Chapter two of 學而:


is translated by Gu Hongming as:

a good citizen

the footnote translates it back into Chinese as:


Legg's translation of 弟 is:


Is it just an extension of this fraternal duty that Gu takes to mean "a good citizen"? or what?


弟 is a 通假字, it should be 悌 nowadays.

In ancient, the number of characters is less than today. These people sometimes have to borrow the meaning from another character.

孝: be good to your parents 悌: be good to your brothers and sisters

If one be good to your parents, brothers and sisters, the one probably would not against higher, if he never against higher, he would not rise in rebellion.

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孝弟= 孝悌 (filial piety and brotherly)

孝悌 was originally written as 孝弟 in ancient time. The ' 心 (heart)' radical was added later around the Eastern Han Dynasty period.

Reference: https://www.zhihu.com/question/24303512

Being 'filial piety and fraternal' was the hallmark of an 'upstanding, decent person' in traditional Chinese culture (a Confucian philosophy). Therefore, translate 孝弟 as "being a good citizen" is within reason in this context.

: brotherly, respectful

孝悌 孝,指对父母还报的爱; 悌,指兄弟姊妹的友爱

(孝 refers to filial piety; 悌 refers to the fraternity of brothers and sisters)

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in short, 弟 is fraternal; translated as "a good citizen" is, imo, incorrect.

in long, i would inteprete the sentence:


as a human being (其為人也), someone (者) who is filial (孝), fraternal (弟), and (而) prefer (好) against authority (犯上), it's rare (鮮矣).

that, 孝 (filial), is 善事父母 (performing one's duty as a son), while 弟 (fraternal) is 善事兄長 (performing one's duty as a younger sibling; and to perform well.

therefore, a children would internalise a submissive attitude, which would be obedient toward parents, older siblings in family; afterward, they would conform to the authorities in society.

that's the norm of confucian.

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  • Why do you think it got translated as “a good citizen” then? – Mo. Aug 7 '17 at 10:11
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    well, in the preface of mr gu's book, it's stated "to take away as much as possible the sense of strangeness and peculiarity for the English readers, we have, whenever it is possible to do so, eliminated all Chinese proper names."  😼 such translation is for english readers without knowledge of chinese, nor confucian. – 水巷孑蠻 Aug 7 '17 at 10:38
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    Yeah, I get that - i just figured he must have his reasons for such an extended meaning. – Mo. Aug 7 '17 at 12:48
  • another example of "to translate is to betray" :-) – 水巷孑蠻 Aug 7 '17 at 12:53
  • @水巷孑蠻 Ironically, that's a translation of an Italian saying :-p – Stumpy Joe Pete Aug 7 '17 at 18:59

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