The Lord of She declared to Confucius: “Among my people, there’s man we call ‘Upright Gong.’ When his father stole a sheep, he informed on him.” Confucius said: “Among my people, the ones we consider to be ‘upright’ are different. Fathers watch the backs of their sons and sons watch the backs of their fathers. ‘Uprightness’ can be found in this.”
We all have our blind spots: people and ideas that we elevate so highly that we lose all sense of reality when evaluating them. Even Confucius had his with (possibly) Yan Hui and (definitely) with filial devotion. What are your blind spots? Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: what are your blind spots?
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
Why was Confucius so devastated by the death of Yan Hui that his followers felt compelled to take the extraordinary step of admonishing their master for displaying excessive grief? Book 11 of the Analects not only poses this question with its vivid portrayal of Confucius’s anguish at the untimely passing of his favorite follower. It also answers it by showing how close the relationship between Confucius and Yan Hui was and the high regard the sage had for the man he had seen as his protégé and eventual successor.
Indeed, in 11.4 Confucius sounds exactly like a humble-bragging dad when he claims that Yan Hui is of no help to him at all because “he delights in everything I say.” In 11.7, he goes on to tell the strongman Ji Kangzi that the only follower of his who loved learning was Yan Hui (1). In 11.19 he tops that by declaring that he “just about achieved perfection”. Not even a life of grinding poverty can tempt the virtuous Yan Hui to stray from the strict moral path that he follows. Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 11: Confucius and Yan Hui
For all his sharp critiques of his followers in Book 11 of the Analects, Confucius hardly shows himself to be a paragon of virtue either – particularly in his emotional, some might say hysterical, reaction to the untimely death of Yan Hui, which is covered from Chapter 7 to Chapter 11.
His obvious distress at the passing of his protégé doesn’t excuse his attempt to dictate how the funeral of Yan Hui should be conducted. According to the rules of ritual propriety that he so assiduously promoted, no matter how important the role Confucius played in his follower’s life as his teacher, this should have been the sole responsibility of Yan Hui’s father, Yan Lu. Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 11: human after all?
One of the great delights of hiking around the Four Beasts Scenic Area (四獸山) is that there are lots of smaller pathways to follow that take you away from the main trails deeper into the lush vegetation covering the mountainside.
This morning I happened along this delightful little shrine when I took a different route down the mountain before arriving at a nearby temple. There are in fact, a lot of temples in the Four Beasts dedicated to an eclectic array of Buddhist, Daoist, and other Chinese deities. One day, I keep telling myself, I’ll be able to identify all of them… Continue reading Notes from the field: exploring multiple pathways
顏淵死，顏路請子之車以為之 。子曰：「才不才，亦各言其子也。鯉也死，有棺而無 ；吾不徒行，以為之 ，以吾從大夫之後，不可徒行也。」
When Yan Hui died, his father Yan Lu asked Confucius if he could sell his carriage so that he could pay for an outer coffin for his son. Confucius said: “Talented or not, a son is a son. When my son Li died, he was buried in an inner coffin but there was no outer coffin. I wouldn’t go on foot in order to give him one because it wasn’t proper for me as a former minister to go on foot.” (1) (2) (3)
If you fail to follow the rules and conventions of your organization, how can you expect others to observe them? If you allow yourself some wriggling room by treating a sensitive or contentious case as an exception, why can’t everyone else do the same? Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: a special case?
Mengpi (孟皮), the elder step-brother of Confucius, was the son of the first wife of their father Shuliang He (叔梁纥) and had nine sisters. Although he was the only son of the couple, Mengpi had a handicapped foot that meant he wasn’t considered eligible to carry on the family name. Desperate for an heir, Shuliang took Confucius’s mother Yan Zhengzai (颜徵在) as his concubine or second wife while in his early sixties to preserve the family line.
Shuliang died only three years after Confucius’s birth in 548 BCE, leaving Zhengzai and Confucius poor and of uncertain social status because of the cloudy circumstances of their marriage. Unable or unwilling to live with Shuliang’s first wife and daughters, Zhengzai is said to have returned to her father’s home together with her son and Mengpi – who was presumably regarded as a burden by his birth mother. Continue reading Biography of Mengpi: the elder step-brother of Confucius
The wife of Confucius was a woman from his ancestral state of Song with the family name of Qiguan (亓官). Her first name isn’t known. She is often referred to as Qiguan Shi (亓官氏) or Lady Qiguan.
Confucius married her in 533 BCE at the age of 19. A year later, Qiguan bore the couple’s only son Boyu (伯魚). She and Confucius are believed to have had two daughters as well, both of whose names are unknown. One of them probably died at an early age, while the other was married off by Confucius to a convicted criminal called Gongye Chang (公冶長), who he deemed “would make a good husband” and be declared “innocent” of his alleged crime. There are no records of whether Confucius consulted his wife or daughter about this decision. Presumably, given the prevailing customs of the time, the answer is negative. Continue reading Biography of Qiguan Shi: the wife of Confucius
Boyu (伯魚) was the only son of Confucius and his wife Qiguan Shi (亓官氏), and was born in around 530 BCE, about a year of his parents’ marriage when Confucius was twenty. When Duke Zhao, the ruler of the state of Lu, sent him a prize carp to congratulate him on the birth of his son, Confucius gave the infant the formal name of Kong Li (孔鯉), which literally means “Kong-Carp.” He also gave his son the more informal name of Boyu, which literally means “Oldest-Son-Fish.”
Little is known about the details of Boyu’s childhood except that he had two younger sisters, one of whom is believed to have died at an early age. It appears, however, that the relationship between him and Confucius was a distant one, perhaps because his intellectual powers nowhere near matched those of his father. Continue reading Biography of Boyu: the only son of Confucius
Nan Rong constantly repeated a refrain from the poem White Jade Scepter. Confucius gave him his elder brother’s daughter in marriage. (1)
Pause and take a deep breath before opening your mouth or tapping the publish or send key on your smartphone screen. Once you’ve said or written something you may come to regret, it’s impossible to take it back. No matter how much you apologize later on, the memory of it will always linger somewhere deep in the recipient’s mind together with the feelings of hurt and anger that it may have caused. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: before opening your mouth