Just a joke

子之武城,聞弦歌之聲,夫子莞爾而笑曰:「割雞焉用牛刀?」子游對曰:「昔者,偃也聞諸夫子曰:『君子學道則愛人,小人學道則易使也。』」子曰:「二三子!偃之言是也,前言戲之耳!」
Confucius went to Wucheng. When he heard the sound of stringed instruments and singing, he was amused and broke out into a smile: “Why use an ox cleaver to kill a chicken?” Ziyou replied: “Master, in the past I have heard you say: ‘A leader who has been instructed in the Way loves all people; common people who have been instructed in the Way are easy to govern.’” Confucius said: “My friends, Ziyou is right. The remarks I made a moment ago were just a joke.”

Humor doesn’t exactly abound in the Analects. Judging by this incident, in which Confucius’s attempt at what he claims to be a joke spectacularly backfires and he is forced to backtrack in the face of his disciple Ziyou’s indignant protests, that’s probably a good thing.

Ziyou was the governor of the town of Wucheng in modern-day Shandong province at the time of Confucius’s visit and was making great efforts to inculcate the sage’s values into the local population. No wonder he is upset by Confucius’s implication that the ritual ceremony (“stringed instruments and singing”) he is holding is more than a little over the top.

To his credit, Confucius hastily backtracks, claiming that his comments were just a joke. And a lousy one at that, he doesn’t add.

To his shame, however, he doesn’t offer any apologies at all for the disdain he showed towards the rednecks (“common people”) of Wucheng with his attempt at humor. For all his high-flying principles, Confucius shows himself to be an elitist snob at heart.

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Your email address will not be published.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 *