Confucius laments the death of Yan Hui

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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?”

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 short.”

子曰:「苗而不秀者,有矣夫!秀而不實者,有矣夫!」
Confucius said: “There are shoots that never come to flower, and there are flowers that never bear fruit.”

I have written before about Confucius’s affection for his protégé Yan Hui, who died at the age of only 32 and left him heartbroken. Continue reading Confucius laments the death of Yan Hui

Raising a mound

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子曰:「譬如為山,未成一簣,止,吾止也!譬如平地,雖覆一簣,進,吾往也!」
Confucius said: “Think of it like raising a mound: if I stop before piling on the last basket of earth, then I have stopped of my own accord. Think of it like filling a hole in the ground: if I have emptied the first basket of earth, I only need to keep on emptying more in order to make progress.”

This is a rather labored metaphor. Following the right path is a step-by-step process; don’t get discouraged and give up along the way. It may seem impossible now, but if you keep on going you will ultimately achieve your objective. Continue reading Raising a mound

Core values

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子曰:「出則事公卿,入則事父兄,喪事不敢不勉,不為酒困,何有於我哉!」
Confucius said: “I have never found it difficult to serve my superiors abroad; show respect to my elders at home; mourn the dead with proper reverence; and not be overcome with wine.”

Core Confucian values: loyalty (忠/zhōng), filial piety (孝/xiào), the rites (禮/), and, er, the ability to hold your liquor. I guess I can see the connection….

A win-win situation

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子曰:「吾自衛反魯,然後樂正,雅頌,各得其所。」
Confucius said: “It was only after I returned to Lu from Wei that the music was reformed and the court songs and sacrificial hymns put in the proper order.”

Confucius is probably referring to the Book of Songs (詩經/shījīng), the oldest surviving collection of Chinese poetry and one of the “Five Classics” that became required reading for Chinese students for over 2,000 years. Continue reading A win-win situation

A civilizing mission

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子欲居九夷。或曰:「陋,如之何?」子曰:「君子居之,何陋之有!」
Confucius wanted to live among the nine barbarian tribes of the East. Someone said: “It’s wild there. How would you cope?” Confucius said: “How could it be wild once a leader goes to live there?”

No doubt his motives were honorable, but Confucius sounds insufferably arrogant in his assumption that he can “civilize” the barbarians merely by going to live with them and showing how they should conduct themselves. Continue reading A civilizing mission

The right price

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子貢曰:「有美玉於斯,韞 而藏諸?求善賈而沽諸?」子曰:「沽之哉!沽之哉!我待賈者也!」
Zigong said: “If you had a precious piece of jade, would you hide it in a box for safekeeping or would you try and sell it for a good price?” Confucius said: “I would sell it! I would sell it! All I am waiting for is the right price.”

Confucius wasn’t shy about his desire share to his talents, but only with a ruler who was fully committed to following the path that he advocated. Continue reading The right price

True to the end

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子疾病,子路使門人為臣,病間曰:「久矣哉,由之行詐也!無臣而為有臣,吾誰欺?欺天乎?且予與其死於臣之手也,無寧死於二三子之手乎?且予縱不得大葬,予死於道路乎?」
Confucius was seriously ill. Zilu had the disciples act as if they were retainers of a lord. When his illness went into remission, Confucius said: “Zilu, this deception has lasted long enough. Who do I deceive with these bogus retainers? Do I deceive Heaven? Rather than die among retainers, I would prefer to die in the arms of my disciples. I may not receive a grand funeral, but I shall not die by the side of the road.”

Poor old Zilu: for all his enthusiasm and loyalty, he still doesn’t “get” Confucius’s teachings even when his master is on his deathbed. He wants to give his master face by having his disciples attend to him as if he is a feudal lord; but Confucius stays true to his principles to the end and refuses to allow this violation of the rites, preferring in any case to die in the arms of his disciples.