A bitter gourd

佛肸召,子欲往。子路曰:「昔者由也聞諸夫子曰:『親於其身為不善者,君子不入也』。佛肸以中牟畔,子之往也,如之何?」子曰:「然,有是言也。不曰堅乎?磨而不磷;不曰白乎?涅而不緇。吾豈匏瓜也哉?焉能繫而不食!」
Bi Xi summoned Confucius. Confucius was tempted to go. Zilu said: “Master, in the past I have heard you say, ‘A leader does not enter the domain of those who commit evil.’ Bi Xi is using his stronghold of Zhongmou as the base of a rebellion. How can you contemplate going to join him?” Confucius said: “It’s true I said that. But hasn’t it also been said, ‘so tough that it can withstand grinding; so white that it can withstand black dye’. Am I no more than a bitter gourd that is hung on a piece of string instead of being eaten?”

This is the third job opportunity that Confucius is tempted to pursue in Book 17 of the Analects. His blustering and self-pitying response to Zilu’s biting criticism does him no credit at all and reveals how desperate he must have become to achieve a position of influence – even it meant consorting with a rebel of dubious character.

As galling as it must have been for him to be “a bitter gourd that is hung on a piece of string,” surely that would have been preferable to selling out his long-held principles for a fleeting taste of power?

For fleeting it would most certainly have been, because – just as Yang Huo and Gongshan Furao – Bi Xi, a treacherous steward of a great family in the state of Jin, failed in his attempted revolt and went on to meet an untimely end.

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInShare on Google+Share on StumbleUponEmail this to someone

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *