Analects of Confucius Book 12: Contemporary and Historical Figures

Analects of Confucius Book 12 Contemporary and Historical Figures

The Analects of Confucius Book 12 brings together an eclectic mix of familiar and new contemporary and historical figures.

By far the most interesting newcomer is the colorful Duke Jing of Qi (齊景公), who only rose to power after his half-brother Duke Zhuang (齊莊公) was murdered by a disgruntled minister called Cuizi  (崔子) for conducting a not-so-secret affair with his wife. After a tempestuous start to his reign, the duke together with his trusted prime minister Yan Ying (晏嬰) made Qi one of the richest and most powerful states in the Zhou kingdom, only to send it into rapid decline after falling prey to the temptations of leading a more lavish and luxurious lifestyle.

In 12.11 the duke asks Confucius for advice on how to deal with the turmoil that is roiling the state of Qi as a result of the growing battle over who should succeed him. Although the duke readily agrees with the sage’s suggestion of making sure his ministers live up to their responsibilities, he is either too weak or too disinterested to actually follow up on it.

The relationship between the ruler and his most trusted ministers is also explored in 12.22. Responding to a question from Fan Chi, Zixia uses the examples of the productive relationships between the sage king Shun (舜) and Tang (湯), the founder of the Shang dynasty, with their prime ministers Gao Yao (皋陶) and Yi Yin (伊尹) to illustrate what Confucius meant when he said: “Promote the upright and place them above the crooked, so that they can straighten the crooked.”

Zixia’s choice of the Tang and Yi Yin combo is a curious one given that Confucius never includes the founder of the Shang in his list of great rulers from antiquity. Indeed, Tang is only featured twice in the Analects despite establishing China’s first unified dynasty. This is probably because Confucius considered that he broke the rules of ritual propriety by overthrowing the rightful ruler Jie (桀), even though Jie was a despotic madman. He had similar reservations about King Wu of Zhou (周武王) for bringing the Shang dynasty to an end, even though his beloved Zhou dynasty would never have been established if he hadn’t toppled the even more depraved monarch Zhouxin (紂辛) .

Although Confucius was highly critical of Ji Kangzi, the strongman who ran his home state of Lu, for his egregious violations of ritual propriety as well, he was always ready to offer him his advice whenever he asked for it. 12.17, 12.18, and 12.19 feature a lively series of exchanges between the two men in which Confucius attempts to convince Ji of the need for a ruler to set a virtuous example if he is to reduce crime and ensure people follow the right way. Despite the sage’s soaring rhetoric, Ji is not convinced.

Instead of getting a lecture from Confucius, Duke Ai (哀公), the weak and greedy titular ruler of Lu, receives a tongue-lashing from the sage’s much younger follower Youzi in 12.9. In his final appearance in the Analects, Youzi tells the duke that if he wants to generate more revenue to cover his expenses, he should reduce the tax burden on the people to free up their productive capacity rather than increase it.

Ji Zicheng (棘子成), an obscure minister of the state of Wei, also receives an ear-bashing. When he proclaims that only native substance determines whether or not you’re a leader in 12.8, Zigong is having none of it: “‘A team of horses cannot catch up with a tongue.’ Cultural refinement is native substance; native substance is cultural refinement. Without their hair, the pelts of tigers and leopards are just the same as those of a dog or a sheep.”

Perhaps not too surprisingly, this is the one and only appearance of Ji Zicheng in the Analects.

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