Analects Book 9 provides a rich source of quotes from Confucius on Confucius that give us some fascinating insights into his character and motivations. The show him to be a man who grew up poor and was driven by a fierce determination to better himself through continuous learning and hard work. He also displays a hint of confidence, perhaps even arrogance, in his claim that heaven had entrusted in him to preserve civilization. Continue reading Analects Book 9: Confucius on Confucius
One of the consequences of Confucius’s faithfulness to the past was that he always saw himself as a high-level minister in the mold of his hero the Duke of Zhou and never aspired to become a ruler of a state himself.
This meant that Confucius had to devote himself to the thankless tasking of finding an appropriate ruler to work for who would be willing to listen to his advice and allow him to implement the government and social reforms that he recommended. Continue reading Analects Book 14: Confucius’s failure to achieve his lifelong dream
I have spent most of the week examining the last recorded event in Confucius’s life: his futile audience with his ruler Duke Ai in 14.21. Strictly speaking, Confucius had no business at all informing the duke of the murder of his fellow sovereign Duke Jian of Qi because he was no longer a government official, but he probably thought the news was too important to hold back.
Perhaps Confucius would have been better off to keep it to himself, however, because he had no hope of persuading his weak and indecisive ruler to agree to his madcap scheme of launching a punitive expedition against Qi in order to bring Duke Jian’s murderer to justice. Even if he had by some miracle succeeded, he knew very well that Duke Ai did not have an army in any case – or the means to fund one. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius Project: Week 3, 2021 updates
Book 7 of the Analects paints a vivid portrait of Confucius striving to put the lofty principles and values he teaches his followers and students into practice in his daily life. This is a never-ending quest that causes him to constantly reflect on his inability to live up to the standards he has set for himself.
“Although my commitment is as strong as anyone’s when it comes to cultural knowledge and refinement,” he laments in 7.32, “I haven’t yet hit the target of becoming a true leader in how I conduct myself.” “How could I possibly dare to claim that I’m a man of great wisdom and goodness?” he adds in the next chapter. “All that can be said of me is that I never grow weary of learning and never get tired of teaching others.” Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 7: a vivid portrait of 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
While Confucius was held captive in Kuang, Yan Hui had fallen behind. When they were finally reunited, Confucius said: “I thought you were dead.” Yan Hui said: “While you’re alive, how would I dare to die?” (1) (2)
There’s nothing like a touch of ironic humor to take the tension out of an awkward situation. A detailed analysis of what went wrong and the reasons for it can wait until later. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: a touch of ironic humor
Confucius said: “None those who accompanied me in Chen and Cai are still with me.” (1)
Life is an incredible journey. Be grateful for all the wonderful people you meet along the way: the family that nurture and love you; the teachers that give you knowledge and inspire you to move on to greater things; the bosses and colleagues who recognize your talent and provide you with the opportunity to develop it; and the friends who stick with you through thick and thin. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: through thick and thin
Like the Cemetery of Confucius’s Parents, the Zhusi Academy probably isn’t on the must-see list for Qufu, but it’s worth checking out if you have the time.
The Zhusi Academy marks the place where Confucius is said to have taught and edited ancient canonical texts, including the so-called Five Classics (1) and the Book of Music, after returning to his home state of Lu in 484 BCE after spending fourteen years in exile. It provides an elegant and graceful symbol of the importance attached to learning in Chinese culture. Continue reading Notes from the field: Zhusi Academy
Confucius said: “The phoenix doesn’t appear; the river doesn’t yield its diagram. It’s over for me!”
When the signs are clear that you have no choice but to give up your quest, face the truth with courage and grace. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: the phoenix doesn’t appear
The Grand Steward asked Zigong: “Your master’s a true sage, isn’t he? How come he’s mastered so many menial skills?” Zigong replied: “Heaven indeed made him a sage, but it also gave him many different talents.” When he heard of this, Confucius said: “What does the Grand Steward know about me? In my youth I was poor, so I had to learn lots of different menial skills. Is it necessary for a leader to master so many menial skills? I don’t think so.”
There’s no better preparation for adult life than a part-time or temporary job waiting tables, flipping burgers, valeting cars, doing construction, or working on a production line. You can learn far more in few months from that about how the world really works than studying two years for an MBA in a fancy college. It’s only though practical experience that you can understand the challenges of working with other people from diverse backgrounds, dealing with prickly customers, and meeting seemingly impossible deadlines. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: real world experience