Editorial skullduggery?


Confucius said: “I can find no flaw in Yu. He drank and ate simple fare, but showed complete devotion in his offerings to the ghosts and the spirits; he wore humble clothes, but his ritual vestments were magnificent; he lived in a modest palace, and he spent all his strength in draining floodwaters. I can find no flaw in Yu.”

Book 8 of the Analects finishes with gushing praise for Yu the Great, the legendary sage-king famous for controlling the floods threatening the plains surrounding the Yellow River by building (singlehandedly according to some accounts) irrigation systems to handle the waters.
Perhaps a little too gushing in fact, for there are some suspicions that this passage was inserted into the Analects at a later date so that supporters of Confucianism (儒家/rújiā) could claim “ownership” of Yu over the rival Mohist (墨家/mòjiā) school, which venerated him as the perfect ruler.

While the two schools shared a belief in the need to live a simple and virtuous life and show selfless support for others, the hair-shirted Mohists had no truck at all with the extravagance of the rites and rituals that Confucianism placed so much importance on.

In this passage, Confucius (assuming of course he actually said this) tries a little too hard to show that simple living and intricate ritual ceremonies are two sides of the same coin and complement rather than contradict each other.

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