Analects Book 19 followers: Zixia undershoots the mark

Whereas Confucius criticized Zizhang for overshooting the mark, he was just as concerned about his follower Zixia falling short of it. Indeed, in 3.16 Confucius goes as far as admonishing Zixia to “be a refined scholar, not a common pedant.”

Ziyou delivers a similar criticism of Zixia’s narrow-mindedness in 19.12 when he says: “Among the students of Zixia the younger ones are well trained for sprinkling and sweeping the floor, responding to instructions, and greeting guests. But these are only details. When it comes to the fundamentals, they are totally lost. How is this possible?”

Although Zixia puts up a spirited defense of his methods in 19.12 by arguing that students should be taught according to their characteristics in the same way plants and trees are sorted, he does show a certain rigidity in 19.2 and 19.4 when he says:

“‘Associate with the right sort of people; avoid the wrong sort of people.’”

“Although there’s a lot to see when you stroll along the byways, you risk getting stuck in the mud if you have to travel far. That is why an exemplary person should avoid them.”

After Confucius died, Zixia returned to his home state of Wei. As well as founding his own school there, he also acted as a government advisor, reportedly serving at the court of Duke Wan at the ripe old age of ninety-nine.

Opinions on Zixia’s legacy are mixed. While some historians from the Han Dynasty and Southern Song Dynasty saw him as one of the most important Confucian thinkers, others believed that his philosophy was far too autocratic and reflected that of the opposing Legalist school.



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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.