Although he was only twenty-six years of age when Confucius died in 479 BCE, Zengzi (曾子) quickly rose to prominence as one of the leading proponents of the sage’s teaching and is said to have written or edited at least ten books, including the rip-roaring Classic of Filial Devotion (孝經/xiàojīng).
Zengzi also set up his own school in Confucius’s home state of Lu (魯國) and, as was the case with Youzi, his disciples made sure that he was prominently featured in the Analects. Extremely successfully, in fact, given that he is mentioned a total of 14 times.
Zengzi lived from 505 to 436 BCE and traced his ancestry back over a thousand years to a king from the Xia (夏) dynasty. His father Zeng Dian (曾點) was a friend of Confucius and sent him to study with the sage at the age of sixteen. His given name was Zeng Shen (曾參), and he was also called Zeng Ziyu (曾子輿) or simply Ziyu (子輿/子與).
Appearances in the Analects of Confucius
Book 1, Chapter 4
Book 1, Chapter 9
Book 4, Chapter 15
Book 8, Chapter III
Book 8, Chapter IV
Book 8, Chapter V
Book 8, Chapter VI
Book 8, Chapter VII
Book 11, Chapter XVIII
Book 12, Chapter XXIV
Book 14, Chapter XXVI
Book 19, Chapter XVI
Book 19, Chapter XVII
Book 19, Chapter XVIII
Book 19, Chapter XIX
Zengzi said: “I examine myself three times every day. Have I been true to other people’s interests when acting on their behalf? Have I been sincere in my interactions with friends? Have I practiced what I have been taught?”
Zengzi said: “When the dead are shown proper reverence and the memory of distant ancestors is kept alive, the people’s virtue is at its highest.”
Confucius said: “Shen, my way is woven into a single thread.” Zengzi replied: “Indeed.” After Confucius had left, the other followers asked: “What did he mean?” Zengzi said: “The way of the Master is based on loyalty and reciprocity; that and nothing more.”
When Zengzi was ill, he called his disciples together and said: “Look at my feet! Look at my hands! It is said in the Book of Odes:
We should be vigilant and careful,
As if we are standing on the edge of an abyss,
As if we are treading on thin ice.
But now, my little ones, I know that I am escaping whole now and forever after.”
When Zengzi was ill, Meng Jingzi came to visit him. Zengzi said: “When a bird is about to die, his song is sad; when a man is about to die, his words are good. In following the Way, a leader cherishes three things: in his demeanor, he stays far from violence and arrogance; in his countenance, he invites trustworthiness; in his speech, he avoids vulgarity. As for the details of the ritual, these will be taken care of by the functionaries.”
Zengzi said: “Capable but willing to listen to those who are not capable; talented but willing to listen to those without talent; viewing having as the same as not having; viewing fullness as the same as emptiness; accepting insults without bearing a grudge: long ago, I had a friend who practiced these things.”
Zengzi said: “You can entrust him with the care of a teenage orphan; you can entrust him with the government of a small state; when faced with a serious crisis, he will remain steadfast in resolving it. Is he a true leader? He is a true leader, indeed.”
Zengzi said: “A scholar-official must be strong and resolute because his burden is heavy and his road is long. He takes goodness as his burden: is this not heavy? His journey ends only with death: is this not long?”
Zigao is simple; Zengzi is dull; Zizhang is extreme; Zilu is reckless.
Zengzi said: “A leader attracts friends through his cultural refinement, and looks to his friends for support in nurturing his goodness.”
子曰：「不在其位，不謀其政。」曾子曰：「君子思不出其位。」Confucius said: “Do not concern yourself with the policies of an office that you do not hold.” Zengzi said: “A leader would never consider overstepping the bounds of his position.”
Zengzi said: “Zizhang is so full of himself that it is difficult to cultivate goodness by his side.”
Zengzi said: “I heard this from the Master: If a man ever reveals his true nature, it’s when he mourns his parents.”
Zengzi said: “I heard this from the Master: The one facet of Lord Meng Zhuang’s filial piety that others couldn’t emulate was that he retained his father’s officials and continued his father’s policies.”
The Meng Family appointed Yang Fu as a judge. Yang Fu asked for advice from Zengzi. Zengzi said: “The authorities have lost the Way; the common people have been left to their own devices for too long. When you succeed in getting the true facts of a case, respond with compassion but never take any pleasure from it.”