Heaven talk? Four seasons move in cycles. Many things continue to live. Can you hear the Heaven's speech?

Hence, we can see that Confucius is like the typical ancient Chinese that believe in a God of creation and you can see His work in the creation.

Other verses include:
  • Respect the spiritual entities and stay away from them. 〈雍也第六〉:...敬鬼神而远之...
  • We can't even serve people properly, why be concern about serving the ghosts?〈先进第十一〉:...未能事人,焉能事鬼...
(note: Some Chinese believe that after men died, some become ghosts. Ancestor worship, a form of showing respect,  in a way, become worshiping the ghosts of the ancestors)

Confucius is like typical Chinese, or may be Chinese is typical Confucius's disciple, that they believe in respecting and being fearful of God and it is better to hold our distance from them just in case we may anger the God(or gods). They need to know a God that loves them and want to be involved in the lives of His children. The respect for our elders should naturally be extended to our God that created us.

I think the lack of mention of God is more likely due to Confucius' thinking that learning is a human thing that is natural to human and must be done by human.


We can integrate both teachings and learn the following:
  1. Get wisdom. Learning is joy.
  2. Respect God, elders and friends. Obey God and our parents.
  3. Have a joyful time with God and our friends.
  4. Stay Away from Tempting Talks and Appearances. Keep evil away - Best is by the following love.
  5. Build up on foundation of love by respect and trustworthiness. Trustworthiness in work, relationship and to ourselves by matching our talk with our walk.
  6. Reflect Daily & Continue to learn joyfully and become wiser with time.

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