Category Archives: Confucius

Notes from the field: it’s only in the cold of winter

cold of winter

Given the turbulent times that Confucius lived in, it shouldn’t come as any surprise that there are plenty of passages in the Analects that resonate with the difficult times that we ourselves are experiencing.

The one I find most resonant is in 9.28, were Confucius quotes an ancient saying: “It’s only in the cold of winter that you realize that the pines and cypresses are the last to wither.” The key point he is making is that it is only when tough times arrive that people reveal their true character. While it’s all too easy to prosper in the soft warmth of summer without any real effort, it’s a lot more difficult to make it through the harsh cold of winter. Continue reading Notes from the field: it’s only in the cold of winter

Analects of Confucius Book 9: Confucius on ritual integrity

Confucius on ritual integrity

Even though Confucius was a strong advocate of preserving ancient Zhou dynasty rituals in all their pristine glory, that didn’t mean that he was completely averse to making changes to them when it made sense – as long as they didn’t affect the integrity of the ceremonies.

In 9.3, he doesn’t raise any objections to replacing hemp or linen with silk in the production of ceremonial caps because it is much more economical to do so. Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 9: Confucius on ritual integrity

Analects of Confucius Book 9: the great forbearance of Zilu and Zigong

Zilu and Zigong

Unlike the sainted Yan Hui, neither Zilu nor Zigong manage to earn unequivocal praise from Confucius in Book 9 of the Analects. Indeed, Confucius rebukes them both for a variety of sins – ranging from a serious violation of ritual protocol to a failure to understand the qualities required of a leader.

Zilu is the one who is responsible for breaching ritual conventions by acting as if he is a retainer of a feudal lord while the sage is seriously ill in 9.12. Given that Confucius doesn’t belong to such an august rank, he roundly scolds his well-meaning if misguided follower after he recovers: “Zilu, this deception has lasted long enough. Who do I deceive with these bogus retainers? Do I deceive heaven? Rather than die among retainers, I would prefer to die in the arms of my followers. I may not receive a grand funeral, but I’ll hardly die by the roadside.” Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 9: the great forbearance of Zilu and Zigong

Analects of Confucius Book 2: Confucius on the mandate of heaven

Confucius on the mandate of heaven

Confucius didn’t “do god” in the sense of worshiping a specific deity or religion, but he did subscribe to a belief in the idea of an all-seeing and all-knowing “heaven” (天/tiān) that acted as a sort of moral guide for the world and bestowed its will or mandate (命/mìng) on virtuous individuals to rule the world wisely and benignly. Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 2: Confucius on the mandate of heaven

Analects of Confucius Book 9 overview: Confucius praises Yan Hui

Confucius praises Yan Hui

Like Book 8, Book 9 of the Analects of Confucius is a bit of a hodgepodge of various sayings and episodes culled from multiple sources – making it impossible to discern a central theme. It does, however, include some revealing passages involving Confucius and three of his most faithful followers that shed further light on his relationships with them.

Confucius’s protégé and favorite Yan Hui makes the most appearances in the book with three. Zilu and Zigong both make two. The only other possible follower featured is the enigmatically-named Lao (牢) in 9.7. He is usually identified as the fastidious and relatively obscure Yuan Xian. Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 9 overview: Confucius praises Yan Hui

Analects of Confucius Book 8: resources

Here is a list of resources covering Book 8 of the Analects of Confucius. You can click on the links below to learn more about the main themes of the book:

Analects of Confucius Book 8: translation
Analects of Confucius Book 8: overview 
Analects of Confucius Book 8: by numbers

Here is a list of articles I have written about each chapter in the book. Again, click on the links to learn more. Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 8: resources

Analects of Confucius Book 8: by numbers

Analects of Confucius book 8 by numbers

Book 8 of the Analects of Confucius features only one of the sage’s followers. Thanks no doubt to some editorial skullduggery from his own followers, who played in important role in compiling the Analects, the young pretender Zengzi is given five chapters to spout his wisdom. Even though, in first two at least, he is lying on his death bed, it’s hard to summon up any sympathy for him given the pretentiousness of his utterances.

The book isn’t exactly filled with contemporary figures either, featuring only two. Meng Jingzi, a member of the Meng clan, one of the notorious Three Families that ran the state of Lu, receives a rollicking from Zengzi in 8.4 for his tendency towards micromanagement in his one and only appearance in the Analects. Music Master Zhi fares much better in 8.15 when Confucius praises his “rich and beautiful music” to the skies. Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 8: by numbers

Analects of Confucius Book 8 overview: from sage kings to ritual and music

Analects of Confucius Book 8 overview

There’s no discernible central theme to Book 8 of the Analects of Confucius, but it still contains plenty of interesting tidbits to chew on. Except for the bland and overcooked servings of the follower Zengzi early on in the book, that is. Why spend time trying to digest the tasteless imitations of the sous-chef when you can dine on the rich cuisine of the master chef instead?

Myths and counter-myths

The most enjoyable part of reading the book is digging through the myths and counter-myths surrounding the legendary sage kings Yao, Shun, and Yu in the final five chapters. Were these three men truly the paragons of leaderly virtue that Confucius praises to the skies? Did Yao and Shun really voluntarily cede power to their hand-picked successor rather than keep it in the family? Or were they summarily kicked off the throne when they became too old and weak to maintain their grip on it and bundled off into exile or prison? Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 8 overview: from sage kings to ritual and music

Analects of Confucius Book 7: resources

Here is a list of resources covering Book 7 of the Analects of Confucius. You can click on the links below to learn more about the main themes of the book:

Analects of Confucius Book 7: translation
Analects of Confucius Book 7: by numbers
Analects of Confucius Book 7: Confucius’s love of learning and teaching
Analects of Confucius Book 7: Confucius on teaching
Analects of Confucius Book 7: Confucius on wealth
Analects of Confucius Book 7: Confucius’s love of music
Analects of Confucius Book 7: hopes and dreams of Confucius
Analects of Confucius Book 7: a vivid portrait of Confucius
Analects of Confucius Book 7: the relationship between Zilu and Confucius
Analects of Confucius Book 7: Confucius on self-cultivation

Here is a list of articles I have written about each chapter in the book. Again, click on the links to learn more. Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 7: resources

Analects of Confucius Book 7: Confucius on self-cultivation

Confucius on self-cultivation

If there’s one central theme of Book 7 of the Analects, it’s the importance Confucius places on the power of self-cultivation. He is so focused on what he saw as his heaven-given mission of restoring the former greatness of Zhou dynasty that he doesn’t have the time or inclination to pursue the power, wealth, fame, honors, and other trappings of success craved by his contemporaries.

Confucius doesn’t claim to have any particular talent for undertaking this mission. In 7.19, he candidly admits “I wasn’t born with innate knowledge. I simply love the past and am assiduous in seeking it there.” Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 7: Confucius on self-cultivation