Leadership lessons from Confucius: pestilent spirits and ghosts

pestilent spirits and ghosts

When the villagers carried out the ceremony to exorcize pestilent spirits and ghosts, he put on his court dress and stood on the eastern steps. (1) (2) (3)

Marvel at the color and spectacle of the ritual. Immerse yourself in the rhythm and sound of the music. Breathe in the fragrance of the incense. Lose yourself in the cacophony of drumbeats and the grace and power of the dancing. Celebrate the cleansing of the pestilent spirits and ghosts from the earth and air around you.

Bid farewell to the old. Welcome the new. Embrace the freedom you have been given to make a fresh start. Live your life to the full.


This article features a translation of Chapter 14 of Book 10 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 10 here.

(1) According to tradition, three exorcism ceremonies (nuó/儺) were held every year to expel pestilent spirits and ghosts that threatened to bring plague and famine. They were noisy and colorful affairs involving ritualized offerings, singing, dancing, and drinking. The most popular one was held at the beginning of the Lunar New Year in order to expel all the malign influences from the previous one.

(2) Firecrackers weren’t invented until around 200 BCE – over three hundred years after the death of Confucius. They have of course become a staple of many traditional Chinese folk festivals and rituals.

(3) According to ancient Chinese custom, the eastern side of a hall or public space was where the hosts would sit and the western side was where the guests would sit.

I took this image at the Temple of Confucius in Yilan, Taiwan.

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