Confucius—“Master Kung” (551–479 BCE), the Chinese thinker and social philosopher—originated teachings that have deeply influenced Chinese, Korean, Japanese, and Vietnamese thought and life over many centuries. His philosophy emphasized personal and governmental morality, justice, and appropriateness in social relationships. In time these values gained prominence in China over other doctrines, such as Taoism and even Buddhism. His thoughts later developed into a system of philosophy known as Confucianism.
Today there remain many mysteries about the actual circumstances of his life, and the development of his influence has yet to be encapsulated for the general reader. But with Michael Nylan and Thomas Wilson’s Lives of Confucius, many mysteries are laid to rest about his historical life, and fascinating details emerge about how his mythic stature evolved over time, right up to the present day.
Confucius, the English name for Kongzi or Master Kong, is regarded today as one of history's greatest philosophers. Nylan (East Asian studies, Univ. of California, Berkeley; The Five "Confucian" Classics) and Wilson (East Asian history, Hamilton Coll.) tackle the life of this unique figure, whose ideas and teachings have influenced not only Chinese culture but also Korean, Japanese, and Vietnamese cultures over the past 2000 years. This book is not a traditional biography; instead, it looks at Confucius from the perspective of different time periods, exploring how his image, reputation, ideas, and writings were used and altered to fit into the particular agenda of the era. Starting with the first biography of Confucius written 100 years after his death and ending with modern American and Chinese perspectives, Nylan and Wilson cover a huge time frame, producing a full, rich portrait of a complex individual. VERDICT A thought-provoking book for those who really wish to understand Confucius and his evolving place in Chinese culture and one best suited for serious readers and academic libraries with collections in Asian history, philosophy, or religion—Melissa Aho, Bio-Medical Lib., Univ. of Minnesota, Minneapolis