A dark sense of foreboding permeates the first three chapters of Book 16 of the Analects. The cultural, political, and moral fabric that has bound together the myriad states comprising the Zhou dynasty for over five hundred years is being ripped apart by relentless power struggles not just between the state rulers and their feudal lords but also the feudal lords and their household retainers.
In Confucius’s home state of Lu, the Ji, Meng, and Sun clans, collectively known as the Three Families, are ruthlessly stripping away the last remnants of authority from the ruling ducal house while fending off violent attempts from thuggish retainers like Yang Huo to grab their wealth and power. In 16.2 and 16.3, Confucius shows that he understands the nature of the downward spiral that the Zhou dynasty in general and the state of Lu in particular have entered now that the “way” he has so vigorously championed all his life no longer prevails in the world.
Uncharacteristically, however, he offers no concrete answers for stopping the relentless slide into further chaos and destruction. Perhaps, he already recognizes that all his struggles to restore the Zhou to its former glory have ended in failure. All he can do as he approaches the end of his days is sit on the sidelines and lament what might have been if only he had achieved his dream.