The Lunyu 论语 (pronounced Lúnyǔ!), commonly translated as "The Confucian Analects", is a collection of sayings by Confucius 孔子 and dialogs with his disciples. It is the authoritative source for the philosophical theories of Confucius, although of lot of his sayings are also to be found in other books compiled during the Warring States 战国 (5th. cent-221 BCE) and the Former Han 前汉 (206 BC- 8 AD) periods. The time of the compilation of the Lunyu can be found out in the following way: For some persons mentioned in the Lunyu which died after Confucius, the posthumous title is used, like that of Duke Ai of Lu 鲁哀公 (r. 494-467), or the nobleman Ji Kangzi 季康子. There are also some sayings included in theLunyu that are attributed to Confucius' disciple Zeng Shen 曾参, who died half a century after Confucius. The compilation must thus have been taken place in the early 4th century. The Lunyu was only elevated to the status of a Confucian Classic during the Song period 宋 (960-1279) when it was made part of the canon of the Sishu 四书 "Four Books".

During the Former Han period three versions of the Lunyu were available: A 20-chapter version from the region of Lu 鲁 (the Lu version 鲁本); a 22-chapter version from the region of Qi 齐 (the Qi version 齐本), which has two more chapters, namely Wen Yu (wang) 闻玉(王) "Asking about rulership", and Zhi dao 知道 "Knowing the way"; and the old Gu Lunyu 古论语, which is an old text version and is said to have survived the literary inquisition under the First Emperor of Qin 秦始皇 (r. 246/221-210 BCE) hidden in the wall of Confucius' mansion in Qufu 曲阜. This version had 21 chapters, of which the chapter Zizhang 子张 "[Disciple] Zizhang" is divided in two parts and partially mixed with the chapter Yao yue 尧曰 "Emperor Yao said". In all three versions the sequence of the chapters was not identical, and there were many sentences which were not identical, and consequently interpreted in a different way. During the reign of Emperor Cheng 汉成帝 (r. 33-7 BCE) of the Han dynasty, Zhang Yu 张禹, Marquis of Anchang 安昌侯, was professor (boshi 博士 "erudite") for the Lu version, later for the Qi version. The version he preferred was therefore also called the Zhang hou Lun 张侯论 "Marquis Zhang's Lunyu". The chapter titles of the Lunyu are in almost all cases consisting of two characters that correspond to the beginning of the first sentence.

During the Later Han period 后汉 (25-220) the scholar Zheng Xuan 郑玄 wrote a comparative commentary to all three versions. The Three Kingdoms period 三国 (220-280) scholar He Yan 何晏 collected all commentaries written up to date to a compilation called Lunyu jijie 论语集解. The basic text of the Lunyu he selected is that which is transmitted until today, while the other versions are lost. Huang Kan 皇侃 from theLiang period 梁 (502-557) has collected commentaries to He Yan's compilation, which he presented in his Lunyu jijie yishu 论语集解义疏. The Northern Song period 北宋 (960-1126) scholar Xing Bing 邢昺 wrote another commentary to He Yan's book, and he contributed the Lunyu zhushu 论语注疏 to the canon of the Thirteen Classics. The collection of commentaries most reprentative for Song period Confucianism is Zhu Xi's 朱熹 Lunyu jizhu 论语集注, for which Zhao Shunsun 赵顺孙 wrote a commentary called Lunyu zuanshu 论语纂疏. All commentary traditions were unified in the 24 juan "scrolls" long commentary Lunyu zhengyi 论语正义 by the Qing period 清 (1644-1911) scholar Liu Baonan 刘寳楠. The modern scholar Cheng Shude 程树德 has written a 40 juan "scrolls" long commentary called Lunyu jishi 论语集释. In 1980 Yang Bojun 杨伯峻 published his commentary Lunyu yizhu 论语译注.

