Wednesday, April 5, 2023

The Illustrated Roots of “Confucius Say”

“Confucius Say” can be traced back over 160 years. Here are a few examples from the 1800s. 

The Calcutta Review, December 1858: Did not Confucius say, all within the four seas are the sons of the emperor? 

The Lutheran Quarterly, January 1879: We hear the Chinese Confucius say: “Loyalty to principle is power.” 

What does Confucius say of the Book of Poetry? “My children, why do you not study the Book of Poetry? The odes serve to stimulate the mind. They may be used for purposes of self-contemplation. They teach the art of sociability. They show how to regulate feelings of resentment. From them you learn the more immediate duty of serving one’s father, and the remoter one of serving one’s prince. From them we become largely acquainted with the names of birds, beasts and plants.” 
Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, January 1885, “Within His Danger: A Tale from the Chinese”:
“Did not Confucius say, in answer to Ke Lu’s question about a future state, ‘We do not know about life, and how, then, can we know about anything beyond the grave?’ And if Confucius’s intelligence stopped short with life, who can possibly hope to peer beyond it?”
Did not Confucius say
That sin against high Heaven
Can never be forgiven ? 
The sage knew not the way!
The Literary Digest, July 18, 1891:  
... And yet, if the exponents of Chinese political economy are not mistaken, the apparent calamity will prove a blessing in disguise, for does not the great Confucius say, “Happy is the nation that raises its own hogs and wont give nobody else none!” ... 
Here are four samples from the 1900s.

Leslie’s Illustrated Weekly, June 16, 1910: Does not Confucius say, ‘It is only the truly virtuous man who can both love and hate’? 

McCall’s, June 1921, “The Girl Across the Way”: “Life is the great riddle,” whispered Kwa Tsu. “Doth not Confucius say: ‘Life is a lock, love is its only key’? 

Houston Chronicle (Texas), April 7, 1935
A rarity featuring Charlie Chan and Confucius.

Ella Cinders, August 12, 1935

According to Life and Newsweek magazines, both cover dated February 19, 1940, the popularity of “Confucius Say” was due to Walter Winchell whose King Features Syndicate column, “On Broadway”, had several humorous sayings by Broadway Confucius. (Also, beginning in 1936, Winchell employed a ghostwriter, Herman Klurfeld, who wrote many of the columns and one-liners for 29 years.) Both magazines said Winchell’s column began in October 1938. Newsweek said paragraph was titled, “Broadway Confucius’ Remarkable Remarks”. The original title was “Broadway Confucius Speaks” and published in the Waterbury Democrat (Connecticut), October 6; October 12; October 19 and October 26. In the November 2 edition of the Waterbury Democrat, the title changed to “Broadway Confucius Say”. 

October 6, 1938

November 2, 1938

Who or what influenced Winchell to add Broadway Confucius to his column in October 1938? I suspect the influence was either Lin Yutang’s The Wisdom of Confucius or Arthur Waley’s The Analects of Confucius, both published in 1938. (The Wisdom of Confucius, with illustrations by Jeanyee Wong, was published in 1943. A paperback edition of The Analects of Confucius was published in 1960.) 

It’s not clear who made the decision to create the Broadway Confucius name and sayings. Was it Winchell, Klurfeld or the syndicate? Whatever the case, Broadway Confucius one-liners were written by Winchell and Klurfeld.

The popularity of “Confucius Say” grew slowly in 1939. Several college publications were quick to add Confucius sayings. 

The popularity of “Confucius Say” skyrocketed in 1940. No industry, trade, business or profession was spared. Here are some examples (the tip of the iceberg).

Chicago Daily Tribune, January 15, 1940

Daily Times (Chicago, Illinois), January 15, 1940

Boston Herald (Massachusetts), January 17, 1940

Boston Herald (Massachusetts), January 18, 1940

Kalamazoo Gazette (Michigan), January 20, 1940

Lorain Journal (Ohio), January 25, 1940

Worcester Evening Gazette (Massachusetts)
January 26, 1940

Detroit Times (Michigan), February 1, 1940

Times-Union (Albany, New York), February 1, 1940

Milwaukee Journal (Wisconsin)
February 2, 1940

Knoxville News-Sentinel (Tennessee)
February 4, 1940

Norfolk Virginian-Pilot (Virginia), February 4, 1940

Daily Jeffersonian (Cambridge, Ohio)
February 5, 1940

Jackson Citizen Patriot (Michigan)
February 5, 1940

Worcester Evening Gazette (Massachusetts)
February 7, 1940

The Jewish Post, February 9, 1940

Albuquerque Tribune (New Mexico)
February 10, 1940

Advertising Age, February 12, 1940: Confucius say reason politicians don’t advertise more, they like much better spend other people’s money. 

