The Analect 2.2 quotes from the Book of Odes, and Arthur Waley claims there is a difference between how Confucius there reads the character 思 (sī, think) and how it was used in the Ode.  Waley claims that in the Ode "ssu does not mean 'thoughts', but is an exclamation, 'oh', 'ah', or the like."  I looked at the various old dictionary definitions, and textual examples on the Chinese Text Project https://ctext.org/ and I did not find any evidence there that 思 was ever used the way Waley says. It always seems to mean "thought(s)" or "think." Other searches got me nothing relevant.

Is there evidence supporting Waley's claim? 


1 Answer 1


Arthur Waley is indeed reflecting Chinese scholarship with this statement. In the Book of Odes 《詩經》, when 「思」 appears at the end of a line, it may be interpreted as a modal particle (語气詞), equivalent to modern Mandarin 「啊」. For example,



How broad, the Waters of the Hàn - they cannot be swum!
How long, the Waters of the Jiāng - they cannot be rafted across!*




Long ago, when I departed, the willows were fresh and tender;
Now, as I've returned, the rain and snow fall in torrents.

Please note that this use of 「思」 is not its earliest or original meaning. Apart from being a proper noun for a geographical region or person, 「思」's earliest usage is the same as its modern usage, meaning thoughts, contemplation, deliberation. From Guōdiàn Chǔ Slips: The Five Conducts, Slip #9:

《郭店楚墓竹簡・五行》09. From http://img.artxz.com/2017/01/12/1484194204.jpg



...Without benevolence, one's thoughts cannot be refined; without wisdom, one's thoughts do not have foresight...


  • 《漢語大詞典》
  • 黃德寬《古文字譜系疏證》
  • 何琳儀《戰國古文字典:戰國文字聲系》
  • I have huge respect for Waley. But the phrase Waley reads this way is 思無邪. Waley renders Confucius's meaning as "no evil in your thoughts" but claims that in the ode it actually meant something like "oh, without guilt." But in this ode 思 is not at the end of a phrase. It is at the beginnings of two parallel phrases 思無邪、思馬斯徂。Could Waley be right to read this ode as he does? Feb 20, 2021 at 4:03
  • I find Victor Mair has a long discussion of the passage in the Ode, where he discusses 思 not only as terminal particle but also as penultimate. Mair concludes we cannot be sure what this passage meant. Mair review of The Animal and the Daemon in Early China by Roel Sterckx. Journal of the American Oriental Society , Oct. - Dec., 2002, Vol. 122, No. 4 Feb 20, 2021 at 4:18
  • @ColinMcLarty I suggest finding a commentary on 《郭店楚墓竹簡・語叢》, especially around Slip 48-49. bamboo.lib.cuhk.edu.hk/servlet/…
    – dROOOze
    Feb 20, 2021 at 5:04
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    I agree - it is probably not possible to determine what 「思」 is supposed to be in 「思無邪」. There are also a few Ode passages where 「思」 is described as auxiliary or modal when it isn't at the end of a line, too. I followed 《漢語大詞典》's categorisation of line-final 「思」 as equivalent to 「啊」; it categorises some line-medial or line-initial 「思」 as meaningless auxiliary, which isn't helpful. 《王力古漢語字典》 just throws all appearances of 「思」 as a particle into the auxiliary category.
    – dROOOze
    Feb 20, 2021 at 5:27
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    I like how you crossed out the incorrect glyph origins in 說文 :-)
    – Sweeper
    Feb 20, 2021 at 14:03

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