Confucius never claimed to be an original thinker, famously declaring in Analects 7.1: “I transmit but I don’t create. I am faithful to and love the past.”
Although his deep knowledge and admiration of ancient values, wisdom, and ritual provided a rich foundation for his teachings, they also constricted Confucius’s thinking about how best to solve the serious problems that were ripping China apart during the tumultuous Spring and Autumn period that he lived in. Continue reading Analects Book 14: Confucius clings to traditional Zhou dynasty values
Shao Hu (召忽) is known for the extreme, some would say excessive, devotion he showed to his master Prince Jiu of Qi (公子糾). After the prince was executed as a result of losing out in a power struggle against his younger brother, Duke Huan of Qi, the grief-stricken Shao Hu committed suicide rather than return to his homeland together with his comrade-in-arms Guan Zhong (管仲) as the duke ordered.
Although many people like Zilu admired Shao Hu for what they considered to be the ultimate act of loyalty of a retainer towards their master, others such as Confucius strongly defended Guan Zhong’s decision to defy the convention that Shao Hu followed and return to Qi. As Confucius argues in 14.16 and 14.17, Guan Zhong’s subsequent achievements as Duke Huan’s chief minister far outweighed his violation of a rarely observed rule of ritual propriety. Continue reading Historical figures in the Analects of Confucius: Shao Hu
Not surprisingly for a volume of its size, Analects Book 14 delivers pretty big numbers across the board, particularly when it comes to the huge supporting cast that appears in its 44 chapters. This includes 18 historical figures and 18 contemporary figures, plus four unnamed ones that perform more than just walk-on roles.
The cast of historical figures ranges from mythical sovereigns and heroes from the dawn of antiquity such as the sage king Yu and Hou Ji, who is renowned for introducing agricultural techniques to China, to some of the titans of the Spring and Autumn period like Duke Huan of Qi and his chief minister Guan Zhong. There’s room for a couple of villains, too, in the form of Yi the Archer and Ao the Sailor, who both used their strength and martial skills to take over the reins of power only to be assassinated themselves.
Continue reading Analects Book 14 by numbers: a huge supporting cast
Duke Huan of Qi (齊桓公) was the ruler of Qi from 685 to 643 BCE. Together with his long-time chief minister Guan Zhong, he transformed the state into a military, economic, and political superpower that dominated China and fought off invasions from peoples living outside it. Towards the end of his long reign, however, the duke’s power declined as he grew ill and the court became embroiled in factional strife. Following his death in 643 BCE, Qi lost its dominance even more quickly than the duke and Guan Zhong had established it.
The duke was a son of Duke Xi of Qi (齊僖公) and was known by the personal name of Xiaobai (小白). Since he had at least two older brothers, he was not in line to succeed his father to the throne. Continue reading Historical figures in the Analects of Confucius: Duke Huan of Qi
Happy Xmas from Taipei and best wishes for the year ahead! Let’s hope that it will be an improvement on this one.
More by serendipity than design, I have managed to complete all my Leadership Lessons posts for Book 14 of the Analects just in time for the festive season. However, given that I had originally planned to complete Book 15 by the end of the year, I am not exactly in the mood to pop open the champagne! Continue reading Notes from the field: happy Xmas from Taipei!
With forty-four chapters, Analects Book 14 is the longest in the entire work. The dizzying number of contemporary and historical figures the book features adds to the challenge of working your way through the text. What to make of 14.15, for example, without at least a cursory knowledge of the emergence of the so-called hegemons who dominated the China during various times of the Spring and Autumn period? As our social media betters never tire of telling us these days, context is everything (unless of course it doesn’t conform to the point they’re trying to make).
Researching the minor figures in Analects Book 14 can take almost as much time as it does for the more prominent ones like Duke Huan of Qi and Duke Wen of Jin because there is so little information about them available in either Chinese or English sources. There have been times when I have been tempted to skip over them, but that would defeat the point of my project. It would also mean missing out on some of the more colorful stories that add further degrees of light and shade to the rich Analects tapestry. Continue reading Analects Book 14: a wealth of colorful stories
Zigong said: “Guan Zhong wasn’t a good person, was he? After Duke Huan had Prince Jiu put to death, he not only chose to live but also served as the duke’s chief minister.” Confucius said: “By serving as Duke Huan’s chief minister, Guan Zhong imposed his authority over all the states and brought order to the world; the people still reap the benefits of his actions until this day. Without Guan Zhong, we would still be wearing our hair loose and folding our robes on the wrong side. Or would you prefer it if he had drowned himself in a ditch like some wretched husband or wife in their petty fidelity and died with nobody knowing about it?”
No matter how many times you’ve been asked the same question, there’s no need to explode when someone raises it yet again. Sharp retorts and derisive comments may make you feel good at the time, but they add nothing to the conversation. At best they will only serve to discourage open discussion and debate among your staff and at worst they could end up destroying your career. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: sharp retorts and derisive comments
Zilu said: “When Duke Huan had Prince Jiu put to death, Shao Hu took his own life but Guan Zhong chose to keep his. Should we say that Guan Zhong was a man without goodness?” Confucius said: “Duke Huan was able to bring the rulers of all the states together nine times without having to resort to military force because of the power of Guan Zhong. Such was his goodness! Such was his goodness!”
Is it only when your organization’s very survival is at stake that you’re willing to break with convention? When everything’s humming along smoothly do you have the courage to make daring decisions on people or products that fly in the face of accepted wisdom? Or are you content to keep on steering the ship on its current course? Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: break with convention?
Confucius said: “Duke Wen of Jin was crafty and improper; Duke Huan of Qi was proper and not crafty.”
Never underestimate the power of positioning to shape perceptions of you. It can make all the difference between being seen as a strong leader rather than a tyrannical bully or as a paragon of virtue rather than a grifting virtue signaler. Once you have crafted your story, be sure to remain authentic to it. A single rash deed or word can shatter your image in an instant. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: the power of positioning
Confucius said: “Guan Zhong had his limitations.” Someone objected: “Do you mean that Guan Zhong wasn’t frugal?” Confucius replied: “Guan Zhong had three households, each one staffed by a huge retinue. How could he be called frugal?” “But didn’t he know ritual?” “Even though only the ruler of a state can place a screen to mask the view of his gate, he also had one installed. Even though only the ruler of a state can use a special stand to place his inverted cup on when meeting with another ruler, Guan Zhong had one too. If you say Guan Zhong knew ritual, then who doesn’t know it?”
How to deal with larger-than-life characters who make outsize contributions to your organization? Do you call them out for their excesses or do you turn a blind eye to them? Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: shades of grey