A bucket or scoop

子貢問曰:「何如斯可謂之士矣?」子曰:「行己有恥,使於四方,不辱君命,可謂士矣。」曰:「敢問其次?」曰:「宗族稱孝焉,鄉黨稱弟焉。」曰:「敢問其次?」曰:「言必信,行必果;硜硜然,小人哉!抑亦可以為次矣。」曰:「今之從政者何如?」子曰:「噫!斗筲之人,何足算也!」
Zigong asked: “What qualities must one possess to be called a true gentleman?” Confucius said: “A man who maintains a sense of humility and can be sent on a mission to the four corners of the earth without bringing disgrace to his ruler can be called a true gentleman.” “May I ask what type of man ranks one step below that?” “A man who is praised by his relatives for his filial piety and who is known by the people of his neighborhood for being respectful towards his elders.” “May I ask what type of man ranks one step below that?” “A man whose word can be trusted and who completes whatever task he undertakes. In his stubborn determination, he may resemble a petty person, but he could still probably qualify as a gentleman of a lower rank.” “How would you rate the men currently involved in public affairs?” “Sadly, these are men you measure by a bucket or scoop. They’re not even worth mentioning.”

Even though he had no spreadsheet program to help him, Confucius built up remarkably detailed “models” of behavior for the aspiring gentleman or leader to follow and the qualities that he needed to nurture in order to ascend the hierarchy.

If you strip away the archaic and sexist language, these core values remain pretty much the same as those that we subscribe to today and expect people in the public eye to follow (though we would probably put less emphasis on filial piety and respect for the elderly). Continue reading A bucket or scoop

Considerate, diligent, and loyal

樊遲問仁。子曰:「居處恭,執事敬,與人忠,雖之夷狄,不可棄也。」
Fan Chi asked about goodness. Confucius said: “Be considerate in your private life, diligent in your public affairs, and loyal to others. Even when you are among the Yi and Di tribes, do not deviate from these principles.”

When stripped of all its trappings, the principle of goodness (仁/rén) is very simple: treat others as you would expect them to treat you. Continue reading Considerate, diligent, and loyal

Keep it in the family

葉公語孔子曰:「吾黨有直躬者,其父攘羊而子證之。」孔子曰:「吾黨之直者異於是,父為子隱,子為父隱,直在其中矣。」
The Duke of She declared to Confucius: “Among my people, there is a man of unwavering integrity. When his father stole a sheep, he informed on him.” Confucius said: “Among my people, people of integrity are different. Fathers watch the backs of their sons and sons watch the backs of their fathers. Integrity can be found in this.

Nobody likes a grass: but that doesn’t make Confucius’s blustering attempt to place loyalty to the family as a higher virtue than honesty any more palatable. What about the poor guy who had his sheep stolen? Surely he is entitled to some form of justice. Continue reading Keep it in the family

Sound advice

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.”

According to many commentators, Zixia moved far too aggressively to reform the walled city of Jufu in state of Lu when he took over as its governor. Hence, Confucius warns him to move more cautiously and not “rush things.” Continue reading Sound advice

Make the people happy

葉公問政。子曰:「近者說,遠者來。」
The Duke of She asked about governance. Confucius said: “If you make the people near to you happy others will come from afar.”

Population was the measure of the strength and power of a state during the tumultuous Spring and Autumn period that Confucius lived in: the more people there were to till the land in times of peace and join the army whenever war threatened the better. Continue reading Make the people happy

One single saying

定公問:「一言而可以興邦,有諸?」孔子對曰:「言不可以若是其幾也!人之言曰:『為君難,為臣不易。』如知為君之難也,不幾乎一言而興邦乎?」曰:「一言而喪邦,有諸?」孔子對曰:「言不可以若是其幾也!人之言曰:『予無樂乎為君,唯其言而莫予違也。』如其善而莫之違也,不亦善乎?如不善而莫之違也,不幾乎一言而喪邦乎?」
Duke Ding asked: “Is there one single saying that can ensure the prosperity of a country?” Confucius replied: “No single saying could have such an effect. There is a saying, however: ‘It is difficult to be a ruler, it is not easy to be a minister.’ A saying that could make the ruler understand the difficulty of his task would come close to ensuring the prosperity of the country.” “Is there one single saying that can ruin a country?” Confucius replied: “No single saying could have such an effect. There is a saying, however: ‘There is nothing I love more about being a ruler than never having to be contradicted.’ If you are right and nobody contradicts you, that’s great; but if you are wrong and nobody contradicts you, then would this not come close to being a case of a ‘single saying that can ruin a country?’”

Great leaders approach their task with humility. They do not underestimate the complexity of the challenges they face and they welcome the opinions of others. Continue reading One single saying

Government affairs

冉子退朝,子曰:「何晏也?」對曰:「有政。」子曰:「其事也!如有政,雖不吾以,吾其與聞之!」
When Ran Qiu returned from court, Confucius said: “What kept you so long?” Ran Qiu replied: “Government affairs.” Confucius said: “Surely you mean private affairs. If it had been any government affairs I would have heard about them, even though I’m not in office.”

Confucius had a rather contentious relationship with his disciple Ran Qiu, who stayed on in the state of Lu after the sage went into exile in 497 BC and was subsequently appointed to a senior government position by  Ji Kangzi (季康子). Continue reading Government affairs

The correct manner

子曰:「苟正其身矣,於從政乎何有?不能正其身,如正人何?」
Confucius said: “If you behave in the correct manner, what difficulties will you meet when in government service? If you are unable to behave in the correct manner, how can you possibly make sure that others behave in the correct manner?”

The sentiment of this passage is almost exactly the same as in Chapter XVII of Book 12 and Chapter VI of Book 13, though it refers to ministers and officials in government service (從政/cóngzhèng) rather than an actual ruler. Continue reading The correct manner