The Art Digest, February 15, 1940: Confucius say: “Man who slings mud loses ground.” 

Buffalo Evening News (New York) 
February 15, 1940

Buffalo Evening News (New York) 
February 16, 1940

The Watchtower, Wesleyan College, February 16, 1940: As Confucius say—“Every darn thing comes at once.” 

News-Sentinel (Fort Wayne, Indiana), February 19, 1940

Arkansas Gazette (Little Rock, Arkansas)
February 20, 1940

Henderson Daily Dispatch (North Carolina)
February 20, 1940

Oregon Daily Journal (Portland, Oregon), February 20, 1940

Riverside Daily Press (California), February 20, 1940

Erie Daily Times (Pennsylvania)
February 21, 1940

Grand Rapids Press (Michigan), February 21, 1940

Charleston Evening Post (South Carolina)
February 22, 1940

Detroit Evening Times (Michigan)
February 22, 1940

Flint Journal (Michigan), February 22, 1940

Columbus Evening Dispatch (Ohio), February 23, 1940

Houston Post (Texas), February 23, 1940

El Paso Herald-Post (Texas)
February 24, 1940

Editor and Publisher, February 24, 1940: King Releases “Confucius Say” Daily Feature 

Atlanta Journal (Georgia)
February 25, 1940

Dallas Morning News (Texas)
February 25, 1940

Sunday Courier and Press (Evansville, Indiana), February 25, 1940

Flint Journal (Michigan)
February 25, 1940

San Diego Union (California), February 25, 1940

Evening Gazette (Massachusetts), February 26, 1940

San Diego Union (California)
February 26, 1940

Daily Times (Chicago, Illinois), February 29, 1940

Dallas Morning News (Texas), February 29, 1940

Phoenix Index (Arizona)
March 2, 1940

Bay City Times (Michigan), March 3, 1940

Buffalo Evening News (New York)
March 4, 1940

Daytona Beach Morning Journal (Florida)
March 6, 1940

Greensboro Record (North Carolina), March 12, 1940

San Antonio Light (Texas), March 12, 1940

Quincy Patriot Ledger (Massachusetts)
March 15, 1940

San Angelo Standard-Times (Texas), March 16, 1940

Trenton Times-Advertiser (New Jersey)
March 17, 1940

Sunday World-Herald (Omaha, Nebraska), March 17, 1940

Worcester Evening Gazette (Massachusetts)
March 18, 1940

Scholastic, March 18, 1940

Cleveland Plain Dealer (Ohio)
March 22, 1940

San Antonio Light (Texas), March 24, 1940

Denver Post (Colorado)
March 28, 1940

The Dixie Ranger, United States Forest Service, Southern Region, April 1940: He who travel through life on narrow road in hurry, end journey with mind more narrow than road. 

The Inland Printer, April 1940

Bassano Recorder, April 4, 1940: Life is really simple, but man insist on making it complicated. 

Motor, July 1940

Pep Comics #8, September 1940 and
Blue Ribbon Comics #7, November 1940 

Antioch News (Illinois), April 18, 1940 
Everyone enjoys a bit of nonsense now and then, but we rather wince at the habit of prefixing “Confucius say” to so many current absurdities. It seems somewhat boorish on our part to carelessly borrow the name of one of China’s greatest philosophers and use it in such a manner. 

However, something worth-while may be salvaged from this thoughtless vogue, as man, unfamiliar with his teachings, are now asking, “Just what DID Confucius Say?” …

The “Confucius Say” craze peaked during 1940 and never went away. 

American Bureau for Medical Aid to China, no date

The Inland Printer, January 1941

Hong Kong printed on back cover, no date

The Author and Journalist, April 1941, “It’s the Twist That Counts” 
... During the “Confucius Say” craze, a writer with whom I am working submitted for criticism an article, partly humorous, partly a serious biographical sketch of the Chinese sage. I couldn’t see a market for it. The “Confucius Say” craze had been given such a wide play in newspapers and magazines that a super-super novelty would be needed to sell such an article —and my student didn’t have it. Further, the biographical material was practically encyclopedia stuff.

