Book 2 of the Analects is fifty percent longer than Book 1, comprising twenty-four chapters compared to sixteen. Unlike in Book 1, Confucius appears in all the chapters of Book 2. A supporting cast of seven of his followers and four of his contemporaries act as foils for the sage to make his pronouncements on topics as varied as governance, leadership, filial devotion, and learning.
Apart from Zixia and Zigong, all the other followers featured in Book 2 are making their debuts in the Analects. These include his favorite and protégé Yan Hui, the ultra-loyal Zilu, the troublesome Zizhang, the highly-regarded Ziyou, and the brave but rather dense Fan Chi.
Book 2 also features four contemporary figures who question Confucius about filial devotion, and governance: Meng Yizi (孟懿子), possibly the first ever private student that Confucius taught, and his son Meng Wubo (孟武伯); Duke Ai (哀公), the titular ruler of the state of Lu from around 494 to 467 BCE, and Ji Kangzi (季康子), the chief minister of Lu between 491 and 468 BCE.
Like Book 1, Book 2 of the Analects covers the subjects of leadership in some depth. It also explores the nature of good governance, starting with its famous opening chapter in which Confucius says: “Governing by the power of virtue can be compared to the Pole Star, which remains fixed in place while all the other stars orbit respectfully around it.”
While virtue and ritual get some brief mentions, goodness doesn’t even come up once in the book. Filial devotion, on the other hand, is covered quite extensively. In one of my favorite quotes from the Analects, Confucius complains vociferously in Chapter 7: “These days filial devotion simply means keeping your parents fed. But that’s also how dogs and horses are looked after. Unless you treat your parents respectfully, what’s the difference?”
For Confucius, the spirit in which people carried out their duties and responsibilities was critical; it was not sufficient simply to go through the motions.
The other secondary values of loyalty, trustworthiness, and rightness are only featured once each in the book. But in the case of the latter two, Confucius certainly pulls out all the stops with the richness and power of the language he conjures up.
In Chapter 22, he employs a memorable metaphor to show that trust is the linchpin of human relationships: “I wouldn’t know what to do with someone whose word cannot be trusted. How would you drive a wagon without a yoke or a chariot without a crossbar?”
Then, in Chapter 24, he thunders: “Doing nothing when rightness demands action is cowardice.”
What a resounding note to finish Book 2 on!