Son of the man from Zou

When Confucius visited the Grand Ancestral Temple, he asked about everything that was happening there. Someone said: “Who said this guy was an expert on the rites? When he visited the Grand Ancestral Temple, he had to ask about everything that was happening.” Hearing this, Confucius said: “Exactly, this is the rites.”

The Grand Ancestral Temple was dedicated to Confucius’s hero, the Duke of Zhou, and it was where the sacrifices that he objected to in Chapter X and Chapter XI of Book 3 were carried out.

As a result, some commentators see a link between those two passages and this one, and speculate that once again Confucius is playing dumb in order to indirectly criticize the ruling class of Lu for holding sacrificial ceremonies that they had no right to carry out.

Others, however, suggest that Confucius was merely following accepted ritual practices that required visitors to other people’s ancestral temples should act modestly and ask a few polite questions about the proceedings

There are some suspicions, too, that the anonymous person who questions whether Confucius is an expert on the rites is casting further aspersions on the sage’s credentials by casually calling him “son of the man from Zou” (which I have translated as “guy”) rather than by his proper name.

Confucius’s father was from Zou (鄹/zōu), an insignificant backwater located to the south of Lu. Since his family came from a place that had previously had no ties to the culture and customs from the Zhou Dynasty that were followed in Lu, the anonymous man is implying that Confucius has no authority to comment on the rites at all.

The excitement never stops in the Analects……

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