Character reference

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孟武伯問:「子路仁乎?」子曰:「不知也。」又問。子曰:「由也,千乘之國,可使治其賦也,不知其仁也。」「求也何如?」子曰:「求也,千室之邑,百乘之家,可使為之宰也,不知其仁也。」「赤也何如?」子曰:「赤也,束帶立於朝,可使與賓客言也,不知其仁也。」
Meng Wubo asked “Is Zilu good?” Confucius said: “I do not know.” When he asked once again, Confucius said: “In a middle-sized country, he could be entrusted with military recruitment. But whether he is good, I do not know.” “And what about Ran Qiu?” Confucius said: “Ran Qiu? He could be the mayor of a small city or the manager of a large estate. But whether he is good, I do not know.” “And what about Gongxi Chi?” Confucius said: “Gongxi Chi? Standing resplendent with his sash, he could entertain distinguished guests. But whether he is good, I do not know.”

Meng Wubo is probably asking Confucius whether he thinks Zilu, Ran Qiu, and Gongxi Chi are of good character because he is thinking of offering them an official position.

Although Confucius is more than happy to sum up each of his disciple’s practical abilities, he refuses to comment on how “good” they are. To him, achieving “goodness” is a dynamic process rather than a static goal that can be somehow reached. It is a quality that needs to be cultivated every day of your lifetime; no matter how “good” you are there’s always room for you to improve further.

Meng Wubo first appeared in Chapter 6 of Book 2 of the Analects. He was the son of Meng Yizi (孟懿子), a former student of Confucius who rose to become head of one of the notorious Three Families that were the real power in the state of Lu.

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