Confucius (c. 551 - 479 BCE) has been one of the most important thinkers in Chinese culture. Confucius redirected Chinese philosophy toward establishing the correct moral behavior of people within society. Significantly, Confucian thought was founded on the oldest and most respected traditions of Chinese society. Confucius himself claimed that he did nothing new, but in reality he fundamentally changed the direction of Chinese thought.

Points to Ponder:

-- Why would Confucian thought be seen as moral? Why is this not usually considered to be a religious text?
-- How does the thought of Confucius compare with Daoism and Legalism?
-- Which way of thinking appeals to you? Why?
-- Can you "explain" this text in terms of the Period of Warring States?

The Analects

XII.22: Fan-ch'ih asked about jen. The Master said, "It is to love all men." He asked about knowledge. "It is to know all men." Fan ch'ih did not immediately understand these answers. The Master said, "Employ the upright and put aside all the crooked; in this way, the crooked can be made to be upright."

VII.29: The Master said, "Is humaneness a thing remote? I wish to be humane, and behold, humaneness is at hand!"

VI.28: Tzu-kung said, "Suppose I put the case of a man who extensively confers benefits on the people, and is able to assist everyone, what would you say about him? Might he be called perfectly humane?" The Master said, "Why speak only of humaneness in connection with him? Must he not have the qualities of a sage? . . . Now the man of perfect humaneness, wishing to be established himself, seeks also to establish others; wishing to be enlarged himself, he seeks also to enlarge others. To be able to judge of others by what is nearby in ourselves, that is what we might call the art of humaneness."

XV.23: Tzu-kung asked, saying, "Is there one word which may serve as a rule of practice for all one's life?" The Master said, "Is not reciprocity such a word? What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others."

IV.25: The Master said, "Virtue is not left to stand alone. He who practices it will have neighbors."

The Superior Man (chün-tzu)

XV.31: The Master said, "The object of the superior man is truth, not food. . . . The superior man is anxious lest he should not get truth; he is not anxious lest poverty should come upon him."

IV.16: The Master said, "The mind of the superior man is conversant with virtue; the mind of the base man is conversant with gain."

XV.20: The Master said, "What the superior man seeks, is in himself. What the mean man seeks, is in others."

XII.4: Ssu-ma Niu asked about the superior man. The Master said, "The superior man has neither anxiety nor fear." "Being without anxiety or fear!" said Ssu-ma, "does this constitute what we call the superior man?" The Master said, "When internal examination discovers nothing wrong, what is there to be anxious about, what is there to fear?"

XVI.8: Confucius said, "There are three things of which the superior man stand in awe. He stands in awe of the ordinances of Heaven. He stands in awe of great men. He stands in awe of the words of the sages. The mean man does not know the ordinances of Heaven, and consequently does not stand in awe of them. He is disrespectful to great men. He makes sport of the words of the sages."

XIV.29: The Master said, "The superior man is modest in his speech, but exceeds in his actions."

XV.18: The Master said, "The superior man is distressed by his want of ability. He is not distressed by men not knowing of him."

XVII.24: Tzu-kung asked, "Has the superior man his hatreds also?" The Master said, "He has his hatreds. He hates those who proclaim the evil of others. He hates the man who, being in a low station, slanders his superiors. He hates those who have valor merely, and are unobservant of propriety (li ). He hates those who are forward and determined, and, at the same time, of contracted understanding."

XVI.10: Confucius said, "The superior man has nine things which are subjects with him of thoughtful consideration. In regard to the use of his eyes, he is anxious to see clearly. In regard to the use of his ears, he is anxious to hear distinctly. In regard to his countenance, he is anxious that it should be benign. In regard to his speech, he is anxious that it should be sincere. In regard to his doing of business, he is anxious that it should be reverently careful. In regard to what he doubts about, he is anxious to question others. When he is angry, he thinks of the difficulties his anger may involve him in. When he sees gain to be got, he thinks of righteousness."

Li (Rites )

VIII.2: The Master said, "Respectfulness, without the rules of propriety, becomes laborious bustle; carefulness, without the rules of propriety, becomes timidity; boldness, without the rules of propriety, becomes insubordination; straightforwardness, without the rules of propriety, becomes rudeness."

III.4: Lin Fang asked what was the first thing to be attended to in ceremonies. The Master said, "A great question, indeed! In festive ceremonies, it is better to be sparing than extravagant. In the ceremonies of mourning, it is better that there be deep sorrow than a minute attention to the observances."

XI.1: The Master said, "The men of former times, in the matters of ceremonies and music, were rustics, it is said, while the men of these latter times, in ceremonies and music, are accomplished gentlemen. If I have occasion to use those things, I follow the men of former times."

III.17: Tzu Kung wished to do away with the offering of a sheep connected with the inauguration of the first day of each month. The Master said, "Tzu Kung, you love the sheep; I love the ceremony."

