I have spent most of the week examining the last recorded event in Confucius’s life: his futile audience with his ruler Duke Ai in 14.21. Strictly speaking, Confucius had no business at all informing the duke of the murder of his fellow sovereign Duke Jian of Qi because he was no longer a government official, but he probably thought the news was too important to hold back.
Perhaps Confucius would have been better off to keep it to himself, however, because he had no hope of persuading his weak and indecisive ruler to agree to his madcap scheme of launching a punitive expedition against Qi in order to bring Duke Jian’s murderer to justice. Even if he had by some miracle succeeded, he knew very well that Duke Ai did not have an army in any case – or the means to fund one.
Although Confucius claims at the end of the passage that it was his duty to inform Duke Ai of the assassination, you have to wonder why the man who once told Duke Ling of Wei that he had never studied military affairs is suddenly so keen to call for war. Is it perhaps a howl of frustration at his own powerlessness to prevent his home state of Lu from spiraling into ever greater decline? Or does it come from the bitter realization of his failure to achieve his lifelong dream to restore the Zhou dynasty to its former glory?
Here are the links to the related articles:
Analects Book 14: an ignominious end for Confucius
Analects Book 14: Confucius vents his spleen at a rotten and rancid regime
Analects Book 14: following the right path?
Analects of Confucius Book 14: the sorry life of Duke Sadness
Confucius certainly experienced doubts about the path he had chosen prior to his audience with Duke Ai. Some of these occasions are featured in Book 14 when he laments to Zilu that “No one understands me!” and is uncharacteristically feeble with his answers to challenging questions from a couple of suspiciously well-educated itinerants. You can read more about this topic in the article below: