While Confucius patiently gives Ran Yong some useful advice on how to progress in his career in 13.2, he can barely conceal his frustration with Fan Chi for the obtuseness of his questions about cultivating grain and vegetables in 13.4. After Fan Chi departs, he goes as far as to label his keen but dull-witted follower as a “petty person” because of his failure to grasp the fundamental point of his teachings. Confucius is, at least, more patient when Fan Chi asks him about goodness in 13.19, telling him: “Be considerate in your private life, diligent in your public affairs, and loyal in your relationships with others.”
Not for the first time in the Analects, the most contentious interactions between Confucius and his followers in Book 13 are with Zilu and Ran Qiu. When Zilu incredulously questions the sage in 13.3 why his top priority would be to rectify the names if he were given the opportunity to govern the state of Wei, Confucius lashes back in exasperation. “How dense you can get!” the sage exclaims, before launching into a long and passionate monologue on the need for language to accord with the truth of things. Unfortunately, there is no record of how Zilu responded, though given that he was sounding out Confucius’s interest in working for the ruler, he must have been disappointed at his master’s refusal to even entertain the idea.
Ran Qiu receives an even sharper tongue lashing than Zilu in 13.14 when Confucius calls his bluff after catching him returning unusually late from court. Although Ran Qiu claims that he stayed at court to take care of official matters, Confucius knows very well that he has been engaged in his private business dealings with the Ji Family.
No doubt with an eye to future career advancement, both Zilu and Zigong ask Confucius about the qualities that a true scholar-official (士/ shì) should possess. In 13.28, Confucius tells Zilu that a true scholar official should be “supportive, candid, and warm”. In 13.20, he points to the need to maintain a sense of humility and the ability to go on a mission to another state without bringing disgrace to your ruler. As ever, in other words, the sage tailors his answers to fit the personalities and specific needs of his questioners.
Confucius takes exactly the same approach with Zixia in 13.17. When his overly fastidious follower asks him for advice on how to run the town of Jufu, Confucius tells him to avoid rushing things and to concentrate on the most important tasks at hand rather than pursuing minor issues. A lesson there for all of us!
I took this image in the ancient water town of Wuzhen, which is located just a couple of hours from Shanghai by High Speed Train. You can read more about Wuzhen here.