So, I suggested re-orientation: transplant Confucius into the field of Christianity and sell him to a religious magazine. This the student writer accomplished by showing that many of the Confucian philosophical sayings were very similar to the teachings of Christ, although Confucius antedated Christ by several centuries. Had Confucius lived a few hundred years later, he would have been a Christian, the re-oriented article pointed out. The article sold first trip out to a religious publisher. It’s a safe guess that the novel angle was half the sale—or more!
Chicago Tribune (Illinois), May 18, 1941

Amazing Stories, June 1941, “Lost Treasure of Angkor”: ... “Now is time to go to the land of my honorable ancestors,” Ta-Quan smiled. “Confucius say that man is not apt to live with enemy at his back.” 

Blue Book, June 1941, “The Abduction of Abner Greer”: ... And the future had been predicated in such nation-sweeping fads as the “Knock, knock!” era, and the “Confucius say—” era. 

Carl Glick
McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., 1941
Page 213
A few years ago this country went through a period of obscene barroom jokes beginning with “Confucius say.” They were started, I have been told, by a too-clever New York columnist. But I wonder what this country would have done had our people discovered in the Chinese press similar wisecracks attributed to our great teacher, Jesus? There would have been a storm of protest, I am certain, and many harsh comments would have been made on the Chinese lack of good taste, their indecent flippancy, and their crude manners.

But the Chinese I knew did not express any great indignation. They viewed those “Confucius say” jokes with an amused tolerance. It was the most sublime example of Christian forgiveness I’ve ever seen.

The Blue Mantle, 1941, Saint Mary’s Academy,
Milford, Massachusetts

“Confucius Say” Rotor Table
The Billboard, May 2, 1942

Arcade-Sunshine Laundry
713 Lamont Street NW, Washington, DC, no date

Bottom tier, first panel

Blackhawk #26, August 1949
Bottom tier, last panel

no date; Courtesy, The Lilly Library, Indiana University, 
Bloomington, Indiana

“Confucius Say”, Pressman Toy Corp., 1955

Walker County Messenger (Lafayette, Georgia)
November 11, 1959

In 1964, “Cornfucius Say” was a joint production of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes and country musicians Homer and Jethro. Homer & Jethro’s “Cornfucius Say” Joke Book was promoted on boxes of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes. RCA released Homer and Jethro’s album Cornfucius SayTime, March 13, 1964, reported the radio campaign. Of course, Homer and Jethro performed “Cornfucius Say” songs during the tour. “Cornfucius Say” is a trade name

Food Topics, March 1964

RCA, 1964

Cocktail Napkins, 20 sayings
artist unknown, no date

Rust Craft, artist unknown, no date

Rust Craft, artist unknown, no date

Artist unknown, original art, 8.5 x 10.25 in., no date

The Superman Family #213, December 1981

In 1986, the American Productivity Corporation, in Springfield, Illinois, produced the Electronic Fortune Cookie with a picture of Confucius holding an enormous fortune cookie. A person inserts a quarter and pushes one of four buttons, Love, Money, Work or Pleasure, for their fortune and lottery numbers.

Dale Cards, no date

Hallmark, no date

Jennifer B. Lee
Grand Central Publishing, 2008
Pages 286–287
So what did Confucius really say?

I downloaded a translation of the Analects (known as Lun Yu in Chinese) and read through it, trying to glean bits of wisdom. It turns out that Confucius said a lot, but only a fraction of which would resonate with an American audience. ...

Further Reading and Viewing
A. B. & Co., 1855

Ku Hung-Ming
Kelly and Walsh, Limited, 1898

Lionel Giles
John Murray, 1907

Leonard A. Lyall
Longmans, Green and Co., 1909

James R. Ware
New American Library, 1955

In 1925, cartoonist Sidney Smith created the character, Ching Chow. In 1927, Ching Chow was syndicated in a daily gag panel where he spouted sayings similar to Broadway Confucius. After Smith’s death in 1935, Stanley Link, Smith’s assistant, continued Ching Chow and added a Ching Chow strip to the Sunday edition of Tiny Tim. 

Sands Mechanical Museum, “Confucius Say” Rotor Table (It’s unlikely this game was produced in the late 1930s.)

Reel Life Wisdom, The Top 10 Wisest Quotes from Charlie Chan Films
Worlds Best Detective Crime and Murder Mystery Books, Charlie Chan’s Aphorisms and Sayings 
It’s not clear how much the Charlie Chan books, films and comics affected the popularity of “Confucius Say”.

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