Tag Archives: Confucius on the sage kings

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

Analects of Confucius Book 8 overview

I have completed my work on Book 8 of the Analects of Confucius, at least for now. Talk about a long hot summer! I’m not sure I ever really recovered my enthusiasm for the text after having to battle through five chapters of the follower Zengzi early on in the book. Why spend time on the stilted prognostications of a pale imitation of the sage when you can go direct to the source?

Myths and counter-myths

The most enjoyable part of reading the book was 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 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 

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

Historical figures in the Analects of Confucius: Sage King Yu

Yu (禹), also known as Yu the Great (大禹), was one of the three legendary sage kings that ruled ancient China in the 23rd or 22nd century BCE and laid the foundations for the development of its feudal society.

After being handed the throne by his predecessor, Shun (舜), Yu became renowned in Chinese history for building a system of irrigation canals that reduced flooding in the rich agricultural plains surrounding the Yellow River and brought unprecedented prosperity to the nation. Yu is said to have spent thirteen years toiling on the irrigation canal construction projects himself, sharing the same brutal labor and living conditions as his fellow workers. Continue reading Historical figures in the Analects of Confucius: Sage King Yu

Leadership lessons from Confucius: premature reaction

premature reaction

子曰:「禹吾無間然矣,菲飲食,而致孝乎鬼神,惡衣服,而致美乎黻冕,卑宮室,而盡力乎溝洫,禹吾無間然矣。」
Confucius said: “I can find no flaw in Yu. He drank and ate simple fare, but he showed complete devotion in his offerings to the ghosts and spirits; he wore humble clothes, but his ritual vestments were magnificent; he lived in a modest palace, but he devoted all his strength to draining the floodwaters. I can find no flaw in Yu.”

It’s best not take anything you read or see at face value – particularly at a time when it has become so easy to manipulate textual, statistical, image, and video data. No matter how busy you are, take some time to check its source before jumping to conclusions. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: premature reaction

Historical figures in the Analects of Confucius: Sage King Shun

Shun (舜) was one of the five legendary sage kings of ancient China in the 23rd or 22nd century BCE. He reportedly ruled for nearly fifty years after the previous ruler Yao (堯) had abdicated in favor of him because of his higher virtue. Prior to his death, reputedly at the age of 100, he is said to have relinquished his throne to his successor, Yu (禹), who went on to establish the first recorded dynasty in China’s history, the Xia (夏朝). Continue reading Historical figures in the Analects of Confucius: Sage King Shun

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: are talented people hard to find?

talented people

舜有臣五人,而天下治。武王曰:「予有亂臣十人。」孔子曰:「才難,不其然乎,唐虞之際,於斯為盛,有婦人焉,九人而已。三分天下有其二,以服事殷,周之德,其可謂至德也已矣。」
Shun ruled his empire with only five ministers. King Wu of Zhou said: “I have ten able ministers to keep everything in order.” Confucius said: “Talented people are hard to find: are they not? The times of Yao and Shun were said to be rich in talent, but King Wu was only able to find nine such men because one of his ministers was a woman. Although the Zhou controlled over two-thirds of the empire, it still served the Shang. You can truly say that the virtue of the Zhou was supreme.”

Is it true that talented people are hard to find? It can be tempting to think so when you read about skills shortages in hot new fields like data science and hear your colleagues complain about how tough it is to hire qualified staff. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: are talented people hard to find?

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