China Glossary: Shu and Chung

China Glossary
Jen

China Reader
Confucius, The Analects

Chinese Philosophy
Confucius
   When asked to summarize the teachings of Confucius, Tseng Tzu,as recorded in the Analects , replied that the Master's teachings consisted of shu and chung (Analects IV.15). Confucius himself identified shu as the principle running through all his teachings, so that it would not be going to far to say that the all-important concept of jen can be reduced primarily to the concept of shu allied with chung .


   The word shu is devastatingly difficult to render in English; the most common translation is "reciprocity," though "analogy" or "self-analogy" comes closer. In substance, shu is very similar to our concept of the "golden rule": do unto others as you would have them do unto you. In Confucius, however, shu is more a means for thinking out what your obligations to others should be: you should use yourself as an analogy when determing what would be beneficial to others. What you perceive as beneficial to yourself you may reasonably conclude would be beneficial to others; what you perceive as harmful to yourself, you may reasonably conclude would harm others. This is how you think through moral questions.

   Confucius himself defines shu alternatively as "Do not impose on others what you do not wish imposed on yourself" (Analects XII.2, XV.23) and "To judge of others by using yourself as an analogy is the way to achieve jen " (Analects VI.28).


Ancient Greece Glossary
Areté
   This knowledge of how one should act isn't enough though; as an immensely practical person, Confucius was concerned only with what people do, not necessarily with what they think they should do. For shu to have any value, therefore, one must put it into practice to the best of one's abilities, which is the meaning of chung . Now, this concept of chung is very close to the Greek value of areté , "being the best one can be as a human being," with some important differences. The Greek concept of areté is explicitly linked to the success of your action and is overwhelmingly individualistic. Confucius does not necessarily believe that "doing one's best" means succeeding, since, after all, he had met with little success in government. It is enough to have the right intent and make the right effort; success is not always an available option. Also, chung involves putting into practice those obligations you owe to others; it is solely an effort to bring about the well-being of other people, as opposed to the individualistic focus of areté .

Richard Hooker



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1993, Richard Hooker

Updated 2-16-98