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.

After the death of Confucius, Yuan Xian lived in extreme poverty as a hermit in the state of Wei (魏) because of his refusal to serve as official for what he saw as the corrupt ruling class of his day.

Book 14 of the Analects is traditionally attributed to his followers. Yuan is also identified as the character Lao (牢) in Chapter 7 of Book 9.

Appearances in the Analects of Confucius
Book 6, Chapter 5
Book 9, Chapter 7
Book 14, Chapter 1

Book 6
Chapter 5
Yuan Xian became Confucius’s steward and was offered a salary of nine hundred measures of grain but declined it. Confucius said: “Please don’t! Surely you can give it to your neighbors and the people in your village.”

Book 9
Chapter 7
Lao stated: “Confucius said: ‘Since I was never appointed to high public office I mastered the arts.’”

Book 14
Chapter 1
Yuan Xian asked about shame. Confucius said: “Caring only about your official salary no matter whether good or bad government prevails in the state. That is shameful.” “If you can overcome aggressiveness, arrogance, bitterness, and greed can you be said to have achieved true goodness?” Confucius said: “You can be said to have achieved something difficult; but I don’t know whether it is true goodness.”

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