A complete man

子路問「成人」。子曰:「若臧武仲之知,公綽之不欲,卞莊子之勇,冉求之藝,文之以禮樂,亦可以為成人矣!」曰:「今之成人者,何必然?見利思義,見危授命,久要不忘平生之言,亦可以為成人矣!」
Zilu asked how to define a “complete man”. Confucius said: “Take a man as wise as Zang Wuzhong, as abstemious as Gongchuo, as brave as Zhuangzi of Bian, and as proficient in the arts as Ran Qiu, as well as being accomplished in the rites and music, and he may be considered a complete man.” Then he added: “But must a complete man be exactly like this today? Someone who thinks of what is right at the sight of profit, who is ready to risk their life when faced with danger, and who can endure hardship without forgetting the teachings that have guided his daily life may also be considered a complete man.”

This is the first and only time that the term “complete man” (成人/chéngrén) appears in the Analects. The moniker that Confucius usually uses to describe someone with such superhuman qualities is君子 (jūnzǐ), which I normally translate as “leader”.

Zang Wuzhong (臧武仲) was the head of a powerful family in Confucius’s home state of Lu and apparently employed the sage’s father in his service. He had a great reputation for wisdom and was featured in the Chronicle of Zuo (左傳/Zuǒchuán), one of the earliest Chinese historical works.

Meng Gongchuo (孟公綽) was mentioned in the previous chapter of the Analects. Although Confucius wasn’t that impressed with his administrative capabilities, he wasn’t afraid to give him credit where credit was due.

Zhuangzi (莊子) was an official in the walled city of Bian in the state of Lu, who was celebrated for his bravery.

Ran Qiu (冉求) was a disciple of Confucius. You can read about him here.

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