The book that introduced the western name “Confucius,” the Latinized form of the Chinese title Kong fuzi

COUPLET, Phillipe. Confucius Sinarum philosophus (Paris, 1687)

Provenance: Thomas Phillips, 1834


This volume includes Latin translations of the first three books of Confucius: Ta-Hsüeh (the Great Learning), Chung Yung (the Mean), and Lun Yü (the Analects). The volume also contains an introduction to Chinese history and theology and a biography of Confucius. The second part includes essays on Chinese history and culture as well as statistical and geographical information. 

The book was published under the patronage of Louis XIV during a lengthy trip to Europe from 1683 to 1692 made by the Flemish Jesuit Couplet (1624-1693) to promote the activities of his mission in China. The other authors credited are the Jesuits Prospero Intorcetta, Christian Herdtrich, and François Rougement.

Philippe Couplet returned from China with young convert named Michael Shen, who visited Louis XIV at Versailles in 1684. The king was intrigued by the visitor and requested a demonstration of the use of chopsticks (the food was served on gold plates). This first European edition of Confucius bears a dedication to Louis XIV.