"(Political) party" in the Analects

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A select quotation from the Confucian Analects (Zǐlù 13.18):

Shè gōng yù Kǒngzǐ yuē:`Wú dǎng yǒu zhígōng zhě, qí fù rǎng yáng, ér zi zhèng zhī. 'Kǒngzǐ yuē:`Wú dǎng zhī zhí zhě yì yú shì. Fù wèi zi yǐn, zi wèi fù yǐn, zhí zài qí zhōng yǐ.'


The Duke of She informed Confucius, saying, "Among us here there are those who may be styled upright in their conduct. If their father have stolen a sheep, they will bear witness to the fact." Confucius said, "Among us, in our part of the country, those who are upright are different from this. The father conceals the misconduct of the son, and the son conceals the misconduct of the father. Uprightness is to be found in this."  (trans. James Legge)

Translating a key expression in this quotation more directly and contemporaneously brings out a lesson applicable to our own times: 

"wú dǎng 吾黨", twice translated above by James Legge as "among us", quite literally means "[in] our party".

The same expression occurs in the National Anthem of the Republic of China, where it refers to the Kuomintang / Guomindang (KMT / GMD — "Nationalist Party" [Guómíndǎng 國民黨 / 国民党]).  When I was living in Taiwan from 1970-1972, the national anthem was sung before movies and other public events, and I was always struck by how "our party" occurs in the first couplet.  That really bothered me, because I thought it was inappropriate to invoke a political party in the national anthem of a country.  Bear in mind that the lyrics of the ROC are by Sun Yat-san, a co-founder (with Song Jiaoren) of the KMT / GMD.

dǎng 黨 /

As a noun, in modern parlance, its usual significance is "(political) party", but it also has the following meanings:  "gang; faction; society; clique; club; association".

In classical times, it signified "a local household grouping of five-hundred families; fellow community members; neighbors; local community; kinsfolk, relatives; people of similar temperament / sentiment; clique; faction".

As a verb, dǎng 黨 / 党 means "be partial to; take sides with; be involved with a gang; to know (Chu [southern] topolect)".

[Thanks to Jim Fanell]


  1. Jerry Packard said,

    January 28, 2021 @ 10:35 am

    As part of the ROC anthem, I always took dǎng 黨 to explicitly mean 'party' because I felt that while its explicit goal was to refer to 'fellow countrymen', its implicit goal was to be in contrast to the 'other' party. The larger trope is more interesting: the discussion of tribalism versus 'truth' in defining proper behavior.

  2. Barbara Riverwoman said,

    January 28, 2021 @ 1:25 pm

    The course of evolution has been defined by the success of the political/ethnic/geographic/etc group/dang. Cooperation and compassion (unity) has been adaptive within the 'dang', while violence against other parties has worked to expand the 'dang'. The Duke of She and Confucius are expressing the two sides of the creative tension. Evolution has gradually made the circles larger, but we're clearly not there yet. I'd say the Duke of She is more clearly on the side of drawing the circle larger. But to protect internal unity, Confucius' morality may also have a place.

  3. David C. said,

    January 28, 2021 @ 8:55 pm

    黨 contains 黑 (black), and its original meaning was not bright in color. It's not surprising that 党 was chosen as its simplified form, containing 兄 (brother). This article describes the evolution of the term 黨 from (illicit) faction to political party in the Western sense at the beginning of the twentieth century. The article argues that Western Europe in the same way re-modeled the word "party" from one with a negative connotation to one with a neutral or positive connotation.

    There must have been Japanese influence as well, which also chose to express the idea of a Western political party using the term 黨/党.

  4. R. Fenwick said,

    January 28, 2021 @ 10:30 pm

    On a major tangent, un-Sinitically-trained me found myself wondering idly whether 吾黨 wú dǎng "our party, our faction" might have been an inspiration for the name of the hip-hop group Wu-Tang Clan, especially given that group's expressly collective nature.

    It was not, but it turns out that a (segmental) homophone is: 武當 wǔdāng, referring to the 武當拳 wǔdāng quán "Wudang art", the class of Chinese martial arts that includes tai chi. The hip-hop group's name is drawn from the use of the name in the Gordon Liu film Shaolin and Wu Tang.

  5. Calvin Seto said,

    January 28, 2021 @ 11:22 pm

    @David C.

    I think the choice of 党 (already an existing character with different meaning) as the simplified form of 黨 follows one of the simplification rules: an existing character with similar pronunciation in standard Mandarin (but different original meaning). 黨 and 党 had the same pronunciation, but the latter was rarely used. Incidentally both were surnames too, so after simplification they become indistinguishable.

    Other characters following the rule include: 干(乾, 幹), 台(臺, 檯, 颱), 姜(薑), 云(雲), etc.

    In the same vein, since 臺 is composed of 吉 (propitious/lucky) and 室(room/house), taking 台 as the simplified form of 臺 would strip it (as in Taiwan) of both good fortune and accommodation, down to a private (私) mouth (口). No surprise there too?

  6. Kimball Kramer said,

    January 29, 2021 @ 11:03 am

    The actions praised by the Duke of She and by Confucius are both correct. The binary decision of report the “crime” or don’t report the crime should be considered on a case-by-case basis. If the crime is small, I agree with the position described by Confucius. If the crime is large (say, serial killer), I agree with the Duke of She’s position. Each person must decide for hirself where the report/don’t report line is, and this is very difficult because there is no line; there is a broad smear.

  7. Bathrobe said,

    January 29, 2021 @ 9:12 pm

    There are a number of threads in this post that comments seem to have untangled:

    1. In ancient times 黨 was an in-group out-group term of some kind. (Specifically: 'a local household grouping of five-hundred families; fellow community members; neighbors; local community; kinsfolk, relatives; people of similar temperament / sentiment; clique; faction')

    2. These meanings continue, modified to some extent, in modern times more specifically "gang; faction; society; clique; club; association".

    3. In modern times, 黨 was chosen as the standard translation of the Western term '(political) party' (possibly under the influence of Japanese). This is a specialisation of the original term. 黨 did not mean 'political party' in Confucius' time.

    4. In simplifying the script, the character 黨 has been merged with 党. (This is not confined to Mainland China; it is also found in Japanese.)

    As for the Duke of She vs Confucius, I'm afraid that I stand on the Duke of She's side. Nepotism and the protection of crimes committed by family members is a constant theme in Chinese history. Read any Chinese literature and you will find reference to the son of some rich or powerful family committing crimes but being let off because his father had connections or money. Similar stories come out of modern China, where the son of some high-up Communist party official gets let off for crimes that an ordinary citizen would not get away with.

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