All men are brothers

司馬牛憂曰:「人皆有兄弟,我獨亡!」子夏曰:「商聞之矣:『死生有命,富貴在天』。君子敬而無失,與人恭而有禮;四海之內,皆兄弟也。君子何患乎無兄弟也?」
Sima Niu was full of sorrow: “All men have brothers; I alone have none.” Zixia said: “I have heard this: life and death are ordained by Fate; wealth and honors are assigned by Heaven. A leader always shows respect and courtesy to others. Within the four seas all men are brothers. How could a leader complain that he has no brothers?

As I mentioned in a previous entry, it’s possible that Sima Niu had a brother called Huan Tui (桓魋), who tried to have Confucius murdered in Book 7, Chapter XXII of the Analects. If this was indeed the case, the real meaning of Sima Niu’s comment is that he doesn’t have a brother who acts like a brother should and he has therefore disassociated himself from him.

Zixia’s response provides the source of the famous phrase “all men are brothers”, which is often attributed to Confucius himself and widely associated with the Chinese television series of the Water Margin. Confucius actually said no such thing at all, and the meaning of Zixia’s words is much more nuanced than that. But why let mere facts get in the way of a good story?

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