Analects Book 19 followers: filling the leadership vacuum

Following the untimely death of Yan Hui in around 481 BCE, Confucius never got round to naming a successor before his own passing two years later. Most likely, the most important reason for this was that he was so devasted by the loss of his protégé that he could not bear the thought of choosing a replacement. A second reason may well have been that although he had a number of promising younger followers, he was not convinced that any of them quite had it what took to assume his mantel.

Following Confucius’s death, his followers briefly settled on You Ruo (also referred to as Youzi) as the new leader of his school mainly, it seems, because he bore a remarkable physical resemblance to the sage. However, since You’s leadership talents came nowhere near to matching those of Confucius, they soon discarded him and a leadership vacuum emerged.

Book 19 of the Analects gives us a sense of the rivalry that arose among Confucius’s most prominent younger followers, Zizhang, Zixia, Zengzi, and to a lesser extent Ziyou, as they sought to fill the space. Although each of them had obvious intellectual talents, their personalities and approaches towards learning and teaching differed so widely that it was impossible for any of them to establish themselves as Confucius’s undisputed heir.

Instead, all four of them went on to forge their own paths, establishing schools and writing treatises to teach and promote their particular flavor of Confucian philosophy. Among them, Zengzi had the most enduring impact with his works on filial devotion. The legacies of Zizhang, Zixia, and Ziyou, in contrast, are much more mixed, with the latter two subsequently becoming the subject of harsh criticism for what many commentators saw as their proto-legalist leanings.

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Richard Brown

I live in Taiwan and am interested in exploring what ancient Chinese philosophy can tell us about technology and the rise of modern China.