Analects of Confucius Book 5: by numbers

Book 5 is a very different beast to the previous four books of the Analects. Rather than the usual aphorisms of the Master, it features a compilation of Confucius’s opinions on a dozen of his followers and fourteen contemporary and historical figures.

He certainly doesn’t hold back on his criticisms either. In Chapter 10, he famously castigates his young and rather conceited follower Zai Yu (宰予) when he finds him asleep one day: “Rotten wood cannot be carved; dung walls cannot be troweled. What’s the point of scolding him anymore?”

Even Zigong (子貢), one of his closest and most loyal followers, is given a frank and bruising appraisal when he asks Confucius what he thinks of him in Chapter 4 and receives the response that he is a “vessel” (器/qì) and thus still has a long way to go before becoming a leader (君子/jūnzǐ).

At least Confucius is candid about his own limitations as well, admitting to Zigong in Chapter 9 that neither of them are the equal of his protégé Yan Hui (顏回).  He also shows quite astonishing courage (or bullheadedness) in his willingness to flout social conventions by marrying his daughter to  a convicted criminal called Gongye Chang (公冶長) in Chapter 1 because he believed him to be innocent. I very much doubt that he consulted the poor girl before making this decision. 

To help you understand the context of Confucius’s comments about all the other people featured in Book 5, I have posted a series of pen portraits of them. You can find links to them on the Contemporary Figures and Historical Figures pages.


Contemporary figures in the Analects of Confucius: Zhu Tuo

Zhu Tuo (祝鮀) was a minister of the state of Wei responsible for the administration of its ancestral temple and other ritual matters. Confucius probably met him when he visited Wei after leaving his home state of Lu for exile in 496 BCE. 

Although Confucius voices his suspicion of of Zhu Tuo’s “smooth tongue” in Chapter 16 of Book 6 of the Analects, he does go on to commend him in Chapter 19 of Book 14 of for the vital role he played along with two other ministers in keeping Wei functioning while it was under the capricious rule of rule of the louche Duke Ling of Wei (衛靈公) and his scheming consort Nanzi (南子). Continue reading Contemporary figures in the Analects of Confucius: Zhu Tuo

Followers of Confucius: Yuan Xian

Yuan Xian (原憲) was also known by the courtesy name of Zisi (子思) and the name of Yuan Si (原思). Born into a poor family either in the state of Song (宋) or state of Lu (魯) in around 515 BCE, he was over thirty years younger than Confucius and was noted for the excessive, some might say ostentatious, zeal with which pursuing a path of fastidious purity.

Even Confucius was moved to criticize Yuan for going too far. In Chapter 5 of Book 6, the sage tells him that he shouldn’t decline the salary that goes with the job of steward that he offers him. Continue reading Followers of Confucius: Yuan Xian

Historical figures in the Analects of Confucius: Guan Zhong

Guan Zhong (管仲) was the chief minister of the state of Qi (齊) during the seventh century BC. He was born in c. 720 BCE and died in c. 645 BCE, just over a hundred years before Confucius was born. Continue reading Historical figures in the Analects of Confucius: Guan Zhong

Contemporary figures in the Analects of Confucius: Ji Kangzi

Ji Kangzi (季康子) is the posthumous title given to Jisun Fei (季孫肥), the chief minister of Lu between 491 and 468 BCE and head of the Jisun (季孫) clan, one of the notorious Three Families that ran the state. Although Confucius criticized him heavily for disrespecting ritual ceremonies and introducing a field tax, Ji Kangzi invited him to return to Lu from his long exile at the request of his counselor Ran Qiu (冉求), who was also a follower of the sage. Continue reading Contemporary figures in the Analects of Confucius: Ji Kangzi

Contemporary figures in the Analects

Many contemporary figures who Confucius knew either by person or reputation pop up in the Analects like members of a large supporting cast for an epic movie or stage production. They are listed here in the order of their first appearance in the Analects.

Meng Yizi/孟懿子
Meng Wubo/孟武伯
Duke Ai of Lu/魯哀公
Ji Kangzi/季康子
Wangsun Jia/王孫賈
Duke Ding of Lu/魯定公
Yan Pingzhong/晏平仲
Zuo Qiuming/左丘明
Zisang Bozi/桑伯子
Meng Zhifan/孟之反
Priest Tuo/祝鮀
Song Chao/宋朝
Duke Chu of Wei/衛出公
Duke of She/葉公
Huan Tui/桓魋
Chen Sibai/陳司敗
Duke Zhao of Lu/魯昭公
Wu Mengzi/吳孟子
Meng Jingzi/孟敬子
Music Master Zhi/師摯

Confucius in his own words: Analects Book 4

There are a lot of great quotes from Confucius in Book 4 of the Analects.  There’s no doubt in my mind that if he were alive today, he would have been able to more than hold his own as political pundit on TV with his strong opinions and (in Classical Chinese at least) snappy sound bites.  Continue reading Confucius in his own words: Analects Book 4