Tag Archives: Confucius on governance

Analects of Confucius Book 12: practical solutions and high-minded principles

In the first three chapters of Book 12 of the Analects, Confucius shows himself to be highly adept at defining the strengths and weaknesses of his followers Yan Hui, Ran Yong, and Sima Niu, and laying out the steps they need to take in order to progress further along the path towards goodness.

When it comes to the powerful political figures he engages with in the book, however, Confucius is nowhere near as effective as a communicator. Even though he is more than happy to reply to the questions raised by Ji Kangzi and Duke Jing of Qi, it’s almost as if he is talking at cross-purposes with them. While these powerful but insecure rulers are looking to the sage for immediate answers to pressing problems of the day, he chooses to lecture them on the general moral principles they need to follow rather than providing them with practical advice on how to address the specific issues they’re facing. Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 12: practical solutions and high-minded principles

Analects of Confucius Book 12 Overview

Analects of Confucius Book 12 Overview Key Themes

Book 12 of the Analects of Confucius kicks off with a lively exploration of the nature of the supreme virtue of goodness in the first three chapters. As is his custom, Confucius doesn’t even attempt to provide a single all-encompassing definition of the term. Instead, he tailors his responses to lay out the standards that his three questioners need to meet to move closer towards achieving it.

Naturally, Confucius places the bar the highest for his protégé Yan Hui, telling him in 12.1 that if he “manages to exercise self-discipline and to return to ritual for just one single day, goodness will prevail throughout the world.” By strictly adhering to the rules of propriety, Yan Hui would set an example that everyone else would automatically follow. Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 12 Overview

Leadership lessons from Confucius: pay attention to the white spaces

white spaces

季子然問:「仲由、冉求,可謂大臣與?」子曰:「吾以子為異之問,曾由與求之問。所謂大臣者,以道事君,不可則止;今由與求也,可謂具臣矣。」曰:「然則從之者與?」子曰:「弒父與君,亦不從也。」
Ji Ziran asked: “Would you say that Zilu and Ran Qiu are great ministers?” Confucius said: “I thought you were going to ask about somebody else; I never expected that you would ask about Zilu and Ran Qiu. A really great minister serves his lord by following the way and resigns if there is no possibility of doing so. As for Zilu and Ran Qiu, they might just about be qualified for an unfilled vacancy.” Ji Ziran said: “Do you mean that they can be counted on to follow orders?” Confucius said: “They wouldn’t go quite so far as murdering their father or their lord.”

Pay close attention to the white spaces. It’s often what’s left unsaid rather than what’s actually said that’s more significant. Although Confucius disses his followers Zilu and Ran Qiu for compromising their integrity by working for the Ji Family, his main objective is to warn Ji Ziran and his clan against launching a coup to overthrow the legitimate ruler of the state, the Duke of Lu. Hence his final quip (if that’s the right word) that even two such feckless individuals as Zilu and Ran Qiu “wouldn’t go quite so far as murdering their father or their lord.” Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: pay attention to the white spaces

Historical characters in the Analects of Confucius: Sage King Yao

The sage king Yao (堯) was one of the five legendary rulers who unified ancient China and served as future role models for building a stable and benevolent system of government.

Yao is believed to have lived in the 23rd or 22nd century BCE, and is said to have assumed power at the age of 20 and voluntarily relinquished it to his chosen successor, Shun (舜), to whom he gave his two daughters in marriage, after seventy years on the throne. According to some sources, Yao went on live for a further thirty years following his abdication. Continue reading Historical characters in the Analects of Confucius: Sage King Yao

Leadership lessons from Confucius: too good to be true

too good to be true

子曰:「大哉堯之為君也,巍巍乎,唯天為大,唯堯則之,蕩蕩乎,民無能名焉。巍巍乎,其有成功也,煥乎,其有文章。」
Confucius said: “What a great ruler Yao was! Absolutely majestic! Only heaven is great, and only Yao was able to emulate it. His virtue was so great that the people could find no words to describe it. How stunning were his achievements, and how brilliant the culture was that he created!” (1)

If someone sounds too good to be true, then they probably are. No matter how great the praises heaped on them, there’s always bound be some hidden weakness or dark secret beneath the beautifully constructed façade. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: too good to be true

Leadership lessons from Confucius: selfless devotion to duty?

selfless devotion

子曰:「巍巍乎,舜禹之有天下也,而不與焉。」
Confucius said: “Shun and Yu were so majestic! They reigned over the world but never profited from it.” (1)

There’s always more than one side to every story. Before you decide whether to buy in to the version of it that someone is telling you, take some time to understand their motives in bringing it to your attention. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: selfless devotion to duty?

Leadership lessons from Confucius: relentless demands

relentless demands

子曰:「好勇疾貧,亂也。人而不仁,疾之已甚,亂也。」
Confucius said: “If people with a courageous streak find themselves trapped in poverty, chaos will ensue. If people without a trace of goodness decide their sufferings are too great, chaos will ensue.”

The harder you push people, the likelier they are to push back either by voting with their feet or openly rebelling against the system. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: relentless demands

Analects of Confucius Book 2: by numbers

Analects of Confucius Book 2 by numbers

Book 2 of the Analects is fifty percent longer than Book 1, comprising twenty-four chapters compared to sixteen. Unlike in Book 1, Confucius appears in all the chapters of Book 2. A supporting cast of seven of his followers and four of his contemporaries act as foils for the sage to make his pronouncements on topics as varied as governanceleadership, filial devotion, and learning. Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 2: by numbers

Leadership Lessons from Confucius: observing ritual and showing deference

ritual and deference

子曰:「能以禮讓為國乎,何有!不能以禮讓為國,如禮何!」
Confucius said: “If a ruler is able to govern a state by observing ritual and showing deference, what more does he need to do? If a ruler fails to accomplish this, what use is ritual to him?”

A while ago, we signed an agreement to participate in an industry event in the US. This was the first time we had done business with this company, and I was impressed with the efficiency of the rep that we were dealing with. That is until she suggested almost immediately after we’d signed the document that we take part in another event half-way across the world in a location that was not a strategic priority for us.

Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: observing ritual and showing deference