A man from Daxiang


A man from Daxiang said: “What a great man Confucius is! Despite his vast learning, he has still not managed to make a name for himself in any particular field.” When Confucius heard of this, he said to his disciples: “Which skill should I master? Should I master charioteering? Should I master archery? I think I’ll master charioteering.”

The irony is somewhat leaden, but Confucius just about manages to make his point. For him the purpose of learning is not to cultivate a specific skill, but to develop your knowledge and character so that you are able make the right judgments in any situation.

In other words, this is an ancient version of the debate that still rages on today over whether it is better to give students an academic or vocational education. Then as now there is no clear-cut answer to this question. Training in how to drive a chariot may not have been very useful to Confucius, but a lot of strapping young men would have benefited greatly from it – just as many young college students today would probably be better off learning how to become a plumber rather than pursuing a worthless degree in media and communications.

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