Quite a messenger

蘧伯玉使人於孔子,孔子與之坐而問焉。曰:「夫子何為?」對曰:「夫子欲寡其過而未能也。」使者出。子曰:「使乎!使乎!」
Qu Boyu sent a messenger to Confucius. Confucius sat together with him and asked: “How is your master?” The messenger replied: “My master wishes to reduce his faults, but he hasn’t succeeded yet.” The messenger left. Confucius said: “He’s quite a messenger! He’s quite a messenger!”

Qu Boyu was an official and scholar from the state of Wei, who was famous for his never-ending quest for self-cultivation. Some commentators speculate that Confucius may have stayed with Qu, who was nearly forty years older than him, during the time he spent in Wei – but there is no historical evidence to support this contention.

Confucius is probably indirectly praising Qu for his unstinting efforts to improve himself with his final comments about the messenger, though some commentators detect a hint of sarcasm in them. Without knowing the original context in which the exchange took place, it’s difficult to know which interpretation is correct.

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