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  • Mestari Kongin Keskustelut: Kungfutselaisuuden ydinolemus (The discourses of Master Kong: The essence of Confucianism) by Jyrki Kallio
  • Matti Nojonen (bio)
Mestari Kongin Keskustelut: Kungfutselaisuuden ydinolemus (The discourses of Master Kong: The essence of Confucianism). By Jyrki Kallio. Helsinki: Gaudeamus Helsinki University Press, 2014. Pp. 382. Hardcover €34, isbn 978-952-495-337-5.

The Discourses of Master Kong: The Essence of Confucianism (hereafter Master Kong), written in Finnish by Jyrki Kallio, is a laudable work on Confucianism not only for students of Chinese philosophy but for a broader audience as well. The book is the first comprehensive work on Confucianism in the Finnish language: it comprises an annotated and critical complete translation of the Analects as well as longer selected and annotated translations from the Guodian corpus and central early Confucian classics such as the Mengzi and Xunzi; it also revisits texts from later Confucian thinkers. This lucidly written work is more than a translation of the seminal Confucian Analects; it is a handbook of Confucian philosophy and a testimony to an outstanding knowledge of the history of Chinese philosophy.

The style of writing and scholarly background work of Master Kong represent, in my opinion, the pinnacle of Kallio’s work to date on traditional Chinese thinking and prose, even surpassing his translation of the Guwen guanzhi 古文觀止, a classical Chinese prose anthology dating from 1695. Kallio has translated into Finnish and annotated a comprehensive selection of essays from the Guwen guanzhi, published [End Page 1368] in three hardcover volumes (783 pages in total) by Gaudeamus Helsinki University Press (2005, 2007, 2008). In 2015 Master Kong received the highly valued J. A. Hollo nonfiction prize for the best foreign-language translation work in Finland.

Master Kong consists of five parts, each of which is divided into thematic chapters. The first part provides a historical outline of Confucius’ life and the lives of his immediate disciples. The second provides a critical translation of the Analects, accompanied by a wealth of insightful comments and explanations. In the third part, Kallio leads the reader through the evolution of Confucianism from the Guodian texts through other classics up to the most recent revival of Confucianism in contemporary China. The fourth part provides the original Chinese text of the Analects. The fifth and last part contains a chapter on languages and names, as well as maps, tables of timelines and family trees of Confucianism, a name index, and a bibliography.

In the first part, Kallio encapsulates the known historical facts of Confucius’ life and whereabouts, and provides a summary of Confucius’ known disciples. The second part begins with a description of applied philosophy and the approach Kallio took in translating the Analects. He asserts that his translation aims to capture the original nature of the text to the extent possible by making a critical and comparative translation of the earliest existing editions of the Analects, with this effort including an analysis of the bamboo strip fragments from the Dingzhou excavation. This approach is not novel, as Kallio himself states. In this respect, Kallio follows the path set by Ames and Rosemont1 and Slingerland.2 In endeavoring to provide the reader with as pure a translation as possible, Kallio is avoiding Slingerland’s approach of explaining the Analects by attaching commentaries to the translation.3

Kallio states that in comparison to the translation of Ames and Rosemont4 his is not “philosophical,” in the sense that he does not expressly bind it to a particular theoretical framework that ultimately constrains the translation work and the explanations of the original text. With this contextualization Kallio aims at being as true to the original text as possible.

Kallio creates a unique four-stratum description of the twenty books that comprise the Analects. The first stratum, termed “The Oldest Stratum,” consists of Books III–VII and IX, and, as in the translation by Brooks and Brooks, Book IV is the opening chapter of the Analects.5 The second stratum, referred to as “The Middle Stratum,” consists of Books VIII, X, II, and I and, according to Kallio, is a collection of miscellaneous books that are not as old as the books of the first stratum, but were...


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