Analects Book 1: Confucius on love

Love

The sort of love (愛/ài) Confucius refers to in The Analects is driven by duty rather than emotion. When he advises in Chapter 5 of Book 1 that a ruler should “love your people”, he is essentially saying that the ruler has a responsibility to make sure that his subjects do not lack the basic necessities of life: nothing more and nothing less.

In the same vein, when he declares in Chapter 6 that a young man should “love everyone”, Confucius is simply saying that he should show the common people respect as a collective whole. He is certainly not suggesting that he should in any way get close to them. Indeed, when it comes to actually choosing individual friends, Confucius goes on to say that a young man should be highly discriminating and only “only develop close relationships with good people.”

The use of the term love (愛/ài) in a romantic sense is a much more recent development. In Confucius’s time it was never used in such a context.

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