Tag Archives: Yan Hui

Leadership Lessons from Confucius: succession management

Temple of Yan Hui, Qufu
Temple of Yan Hui, Qufu

Youzi said: “A man who shows filial and fraternal devotion is unlikely to question the authority of his superiors. Such a man will never provoke disorder. A leader focuses on the root; once this takes hold the way appears. Filial and fraternal devotion is the root of goodness.”

Confucius was a master of talent development, training hundreds if not thousands of followers (1) who went on to take official positions and run businesses in the patchwork quilt of states that comprised China during his lifetime.

Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: succession management

Best of breed

When Yan Hui asked how to govern a state, Confucius said: “Observe the calendar of the Xia Dynasty; ride in the chariot of Yin Dynasty; wear the ceremonial cap of the Zhou Dynasty. As for music, follow the Coronation Hymn of Shun and the Victory Hymn of Wu. Ban the music of Zheng. Stay away from smooth talkers. The music of Zheng corrupts. Smooth talkers are dangerous.”

Far from advising his favorite disciple Yan Hui to copy slavishly from the past, Confucius is telling him to adopt only the finest traditions and practices from previous dynasties. Continue reading Best of breed

The Golden Rule reprised

Ran Yong asked about goodness. Confucius said: “When you are away from home, act towards everyone as if you are meeting an important guest. Manage people as if you are conducting a great sacrifice. Do not do to others what you would not want done to yourself. Allow no resentment to enter your public affairs; allow no resentment to enter your family affairs.” Ran Yong said: “I may not be particularly bright, but with your blessing I will strive to follow your guidance.”

The essence of goodness can be summed up in this variation of the famous “Golden Rule” of reciprocity first mentioned by Zigong in Chapter XII of Book 5 of the Analects. “Do not do to others what you would not want done to yourself” (己所不欲,勿施於人) is as good a maxim as any to live by – though not always easy to follow. Continue reading The Golden Rule reprised

The steps to goodness

顏淵問仁。子曰:「克己復禮,為仁。一日克己復禮,天下歸仁焉。為仁由己,而由仁乎哉?」 顏淵曰:「請問其目?」子曰:「非禮勿視,非禮勿聽,非禮勿言,非禮勿動。」顏淵曰:「回雖不敏,請事斯語矣!」
Yan Hui asked about goodness. Confucius said: “Overcome the self and restore the rites. This is what goodness is all about. If you overcome the self and restore the rites for just a single day, the whole world will respond to your goodness. The practice of goodness comes from the self. How can it come from others?” Yan Hui said: “May I ask what steps I should follow?” Confucius said: “Don’t look at anything that doesn’t conform with the rites; don’t listen to anything that doesn’t conform with the rites; don’t say anything that doesn’t conform with the rites; don’t do anything that doesn’t conform with the rites.” Yan Hui said: “Although I may not be quick to understand it, with your blessing I will strive to follow your guidance.”

Book 12 of the Analects kicks off with the first in a series of three very famous passages on the key Confucian concept of 仁/rén, which I have chosen to translate as “goodness” but could just as easily be rendered as “humanity”, “benevolence” or more loosely “the right way you treat other people”. Continue reading The steps to goodness

In danger in Kuang

Confucius was in danger in Kuang. Yan Hui had fallen behind. When they were finally reunited, Confucius said: “I thought you were dead.” Yan Hui said: “While you are alive, how would I dare to die?”

I get the poignant irony of Yan Hui’s words. I just can’t help thinking that they’d be better suited to a romantic novel or soap opera. Continue reading In danger in Kuang

The price of perfection?

Confucius said: “Yan Hui nearly reached perfection, but he constantly lived in poverty. Zigong refuses to accept his fate and indulges in business speculation, and is frequently correct in his conjectures.”

I have no idea what point Confucius is trying to make in this admittedly rather ambiguous passage. Continue reading The price of perfection?

Yan Hui dies

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 if he could use the wood from Confucius’s carriage so that he could make an outer coffin for his son. Confucius said: “Talented or not, everyone speaks highly of their own son. When my own son Li died, he was buried in an inner coffin only but there was no outer coffin. I did not walk on foot in order to provide an outer coffin. Because I am following right behind the grandees, it is not proper that I should go on foot.”

Compare and contrast Confucius’s public behavior and private grief in Chapter VIII to Chapter XI of Book 11 of the Analects, which cover the sage’s reaction to the death of Yan Hui. Continue reading Yan Hui dies