A precious sacrificial vessel

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子貢問曰:「賜也何如?」子曰:「女器也。」曰:「何器也?」曰:「瑚璉也。」
Zigong asked: “What do you think of me?” Confucius said: “You are a vessel.” “What sort of vessel?” “A precious sacrificial vessel.”

Giving candid feedback is never easy: not even for Confucius, who after telling his disciple Zigong he thinks he is a “vessel” (器/qi), feels the need to soften his criticism by saying he is at least a “precious sacrificial vessel.”

Confucius first talked about this subject in Chapter 12 of Book 2 of the Analects, when he opined that “A leader is not just a vessel.” By this he meant that he expected a leader to be much more than simply a receptacle of knowledge accumulated from the study of the classics; they also had to know how to apply it in real life by contributing towards the smooth running of society.

There is no record of how Zigong reacted to this put-down, but as one of Confucius’s most loyal disciples he must have taken it in his stride.

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