Analects Book 2: followers of Confucius

Book 2 of The Analects introduces five followers of Confucius for the first time, including his favorite and protégé Yan Hui, who left the sage totally devastated when he died at the young age of thirty-two.

Yan Hui was reputedly from a very poor background. By all accounts, he was a quiet and unworldly individual who was content simply to absorb his master’s teachings. In Chapter 9 of Book 2, Confucius affectionately chides him for listening to him all day without ever arguing with him “as if he is slow.” Then he goes on to declare that “Hui is not slow at all” because when he secretly observes how he behave in private after his lessons, he realizes that “he’s learned everything I’ve taught him.”

Book 2 also gives us out first glance at Zilu, probably the most faithful and loyal of all of Confucius’s disciples. Confucius greatly admired him for his courage and frankness, but regularly upbraided him for his recklessness and lack of good judgment. Sadly, Zilu ultimately paid the price for this when he was killed when attempting to save the life of a high official he was working for in the state of Wei.

Ziyou and Zizhang were two of the most prominent of the young generation of followers that Confucius taught after returning to his home state of Lu after spending over a decade in exile. Ziyou was renowned for his literary and administrative skills, and went on to become a teacher himself (though his reputation has never recovered from the savaging that the philosopher Xunzi gave his works). Zizhang was known for his wit and intelligence, but was also regarded as being extremely arrogant and more interested in self-promotion than in genuinely following the teachings of Confucius.

Fan Chi, in contrast, was a much duller character, who is first seen in Chapter 5 of Book 2 driving Confucius around in a chariot. His role in The Analects is almost that of a stooge, providing Confucius with opportunities to spout off on all manner of topics with his short open-ended questions. He also earns himself a rollicking for having the temerity to ask the sage about how to cultivate in Chapter IV of Book 13.

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