Disciples of Confucius: Yan Hui

Yan Hui (顏回), otherwise known as Ziyuan (子淵) or Yan Yuan (顏淵), was Confucius’s favorite disciple and protégé. Born in 521 BC in Confucius’s home state of Lu, he was thirty years younger than the sage and became one of his disciples at an early age, no doubt under the influence of his father Yan Wuyao (顏無繇), who was one of the first followers of Confucius.

Yan Hui was a quiet, almost unworldly individual who had no interest in the trappings of government office and was happy to remain simply as a disciple to Confucius. Despite showing the occasional signs of exasperation with him for being over respectful and “taking delight in anything I say”, Confucius was extremely fond of Yan Hui and had a high regard for his virtues, ability, and devotion to duty.

At the age of twenty-nine, Yan Hui’s hair turned completely white, and he died a few years later, probably at the age thirty-two. Confucius was absolutely devastated by his passing, and his heartfelt laments for the loss of his protégé can be found throughout the Analects.

Appearances in the Analects of Confucius
Book 2, Chapter IX
Book 5, Chapter IX
Book 5, Chapter XXVI
Book 6, Chapter III
Book 6, Chapter VII
Book 6, Chapter XI
Book 7, Chapter X
Book 9, Chapter XI
Book 9, Chapter XX
Book 9, Chapter XXI
Book 11, Chapter III
Book 11, Chapter IV
Book 11, Chapter VII
Book 11, Chapter VIII
Book 11, Chapter IX
Book 11, Chapter X
Book 11, Chapter XI
Book 11, Chapter XIX
Book 11, Chapter XXIII
Book 12, Chapter I
Book 15, Chapter XI

Book 2
Chapter IX
子曰:「吾與回言終日,不違如愚。退而省其私,亦足以發,回也不愚。」
Confucius said: “I can talk to Yan Hui all day without him ever arguing with me, as if he is stupid. But when I take a close look at how he behaves in private after he has retired from my presence, I can see that he has learned everything I have taught him. Indeed, Hui is not stupid at all.”

Book 5
Chapter IX
子謂子貢曰:「女與回也,孰愈?」對曰:「賜也,何敢望回?回也,聞一以知十,賜也聞一知二。」子曰:「弗如也,吾與女,弗如也。」
Confucius asked Zigong: “Who is better, you or Yan Hui?” Zigong replied: “How can I compare myself with Yan Hui? He has only to hear ten percent in order to understand everything about a subject while if I hear ten per cent I only understand twenty percent.” Confucius said: “You are certainly not his equal, and neither am I.”

Chapter XXVI
顏淵、季路侍。子曰:「盍各言爾志?」子路曰:「願車馬、衣輕裘,與朋友共,敝之而無憾。」顏淵曰:「願無伐善,無施勞。」子路曰:「願聞子之志。」子曰:「老者安之,朋友信之,少者懷之。」
When Yan Hui and Zilu were sitting together with him, Confucius said: “How about telling me your aspirations?” Zilu said: “My wish is to share my carriages, horses, clothes, and furs with my friends without getting upset if they damage them.” Yan Hui said: “My wish is never to boast about my abilities or call attention to the trouble I take on behalf of others.” Zilu said: “I would love to hear our master’s personal wishes.” Confucius said: “My wish is to be able to provide comfort to the elderly, to be faithful to my friends, and to cherish the young.”

Book 6
Chapter III
哀公問:「弟子孰為好學?」孔子對曰:「有顏回者好學,不遷怒,不貳過。不幸短命死矣,今也則亡,未聞好學者也。」
Duke Ai asked: “Which of the disciples love learning?” Confucius replied: “There was Yan Hui who loved learning; he never vented his anger; he never made the same mistake again. Sadly, his allotted time was short and he died. I have not heard of anyone else with such a love of learning.”

Chapter VII
子曰:「回也,其心三月不違仁,其餘則日月至焉而已矣。」
Confucius said: “Ah! Yan Hui could focus his mind solely on goodness for three months, whereas others can manage only a day or a month.”

