Confucius is almost universally (and unfairly) blamed for the style of rote-learning that has plagued Chinese education for centuries. In reality, however, he advocated a balanced and intellectually-rigorous approach to learning that remains highly relevant even today. Continue reading Analects Book 2: more on learning
Zizhang asked Confucius: “What qualities must you have in order to be fit to take part in government?” Confucius said: “If you cultivate the five virtues and cast out the four vices you are fit to govern.”
Zizhang asked: “What are the five virtues?” Confucius said: “A leader is generous without having to spend anything; he inspires people to work hard without complaining; he is ambitious without being greedy; he is confident without being arrogant; he is imposing without being frightening.”
Zizhang said: “How can you be ‘generous without having to spend anything’?” Confucius said: “If you let the people take advantage of what is beneficial for them, aren’t you being generous without having to spend anything? If you assign the people to work on tasks that are reasonable, who will complain? If your ambition is to be good and you accomplish it, how can you be greedy? If a leader treats everyone equally no matter whether they are many or few or humble or great, he is confident without being arrogant. If a leader wears his robe and cap correctly, his gaze is straight, and he carries himself with a dignified air that inspires the people’s awe, he is imposing but not frightening.”
Zizhang said: “What are the four vices?” Confucius said: “If you execute people without attempting to reform them you are being cruel; if you carry out an inspection of a public works project without giving a prior warning you are being tyrannical; if you expect the immediate completion of a project after being slow to approve it, you are acting like a thief; if you are tight-fisted in paying people what is rightfully theirs, you are being bureaucratic.”
This passage features another reprise of a common theme of Confucius’s teachings: namely, that people in power have a responsibility to treat the common people in the same way that they would expect to be treated. Continue reading The five virtues and four vices
Ziyou said: “My friend Zizhang is a man of great ability, but he has not yet achieved goodness.”
Zengzi said: “Zizhang is so full of himself that it is difficult to cultivate goodness by his side.”
The disciples of Zixia asked Zizhang about social relations. Zizhang said: “What did Zixia tell you?” They replied: “Zixia said: ‘Associate with the right sort of people; avoid the wrong sort of people.” Zizhang said: “I heard something different: ‘A leader respects the wise and is tolerant of the ordinary; he praises the good and shows compassion to the incapable.’ If I am superior, whom should I not be tolerant of? If I am inferior, then others will avoid me; why would I need to avoid them?”
Zizhang certainly gets the better of Zixia in this exchange with his calls for tolerance and compassion towards other people. His open-minded approach easily wins out over his fellow disciple’s closed-minded injunction to only associate with the “right sort of people” (presumably those who share your own social values and class). Continue reading Tolerance and compassion
Zizhang said: “If a man fails to embrace virtue with all his spirit and fails to follow the Way with all his heart, does it really matter whether he exists or not?”
The only way for people to make an impact on the world is to live life to the full. You can’t be half-pregnant: if you’re not going to fully commit yourself to something, you won’t achieve any meaningful results.
Zizhang said: “A scholar-official who is ready to give his life when faced with danger; who does the right thing when presented with an opportunity of profit; who shows due reverence when carrying out a sacrifice, and who truly grieves when in mourning. Such a man is acceptable.”
Confucius doesn’t appear in Book 19 of the Analects at all. He is already dead, and his disciples have started battling it out for control of his legacy by putting their own spin on his teachings. Continue reading Let battle commence!
Mian, the (blind) music master, came to visit. When he reached the steps, Confucius said: “Mind the steps.” When he reached the mat, Confucius said: “Here is the mat.” When everyone was seated, Confucius told him: “This person is here; that person is there.” After the music master had left, Zizhang asked: “Is this the way to talk to a music master?” Confucius said: “Yes, this is the way to assist a music master.”
Music masters in ancient China were traditionally blind. Confucius greets Mian with the greatest respect and anticipates his each and every need in order to make his visit as comfortable and enjoyable as possible. Continue reading Confucius and the music master
Zizhang asked about getting on in the world. Confucius said: “If your words are sincere and trustworthy and your actions are honorable and respectful, you will get on in the world even among the barbarian tribes. If your words are insincere and untrustworthy, if you act without honor and respect, how can you possibly get on in the world even in your own village? When you stand, you should always have this principle in front of you. When you drive you should have it carved upon the yoke of your carriage; only then will you truly be able to move ahead.” Zizhang wrote this down on his sash.
Success comes from cultivating your inner self rather than chasing after its external trappings such as fame and wealth. This is what Confucius is telling his ambitious young disciple Zizhang in this passage. If you live up to the commitments you make and treat other people well, you are guaranteed to “get on” in the world (even if it may take longer than you hope).
To make sure you stay on the right track, it helps to keep regular reminders of your core values on your car dashboard and smart phone if you don’t happen to ride in a carriage or wear a sash.
Zizhang said: “In the Book of Documents it is written: ‘When King Gaozong was mourning his father, he did not speak for three years.’ What does this mean?” Confucius said: “This did not apply only to King Gaozong; all the ancients did the same. When a king died, all the officials gathered together and took their orders from the prime minister for three years.”
King Gaozong (高宗) was a ruler during the Shang Dynasty (商朝), which ran from around 1600 BC to 1046 BC. Even though Confucius asserts that it was the custom for the heir of the throne to go into mourning for three years after the death of his father, Zizhang is no doubt correct in suspecting that this was honored more in breach than in actual implementation. Continue reading Startlingly naïve