Followers of Confucius: Zixia

Zixia (子夏) was born in 507 BCE, probably in the state of Wei, and is said to have lived to an extremely advanced age. He reportedly served at the court of Prince Wan of Wei in 406 BCE when he would have been ninety-nine. He was also known by the courtesy name of Bu Shang (卜商) and the given name of Bu Zixia (卜子夏).

Zixia was noted for his scholarship and extensive knowledge of the classics. In Chapter 8 of Book 3, he receives praise from Confucius himself for explaining the meaning of an ode in the Book of Songs (詩經/shījīng): “You have opened up my eyes to the true meaning of these verses! It is only with a man like you that I can discuss the Book of Songs!”

In another exchange between the two of them in Chapter 13 of Book 6, however, Confucius warns Zixia to “be a refined scholar, not a common pedant” – suggesting that he needed to be more creative in his thinking.

After Confucius died, Zixia returned to the state of Wei and founded his own school in which he taught a number of followers who went on to further promulgate his interpretation of the sage’s philosophy. No doubt as a result of their efforts, he is one of the most extensively featured followers in the Analects, making a grand total of twenty appearances.

Opinions on Zixia’s legacy are mixed. While some historians from the Han Dynasty (206 BC – 220 CE) and Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279) saw him as one of the most important Confucian thinkers, others believed that his philosophy was far too autocratic and reflected that of the opposing Legalist school.

Appearances in the Analects of Confucius
Book 1, Chapter 7
Book 2, Chapter 8
Book 3, Chapter 8
Book 6, Chapter 13
Book 11, Chapter 3
Book 11, Chapter 16
Book 12, Chapter 5
Book 12, Chapter 22
Book 13, Chapter XVII
Book 19, Chapter III
Book 19, Chapter IV
Book 19, Chapter V
Book 19, Chapter VI
Book 19, Chapter VII
Book 19, Chapter VIII
Book 19, Chapter IX
Book 19, Chapter X
Book 19, Chapter XI
Book 19, Chapter XII
Book 19, Chapter XIII

Book 1
Chapter 7
Zixia said: “A man who values character over beauty, who devotes himself to serving his parents, who dedicates his life to his ruler, and who is true to his word with his friends: I’ll insist he’s learned even if others think otherwise.”

Book 2
Chapter 8
When Zixia asked about filial devotion, Confucius said: “It’s the attitude that counts. If young people just offer their help when there’s a job to do or serve their elders wine and food when they need to drink and eat, how could this ever be considered as filial devotion?”

Book 3
Chapter 8
Zixia asked: “What do these verses mean: ‘Ah, the lovely dimples of her artful smile! Ah, the black and white of her beautiful eyes! It’s on plain white silk that colors sparkle.’” Confucius said: “Painting comes after plain white silk.” Zixia said: “Is ritual also something that comes afterwards?” Confucius said: “You have opened up my eyes to true meaning of these verses! It’s only with a man like you that I can discuss the Book of Songs!”

Book 6
Chapter 13
Confucius said to Zixia: “Be a refined scholar, not a common pedant.”

Book 11
Chapter 3
Virtue: Yan Hui, Min Ziqian, Ran Geng, Ran Yong. Eloquence: Zai Yu, Zigong. Administration: Ran Qiu, Zilu. Letters: Ziyou, Zixia.

Chapter 16
Zigong asked: “Who is better: Zizhang or Zixia?” Confucius said: “Zizhang overshoots the mark and Zixia falls short of the mark.” Zigong said: “Then Zizhang must be better?” Confucius said: “Both miss the mark.”

Book 12
Chapter 5
Sima Niu was full of sorrow: “All men have brothers; I alone have none.” Zixia said: “I have heard this: life and death are ordained by fate; wealth and honors are assigned by heaven. A leader always shows respect and courtesy to others. Within the four seas all men are brothers. How could a leader complain that he has no brothers?”

Chapter 22
Fan Chi asked about goodness. Confucius said: “Love others.” He then asked about wisdom. Confucius said: “Know others.” Fan Chi didn’t understand. Confucius said: “Promote the upright and place them above the crooked, so that they can straighten the crooked.” Fan Chi left. When he met Zixia he asked: “A short while ago when I saw Confucius I asked him about wisdom. He said: ‘Promote the upright and place them above the crooked, so that they can straighten the crooked.’ What does this mean?” Zixia said: “These are rich words indeed! When Shun ruled the world and was choosing from among the masses, he selected Gao Yao and those without goodness went away. When Tang ruled the world and was choosing from among the masses, he selected Yi Yin and those without goodness went away.”

Book 13
Chapter XVII
When Zixia was governor of Jufu he asked about governance. Confucius said: “Do not try to rush things. Ignore matters of minor advantage. If you try to rush things, you will not achieve success. If you pursue matters of minor advantage, you will not succeed in major affairs.”

Book 19
Chapter III
The disciples of Zixia asked Zizhang about social relations. Zizhang said: “What did Zixia tell you?” They replied: “Zixia said: ‘Associate with the right sort of people; avoid the wrong sort of people.” Zizhang said: “I heard something different: ‘A leader respects the wise and is tolerant of the ordinary; he praises the good and shows compassion to the incapable.’ If I am superior, whom should I not be tolerant of? If I am inferior, then others will avoid me; why would I need to avoid them?”

Chapter IV
Zixia said: “Although there’s a lot to see when you stroll along the byways, you risk getting get stuck in the mud if you have to travel far. That is why a leader should avoid them.”

Chapter V
Zixia said: “If you recognize day by day what you still need to learn and don’t forget month by month what you have already learned, you truly love learning!”

Chapter VI
Zixia said: “Expand your learning and stick firmly to your purpose; question everything and reflect deeply: this is how you find goodness.”

Chapter VII
Zixia said: “Artisans of all types live in their workshops to master their trade. A leader learns to master the Way.”

Chapter VIII
Zixia said: “A petty person always tries to gloss over his mistakes.”

Chapter IX
Zixia said: “A leader has three different aspects: from a distance, he looks stern; close up, he looks warm; when you hear his voice, he sounds serious.”

Chapter X
Zixia said: “A leader only mobilizes the people for labor after earning their trust. If he hasn’t earned his trust, the people will feel they are being exploited. He only offers criticism to his lord after earning his trust. If he hasn’t earned his trust, the lord will feel he is being slandered.”

Chapter XI
Zixia said: “If you don’t overstep the bounds in important matters of virtue, it doesn’t matter if you take some liberties with the minor ones.”

Chapter XII
Ziyou said: “The disciples of Zixia are well trained for sprinkling and sweeping the floor, responding to instructions, and greeting guests. But these are only details. When it comes to the fundamentals, they are totally lost. How is this possible?” When Zixia heard this he said: “No! Ziyou is badly mistaken! When it comes to the way of the gentleman, who is to decide what should be taught first and what should be taught last? Disciples should be taught according to their characteristics in the same way plants and trees are sorted. How can it be the way of the gentleman to turn them into fools? Only a sage, however, would be able to master everything from the beginning to the end.”

Chapter XIII
Zixia said: “When an official has time to spare from his duties, he should study. When a student has time to spare from his studies, he should undertake official duties.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *