Disciples of Confucius: Zixia

Zixia (子夏) was born in 507 BC, probably in the state of Wei, and is said to have lived to an extremely advanced age, reportedly serving at the court of Prince Wan of Wei in 406 BC when he would have been ninety-nine. He was also known by the courtesy name of Bu Shang (卜商) and the given name of Bu Zixia (卜子夏).

Zixia was noted for his scholarship and extensive knowledge of the Classics. In Chapter 8 of Book 3, he receives praise from Confucius himself for explaining the meaning of an ode in the Book of Songs (詩經/shijing): “You have opened up my eyes to the true meaning of these verses! It is only with a man like you that I can discuss the Book of Songs!”

In another exchange between the two of them in Chapter 13 of Book 6, however, Confucius warns Zixia to “be a refined man of learning, not a common pedant” – suggesting that he needed to be more creative in his thinking.

After Confucius died, Zixia returned to the state of Wei and founded his own school in which he taught a number of disciples who went on to further promulgate his interpretation of the sage’s philosophy. No doubt as a result of their efforts, he is one of the most extensively featured disciples in the Analects, making a grand total of twenty appearances.

Opinions on Zixia’s legacy are mixed. While some historians from the Han Dynasty (206 BC – 220 CE) and Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279) saw him as one of the most important Confucian thinkers, others believed that his philosophy was far too autocratic and reflected that of the opposing Legalist school.

Appearances in the Analects of Confucius
Book 1, Chapter VII
Book 2, Chapter VIII
Book 3, Chapter VIII
Book 6, Chapter XIII
Book 11, Chapter III
Book 11, Chapter XVI
Book 12, Chapter V
Book 12, Chapter XXII
Book 13, Chapter XVII
Book 19, Chapter III
Book 19, Chapter IV
Book 19, Chapter V
Book 19, Chapter VI
Book 19, Chapter VII
Book 19, Chapter VIII
Book 19, Chapter IX
Book 19, Chapter X
Book 19, Chapter XI
Book 19, Chapter XII
Book 19, Chapter XIII

Book 1
Chapter VII
子夏曰:「賢賢易色,事父母能竭其力,事君能致其身,與朋友交言而有信,雖曰未學,吾必謂之學矣。」
Zixia said: “A man who values virtue over beauty, who devotes all his energy to serving his father and mother, who is willing to sacrifice his life for his ruler, and who is true to his word in his dealings with his friends: even though some may say he is not learned, I will insist he is a learned man.”

Book 2
Chapter VIII
子夏問孝。子曰:「色難。有事,弟子服其勞;有酒食,先生饌,曾是以為孝乎?」
Zixia asked about filial piety. Confucius said: “It is the attitude that counts. If young people just offer their help when there is work to do, or serve their elders wine and food when they need to drink and eat, how could this ever be considered as filial piety?”

Book 3
Chapter VIII
子夏問曰:「巧笑倩兮,美目盼兮,素以為絢兮。何謂也?」子曰:「繪事後素。」曰:「禮後乎?」子曰:「起予者商也!始可與言詩矣。」
Zixia asked: “What do these verses mean: ‘Ah, the lovely dimples of her artful smile
Ah, the black and white of her beautiful eyes! It’s on plain white silk that colors sparkle.’” Confucius said: “Painting comes after plain white silk.” Zixia said: “Are the rites also something that comes afterwards?” Confucius said: “You have opened up my eyes to true meaning of these verses! It is only with a man like you that I can discuss the Book of Songs!”

Book 6
Chapter XIII
子謂子夏曰:「女為君子儒!無為小人儒!」
Confucius said to Zixia: “Be a refined scholar, not a common pedant.”

Book 11
Chapter III
德行:顏淵、閔子騫、冉伯牛、仲弓;言語:宰我、子貢;政事:冉有、季路;文學:子游、子夏。
Virtuous conduct: Yan Hui, Min Ziqian, Ran Boniu, Ran Yong. Eloquent speech: Zai Yu, Zigong. Government and administration: Ran Qiu, Zilu. Cultural accomplishments: Ziyou, Zixia.

Chapter XVI
子貢問:「師與商也孰賢?」子曰:「師也過,商也不及。」曰:「然則師愈與?」子曰:「過猶不及。」
Zigong asked: “Who is better: Zizhang or Zixia?” Confucius said: “Zizhang overshoots the mark and Zixia falls short of the mark.” Zigong said: “Then Zizhang must be better?” Confucius said: “Both miss the mark.”

Book 12
Chapter V
司馬牛憂曰:「人皆有兄弟,我獨亡!」子夏曰:「商聞之矣:『死生有命,富貴在天』。君子敬而無失,與人恭而有禮;四海之內,皆兄弟也。君子何患乎無兄弟也?」
Sima Niu was full of sorrow: “All men have brothers; I alone have none.” Zixia said: “I have heard this: life and death are ordained by Fate; wealth and honors are assigned by Heaven. A leader always shows respect and courtesy to others. Within the four seas all men are brothers. How could a leader complain that he has no brothers?”