Chapter XI
子曰:「賢哉,回也!一簞食,一瓢飲,在陋巷,人不堪其憂,回也不改其樂。賢哉,回也!」
Confucius said: “Yan Hui was so admirable! A handful of rice to eat, a gourd of water to drink, a hovel in a mean street to live in: while others would have been unable to endure such misery, Yan Hui never let it make any difference to his happiness. Yan Hui was so admirable!”

Book 7
Chapter X
子謂顏淵曰:「用之則行,舍之則藏,惟我與爾有是夫。」子路曰:「子行三軍,則誰與?」子曰:「暴虎馮河,死而不悔者,吾不與也。必也臨事而懼,好謀而成者也。」
Confucius said to Yan Hui: “To take office when needed and to stay out of sight when dismissed: only you and I can do this.” Zilu said: “If you had command of the Three Armies, who would you appoint to help you?” Confucius said: “I would not choose a man who wrestles tigers barehanded or swims across rivers without fearing death. But I would choose a man who approaches difficulties with due caution and achieves victories through careful planning.”

Book 9
Chapter XI
顏淵喟然嘆曰:「仰之彌高,鑽之彌堅,瞻之在前,忽焉在後!夫子循循然善誘人,博我以文,約我以禮。欲罷不能,既竭吾才,如有所立,卓爾。雖欲從之,末由也已!」
Yan Hui said with a heavy sigh: “The more I contemplate it, the higher it seems; the deeper I probe it, the harder it becomes; when I catch a glimpse of it in front of me, it is suddenly behind me. Our master knows how to lure people skillfully and methodically. He broadens my mind with literature and culture and restrains me with the rites. Even if I wanted to stop, I could not. Just as all my talents are exhausted, there seems to be something new towering above me. But although I long to follow it, I cannot find it.”

Chapter XX
子曰:「語之而不惰者,其回也與?」
Confucius said: “If anyone can listen to me without growing weary, who else can that be other than Yan Hui?”

Chapter XXI
子謂顏淵曰:「惜乎!吾見其進也,吾未見其止也!」
Confucius said of Yan Hui: “What a tragedy! I watched him progress; I never saw him stop.”

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 IV
子曰:「回也,非助我者也!於吾言,無所不說。」
Confucius said: “Yan Hui is no help to me at all: he delights in anything I say.”

Chapter VII
季康子問:「弟子孰為好學?」孔子對曰:「有顏回者好學,不幸短命死矣!今也則亡。」
Ji Kangzi asked: “Which of your disciples loves learning?” Confucius replied: “There was Yan Hui who loved learning. Unfortunately, his life was cut short and he died. Now there is no one who loves learning as much as he did.”

Chapter VIII
顏淵死,顏路請子之車以為之 。子曰:「才不才,亦各言其子也。鯉也死,有棺而無 ;吾不徒行,以為之 ,以吾從大夫之後,不可徒行也。」
Yan Hui died. His father, Yan Lu, asked if he could dispose of the Master’s carriage to provide for an outer coffin. The Master said: Talented or not, a son is a son. When Li, my own son, died, he was buried only with a coffin and without an outer coffin. I did not go on foot in order to provide for an outer coffin. Since my rank is right behind the grand officers, it is not proper that I should go on foot.”

Chapter IX
顏淵死,子曰:「噫!天喪予!天喪予!」
When Yan Hui died, Confucius cried: “Alas! Heaven is destroying me. Heaven is destroying me!”

Chapter X
顏淵死,子哭之慟。從者曰:「子慟矣!」曰:「有慟乎!非夫人之為慟而誰為!」
When Yan Hui died, Confucius dissolved into paroxysms of grief. His followers said: “Master, such grief is excessive.” Confucius said: “Is it excessive? If I don’t grieve for this man, who else should I grieve for?”

Chapter XI
顏淵死,門人欲厚葬之,子曰:「不可。」門人厚葬之。子曰:「回也,視予猶父也,予不得視猶子也。非我也,夫二三子也。」
When Yan Hui died, the disciples wanted to give him a grand burial. Confucius said: “This is not right.” When the disciples gave him a grand burial, Confucius said: “Yan Hui looked upon me as his father, but I was not given the chance to treat him as my son. This is not my fault, but yours, my friends.

