Tag Archives: Zilu

Analects of Confucius Book 2: Confucius on balanced learning


Confucius is almost universally (and unfairly) blamed for the style of rote-learning that has plagued Chinese education for millennia. In reality, however, he advocated a balanced and intellectually-rigorous approach to learning that remains highly relevant even today. Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 2: Confucius on balanced learning

Leadership lessons from Confucius: dumb questions

dumb questions

Confucius said: “Zilu, let me tell you what knowledge means. Knowing what you know and what you don’t know. That is what knowledge means.”

It can be very tempting to pretend that you understand what someone is droning on about during a meeting or presentation out of fear of looking stupid in front of everyone else. Tempting but stupid, because the likelihood is that if you don’t have the foggiest idea of what the person is talking about then most of the other people in the room don’t either! Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: dumb questions

A false note

Zilu fell behind while traveling with Confucius. He met an old man who was carrying a basket hanging from his staff over his shoulder. Zilu asked him: “Have you seen my master?” The old man said: “You don’t toil with your four limbs, and you can’t even distinguish between the five types of grain. Who is your master?” He planted his staff in the ground and started weeding. Zilu stood respectfully, his hands clasped in front of him. The old man invited him to stay with him overnight, killed a chicken and cooked some millet for him to eat, and introduced his two sons to him. The next day, Zilu resumed his journey and reported to Confucius. Confucius said: “The man you met is a hermit.” He sent Zilu back to see the old man, but when he reached his place Zilu found that the old man had gone. Zilu said: “It is wrong to withdraw from public life. The codes that govern the rightful relationship between the old and young cannot be discarded. How can the rightful relationship between ruler and subject be discarded? You cannot disrupt the most basic human relationships just to preserve your purity. A leader takes office and performs his rightful duties even if he already knows that the Way will not prevail.”

This final allegorical tale warms up nicely with its lyrical opening scene – only to end on a false note in the final section. Zilu’s closing comments are way too harsh to ring true and have only the most tenuous of connections with the rest of the story. Indeed, it’s not even clear who Zilu is meant to be talking to at the end because in the previous section the old man had already disappeared. Continue reading A false note

A fine line

Confucius said: “Zilu, have you heard of the six virtues and their six attendant vices?” “No, I haven’t.” “Sit down, and I will tell you. Loving goodness without loving learning leads to ignorance. Loving knowledge without loving learning leads to foolishness. Loving trustworthiness without loving learning leads to criminality. Loving frankness without loving learning leads to offensiveness. Loving valor without loving learning leads to chaos. Loving steadfastness without loving learning leads to recklessness.”

I wish I could find a better way of rendering the first sentence (言/yán literally means “words”) but the point that Confucius makes to Zilu is clear: even the most positive personal qualities need to be carefully cultivated in order make sure they don’t turn into negatives. Continue reading A fine line

A new Zhou Dynasty in the East

Gongshan Furao, using the town of Bi as a stronghold, launched a revolt. He summoned Confucius to join him and Confucius was tempted to go. Zilu was unhappy about this and said: “We may have nowhere to go, but why must we go to join Gongshan?” Confucius said: “Since he has summoned me, it must be for some purpose. If his purpose is to employ me, perhaps I could establish a new Zhou Dynasty in the East.”

Like Yang Huo in Chapter I of Book 17, Gongshan Furao was another disaffected retainer of the Ji family who rose up against them and asked Confucius to join him in a revolt. The major difference between the two men, allegedly at least, is that Gongshan planned to restore the rightful authority of the hereditary ducal family over the state of Lu whereas Yang was only interested in boosting his own power and prestige. Continue reading A new Zhou Dynasty in the East

Dire straits

In Chen, the food supplies were exhausted. His disciples became so weak that they could not rise to their feet. Zilu came to him and said indignantly: “How is it possible for a leader to be brought to such dire straits?” Confucius said: “A leader stays resolute in even the direst of straits but only a petty person loses his cool about it.”

I can’t say I blame Zilu for getting upset with Confucius for landing him and his fellow disciples stuck in the middle of nowhere sick, tired, and hungry. Still, Confucius gives back as good as he gets with his rejoinder, pointedly reminding Zilu and his companions that they should maintain their dignity even in the face of possible death. Talk about a captain going down with his sinking ship. Continue reading Dire straits

Rigorous self-cultivation

Zilu asked what makes a leader. Confucius said: “Rigorous self-cultivation.” Zilu asked: “Is that all there is to it?” Confucius said: “He cultivates himself to bring comfort to the people. He cultivates himself to bring comfort to the people: this is something even Yao and Shun would have found very difficult.”

You can read all the “pearls of ancient wisdom” and “inspirational quotes” you like, but there’s no substitute for the daily grind of cultivating your thoughts and behavior. In the end, it’s all down to you. Continue reading Rigorous self-cultivation