How might a modern Chinese reader, with a Confucian background, read Joseph Conrad’s “Amy Foster”? Self-cultivation is the core and root of Confucianism, which emphasizes self-reflection; for instance, when an archer misses the center of the target, he turns round and seeks for the cause of his failure in himself. If Yanko failed to lead a happy life, a Confucian would ask: What is Yanko’s own responsibility for his misfortunes? This essay argues that Yanko’s “good will” is wanted by nobody because of his inability to practise shu (恕, forgiveness or putting oneself in another’s position)—a key Confucian concept of human conduct. In addition, a Confucian perspective also highlights the importance of Swaffer and establishes him as the moral center because he corresponds to the ideal Confucian personality, junzi (君子, gentleman). However, reading Joseph Conrad with Confucianism exposes the latter’s limitations as well. Confucius advocates life as it should be while Conrad depicts life as it is. The rational and moral framework offered by Confucianism fails to cover the Conradian complexity and sublimity.


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