Tag Archives: Analects of Confucius Book 5

Analects of Confucius Book 5: resources

Book 5 is a very different beast to the previous four books of the Analects in that it features a compilation of Confucius’s opinions on a dozen of his followers plus no less than fourteen contemporary and historical figures. You can click on the links below to learn more about this colorful cast of characters and read Confucius’s acerbic comments on some of them. Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 5: resources

Analects of Confucius Book 5: frustration and despair for Confucius

frustration and despair for Confucius

There’s a strong air of frustration and despair for Confucius in Book 5 of the Analects. This is most graphically illustrated in 5.27, when he metaphorically throws his hands up in the air and declares: “I give up! I have yet to meet a person capable of seeing their own faults and taking themselves to task in the court of their own heart.”

It’s as if all his hard work in guiding his followers like Zigong, Zilu, and most notably Zai Yu have been for nothing. Despite all his teaching and cajoling, none of them are cut out to achieve the gold standard of goodness. Not even Confucius himself is able to equal the only one of his followers who hits the mark, the beatific Yan Hui. Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 5: frustration and despair for Confucius

Analects of Confucius Book 5: Confucius and the impetuous Zilu

impetuous zilu

Confucius is just as frank and open with the impetuous Zilu as he is with Zigong in Book 5 of the Analects. When he says in 5.7 that he expects that Zilu would join him if he decided to take a raft out to sea, Zilu is delighted that his master has chosen him as his only companion. Confucius, however, is quick to burst his bubble by pointing out that although Zilu is braver than he is, he would bring no materials or talent (a play on words using a homonym of the character (材/cái) to the enterprise. Even if Confucius is just making a lighthearted joke, as some commentators claim, his comment has an unnecessarily sharp edge to it.

In the next chapter, Confucius refuses to tell Meng Wubo, a minister of the state of Lu, whether he thinks Zilu is a good person, saying only that he “could be entrusted with military recruitment” in a “middle-sized country”. Although the sage probably had sound political reasons for not answering the question directly, his characterization of Zilu’s abilities hardly counts as a ringing endorsement. Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 5: Confucius and the impetuous Zilu

Analects of Confucius Book 5: by numbers

Analects of Confucius Book 5 by numbers

Book 5 is a very different beast to the previous four books of the Analects. Rather than talk directly about the key values and principles of his teachings, Confucius focuses his attention on evaluating how well a dozen of his followers, four of his contemporaries, and eleven figures from the past live up to them.

Among his followers, Confucius only considers Yan Hui to be up to snuff. Indeed, in 5.9 Confucius admits that even he is not the equal of his protégé. 

Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 5: by numbers

Analects of Confucius Book 5: Confucius and Zigong

Confucius and Zigong

Book 5 of the Analects shows some tensions in the relationship between Confucius and Zigong, one of his most loyal and distinguished followers. Zigong had already established himself as a successful merchant when he first met Confucius, but he clearly saw the need for the sage’s guidance in cultivating other aspects of his character. For his part, Confucius was more than willing to help Zigong along this path by providing frank critiques of his shortcomings – perhaps a little too frank at times.

When Zigong asks the sage what he thinks of him in 5.4, Confucius lets him know that he still hasn’t cultivated all the necessary qualities to become a leader (君子) by describing him as a “vessel” (器/qì). Perhaps realizing that he has been a little harsh in his criticism, Confucius softens the blow by adding that he sees Zigong as a “precious sacrificial vessel” (瑚璉/húliǎn), but his implication that the conscientious but unimaginative Zigong still has ample room for improvement remains the same. Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 5: Confucius and Zigong

Analects of Confucius Book 5 overview: a long and winding path

The Analects of Confucius Book 5 opens with a remarkable statement from Confucius when he declares that Gongye Chang would make a good husband even though he has spent time in prison. Given that convicted criminals were social outcasts in ancient China, Confucius is demonstrating his contempt for the corrupt and arbitrary manner in which justice was administered during the turbulent times he lived in. By taking the extraordinary step of marrying his own daughter to Gongye Chang, he’s making a powerful statement of his determination to challenge existing social conventions and restore what he saw as the strict but fair judicial code established in the glory days of the Zhou dynasty.

In 5.2 Confucius continues in the matchmaking business, marrying the daughter of his crippled stepbrother Mengpi to the cautious, and apparently wealthy and privileged, Nan Rong. In line with the custom of the times, we don’t even know the names of the sage’s daughter and niece. Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 5 overview: a long and winding path

Notes from the field: pounding the pathways of the Four Beasts

pounding the pathways

Taipei’s still pretty quiet even though the Lunar New Year holiday finishes tomorrow. I suspect that a lot of people will take Thursday and Friday off and return to work next Monday.

I’ve been spending most of my break pounding the pathways of the Four Beasts Scenic Area while working my way through the wonderful back catalog of In Our Time podcasts hosted by the inimitable Melvin Bragg. I know I’m not the first person to remark on this, but the AirPods that came with my new iPhone have given me a greater appreciation of the power of the spoken word and led me to read less and listen more. Continue reading Notes from the field: pounding the pathways of the Four Beasts

Historical figures in the Analects of Confucius: Boyi and Shuqi

Born in the early part of the 11th century BCE, Boyi (伯夷) and Shuqi (叔齊) were the sons of a ruler of the minor state of Guzhu (孤竹) during the time when the ruling Shang dynasty (商朝) was collapsing under the dissolute rule of its last emperor Di Xin (帝辛).

When their father chose the younger Shuqi his successor, Shuqi declined the offer. His elder brother Boyi then refused the throne as well, insisting that his younger brother take it. Rather than fight with each other over who was the rightful ruler, the two brothers fled to the nearby state of Zhou (周). Continue reading Historical figures in the Analects of Confucius: Boyi and Shuqi

Historical figures in the Analects of Confucius: Ning Wuzi

Ning Wuzi (甯武子) was chief minister under two rulers of the state of Wei (衛) during the seventh century BCE. Serving under the first one, Duke Wen (衛文公), Ning proved to be a wise and effective administrator.

When Duke Wen was succeeded by Duke Cheng (衛成公) in 634 BCE, however, the state started to fall apart as a result of Cheng’s chaotic rule and the looming threat of invasion from the powerful neighboring state of Jin (晉). The only way that Ning could hold everything together over the course of ten years was by acting dumb in public while quietly working in the background to keep everything under control. Confucius is thus speaking ironically when he remarks in Chapter 21 of Book 5: “Others may match his wisdom but not his dumbness.” Continue reading Historical figures in the Analects of Confucius: Ning Wuzi

Historical figures in the Analects of Confucius: Ji Wenzi

Ji Wenzi (季文子) was the posthumous title given to Jisun Xingfu (季孫行父), the most influential minister in Confucius’s home state of Lu (魯) serving three dukes between 600 and 568 BCE.

Ji was the head of the the Jisun (季孫) clan, one of the notorious Three Families that ran Lu in reality if not in name, though he is reported to have governed the state with great integrity during a very tumultuous period of its history. Continue reading Historical figures in the Analects of Confucius: Ji Wenzi