Ji Kangzi asked: “Which of your followers love learning?” Confucius replied: “There was Yan Hui who loved learning. Sadly, his life was cut short and he died. Now there’s nobody.” (1)
There’s nothing wrong with indulging in the occasional bout of nostalgia. Just be mindful that the good old days were never quite as wonderful as you imagine them to have been. In most instances they weren’t by any measurable criterion better either – just different.
The same principle applies to the people you knew and admired in the past. They were just as talented and flawed as the people around you today. It’s only your view of them that’s changed thanks to the passage of time and the pair of rose-tinted glasses you have on to color your memories of them.
This article features a translation of Chapter 7 of Book 11 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 11 here.
(1) This is almost a carbon copy of Chapter 3 of Book 6 of the Analects. The only differences are that it is Ji Kangzi, not Duke Ai, who pops the same question, and Confucius’s response is a little shorter:
“Which of your followers love learning?” Confucius replied: “There was Yan Hui who loved learning; he never vented his anger; he never made the same mistake again. Sadly, his life was cut short and he died. I have not heard of anyone else with such a love of learning.”
Ji Kangzi was the power behind the throne of state of Lu. You can read more about him here. Duke Ai, whose name literally means Duke Sorrow, was the titular ruler of Lu from ca. 494 to ca. 467 BCE. You can read more about him here.
I took this image of an ancient Zhou dynasty ritual vessel at the new Confucius Museum in the sage’s home town of Qufu. You can read more about the museum here.