Chapter XXII
樊遲問「仁」。子曰:「愛人。」問「知」。子曰:「知人。」樊遲未達。子曰:「舉直錯諸枉,能使枉者直。」樊遲退,見子夏曰:「鄉也,吾見於夫子而問『知』。子曰:『舉直錯諸枉,能使枉者直。』何謂也?」子夏曰:「富哉言乎!舜有天下,選於眾,舉皋陶,不仁者遠矣;湯有天下,選於眾,舉伊尹,不仁者遠矣。」
Fan Chi asked about goodness. Confucius said: “Love all people.” He then asked about wisdom. Confucius said: “Know all people.” Fan Chi didn’t understand. Confucius said: “Raise the straight and place them above the crooked, so that they can straighten the crooked.” Fan Chi left. When he met Zixia he asked: “A short while ago when I saw Confucius I asked him about wisdom. He said: ‘Raise the straight and place them above the crooked, so that they may straighten the crooked.’ What does this mean?” Zixia said: “These are rich words indeed! When Shun ruled the world and was choosing from among the masses, he selected Gaoyao and those without goodness disappeared. When Tang ruled the world and was choosing from among the masses, he selected Yi Yin and those without goodness disappeared.”

Book 13
Chapter XVII
子夏為莒父宰問政。子曰:「無欲速,無見小利。欲速則不達,見小利則大事不成。」
When Zixia was governor of Jufu he asked about governance. Confucius said: “Do not try to rush things. Ignore matters of minor advantage. If you try to rush things, you will not achieve success. If you pursue matters of minor advantage, you will not succeed in major affairs.”

Book 19
Chapter III
子夏之門人,問「交」於子張。子張曰:「子夏云何?」對曰:「子夏曰:『可者與之,其不可者拒之。』」子張曰:「異乎吾所聞:『君子尊賢而容眾,嘉善而矜不能。』我之大賢與,於人何所不容。我之不賢與,人將拒我,如之何拒人也!」
The disciples of Zixia asked Zizhang about social relations. Zizhang said: “What did Zixia tell you?” They replied: “Zixia said: ‘Associate with the right sort of people; avoid the wrong sort of people.” Zizhang said: “I heard something different: ‘A leader respects the wise and is tolerant of the ordinary; he praises the good and shows compassion to the incapable.’ If I am superior, whom should I not be tolerant of? If I am inferior, then others will avoid me; why would I need to avoid them?”

Chapter IV
子夏曰:「雖小道,必有可觀者焉;致遠恐泥,是以君子不為也。」
Zixia said: “Although there’s a lot to see when you stroll along the byways, you risk getting get stuck in the mud if you have to travel far. That is why a leader should avoid them.”

Chapter V
子夏曰:「日知其所亡,月無忘其所能,可謂好學也已矣!」
Zixia said: “If you recognize day by day what you still need to learn and don’t forget month by month what you have already learned, you truly love learning!”

Chapter VI
子夏曰:「博學而篤志,切問而近思,仁在其中矣。」
Zixia said: “Expand your learning and stick firmly to your purpose; question everything and reflect deeply: this is how you find goodness.”

Chapter VII
子夏曰:「百工居肆,以成其事,君子學以致其道。」
Zixia said: “Artisans of all types live in their workshops to master their trade. A leader learns to master the Way.”

Chapter VIII
子夏曰:「小人之過也必文。」
Zixia said: “A petty person always tries to gloss over his mistakes.”

Chapter IX
子夏曰:「君子有三變:望之儼然,即之也溫,聽其言也厲。」
Zixia said: “A leader has three different aspects: from a distance, he looks stern; close up, he looks warm; when you hear his voice, he sounds serious.”

Chapter X
子夏曰:「君子信而後勞其民,未信則以為厲己也。信而後諫,未信則以為謗己也。」
Zixia said: “A leader only mobilizes the people for labor after earning their trust. If he hasn’t earned his trust, the people will feel they are being exploited. He only offers criticism to his lord after earning his trust. If he hasn’t earned his trust, the lord will feel he is being slandered.”

Chapter XI
子夏曰:「大德不踰閑,小德出入可也。」
Zixia said: “If you don’t overstep the bounds in important matters of virtue, it doesn’t matter if you take some liberties with the minor ones.”

Chapter XII
子游曰:「子夏之門人小子,當洒掃,應對,進退,則可矣。抑末也;本之則無,如之何?」子夏聞之曰:「噫!言游過矣!君子之道,孰先傳焉?孰後倦焉?譬諸草木,區以別矣。君子之道,焉可誣也?有始有卒者,其惟聖人乎!」
Ziyou said: “The disciples of Zixia are well trained for sprinkling and sweeping the floor, responding to instructions, and greeting guests. But these are only details. When it comes to the fundamentals, they are totally lost. How is this possible?” When Zixia heard this he said: “No! Ziyou is badly mistaken! When it comes to the way of the gentleman, who is to decide what should be taught first and what should be taught last? Disciples should be taught according to their characteristics in the same way plants and trees are sorted. How can it be the way of the gentleman to turn them into fools? Only a sage, however, would be able to master everything from the beginning to the end.”

Chapter XIII
子夏曰:「仕而優則學,學而優則仕。」
Zixia said: “When an official has time to spare from his duties, he should study. When a student has time to spare from his studies, he should undertake official duties.”

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