Leadership lessons from Confucius: the nine Yi tribes

nine yi tribes

Confucius wanted to live among the nine Yi tribes. Someone said: “It’s wild there. How would you cope?” Confucius replied: “How could it be wild once a leader goes to live there?”

You don’t have to agree with everything that someone says to admire them. Indeed, if you do take their every word as gospel, you might want to look more closely at your own capacity for critical thinking.

By the same token, you shouldn’t automatically disqualify the views of someone who says something that you object to. Just because they’re wrong on one point, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re wrong about everything else.

All of us are a product of the environment we grow up in and the people who influence us. As we grow and come into contact with different people and study and work in different environments, our thinking inevitably evolves and we question and even discard beliefs and ideas that we once regarded as the truth. This is a natural and healthy process. The key is to keep an open mind and be willing to listen to what others have to say even if you don’t agree with it.


This article features a translation of Chapter 14 of Book 9 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 9 here.

(1) The Yi tribes lived in the east of China and followed different cultural traditions and practices than the Han Chinese. There is definitely a hint of cultural chauvinism in Confucius’s implication that he would be able to reform their ways if he went to live with them, though it does have to be said that he was similarly zealous his attempts to reform Chinese culture itself so that it could be restored to its former glories. For more on this subject see 5.3.

(2) Confucius appears to be venting his frustration at his lack of progress in securing a high-level official post in this passage. He voices similar sentiments in 9.9 and 9.13.

I took this image at the Temple of Confucius in Yilan, Taiwan. You can read more about the rather convoluted history of this temple in this excellent article by Josh Ellis here.

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