Tag Archives: Zilu

Analects of Confucius Book 11: Confucius and Ran Qiu

Confucius and Ran Qiu

Even though Confucius is critical of several of his most loyal followers in Book 11, most notably Zilu, he reserves his most virulent scorn for Ran Qiu. In 11.17 he famously rips into him for helping the Lu strongman Ji Kangzi to levy yet more taxes on the common people by loudly declaring: “He’s no longer my follower. You may beat the drum and attack him, my young friends.”

While Confucius is justifiably upset at Ran Qiu for ignoring his advice not to impose any more unnecessary burdens onto the impoverished peasantry, he never uses such violent language towards Zilu and other followers who also helped the corrupt and venal Ji Family enrich themselves at the expense of the downtrodden Lu population. Indeed, even though Confucius often chides Zilu for his indiscretions and impetuousness, he generally adopts a much more indulgent tone towards him than Ran Qiu. Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 11: Confucius and Ran Qiu

Analects of Confucius Book 11: Confucius and Zilu

Confucius and Zilu

Unlike the quasi father and son combo of Confucius and Yan Hui, Confucius and Zilu were more like an elder and young brother who love each other deeply but aren’t afraid to enter into the occasional argument when the occasion demands it.

In Book 11 of the Analects Confucius shows how much he cares for “bold and intense” (11.13) Zilu with his repeated attempts to rein in his recklessness. In 11.12 he famously responds to Zilu’s questions about how to serve the spirits and gods and what he thought of death by telling him to keep his feet firmly planted on the ground: “’If you’re not yet able to serve other people, how are you able to serve the spirits? … If you don’t understand life yet, how can you understand death?’” Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 11: Confucius and Zilu

Analects of Confucius Book 11: Confucius and his followers

Confucius and his followers

One of the most intriguing questions about Confucius is how he managed not only to build a large base of followers (traditionally numbered at 77), but more importantly how he managed to sustain their loyalty over, in some cases, many decades.

While Confucius’s great charisma, learning, and connections with senior government figures and members of the nobility were no doubt instrumental in attracting many young people to go and study with him, that doesn’t explain why the likes of Zilu, Zigong, Ran Qiu, Yan Hui, and others stuck with him through the lean times, most notably during his 14 years of exile tramping from state to state in search of employment. In a couple of notorious incidents (see 11.2 and 11.23) they even went close to losing their lives because of the scrapes Confucius got them into, but still remained faithful to him. Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 11: Confucius and his followers

Analects of Confucius Book 11: the human side of Confucius?

human side of Confucius

There are a couple of other incidents in Book 11 of the Analects that reveal what I will euphemistically call the human side of Confucius.

The first one takes place in Chapter 15 when Confucius complains about the racket Zilu is making while playing his zither. Although he probably didn’t mean any harm with this comment, his followers start giving Zilu such a hard time that Confucius has to step in and retrieve his friend’s lost pride by saying that his musical talents aren’t all that bad considering. Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 11: the human side of Confucius?

Followers of Confucius: Zigao

Zigao (子羔/子皋) gets a bad rap in the two appearances he makes Book 11 of the Analects. In 11.18, he is described as “dumb” or “simple-minded” (愚/yú), presumably by Confucius. Then in 11.25, Confucius goes on to castigate Zilu for appointing him as steward or governor of the town of Bi because of his lack of learning.

Confucius appears to have based his judgment of Zigao because he was ugly and short; reportedly he was less than five feet in height. However, he is said to have performed well as an official in the governments of the states of Lu and Wei and gained a reputation for delivering harsh but fair justice in the towns and districts he governed. Continue reading Followers of Confucius: Zigao

Leadership lessons from Confucius: the Rain Dance Terrace

Rain Dance Terrace

Zilu, Zeng Dian, Ran Qiu, and Gongxi Chi were sitting with Confucius. Confucius said: “Forget for a moment that I’m your elder. You often say: ‘Nobody recognizes our talents.’ But if you were given the opportunity, what would you wish to do?”

Zilu eagerly replied first: “Give me a middle-sized state wedged between powerful neighbors that is under attack from invading armies and gripped by drought and famine. If I were to govern it, within three years I would give its people courage and set them in the right direction.”

Confucius smiled at him: “Ran Qiu, what about you?”

Ran Qiu replied: “If I was allowed to run a territory of sixty or seventy or, say, fifty to sixty li, within three years I would secure the prosperity of its people. As for ritual and music, they would have to wait for a true leader to take over.”

“Gongxi Chi, what about you?”

“I’m not saying that I would be able to do this, but I would like to try: in the ceremonies at the Grand Ancestral Temple, such as a diplomatic conference, wearing a ceremonial cap and robes, I would like to act as a junior official.”

“And what about you, Zeng Dian?” Zeng Dian plucked one final chord of the zither he’d been playing and put it down by his side. He replied: “My wish is very different than those of my three companions.”

Confucius said: “What harm is there in that? After all, each one is simply speaking from his heart.”

Zeng Dian said: “In late spring, after all the spring clothes have been made, I would like to go out together with five or six companions and six or seven children to bathe in the Yi River, enjoy the breeze on the Rain Dance Terrace, and then return home singing.”

Confucius let out a wistful sigh and said: “I’m with Dian!”

After the other three followers had left, Zeng Dian stayed behind and said: “What did you think of their wishes?” Confucius said: “Each was indeed speaking from his heart.”

