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. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius Project: Week 3, 2021 updates
Although Duke Ai was the nominal ruler of the state of Lu, his power was so limited that he did not have much choice but to tell Confucius to talk to the Three Families about taking action against the murderer of Duke Jian of Qi.
It was not as if Duke Ai had an army to call into action in any case, even if he had wanted to, because control of that had long been ceded to the Ji, Meng, and Sun clans. Neither did he have any money to fund a new military force because tax collection was also under the management of the very same families, who allowed him barely enough income to maintain his estates let alone embark on any risky adventures. Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 14: the sorry life of Duke Sadness
The sparseness of the prose in 14.21 gives us no idea how Confucius reacted to the refusal of Duke Ai to accept his proposal. We can only speculate about his feelings as he departed from the audience.
While it is reasonable to assume that Confucius was frustrated and disappointed at his weak ruler for his unwillingness to act against the murderer of a fellow sovereign, a much more interesting question is whether this episode caused him to wonder if all the time and effort he had devoted to restoring traditional Zhou dynasty values had been wasted. Continue reading Analects Book 14: following the right path?
Confucius’s call for Duke Ai to use force to punish the state of Qi following the murder of its ruler Duke Jian in 14.21 is remarkable given his previous lack of interest in martial affairs. The most memorable instance we have of him discussing the subject of warfare in the Analects is in 15.1, when he leaves the state of Wei after telling Duke Ling: “Although I have experience in handling ritual vessels, I have never studied military matters.”
If the account of his audience with Duke Ai in the Commentary of Zuo is to be believed, Confucius was even more adamant that his ruler should let slip the dogs of war on the usurper Chen Heng than is recorded in the Analects. Not only does he insist three times that his ruler should launch a military strike against Qi; he also claims with zero evidence that at least 50% of Qi’s population would support Lu when Duke Ai questions what the result of his proposed intervention would be. Continue reading Analects Book 14: Confucius vents his spleen at a rotten and rancid regime
There is an almost unbearable sense of pathos to the scene portrayed in 14.21. Confucius is in his early seventies having returned to his home state of Lu after fourteen years of fruitless searching for a senior government job that would enable him to put his principles practice. Although he is a senior advisor to the state now, it is not an official position and he has no power. His dreams of emulating his hero the Duke of Zhou by restoring the former greatness of the Zhou dynasty are over.
When Confucius learns that Duke Jian of the neighboring state of Qi has been assassinated, he feels he has a moral duty to report the news to his ruler Duke Ai. Even though he knows that the duke will do nothing about it, he goes ahead and takes a ritual bath in order to prepare himself properly for the audience. Even though he knows that strictly speaking he is breaking the very same ritual conventions he has spent his whole life promoting, he leaves his home and heads to the palace. Continue reading Analects Book 14: an ignominious end for Confucius
What should an official do when government has become so cruel, capricious, and corrupt that even to “act boldly but speak cautiously” is no longer possible? In 14.37 Confucius allows that they can withdraw from their role under exceptional circumstances, though he is keen to stress that taking such a step can only be justified in a small number of exceptional cases.
Perhaps in considering this issue, Confucius is wondering whether it is time for him to throw in the towel himself. In 14.35, he laments to Zilu: No one understands me!” Continue reading Analects Book 14: time for Confucius to throw in the towel?
Quite a productive start to the year with the Leadership Lessons from Confucius project. In addition to some articles analyzing a few of the key themes of Analects Book 14, I have also added some profiles of historical figures that appear in the supporting cast. Here are the links: Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius Project: Week 1, 2021 updates
What is goodness (仁)? This is a question that confounded the followers of Confucius just as much as it has generation after generation of scholars hoping to capture the sage’s secret ingredient and wrap it up in a pretty package with a bow on top.
In the first chapter of Analects Book 14, Confucius’s follower Yuan Xian shows that he considers goodness to be the ethical gold standard when he asks the sage if you can be said to have achieved it if you overcome “aggressiveness, arrogance, bitterness, and greed.” Continue reading Goodness in Analects Book 14: more than just an ethical gold standard
Leadership is one of the most important Analects Book 14 themes. In addition to seven mentions of the term 君子 (jūnzǐ), the text is littered with related passages exploring how a ruler or official should act.
One of Confucius’s favorite followers Nan Rong, named Nangong Kuo in the book, sets the ball rolling in 14.5 by comparing the fates of Yi the Archer and Ao the Sailor, two great martial heroes from antiquity, with those of the benevolent sage king Yu and Hou Ji, the inventor of new farming techniques that led to an explosive growth in agricultural productivity. Continue reading Analects Book 14 themes: leadership for the common good
Ao the Sailor (奡) was a martial hero from the Xia dynasty who tarnished his great reputation as a master of boatbuilding and naval warfare by becoming a brutal despot after murdering the holder of the throne.
Some sources claim that Ao was the offspring of a tawdry union between Han Zhuo (寒浞), the chief minister of the legendary archer Hou Yi (后羿), and Hou Yi’s wife, who had conspired to have Hou Yi murdered so that Han Zhuo could seize the throne. Others suggest that Ao was the son of one of Han Zhuo’s ministers. Continue reading Historical figures from the Analects of Confucius: Ao the Sailor