Analects Book 19 followers: Zengzi carves out a niche

Zengzi became a student of Confucius at the age of sixteen. Although he was known for being exceptionally diligent in his studies, Zengzi does not appear to have had the most sparkling of personalities. Indeed, he is described as “dull” 11.18.

Zengzi was twenty-six when Confucius died in 479 BCE and had already carved out a strong niche for himself as a leading authority on the subject of filial devotion. He went on to set up his own school in the sage’s home state of Lu and is said to have written or edited at least ten books. The most famous of these is the rip-roaring Classic of Filial Devotion, which survives to this day.

In Book 19, Zengzi only indirectly addresses this topic by dredging up two quotes from Confucius in 19.17 and 19.18:

“I heard this from our master: ‘Even if someone has not yet stretched themselves to the limit, they are sure do so when they mourn their parents.’”

“I heard this from our master: ‘The one facet of Meng Zhuangzi’s filial devotion that others could not emulate was that he retained his father’s officials and continued his father’s policies.’”

His only other contributions consist of a snide dig at Zizhang in 18.16 and some useful advice in 19.17 to Yang Fu on his appointment as a magistrate to show compassion when convicting someone of a crime but not to take any pleasure from it.

Zengzi lived from 505 BCE to 436 BCE and traced his ancestry back over a thousand years to a king from the Xia dynasty. His father Zeng Dian was a friend of Confucius and sent him to study with the sage.

Unlike Zizhang and Zixia, Zengzi only has one interaction with Confucius in the Analects, but even in that (4.15) his response consists of a single word. It is hard not to conclude that for all his expertise in filial devotion, Confucius never considered him to be among the top tier of his followers.

This image was taken at the Longshan Temple in Lukang.



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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.