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Selections From The Analects

Passage 2: Confucius Goes Visiting

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Outline

  1. Tiger Yáng
  2. Visiting a Follower at Work
  3. Job Interview With a Rebel
  4. Five Elements of Perfect Virtue & Another Job Interview
  5. Obiter Dicta: Five Ways People Fail

Procursus: Confucius desperately wanted politicians to listen to him, although few took him seriously. (A modern analog might be a lobbyist seeking to “restore” civility to American politics.)

Lines are renumbered and subtitles added for this presentation. (The 1892 translation is by James Legge and, in his numbering, constitutes Book 17, chapters 1-8 of The Analects.)


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Visiting Tiger Yáng: Usurper

Procursus: In this passage, Confucius is seeking to avoid contact with a certain Yáng Huò 阳货 (sometimes called Yáng Hǔ 阳虎 or “Tiger Yáng”), a member of the powerful JÌ family and a functionary of the state of Lǔ , where he was trying to abrogate all power to himself. (He managed to accomplish this in 505 BC, but in 501 was forced him to flee into exile in the state of Qí .)

In the beginning of this passage, Tiger Yáng is hoping to force Confucius to associate with him so that he can use Confucius’ reputation for virtue to burnish his own reputation. He does this by sending a gift of a pig when Confucius is not at home so that Confucius, a stickler for propriety, will be forced to pay him a visit to thank him, and to have a discussion that Confucius wants to avoid. Confucius seeks unsuccessfully to outfumble him and is quite testy when the conversation happens.

Dramatis Personae


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Visiting a Follower at Work

Procursus: Confucius frequently contrasts superior people or jūnzǐ 君子 with the “little people” or xiǎorén 小人. The terms rarely refer to social standing, but rather to moral accomplishment. Most people have the potential to become superior, in Confucian thinking, but it requires untiring effort and obviously rarely happens, especially among the unlettered. In this passage Confucius is caught disparaging unseen peasants, and explains (sheepishly?) that it was only a joke.

Dramatis Personae


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Visiting Gōngshān Fúrǎo: Job Interview With a Rebel

Procursus: In this passage, Confucius is grandiose enough to believe that if only he can get a job advising a king, he can make the world a vastly better place. In this passage he is even willing to consider throwing in his lot with a local rebel, GŌNGSHĀN Fúrǎo 公山弗扰, if it will give him that opportunity. It is possible that he wrongly thinks that the rebel will restore the legitimate ruler of Bì , the stronghold of the JÌ family of Confucius’ home state of Lǔ , who has been imprisoned since the coup staged by “Tiger Yáng,” whom we met earlier.

Gōngshān’s rebellion finally took place in 501/502, and Tiger Yáng was forced into exile in Qí . Gōngshān did not long remain in power, however, and in 498 he himself followed Yáng into Qí and eventually sought refuge in the state of Wú , where he lived out his days plotting revenge.

Dramatis Personae


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Five Elements of Perfect Virtue & Another Job Interview

Procursus: Here Confucius is happily pontificating on the nature of perfect virtue to his appreciative follower Zǐzhāng 子张, but duty calls when he receives an invitation (summons?) to visit BÌ Xī 佛肸, commandant of a town called Zhōngmóu 中牟 in the state of Jìn [in modern Húnán 湖南 Province] (not to be confused with other towns of the same name in the states of Chén or Lesser Wèi in modern Hénán 河南 and Héběi 河北).

Jìn has just conquered Zhōngmóu, and things are not going particularly well there. Where should Confucius’ loyalties lie? To the fallen régime? To the new, violent conquerors?

Dramatis Personae


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Obiter Dicta: Five Ways People Fail

Procursus: A virtue, pursued mindlessly, easily becomes a vice. Confucius knew this as well as we do, and in this passage he lays this out. But how is one to avoid being virtuous in a mindless way and thus being vicious? Confucius’ answer is, not unexpectedly, that the leaven in all practical virtue is learning and the love of learning.

It is not particularly difficult to create a passage like this: “Being mindless in obedience leads to slavishness, being mindless in generosity leads to bankruptcy, being mindless in honesty leads to boorishness, etc.” Such statements sound good, but are they true?

It is important to notice that the passage proceeds, like most Confucian reasoning, by a series of ex cathedra statements, and the evidence of their truth is that Confucius uttered them. Such reasoning stands in strong contrast, to the discursive style we associate with, say, Socrates, or with the desire for evidence that characterizes most modern reasoning.

Dramatis Personae


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