Analects Book 16: the qualities of an exemplary person
Even though Confucius does not go as far as providing a single clearcut definition of what he means by an exemplary person (君子/jūnzǐ) in Book 16 of the Analects, he provides the most exhaustive list of qualities he thought one should possess in the text.
The best example comes in 16.10, where he lists nine ways in which exemplary people focus their thoughts. The key point he delivers in this chapter is that exemplary people are completely immersed in each and every moment. Not only do they see and hear everything that is happening around them clearly. They also fully engage with any people they are interacting with by speaking sincerely, listening carefully, asking appropriate questions, and acting in a respectful manner. When faced with vexing or enticing situations, they maintain control of their impulses and stay on the straight path.
Self-awareness is another core trait of exemplary people. In 16.7, Confucius points to three tendencies that they guard against during the course of their lives: namely, lust when they are young; contentiousness when they have reached their prime; and greed when they reach old age. In other words, they remain constantly aware not just of changes in their surrounding environment but also within themselves and adjust their thoughts and actions accordingly.
Exemplary people are constantly mindful, too, that the world does not revolve around them and that there is always room for improvement in how they conduct themselves. In 16.8, Confucius notes that exemplary people are in awe of the will of heaven, the greats of the past and present, and the words of the sages. Petty people, in contrast, smugly go about their lives in willful ignorance and blindness of the principles and values they should aspire to.
Confucius proves himself to be an exemplary person, at least in the eyes of the follower Ziqin. In 16.13, Ziqin his expresses his admiration for the way that the sage has brought up his son Boyu. Not only has Confucius given Boyu a sound education by encouraging him to study the Book of Songs and principles and practices of ritual. He has enabled him to grow into a man by not showing any unnecessary indulgence toward him and maintaining the appropriate distance between father and son.
Confucius does not show any indulgence towards Ran Qiu and Zilu either in the first chapter of the book even though they have faithfully served him for decades. “An exemplary person despises those who invent excuses for their actions instead of simply saying that they want to do them,” he castigates Ran Qiu when his follower attempts to justify Ji Kangzi’s plan to swallow up the vassal state of Zhuanyu with his ludicrous claim that the small fiefdom could pose a threat to future generations of the Ji family.
An exemplary person has the courage to speak the truth, no matter how unpopular it makes them, Confucius should have added. That was certainly the principle he adhered to all his life, even though it cost him dearly.