Nothing is known about Ji Zicheng (棘子成) except that he was a minister in the state of Wei. Ji makes only one appearance in the Analects when he questions the value of cultural refinement in a dialog with Confucius’s follower Zigong in 12.8.
Some commentators speculate that Ji was obliquely criticizing the ruling elite for their preference for vapid displays of rhetorical and sartorial excess over political and administrative substance with his attack on cultural refinement. Others suggest he may having been having a go at Zigong for his fastidious approach to bettering himself. Perhaps it was a bit of both. Continue reading Contemporary figures in the Analects of Confucius: Ji Zicheng
Ji Zicheng said: “Native substance determines whether or not you’re a leader. What use is cultural refinement?” Zigong said: “What a pity you’ve chosen to describe a leader in this way. ‘A team of horses cannot catch up with a tongue.’ Cultural refinement is native substance; native substance is cultural refinement. Without their hair, the pelts of tigers and leopards are just the same as those of a dog or a sheep.”
It takes much more than raw talent to become a leader. Native smarts and a raging fire in your belly can only get you so far. The larger and more complex your startup grows, the more you’ll need to develop your knowledge and skills to meet ever greater and more diverse challenges. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: native substance versus cultural refinement
Ran Yong asked about goodness. Confucius said: “When you’re away from home, act towards everyone as if you’re meeting an important guest. Manage people as if you’re conducting a great sacrifice. Don’t do to others what you wouldn’t want done to yourself. Allow no resentment to enter your public affairs; allow no resentment to enter your family affairs.” Ran Yong said: “Although I may not be quick to understand it, allow me to live up to your guidance.”
Just because you had a bad day at work, that’s no excuse for taking out your frustration on your family members when you get home. Just because you had a huge argument with your partner, that’s no excuse for bawling out your staff when you get to the office. Keep your emotions under control. Treat others as you expect to be treated. Follow the Golden Rule. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: keep your emotions under control
Unlike the sainted Yan Hui, neither Zilu nor Zigong manage to earn unequivocal praise from Confucius in Book 9 of the Analects. Indeed, Confucius rebukes them both for a variety of sins – ranging from a serious violation of ritual protocol to a failure to understand the qualities required of a leader.
Zilu is the one who is responsible for breaching ritual conventions by acting as if he is a retainer of a feudal lord while the sage is seriously ill in 9.12. Given that Confucius doesn’t belong to such an august rank, he roundly scolds his well-meaning if misguided follower after he recovers: “Zilu, this deception has lasted long enough. Who do I deceive with these bogus retainers? Do I deceive heaven? Rather than die among retainers, I would prefer to die in the arms of my followers. I may not receive a grand funeral, but I’ll hardly die by the roadside.” Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 9: the great forbearance of Zilu and Zigong
Like Book 8, Book 9 of the Analects of Confucius is a bit of a hodgepodge of various sayings and episodes culled from multiple sources – making it impossible to discern a central theme. It does, however, include some revealing passages involving Confucius and three of his most faithful followers that shed further light on his relationships with them.
Confucius’s protégé and favorite Yan Hui makes the most appearances in the book with three. Zilu and Zigong both make two. The only other possible follower featured is the enigmatically-named Lao (牢) in 9.7. He is usually identified as the fastidious and relatively obscure Yuan Xian. Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 9 overview: Confucius praises Yan Hui
Although he grew up in relative poverty, Confucius had no interest in wealth for its own sake even if it was generated through what many would consider as legitimate business activities. Despite his close relationship with Zigong, he couldn’t resist the occasional digs at his follower’s wheeling and dealing. Many critics have even blamed him for holding back China’s economic development because of what they see as his disdain for the profit motive.
Confucius was even more critical of the rich and powerful who accumulated wealth through illegitimate means. He was particularly vociferous in his opposition to the notorious Three Families for their brutal exploitation of the common people of Lu through excessive taxation and venal corruption. This was a key bone of contention in his volatile relationship with his follower Ran Qiu, who made a fortune from serving as a steward for the powerful Ji family. Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 7: Confucius on wealth
Confucius is just as frank and open with the impetuous Zilu as he is with Zigong in Book 5 of the Analects. When he says in 5.7 that he expects that Zilu would join him if he decided to take a raft out to sea, Zilu is delighted that his master has chosen him as his only companion. Confucius, however, is quick to burst his bubble by pointing out that although Zilu is braver than he is, he would bring no materials or talent (a play on words using a homonym of the character (材/cái) to the enterprise. Even if Confucius is just making a lighthearted joke, as some commentators claim, his comment has an unnecessarily sharp edge to it.
In the next chapter, Confucius refuses to tell Meng Wubo, a minister of the state of Lu, whether he thinks Zilu is a good person, saying only that he “could be entrusted with military recruitment” in a “middle-sized country”. Although the sage probably had sound political reasons for not answering the question directly, his characterization of Zilu’s abilities hardly counts as a ringing endorsement. Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 5: Confucius and the impetuous Zilu
Book 5 is a very different beast to the previous four books of the Analects. Rather than talk directly about the key values and principles of his teachings, Confucius focuses his attention on evaluating how well a dozen of his followers, four of his contemporaries, and eleven figures from the past live up to them.
Among his followers, Confucius only considers Yan Hui to be up to snuff. Indeed, in 5.9 Confucius admits that even he is not the equal of his protégé.
Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 5: by numbers
Book 5 of the Analects shows some tensions in the relationship between Confucius and Zigong, one of his most loyal and distinguished followers. Zigong had already established himself as a successful merchant when he first met Confucius, but he clearly saw the need for the sage’s guidance in cultivating other aspects of his character. For his part, Confucius was more than willing to help Zigong along this path by providing frank critiques of his shortcomings – perhaps a little too frank at times.
When Zigong asks the sage what he thinks of him in 5.4, Confucius lets him know that he still hasn’t cultivated all the necessary qualities to become a leader (君子) by describing him as a “vessel” (器/qì). Perhaps realizing that he has been a little harsh in his criticism, Confucius softens the blow by adding that he sees Zigong as a “precious sacrificial vessel” (瑚璉/húliǎn), but his implication that the conscientious but unimaginative Zigong still has ample room for improvement remains the same. Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 5: Confucius and Zigong
Confucius said: “Yan Hui has just about achieved perfection, but he lives in constant poverty. Zigong is never satisfied with his lot and engages in trading and speculation. He frequently succeeds in his business ventures.”
Poverty isn’t necessarily a price you have to pay in order to be virtuous. Indeed, it can be very difficult to stick to the right path if you can’t pay the bills.
You don’t necessarily have to compromise your morals in order to become wealthy either. Indeed, you have a greater chance of success if you stick to your values. Be sure to remember, though, to you use your riches productively for the overall benefit of society. That new multi-million dollar yacht you’ve just bought to impress everyone will soon lose its luster when someone else has one that’s even bigger and shinier. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: the pursuit of perfection