Carine Defoort & Paul van Els. Confucius spreekt: De Chinese meester zet ons aan het denken (Confucius Speaks: The Chinese Master Makes Us Think). Kalmthout: Pelckmans, 2021. ISBN: 978 94 6310 557 6.

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Who was Confucius, and what can we learn from him? Twenty-five centuries after his passing, the Master is a rising star in China. Those in power use his statements to support their policies, while others draw political courage from them to resist. In Confucius Temples, parents seek his help with their child’s school performance. The Master is also regularly quoted outside of China, where many a maxim is misattributed to him (such as “choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life”).

Confucius spreekt

What sayings are traditionally attributed to Confucius? And what do they mean? In this book, dozens of sayings are expertly translated and explained by Carine Defoort and Paul van Els. Their vivid reflections show how Confucius can continue to inspire, whether on the importance of learning or rituals, self-examination and self-improvement, or virtuous leadership – topics the world can learn from today!

With a consideration for each day, which connects the statements attributed to Confucius with the past and the present, Carine Defoort and Paul van Els bring the Master's sayings to life. Very inspiring!
Nicolas Standaert, professor of China Studies at Leuven University


  1. Wings of Wisdom
  2. Wings of Recognition
  3. Mascara Talk
  4. Question of the Day
  5. Settle Out of Shame
  6. Learning to Your Heart's Desire
  7. Amateurs at Heart
  8. Dangerous Thoughts
  9. Know What You Know
  10. Future Perfect
  11. Confucius Dixit…
  12. The Right Question
  13. Senior Education
  14. Self-Recognition
  15. My Father's Back
  16. Learning From Lower People
  17. Old-School Humor
  18. The Other Corners
  19. Walking With Others
  20. Three Times "No"
  21. Last Words
  22. Don't Talk in Bed

  1. No to Yea-Sayers
  2. Shocking Sadness
  3. Life Before Death
  4. The Correct Measure
  5. What You Don't Want
  6. A World Full of Brothers
  7. Without Trust
  8. When the Ruler Rules
  9. The Right Word
  10. Man Steals Sheep
  11. Soup
  12. Crooked Wisdom
  13. Don Quixote
  14. Do Nothing
  15. The Way of People
  16. Industrious or Incorrigible
  17. Womenfolk
  18. Contradict
  19. Effective
  20. Know When to Stop
  21. Great Equality and Small Prosperity
  22. Lost Dog

The comments by Carine Defoort and Paul van Els not only show a thorough knowledge of Chinese philosophy and history, but also a great commitment to the issues of our time. That is precisely what makes their work interesting: they enable the reader to listen to Confucius directly, and then to enter into a discussion with him.
Garrie van Pinxteren, journalist en sinologist


Herman Van Rompuy, the former Prime Minister of Belgium and the first permanent President of the European Council, wrote a haiku to grace this book on Confucius. Here is his original haiku, with a quick translation in English:

een wijze man spreekt
leest en reist heel China rond
door de eeuwen heen

a wise man speaks
reads and travels all over China
through the centuries

More poems by Herman Van Rompuy, who is affectionately known as "Haiku Herman," can be found in his book Haiku (Gent: Poëziecentrum, 2010).


  • an interview with Carine Defoort on Radio 1 is available here:
  • an interview with Paul van Els in Leidraad is available here:


The book Confucius Speaks is for sale at the website of the publisher, Pelckmans, and at Amazon, Bol, BookSpot, Bruna, De Kler, Standaard, and other bookstores.


Our book has been reviewed by several readers. Interested to learn what they think? Click here to read their reviews.

Defoort and van Els organized their book “as a loose collection of sayings, and provided each with a brief but thorough commentary. This setup introduces readers to the Master’s ideas in a playful way.” — Simone Bassie and Michel Dijkstra in Filosofie Magazine (March 2022, pp. 74-75)
The 44 chapters of a few pages each are extremely diverse, surprising and fascinating .... Strong, accessible work by both professors, a book of high intensity — Marcel Grauls in Het Belang van Limburg (April 9, 2022, p. 18)
The book is written in a language that everyone can understand. So it is much easier than the philosophy of Plato or Kant. — Jef Abbeel at Leestafel (August 2022)