Fatherly advice

陳亢問於伯魚曰:「子亦有異聞乎?」對曰:「未也。嘗獨立,鯉趨而過庭。曰:『學詩乎?』對曰:『未也。』『不學詩,無以言。』鯉退而學詩。他日,又獨立,鯉趨而過庭。曰:『學禮乎?』對曰:『未也。』『不學禮,無以立。』鯉退而學禮。聞斯二者。」陳亢退而喜曰:「問一得三,聞詩、聞禮,又聞君子之遠其子也。」
Chen Gang asked Confucius’s son Boyu: “Has your father given you any special teaching?” Boyu replied: “No, he hasn’t. Once, when he was standing on his own and I was hurrying across the courtyard, he asked me: ‘Have you studied the Book of Songs?’ I replied: ‘Not yet.’ He said: ‘If you don’t study the Book of Songs, you won’t be able to speak.’ I retired and studied the Book of Songs. On another day, when he was again standing on his own and I was hurrying across the courtyard, he asked me: ‘Have you studied the rites?’ I replied: ‘Not yet.’ He said: ‘If you don’t study the rites, you won’t be able to take your place in society.’ I retired and studied the rites. These are the two lessons I received from him.” Chen Gang left delighted and said: “I asked one thing and learned three. I learned about the Book of Songs, I learned about the rites, and I learned how a leader keeps his distance from his son.”

This is only the second reference in the Analects to Confucius’s son Boyu, or Kong Li (孔鲤) as he is more formally known.

Boyu died before his father. In Chapter VIII of Book 11 Confucius describes how he conducted the funeral strictly according to the rites:

“鯉也死,有棺而無 ;吾不徒行,以為之,”
“When my own son Li died, he was buried in an inner coffin only but there was no outer coffin. I did not walk on foot in order to provide an outer coffin.”

As is demonstrated by Boyu’s response to Chen Gang (commonly believed to be the disciple Ziqin [子禽]), Confucius adopted a similarly formal approach to his son when he was alive, granting him no special favors and keeping a distance from him.

Confucius’s advice to Boyu that he should study the Book of Songs in order to be able to “speak” effectively and learn the rites in order to “take your place in society” is fairly standard stuff and examples of it can be found throughout the Analects. Presumably Ziqin is “delighted” because Boyu has shown that Confucius showed no favoritism at all to his son and treated him the same as his other disciples.

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