Analects Book 13 themes: Confucius on governance
Governance is one of the main Analects Book 13, building on the discussion of this topic in the previous book. When Zilu kicks it off in the first chapter, Confucius stresses the importance of leading people by example and working hard for them.
In the second chapter, Confucius advises Ran Yong of the need to hire and promote talented people to fill official positions and allow them room to make the occasional mistake. When Ran Yong asks how to recognize that someone has talent, Confucius tells him to promote people he knows: namely, individuals he can trust to carry out their duties diligently and responsibly.
When Zilu asks Confucius in 13.3 what his top priority would be if he were invited by Duke Chu of Wei to run the government of the state, the sage replies that it would be to “rectify the names.” “When the names aren’t correct, language doesn’t accord with the truth of things,” Confucius explains to his follower’s great surprise. “When language doesn’t accord with the truth of things, nothing can be carried out successfully.”
“Therefore, a leader must be able to give the appropriate name to whatever they want to talk about and must also make sure they do exactly as they say,” Confucius concludes. “When it comes to speaking, a leader doesn’t allow any carelessness.”
Confucius returns to the topic of governance in the middle section of the book. In 13.13, he reiterates the need to set the right example: “If you behave in the correct manner, what difficulties will you meet when in government service? If you are unable to behave in the correct manner, how can you possibly make sure that others behave in the correct manner?”
After lashing out at Ran Qiu for mixing official and private matters in the next chapter, Confucius advises Duke Ding of Lu in 13.15 that to become a better ruler he needs to understand the challenges faced by his ministers more clearly and pay closer attention to what they have to say. In the following chapter, Confucius tells the Lord of She that the best way of attracting new talent to the state of Chu is to make the people who already live there happy first.
Confucius finishes off this section on governance by cautioning his overly fastidious follower Zixia to be more patient and set his priorities if he is to achieve success in his position as governor of the town of Jufu: “Don’t try to rush things. Ignore matters of minor advantage. If you try to rush things, you won’t achieve success. If you pursue matters of minor advantage, you won’t succeed in major affairs.”
When Zigong asks Confucius in 12.20 how he would rate the people currently involved in public affairs, Confucius does not even attempt to hide his disdain. In a retort that has echoed throughout the ages, he sighs: “Sadly, these are people you measure by a bucket or scoop. They’re not even worth mentioning.”