Zizhang (子張), also called Zhuansun Shi (顓孫師), was a native of the state of Chen and forty-eight years younger than Confucius.
Zizhang was said to be witty and highly intelligent, and had a knack for asking Confucius broad open-ended questions that he would expound upon at great length. However, he was also regarded by some of the disciples of Confucius such as Zengzi (曾子) as being quite arrogant and more interested in self-promotion than self-cultivation.
Zizhang’s seeming arrogance may have been his way of masking his insecurity at coming from a poor family with no social standing and, according to some sources, being a convicted criminal.
References in the Analects of Confucius
Book 2, Chapter 18
Book 2, Chapter 23
Book 5, Chapter 19
Book 11, Chapter 16
Book 11, Chapter 18
Book 11, Chapter 20
Book 12, Chapter VI
Book 12, Chapter X
Book 12, Chapter XIV
Book 12, Chapter XX
Book 14, Chapter XL
Book 15, Chapter VI
Book 15, Chapter LXII
Book 17, Chapter VI
Book 19, Chapter I
Book 19, Chapter II
Book 19, Chapter III
Book 19, Chapter XV
Book 19, Chapter XVI
Book 20, Chapter II
Zizhang was studying with the aim of securing an official position. Confucius said: “Listen for as much information as possible, ignore anything that is suspect, and be cautious when talking about the rest; that way you will only rarely say anything out of place. Observe as much as possible, ignore anything that is dangerous, and carefully apply the rest to your actions; that way you will rarely have reason for regret. By speaking cautiously to avoid mistakes and acting carefully to avoid regrets, your career is set.”
Zizhang asked: “Can we predict the future ten generations from now?” Confucius said: “The Yin Dynasty adopted the rites of the Xia Dynasty; we know what was dropped and what was added. The Zhou Dynasty borrowed from the rites of the Yin Dynasty: we know what was dropped and what was added. If the Zhou Dynasty has successors, we know what they will be like, even a hundred generations from now.”
Zizhang asked: “Ziwen was appointed prime minister three times, but he never showed the least sign of elation. He was dismissed three times, but he never showed the least sign of disappointment. On each occasion, he briefed his successor on the status of the affairs of his office. What do you think of him?” Confucius said: “He was loyal.” Zizhang asked: “Was he good?” Confucius said: “I’m not sure; how can he be said to be good?”
“When Cuizi assassinated the ruler of the state of Qi, Chen Wenzi abandoned his large estate and left Qi. Having settled in another state, he said: ‘They are no better than Cuizi,’ and left. Having settled in yet another state, he said once again: ‘They are no better than Cuizi,’ and left once again. What do you think of him?” Confucius said: “He was pure.” Zizhang said: “Was he good?” “I’m not sure; how can he be said to be good?”
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.”
Zigao is dumb; Zengzi is dull; Zizhang is frivolous; Zilu is reckless.
Zizhang asked how to become a perfect person. Confucius said: “If you don’t follow the path others have trodden, you can’t enter the inner chamber.”
Zizhang asked about discernment. Confucius said: “If you are soaked with slander and wounded by insults but still do not falter, you may be said to have discernment. Indeed, you may also be said to be farsighted.”
Zizhang asked about the phrase “accumulate virtue, resolve confusion”. Confucius said: “Place loyalty and trust above everything and follow the path of righteousness to accumulate virtue. When you love someone, you want them to live; when you hate someone, you want them to die. But if you want someone to live and to die at the same time, that is confusion.” It may not be just because she is wealthy. It may also be out of a need for variety.
Zizhang asked about governance. Confucius said: “Execute the responsibilities of your office untiringly. Carry out your duties loyally.”
Zizhang asked: “When is it possible to say that someone has achieved success?” Confucius said: “It depends on what you mean by achieving success.” Zizhang replied: “To be recognized in public and private life.” Confucius said: “That is celebrity, not success. A man who has achieved success is straightforward by nature and loves what is right. He listens to what others have to say, observes their moods and expressions, and is respectful to others. Such a man is sure to be successful in his public and private life. A man seeking celebrity puts on an ostentatious display of virtue while behaving in the opposite way free of any self-doubt. He will definitely achieve recognition in both his public and private life.”
Zizhang said: “In the Book of Documents it is written: ‘When King Gaozong was mourning his father, he did not speak for three years.’ What does this mean?” Confucius said: “This did not apply only to King Gaozong; all the ancients did the same. When a king died, all the officials gathered together and took their orders from the prime minister for three years.”
Zizhang asked about getting on in the world. Confucius said: “If your words are sincere and trustworthy and your actions are honorable and respectful, you will get on in the world even among the barbarian tribes. If your words are insincere and untrustworthy, if you act without honor and respect, how can you possibly get on in the world even in your own village? When you stand, you should always have this principle in front of you. When you drive you should have it carved upon the yoke of your carriage; only then will you truly be able to move ahead.” Zizhang wrote this down on his sash.
Mian, the (blind) music master, came to visit. When he reached the steps, Confucius said: “Mind the steps.” When he reached the mat, Confucius said: “Here is the mat.” When everyone was seated, Confucius told him: “This person is here; that person is there.” After the music master had left, Zizhang asked: “Is this the way to talk to a music master?” Confucius said: “Yes, this is the way to assist a music master.”
Zizhang asked Confucius about goodness. Confucius said: “Whoever is capable of putting five qualities into practice throughout the world is good.” “And what are those?” “Respectfulness, tolerance, trustworthiness, enthusiasm, and generosity. If you are respectful, you will not be insulted by others; if you are tolerant, you will win people’s hearts; if you are trustworthy, people will entrust you with responsibility; if you are enthusiastic, you will be successful; if you are generous, you will be capable of managing other people.”
Zizhang said: “A scholar-official who is ready to give their life when faced with danger; who does the right thing when presented with an opportunity of profit; who shows due reverence when carrying out a sacrifice, and who truly grieves when in mourning. Such a person is acceptable.”
Zizhang said: “If you fail to embrace virtue with all your spirit and fail to follow the Way with all your heart, does it really matter whether you exist or not?”
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?”
Ziyou said: “My friend Zizhang is a man of great ability, but he has not yet achieved goodness.”
Zengzi said: “Zizhang is so full of himself that it is difficult to cultivate goodness by his side.”
Zizhang asked Confucius: “What qualities must you have in order to be fit to take part in government?” Confucius said: “If you cultivate the five virtues and cast out the four vices you are fit to govern.”
Zizhang asked: “What are the five virtues?” Confucius said: “A leader is generous without having to spend anything; he inspires people to work hard without complaining; he is ambitious without being greedy; he is confident without being arrogant; he is imposing without being frightening.”
Zizhang said: “How can you be ‘generous without having to spend anything’?” Confucius said: “If you let the people take advantage of what is beneficial for them, aren’t you being generous without having to spend anything? If you assign the people to work on tasks that are reasonable, who will complain? If your ambition is to be good and you accomplish it, how can you be greedy? If a leader treats everyone equally no matter whether they are many or few or humble or great, he is confident without being arrogant. If a leader wears his robe and cap correctly, his gaze is straight, and he carries himself with a dignified air that inspires the people’s awe, he is imposing but not frightening.”
Zizhang said: “What are the four vices?” Confucius said: “If you execute people without attempting to reform them you are being cruel; if you carry out an inspection of a public works project without giving a prior warning you are being tyrannical; if you expect the immediate completion of a project after being slow to approve it, you are acting like a thief; if you are tight-fisted in paying people what is rightfully theirs, you are being bureaucratic.”