Learning and Teaching

IX.4: There were four things from which the Master was entirely free. He had no foregone conclusions, no arbitrary predeterminations, no obstinacy, and no egotism.

XVII.2: The Master said, "By nature, men are nearly alike; by practice, they get to be wide apart."

XVI.9: Confucius said, "Those who are born with the possession of knowledge are the highest class of men. Those who learn, and so readily get possession of knowledge, are the next. Those who are dull and stupid, and yet compass the learning are another class next to these. As to those who are dull and stupid and yet do not learn--they are the lowest of the people."

VII.8: The Master said, "I do not open up the truth to one who is not eager to get knowledge, nor help out any one who is not anxious to explain himself. When I have presented one corner of a subject to any one, and he cannot from it learn the other three, I do not repeat my lesson."

IV.9: The Master said, "A scholar, whose mind is set on truth, and who is ashamed of bad clothes and bad food, is not fit to be discoursed with."

XV.29: The Master said, "To have faults and not to reform them--this, indeed, should be pronounced having faults."

IX.28: The Master said, "The wise are free from perplexities; the virtuous from anxiety; and the bold from fear."


XII.__: Tzu-kung asked about government. The Master said, "The requisites of government are that there be sufficiency of food, sufficiency of military equipment, and the confidence of the people in their ruler." Tzu Kung said, "If it cannot be helped, and one of these must be dispensed with, which of the three should be foregone first?" "The military equipment," said the Master. Tzu Kung again asked, "If it cannot be helped and one of the remaining two must be dispensed with, which of them should be foregone?" The Master answered, "Part with the food. From of old, death has been the lot of humanity; but if the people have no faith in their rulers, there is no standing for the state."

XII.19: Chi K'ang-tzu asked Confucius about government, saying, "What do you say to killing unprincipled people for the sake of principled people?" Confucius replied, "Sir, in carrying on your government, why should you use killing at all? Let your evinced desires be for what is good, and the people will be good. The relation between superiors (chün-tzu) and inferiors is like that between the wind and the grass. The grass must bend, when the wind blows across it."

XIII.6: The Master said, "When a prince's personal conduct is correct, his government is effective without the issuing of orders. If his personal conduct is not correct, he may issue orders, but they will not be followed."

VII.10: The Master said to Yen Yuen, "When called to office, undertake its duties; when not so called, then lie retired . . . Tzu-lu said, "If you had the conduct of the armies of a great state, whom would you have to act with you?" The Master said, "I would not have him to act with me, who will unarmed attack a tiger, or cross a river without a boat, dying without any regret. My associate must be the man who proceeds to action full of caution, who is fond of adjusting his plans, and then carries them into execution."

XI.23: "What is called a great minister, is one who serves his prince according to what is right, and when he finds he cannot do so, retires."

XIV.1: Hsien asked what was shameful. The Master said, "When good government prevails in a state, to be thinking only of one's salary. When bad government prevails, to be thinking, in the same way, only of one's salary. That is what is shameful."

IX.13: "When a country is well governed, poverty and mean condition are things to be ashamed of. When a country is poorly governed, riches and honor are things to be ashamed of."

XIV.20: The Master was speaking about the unprincipled actions of the duke Ling of Wei, when K'ang Tzu said, "Since he is of such a character, how is it he does not lose his throne?" Kung Fu-Tzu said, "Chung-shu Yu has the superintendence of his guests and strangers; the litanist, T'uo, has the management of his ancestral temple; and Wang-sun Chia has the direction of the army and forces: with such officers as these, how should he lose his throne?"

Rectifying the Names

XII.17: Chi Kang-tzu asked Confucius about government. Confucius replied, "To govern (cheng) means to rectify (cheng). If you lead on the people with correctness, who will dare not to be correct?"

XIII.3: Tzu-lu said, "The prince of Wei has been waiting for you, in order that you administer (cheng) the government. What will you consider the first thing to be done?" The Master replied, "What is necessary is to rectify (cheng) names." "So, indeed!" said Tzu-lu. "You are wide of the mark. Why must there be such rectification?" The Master said, "How uncultivated you are, Yu! A superior man, in regard to what he does not know, shows a cautious reserve. If names be not correct, language is not in accordance with the truth of things. If language be not in accordance with the truth of things, affairs cannot be carried on to success. When affairs cannot be carried on to success, proprieties (li ) and music (yüeh) will not flourish. When proprieties and music do not flourish, punishments will not be properly awarded. When punishments are not properly awarded, the people do not know how to move hand or foot. Therefore a superior man considers it necessary that the names he uses may be spoken appropriately, and also that what he speaks may be carried out appropriately. What the superior man requires, is just that in his words there may be nothing incorrect."

Source: The Philosopher Confucius

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