Chapter XIX
子曰:「回也其庶乎!屢空,賜不受命,而貨殖焉;億則屢中。」
Confucius said: “Yan Hui nearly reached perfection, but he constantly lived in poverty. Zigong refuses to accept his fate and indulges in business speculation, and is frequently correct in his conjectures.”

Chapter XXIII
子畏於匡,顏淵後。子曰:「吾以女為死矣!」曰:「子在,回何敢死!」
Confucius was in danger in Kuang. Yan Hui had fallen behind. When they were finally reunited, Confucius said: “I thought you were dead.” Yan Hui said: “While you are alive, how would I dare to die?”

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 IV
子曰:「回也,非助我者也!於吾言,無所不說。」
Confucius said: “Yan Hui is no help to me at all: he delights in anything I say.”

Chapter VIII
顏淵死,顏路請子之車以為之 。子曰:「才不才,亦各言其子也。鯉也死,有棺而無 ;吾不徒行,以為之 ,以吾從大夫之後,不可徒行也。」
Yan Hui died. His father, Yan Lu, asked if he could dispose of the Master’s carriage to provide for an outer coffin. Confucius said: “Talented or not, a son is a son. When Li, my own son, died, he was buried only with a coffin and without an outer coffin. I did not go on foot in order to provide for an outer coffin. Since my rank is right behind the grand officers, it is not proper that I should go on foot.”

Chapter IX
顏淵死,子曰:「噫!天喪予!天喪予!」
When Yan Hui died, Confucius cried: “Alas! Heaven is destroying me. Heaven is destroying me!”

Chapter X
顏淵死,子哭之慟。從者曰:「子慟矣!」曰:「有慟乎!非夫人之為慟而誰為!」
When Yan Hui died, Confucius dissolved into paroxysms of grief. His followers said: “Master, such grief is excessive.” Confucius said: “Is it excessive? If I don’t grieve for this man, who else should I grieve for?”

Chapter XI
顏淵死,門人欲厚葬之,子曰:「不可。」門人厚葬之。子曰:「回也,視予猶父也,予不得視猶子也。非我也,夫二三子也。」
When Yan Hui died, the disciples wanted to give him a grand burial. Confucius said: “This is not right.” When the disciples gave him a grand burial, Confucius said: “Yan Hui looked upon me as his father, but I was not given the chance to treat him as my son. This is not my fault, but yours, my friends.

Chapter XXIII
子畏於匡,顏淵後。子曰:「吾以女為死矣!」曰:「子在,回何敢死!」
Confucius was in danger in Kuang. Yan Hui had fallen behind. When they were finally reunited, Confucius said: “I thought you were dead.” Yan Hui said: “While you are alive, how would I dare to die?”

Book 12
Chapter I
顏淵問仁。子曰:「克己復禮,為仁。一日克己復禮,天下歸仁焉。為仁由己,而由仁乎哉?」 顏淵曰:「請問其目?」子曰:「非禮勿視,非禮勿聽,非禮勿言,非禮勿動。」顏淵曰:「回雖不敏,請事斯語矣!」
Yan Hui asked about goodness. Confucius said: “Overcome the self and restore the rites. This is what goodness is all about. If you overcome the self and restore the rites for just a single day, the whole world will respond to your goodness. The practice of goodness comes from the self. How can it come from others?” Yan Hui said: “May I ask what steps I should follow?” Confucius said: “Don’t look at anything that doesn’t conform with the rites; don’t listen to anything that doesn’t conform with the rites; don’t say anything that doesn’t conform with the rites; don’t do anything that doesn’t conform with the rites.” Yan Hui said: “Although I may not be quick to understand it, with your blessing I will strive to follow your guidance.”

Book 15
Chapter XI
顏淵問為邦。子曰:「行夏之時,乘殷之輅,服周之冕。樂則韶舞,放鄭聲,遠佞人。鄭聲淫,佞人殆。」
When Yan Hui asked how to govern a state, Confucius said: “Observe the calendar of the Xia Dynasty; ride in the chariot of Yin Dynasty; wear the ceremonial cap of the Zhou Dynasty. As for music, follow the Coronation Hymn of Shun and the Victory Hymn of Wu. Ban the music of Zheng. Stay away from smooth talkers. The music of Zheng corrupts. Smooth talkers are dangerous.”

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