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Throughout Chinese history there have been several different theories regarding the authorship of the Mengzi. The famed Han Dynasty historian Sima Qian believed that Mencius himself wrote the book with the participation of his students Wan Zhang and Gongsun Chou. Zhu Xi, Zhao Qi, and Qing Dynasty Confucian scholar Jiao Xun believed that Mencius wrote the book himself without any participation from other scholars. Tang Dynasty writers Han Yu and Su Shi, as well as 12th century scholar Chao Gongwu, believed that Wan Zhang and Gongsun Chou wrote the book after Mencius' death from their own records and memories. Like all Chinese classics, the Mengzi has been annotated many times throughout history, but those of Zhao Qi, Zhu Xi, and Jiao Xun are considered the most authoritative.
The Mengzi did not initially enjoy a preeminent position among the great works of Classical Chinese. In the Book of Han's list of notable books and classics, the Mengzi is listed only among the miscellaneous minor works. Emperor Wen of Han officially listed the Mengzi, along with the Analects, the Classic of Filial Piety, and the Erya, among the "Teachings and Records of Master Scholars", giving it Imperial approval. During the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms Period, Emperor Meng Chang of Later Shu included the Mengzi in his project of engraving Chinese classics upon stone stele, which likely marks its earliest entrance into the category of true Chinese classics. During the reign of Emperor Xiaozong of Song, Zhu Xi declared the official addition of "The Four Books" (traditional Chinese: 四書) — the Mengzi, the Analects, the Great Learning, and the Doctrine of the Mean &mdash as Chinese classics all students should learn. By the Ming Dynasty and Qing Dynasty, the Mengzi was part of the material tested on the Imperial examinations.
Bryan Van Norden's new translation of the Mengzi (Mencius) is accurate, philosophically nuanced, and fluent. Accompanied by selected passages from the classic commentary of Zhu Xi--one of the most influential and insightful interpreters of Confucianism--this edition provides readers with a parallel to the Chinese practice of reading a classic text alongside traditional commentaries. Also included are an Introduction that situates Mengzi and Zhu Xi in their intellectual and social contexts; a glossary of names, places and important terms; a selected bibliography; and an index.
Known throughout East Asia as Mengzi, or "Master Meng," Mencius (391-308 B.C.E.) was a Chinese philosopher of the late Zhou dynasty, an instrumental figure in the spread of the Confucian tradition, and a brilliant illuminator of its ideas. Mencius was active during the Warring States Period (403-221 B.C.E.), in which competing powers sought to control the declining Zhou empire. Like Confucius, Mencius journeyed to one feudal court after another, searching for a proper lord who could put his teachings into practice. Only a leader who possessed the moral qualities of a true king could unify China, Mencius believed, and in his defense of Zhou rule and Confucian philosophy, he developed an innovative and highly nuanced approach to understanding politics, self-cultivation, and human nature, profoundly influencing the course of Confucian thought and East Asian culture.
Mencius is a record of the philosopher's conversations with warring lords, disciples, and adversaries of the Way, as well as a collection of pronouncements on government, human nature, and a variety of other philosophical and political subjects. Mencius is largely concerned with the motivations of human actors and their capacity for mutual respect. He builds on the Confucian idea of ren, or humaneness, and places it alongside the complementary principle of yi, or rightness, advancing a complex notion of what is right for certain individuals as they perform distinct roles in specific situations. Consequently, Mencius's impact was felt not only in the thought of the intellectual and social elite but also in the value and belief systems of all Chinese people.
Several times during my long residence in Hong Kong I endeavoured to read through the "Narrative of Fa-Hsien;" but though interested with the graphic details of much of the work, its columns bristled so constantly—now with his phonetic representations of Sanskrit words, and now with his substitution for them of their meanings in Chinese characters, and I was, moreover, so much occupied with my own special labours on the Confucian Classics, that my success was far from satisfactory. When Dr. Eitel's "Handbook for the Student of Chinese Buddhism" appeared in 1870, the difficulty occasioned by the Sanskrit words and names was removed, but the other difficulty remained; and I was not able to look into the book again for several years. Nor had I much inducement to do so in the two copies of it which I had been able to procure, on poor paper, and printed from blocks badly cut at first, and so worn with use as to yield books the reverse of attractive in their appearance to the student.
In the meantime I kept studying the subject of Buddhism from various sources; and in 1878 began to lecture, here in Oxford, on the Travels with my Davis Chinese scholar, who was at the same time Boden Sanskrit scholar. As we went on, I wrote out a translation in English for my own satisfaction of nearly half the narrative. In the beginning of last year I made Fa-Hsien again the subject of lecture, wrote out a second translation, independent of the former, and pushed on till I had completed the whole.
The Essential Mengzi offers a representative selection from Bryan Van Norden's acclaimed translation of the full work, including the most frequently studied passages and covering all of the work's major themes. An appendix of selections from the classic commentary of Zhu Xi--one of the most influential and insightful interpreters of Confucianism--keyed to relevant passages, provides access to the text and to its reception and interpretation. Also included are a general Introduction, timeline, glossary, and selected bibliography.