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Illustration showing James Legge and his three Chinese assistants, from James Legge, Missionary and Scholar, 1905.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Chinese practice


(ji2 suo3 bu2 yu4 wu4 shi1 yu2 ren2)

what you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others




「己所不欲,勿施於人」所說的道理,完全就是聖經所載耶穌之言「Do unto others as you would have others do unto you」。


新約聖經原以希臘文寫成,因此不同英譯本所用的確切字句可能略有不同。現代英文版聖經的翻譯「Do unto others as you would have others do unto you」,是常用的說法。





(Do unto others as you would have done unto you. You wouldn’t want to use a dirty toilet, so have a bit of civility, keep it clean.)


(When he was hit by a drink driver he finally understood “do unto others as you would have done unto you.” He never drove under the influence again.)


Do unto others as you would have

others do unto you

The two phrases in this week’s idiom comparison are so similar in wording and sentiment that one appears to be a translation of the other. They are both attributed to people respected as great teachers and moral thinkers in their cultural spheres.

In the Wei Ling Gong chapter of the Analects, Zi Gong asks Confucius “Is there one word which may serve as a rule of practice for all one’s life?” Confucius answers with “reciprocity” (恕, shu), elucidating with 己所不欲,勿施於人: “What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others.”

The exact same Chinese phrase appears in the Yan Yuan chapter of the Analects, in which Zhong Gong asks Confucius about benevolence, and he answers with several principles he believes people should follow. “Not to do to others as you would not wish done to yourself” is one of these principles.

The phrase 己所不欲,勿施於人 can be used in full to communicate a similar principle to “do unto others as you would have done unto you,” a quote attributed to Jesus in the Bible.

In Luke 6:31 Jesus says, “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” Again, in Matthew 7:12, he is quoted as saying, “Therefore, everything you would like men to do to you, do also to them, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”

The Bible has been translated into English from the original Greek (in the case of the received version of the New Testament) on many occasions, so the actual wording people use can differ slightly. “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you,” from the Modern English Version (MEV), is commonly used.

The English translation of the Analects used on this page was done by the Scottish sinologist, scholar and missionary James Legge (1815 – 1897). As a missionary, he would certainly have been familiar with the Biblical reference when he translated Confucius’ answer. As a scholar, he would surely have also known of the “Golden Rule,” or “Ethic of Reciprocity.” The Ethic of Reciprocity is a principle that has appeared in almost all major religions and cultures, in either negative (do not treat others in a way you wouldn’t want to be treated, as in 己所不欲,勿施於人) and positive (treat others as you would want to be treated, as in the Bible) forms.

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