Not surprisingly for a volume of its size, Analects Book 14 delivers pretty big numbers across the board, particularly when it comes to the huge supporting cast that appears in its 44 chapters. This includes 18 historical figures and 18 contemporary figures, plus four unnamed ones that perform more than just walk-on roles.
The cast of historical figures ranges from mythical sovereigns and heroes from the dawn of antiquity such as the sage king Yu and Hou Ji, who is renowned for introducing agricultural techniques to China, to some of the titans of the Spring and Autumn period like Duke Huan of Qi and his chief minister Guan Zhong. There’s room for a couple of villains, too, in the form of Yi the Archer and Ao the Sailor, who both used their strength and martial skills to take over the reins of power only to be assassinated themselves.
Although it does not feature anyone quite as illustrious as these legendary giants of the past, the cast of contemporary figures certainly includes some colorful characters. Without a doubt, the most notable one is the dissolute Duke Ling of Wei who favored cavorting in his palace and galloping in his hunting ground over running his government – much to the envy of Ji Kangzi. Zang Wuzhong, who had the gumption to stand up to the Duke of Lu in order protect his family fief, also stands out even though (or perhaps because of) his refusal to bow to ritual protocol outraged Confucius.
The cast of contemporary figures also includes Weisheng Mu, a proto-Daoist or primitivist recluse who gave up his official post to live off the land out of disgust at the depravity of his ruler. The anonymous keeper at the Stone Gate who greets Zilu in 14.38 and the wanderer who admonishes Confucius for his poor playing of the stone chimes in 14.39 are probably cut from the same cloth. So too, perhaps, is Yuan Rang who Confucius raps on the shin in 14.43.
The appearance of such a huge and varied supporting cast in Analects Book 14 does not just give Confucius the opportunity to show the breadth and depth of his historical and contemporary knowledge. It also enables him to provide his followers and students with real-life examples of the kinds of behavior they should adopt and avoid. In some cases, most notably that of Guan Zhong, his conclusions are a little baffling, but they do us a great service by showing the difficulties he too experienced in balancing the pristine purity of his principles with the grimy grey of reality.