The myth of Confucius as a superman begins

陳子禽謂子貢曰:「子為恭也,仲尼豈賢於子乎?」子貢曰:「君子一言以為知,一言以為不知,言不可不慎也!夫子之不可及也,猶天之不可階而升也。夫子之得邦家者,所謂立之斯立,道之斯行,綏之斯來,動之斯和。其生也榮,其死也哀,如之何其可及也?」
Chen Ziqin said to Zigong: “Sir, you are just being polite; how could Confucius be considered to be your superior?” Zigong said: “A leader can reveal his wisdom with a single phrase, and can betray his ignorance with a single phrase. That is why he must be careful about what he says. The Master’s achievements cannot be equaled, just as there are no steps that you can climb to reach the sky. If the Master been entrusted with running a country or a family estate, he would have lived up to the old adage: ‘If he helps them to stand they will stand up; if he leads them they will march; if he gives them peace they will flock to him; if he mobilizes them to work they will follow his call. In life, he is glorified; in death, he will be mourned.’ How can his achievements ever be equaled?”

There is little doubt that the final two chapters of Book 19 were added to the Analects at a late stage with the specific aim of creating a myth around Confucius as a superman rather than a mere mortal.

In Chapter XXV, for example, Zigong allegedly promotes the idea that if only Confucius had achieved high political office, he would have restored the golden age that supposedly existed when the Zhou Dynasty was at its peak and brought peace and prosperity back to the country. The language he uses, however, is far too hyperbolic to be convincing. Surely we are not meant to believe that, “the Master’s achievements cannot be equaled, just as there are no steps that you can climb to reach the sky.”

This is the final appearance of Zigong in the Analects. It’s the last one for Chen Ziqin, too, who featured in Chapter X of Book 1 as well as (probably) Chapter XIII of Book 16.

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