In the "Analects" Confucius' thoughts about society, politics, philosophy and human relationships are explained. There are also some few historical accounts of Confucius' life and his travels to the courts of the various feudal lords. Confucius talked about offerings, but refused to say anything about souls and spirits of the ancestors. He even declined to define or describe Heaven, which became under Mengzi an important part of the Confucian worldview, especially in the concept of the Heavenly mandate (tianming 天命), which is only bestowed to rulers of virtuous conduct. The lifespan, Confucius said, is defined by fate, but wealth and statues were influenced by Heaven. Confucius made some statements about cognition, especially about a kind of innate knowledge that is given to man without having learnt it. Yet Confucius preferred to hear and select what is good and to follow it because he rated himself as not one who was born in the possession of knowledge. He said that he was one who is fond of antiquity and earnest in seeking knowledge there. Confucius instructed his discipleZizhang 子张 in the method of learning: "Hear much and put aside the points of which you stand in doubt, while you speak cautiously at the same time of the others; then you will afford few occasions for blame." He is described as a man who had no forgone conclusions, no arbitrary predeterminations, no obstinancy, and no egoism. From these statements it can be seen that constant learning and objective rationality was of greatest importance for Confucius. "Learning without thought", he ascertained, "is labour lost; thought without learning is perilous." Confucius' most famous statement is that he understood himself as a "transmitter and not a maker". There were many ways of learning, for instance, silently treasuring up knowledge, to learn without satiety, or, as Confucius did, instructing others without being wearied. Confucius was also willing to learn from other, as he said in another famous statement: "When I walk along with two others, they may serve me as my teachers."

Very enlightening indeed is Confucius' attempt to adapt definitions always to the situation and the context. Important terms like filial piety (xiao 孝), kindheartedness (ren 仁), or the art of ruling (zheng 政) are in the Lunyudifferently explained to questioners of various backgrounds. Confucius explains this approach in the following way: "When a man may be spoken with, not to speak to him is to err in reference to the man. When a man may not be spoken with, to speak to him is to err in reference to our words."

Behaviour in human society was Confucius' most important content of teaching. He said that the practical expressions of kindheartedness (ren) are truthfulness (zhong 忠) and benevolence (shu 恕). Rituals are the instrument to express kindheartedness in a ritual context. This doctrine was, in Confucius' words, of an all-pervading unity. Asked about kindheartedness, Confucius replied that it means "to subdue one's self and return to propriety (li)". This means not looking at what is not propriety, listening not at what is contrary to propriety, speaking not at what is contrary to propriety, and making no movement which is contrary to propriety. In the field of government, propriety is fulfilled when the ruler is a ruler, the minister a minister, the father a father, and a son like a son. In this way state and society will be stable. The people will trust that ruler who feeds it and defends it. Concerning one’s own kindheartedness, Confucius said that every man has to consider virtue as what devolves of himself; he may not yield the performance of it even to his teacher. This strong will to perform well is also stressed in another statement where the Master said that the commander of an army might be carried off, but the will of even a common man cannot be taken from him.

Compared to older classical texts like the Shangshu 尚书 "Book of Documents", the language in the Lunyu is much more vivid. It is characterised by the intensive use of modal particles, reiterative sentences, parallelisms, antithetic sentences, and a language of affects and moods. In one instance, Confucius even said angrily: "He (Ran Qiu 冉求) is no disciple of mine (because he collected imposts from the usurpatorious family Jisun季孙). My little children, beat the drum and assail him." On another occasion, the disappointed Master sighed desperately: "It passes on just like the waters of a river, not ceasing day or night." He did not refrain from calling his disciple Zilu 子路 as uncultivated. Yan Hui 颜回, his most beloved disciple, enthusiastically said that as long as the Master lives, how would he dare dying!

Yet in many places, the Lunyu is only very sparing in describing the historical context of the situation in which the Master and his disciples found themselves.

1. 学而 Xue er "Learning"
2. 为政 Wei zheng "Exercising government"
3. 八佾 Ba yi "Eight pantomimes"
4. 里仁 Li ren "Virtuous manners in neighborhood"
5. 公冶长 Gongye Zhang [name of a person]
6. 雍也 Yong ye "There is Yong"
7. 述而 Shu er "Transmitting"
8. 泰伯 Taibo [name of a person]
9. 子罕 Zi han "[What the] Master seldom [speaks of]"
10. 乡党 Xiangdang "In the village"
11. 先进 Xian jin "Men of former times"
12. 颜渊 Yan Yuan [a disciple of Confucius]
13. 子路 Zilu
14. 宪问 Xian wen Xian asked"
15. 卫灵公 Wei Linggong [name of a ruler]
16. 季氏 Ji shi "[The head of] the Ji clan"
17. 阳货 Yang Huo [name of a person]
18. 卫子 Wei zi "The viscount of Wei"
19. 子张 Zizhang [a disciple of Confucius]
20. 尧曰 Yao yue "Yao said"