Analects of Confucius Book 11: Confucius and Zilu

Confucius and Zilu

Unlike the quasi father and son combo of Confucius and Yan Hui, Confucius and Zilu were more like an elder and young brother who love each other deeply but aren’t afraid to enter into the occasional argument when the occasion demands it.

In Book 11 of the Analects Confucius shows how much he cares for “bold and intense” (11.13) Zilu with his repeated attempts to rein in his recklessness. In 11.12 he famously responds to Zilu’s questions about how to serve the spirits and gods and what he thought of death by telling him to keep his feet firmly planted on the ground: “’If you’re not yet able to serve other people, how are you able to serve the spirits? … If you don’t understand life yet, how can you understand death?’” Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 11: Confucius and Zilu

Analects of Confucius Book 11: Confucius and Yan Hui

Confucius and Yan Hui

Why was Confucius so devastated by the death of Yan Hui that his followers felt compelled to take the extraordinary step of admonishing their master for displaying excessive grief? Book 11 of the Analects not only poses this question with its vivid portrayal of Confucius’s anguish at the untimely passing of his favorite follower. It also answers it by showing how close the relationship between Confucius and Yan Hui was and the high regard the sage had for the man he had seen as his protégé and eventual successor.

Indeed, in 11.4 Confucius sounds exactly like a humble-bragging dad when he claims that Yan Hui is of no help to him at all because “he delights in everything I say.” In 11.7, he goes on to tell the strongman Ji Kangzi that the only follower of his who loved learning was Yan Hui (1). In 11.19 he tops that by declaring that he “just about achieved perfection”. Not even a life of grinding poverty can tempt the virtuous Yan Hui to stray from the strict moral path that he follows. Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 11: Confucius and Yan Hui

Analects of Confucius Book 11: Confucius and his followers

Confucius and his followers

One of the most intriguing questions about Confucius is how he managed not only to build a large base of followers (traditionally numbered at 77), but more importantly how he managed to sustain their loyalty over, in some cases, many decades.

While Confucius’s great charisma, learning, and connections with senior government figures and members of the nobility were no doubt instrumental in attracting many young people to go and study with him, that doesn’t explain why the likes of Zilu, Zigong, Ran Qiu, Yan Hui, and others stuck with him through the lean times, most notably during his 14 years of exile tramping from state to state in search of employment. In a couple of notorious incidents (see 11.2 and 11.23) they even went close to losing their lives because of the scrapes Confucius got them into, but still remained faithful to him. Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 11: Confucius and his followers

Analects of Confucius Book 11: the human side of Confucius?

human side of Confucius

There are a couple of other incidents in Book 11 of the Analects that reveal what I will euphemistically call the human side of Confucius.

The first one takes place in Chapter 15 when Confucius complains about the racket Zilu is making while playing his zither. Although he probably didn’t mean any harm with this comment, his followers start giving Zilu such a hard time that Confucius has to step in and retrieve his friend’s lost pride by saying that his musical talents aren’t all that bad considering. Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 11: the human side of Confucius?

Analects of Confucius Book 11: human after all?

human after all?

For all his sharp critiques of his followers in Book 11 of the Analects, Confucius hardly shows himself to be a paragon of virtue either – particularly in his emotional, some might say hysterical, reaction to the untimely death of Yan Hui, which is covered from Chapter 7 to Chapter 11.

His obvious distress at the passing of his protégé doesn’t excuse his attempt to dictate how the funeral of Yan Hui should be conducted. According to the rules of ritual propriety that he so assiduously promoted, no matter how important the role Confucius played in his follower’s life as his teacher, this should have been the sole responsibility of Yan Hui’s father, Yan Lu. Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 11: human after all?

Contemporary figures in the Analects of Confucius: Ji Ziran

Very little is known about Ji Ziran (季子然) except that he was a member of the powerful Ji clan and may have been the younger brother of Ji Kangzi, the chief minister of the state of Lu. He appears only once in the Analects of Confucius when he asks the sage in 11.24 if he thinks Zilu and Ran Qiu are great ministers.

