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CONFUCIUS by Russell Freedman Kirkus Star


The Golden Rule

by Russell Freedman & illustrated by Frederic Clement

Age Range: 8 - 12

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 2002
ISBN: 0-439-13957-0
Publisher: Levine/Scholastic

“His ideas were so powerful and so full of wisdom that his words are alive after twenty-five centuries, and often, he seems to be speaking directly to us.” Yet, in his own time, Confucius failed to realize his ambitions, and he never had much effect on leaders in a China of corrupt feudal lords and warring independent states. Confucius believed he was living amid the collapse of China’s civilization. One surprise of this work is how familiar the political ideas of Confucius and his successors seem: the purpose of government is to promote the welfare of the people; character and ability, not heredity, determine the right to govern; rulers must have the consent of the governed; the people have the right to dispose of oppressive rulers. And, sure enough, readers find that these ideas influenced 18th-century philosophers, including Thomas Jefferson, who incorporated them in the preamble to the Declaration of Independence. This is Freedman’s (In the Days of the Vaqueros, 2001, etc.) first Asian subject and his work set furthest back in history, and it is a tribute to his writing that he can make the ideas of an ancient philosopher seem so modern and fascinating to young readers. His writing is fluent, clear, lively, and specific. Readers learn that Confucius was “very ugly, a huge bawling infant with a twisted nose and a strange bulge on his skull.” They learn that vendors in Qufu, the capital city, sold bears’ paws, shark fins, the livers of peacocks, bees fried in their own honey, and other delicacies, and that political dissidents, such as Confucius and his followers, ran the risk of being arrested and boiled alive. Clément’s ancient-looking paintings are a beautiful match for the text in this handsome volume. Not a topic that will naturally draw readers, Confucius will fascinate readers who give him a try, and they may end up wiser for the effort. A must for all collections. (Nonfiction. 8-12)