Zeng Dian asked: “Why did you smile at Zilu?” Confucius said: “You should govern a state according to ritual, but his words showed no such restraint. That’s why I smiled.”

“But wasn’t Ran Qiu also talking about governing a state?” “Of course. Have you ever seen ‘a territory of sixty to seventy, or fifty to sixty li?’”

“And Gongxi Chi? Wasn’t he also talking about running a state as well?” “A diplomatic conference in the Grand Ancestral Temple! What could this be but an affair of state? And if Gongxi Chi were there merely to act as a junior official, who could possibly be qualified to act as the senior one?”

Sit back in a comfortable chair, close your eyes, and ask yourself the question: “where do I want to be in five years?” Visualize the scene and savor the feelings of excitement and anticipation that come over you. It doesn’t matter whether you see yourself working in a high-powered job or simply “enjoy(ing) the breeze on the Rain Dance Terrace”. That’s for you and only you to decide. It’s your dream. It’s your life.

When you have a complete picture, open your eyes, go sit down at your desk, and ask yourself the question: “how can I get there in five years?” Then put pen to paper and write down the steps you need to take in order to achieve your dream.

Without a clear execution plan to anchor it, the dream will float away from your grasp like so many of the others you’ve had in the past.


This article features a translation of Chapter 26 of Book 11 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 11 here.

(1) Zeng Dian (曾皙) was a friend of Confucius and the father of the follower Zengzi (曾子), one of the leading proponents of Confucius’s teachings after the sage’s death.

(2) There has been a lot of speculation over why Confucius shares the same dream as Zeng Dian of “enjoy(ing) the breeze on the Rain Dance Terrace” rather than, for example, expressing a desire to achieve his goal of returning China to its glory days under the Duke of Zhou. Perhaps Confucius is implying that if he had time to enjoy the pleasures of life this would mean that he had already accomplished that objective.

I took this image of these ancient Zhou dynasty ritual vessels at the new Confucius Museum in the sage’s home town of Qufu. You can read more about the museum here.

Leadership lessons from Confucius: paper qualifications

paper qualifications

Zilu appointed Zigao as governor of Bi. Confucius said: “You’re harming another man’s son.” Zilu said: “There are people there for him to learn from as well as the altars of the spirits of the land and grain where he can learn how to perform ritual ceremonies. Why should learning consist only of reading books?” Confucius said: “It’s this kind of remark that makes me hate people with a smooth tongue.”

Do you need to have all the necessary paper qualifications first before going on to employment or can you pick up what you need to know on the job? For specialist fields such as medicine, law, and some engineering disciplines, you obviously do need to pass the required courses and examinations before being let loose on the unsuspected world. But for many other positions in more general areas such as sales and marketing, enthusiasm, intelligence, good writing skills, and a willingness to learn are at least as important as a degree from even the most prestigious college – if not more so. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: paper qualifications

Leadership lessons from Confucius: pay attention to the white spaces

white spaces

Ji Ziran asked: “Would you say that Zilu and Ran Qiu are great ministers?” Confucius said: “I thought you were going to ask about somebody else; I never expected that you would ask about Zilu and Ran Qiu. A really great minister serves his lord by following the way and resigns if there is no possibility of doing so. As for Zilu and Ran Qiu, they might just about be qualified for an unfilled vacancy.” Ji Ziran said: “Do you mean that they can be counted on to follow orders?” Confucius said: “They wouldn’t go quite so far as murdering their father or their lord.”

Pay close attention to the white spaces. It’s often what’s left unsaid rather than what’s actually said that’s more significant. Although Confucius disses his followers Zilu and Ran Qiu for compromising their integrity by working for the Ji Family, his main objective is to warn Ji Ziran and his clan against launching a coup to overthrow the legitimate ruler of the state, the Duke of Lu. Hence his final quip (if that’s the right word) that even two such feckless individuals as Zilu and Ran Qiu “wouldn’t go quite so far as murdering their father or their lord.” Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: pay attention to the white spaces

Leadership lessons from Confucius: tailoring your management style

tailoring your management style

Zilu asked: “When I learn something new, should I put it into practice immediately?” Confucius said: “Your father and your elder brother are still alive. How could you put it into practice immediately?” Ran Qiu said: “When I learn something new, should I put it into practice immediately?” Confucius said: “Put it into practice immediately.” Gongxi Chi said: “When Zilu asked whether or not he should put into practice something new that he’s learned, you told him that his father and elder brother are still alive. But when Ran Qiu asked the very same question, you told him to put it into practice immediately. I’m confused. May I ask for an explanation?” Confucius said: “Ran Qiu holds himself back, so I push him forward; Zilu has enough energy for two, so I hold him back.” (1)

There’s no magic algorithm for managing people. What works for one won’t work on another. There’s no substitute for spending time to really get to know each person you work with and tailoring your management style in line with their personality. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: tailoring your management style

Leadership lessons from Confucius: the dreaded annual review process

annual review process

Zigao is dumb; Zengzi is dull; Zizhang is frivolous; Zilu is reckless. (1)

How seriously do you take the annual review process for your staff? Do you approach it as a box-ticking exercise to keep HR and senior management off your back? Or do you use it as an opportunity to have a frank and serious conversation with each member of your team in order to let them know what you think about their performance and come up with ways of addressing any shortcomings in them that you’ve identified? Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: the dreaded annual review process