Confucius responds with a veiled warning to him and his family against launching a coup to overthrow the legitimate ruler of the state, the Duke of Lu. Whether Ji Ziran understood the unspoken message Confucius was aiming to deliver is open to question. Continue reading Contemporary figures in the Analects of Confucius: Ji Ziran

Analects of Confucius Book 11 themes: learning and death

Analects of Confucius Book 11 themes

Book 11 of the Analects provides the most detailed collection of Confucius’s thoughts on the abilities and characters of his followers. No less than sixteen of them go under the microscope, with – surprise, surprise – the usual favorites Yan Hui (9 appearances), Zilu (9 appearances), Ran Qiu (5 appearances), and Zigong (4 appearances) receiving the lion’s share of the sage’s attention.

The lesser-known Min Ziqian and the arrogant but talented Zizhang come in next with three appearances. Three followers also make their debuts on the Analects, in the form of the “dumb” Zigao, the father of Yan Hui, Yan Lu, and the father of Zengzi, Zeng Dian – the latter two for the first and final time. Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 11 themes: learning and death

2019 highlights: discovering the pleasure of hiking in Taiwan

hiking in Taiwan
View of Taipei 101 from the Four Beasts Scenic Area

I’m not sure why it took me nearly three decades, but this was the year I discovered the pleasures of hiking in Taiwan. Isn’t it amazing how easy it can be to ignore things that are right on your doorstep? That’s my excuse, anyway, and I’m sticking to it.

On your doorstep isn’t exaggerating too much either if you live in Taipei. In less than half-an-hour by bus and MRT I can go from home to my favorite stomping ground of Tiger Mountain in the Four Beasts Scenic Area (四獸山). This offers a huge variety of routes to choose from depending on your fitness and lots of great views to enjoy – not to mention lots of interesting temples to stop by at. Continue reading 2019 highlights: discovering the pleasure of hiking in Taiwan

2019 highlights: two great Chinese history podcasts

two great Chinese history podcasts
Qufu City Wall

I can’t close the year of 2019 without giving a huge vote of thanks to Laszlo Montgomery and Chris Stewart for their incredible dedication in writing and producing my two favorite podcasts about China’s history. Both programs are absolute goldmines of information and insight about this rich and complex topic. I have no idea how they find the time to carry out all the research and writing required to produce such high-quality content on such a consistent basis. Their obvious passion is truly inspiring!

The China History podcast was started in June 9, 2010. It covers a dizzying array of topics – from art, literature, and philosophy to the rise and fall of each dynasty, great figures in Chinese history, and even the 1930s Shanghai jazz scene. Laszlo Montgomery’s deep knowledge of China and his enthusiasm for its language, history, and culture shines brightly through his inimitable narrative style. You can visit the China History podcast website here. Continue reading 2019 highlights: two great Chinese history podcasts

2019 Highlights: on the trail of the Duke of Zhou and the Yellow Emperor

Duke of Zhou Temple Qufu
Duke of Zhou Temple, Qufu

Walking around the center of modern-day Qufu, it can be difficult to appreciate the influence that this small city had on the early political and cultural development of China. Not only is it said to be the home of the legendary Yellow Emperor, one of the mythical five Emperors who is regarded by some as the creator of Chinese culture. It also wielded tremendous soft power during the Zhou dynasty as the capital of the state of Lu, which was granted to Confucius’s great hero, the Duke of Zhou, as a fiefdom by the grateful young King Cheng for the dedication he showed in building the foundations of the nascent dynasty during his regency.

Although the duke never actually visited Qufu because he had far more important affairs at the Zhou court to take care of, his association with the city elevated its importance to previously unimaginable heights. The construction of a magnificent temple to honor him further helped to promote the image of Qufu throughout the land and to enable the state of Lu to punch above its weight on the Zhou dynasty political and cultural stage. Continue reading 2019 Highlights: on the trail of the Duke of Zhou and the Yellow Emperor