Analects of Confucius Book 11: the human side of Confucius?

human side of Confucius

There are a couple of other incidents in Book 11 of the Analects that reveal what I will euphemistically call the human side of Confucius.

The first one takes place in Chapter 15 when Confucius complains about the racket Zilu is making while playing his zither. Although he probably didn’t mean any harm with this comment, his followers start giving Zilu such a hard time that Confucius has to step in and retrieve his friend’s lost pride by saying that his musical talents aren’t all that bad considering.

While it’s possible to put this incident to a moment of carelessness on Confucius’s part, it does also show a lack of sensitivity from him about the potential negative impact of even the most casual of his comments on others. He was regarded as the fount of wisdom, after all. It should have come no surprise to him that his followers would hang on to his every word.

The second one is recorded in Chapter 17 and is far more disturbing. Upon learning that Ran Qiu has been working with the Ji clan to impose heavier taxes on the common people, he explodes in anger by telling his young students that he’s no longer his follower and calling on them to “beat the drum and attack him”.

Although Confucius had every right to be upset about Ran Qiu’s complicity in adding yet another burden on the shoulders of the poor, he hardly sets the best of examples to his students with his very public eruption of fury and his call for violence to put it very mildly.

For all his talk about ethics and morality, Confucius had no compunction about associating with people like Ran Qiu and even members of the Ji clan although he was well aware of their greed, corruption, and lust for power. He is also said to have received financial support from Ran Qiu to maintain a comfortable lifestyle after returning home after 14 years of exile.

Even the most sincerely-held principles rarely remain intact when they come into contact with the real world.


I took the top image at the Zhusi Academy in Qufu. Confucius is said to have taught his students here after returning to Lu from exile in in 848 BCE, as well as compiling the Book of Songs, Book of History, Book of Rites, Book of Music, and Book of Changes.

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