Analects Book 1: on trustworthiness


Trustworthiness (信/xìn) is another of the secondary virtues promoted by Confucius, and means being true to your word and being a dependable support for others. In some contexts it can also be translated as “faithfulness”, “sincerity”, or “truthfulness”, “honesty”.

Confucius demonstrates the value he places on it in Chapter VIII of Book 1 when he advises that a leader (君子/jūnzǐ) should, “Hold loyalty and trustworthiness as your highest principles.” In Chapter VI, he also says that a young man should “talk little but truthfully.”

The disciple Youzi underlines the importance of trustworthiness in Chapter XIII when he ranks it as “close to rightness because it means that your word can be counted on.” Zixia echoes his thoughts by describing a man “who is true to his word in his dealings with his friends” as being truly “learned” in Chapter VIII.

In a similar vein, Zengzi explains in Chapter IV that one of the questions he asks when he examines himself three times every day is: “Have I been sincere in my interactions with friends?”

Just like its counterpart loyalty (忠/zhōng), trustworthiness forms the glue that binds social relationships. Given the rapid economic, social, and political changes that China was undergoing during his lifetime, it is no surprise that Confucius and his associates prized trustworthiness and loyalty so highly. Without them, the smooth functioning of government, business, and society would quickly unravel.

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